Our Friend The Voiced Consonant

To continue on the subject of Mouth Mechanics in general and Voiced Consonants in particular, Here is a little written homework assignment for all of you singers who are not competing for the title “LQBM”  (Least Qualified Band Member.) To review definitions for a moment, Voiced Consonants are those sounds which are not vowels, are created using the same mechanics as the Unvoiced Consonants, and are produced concurrent to phonation or the vocal cords engaging to create pitch.

The more obvious Voiced Consonants are those which can be sustained over long notes. These are L, M, N, the American R, V (F) and Z (S). Less obvious but voiced nonetheless are those which combine pitch with a slight burst of air. These are B (P), D (T), Soft G as in George and J (CH), and Hard G as in gag (K).

The consonants in parenthesis are the Unvoiced versions created with the same mechanics but without pitch. G and K for example are both formed by releasing the closure created by the base of the tongue meeting the tip of the soft palette. The difference between God and Cod therefore rests merely upon a split second of pitch.

Yes, it can be argued that there are many permutations of these sounds but these should be enough to get you started. Besides, the time you spend offering evidence that X is not really just KS would be better spent making yourself better, wouldn’t it?

Okay, so you wanna get into this right? Here’s the first assignment:

You’ll need multiple copies of your lyric sheet for this exercise.

1. Go through your lyrics very carefully and identify EVERY Voiced Consonant by underlining it.

2. Now go back and circle each Voiced Consonant which is at the beginning of a new word or a new syllable.

For example:  the word new begins with an EN sound which is a Voiced Consonant. In the word renew, the second syllable also begins with the EN sound and should be circled.

3. Go back and make a box around every Voiced Consonant which is either at the end of a word or at the end of a syllable inside a word.

For example: The word exam ends with the EM sound. In the word examination, the second syllable also ends in the EM sound.

4. Go through your lyrics and notate each Voiced Consonant which begins a word or syllable on a pitch higher than the note immediately previous to the Voiced Consonant sound. Use the “My Bonny” example as your guide.

This all might seem like busy work but repetition is key if you want to instantly and instinctively identify problem areas that can actually become very helpful tools in the development of more expressive singing.

The thing you are trying to accomplish here is to understand the difference between consonants you sing through and those which sonically interrupt the act of singing. Let’s use the word accomplish as an example and assume that its three syllables go up the first three notes of the major scale. We would separate the word like this…Uh-kahmp-lish. The EL sound of the syllable Lish must be identified as being at the start of the last syllable and not at the end of the second syllable (The P is a puff of air and the subject of a different article altogether. Forget it for the moment and concentrate on the EL). And yet, how many singers would place the EL sound on the same note as Kahmp and then find that they must quickly slide up to the next note with their mouth open while singing the Ih vowel. And if the melody required the third syllable to be sung at a larger interval the slide would be even more exposed as would be the singers sloppy approach.

So to review:

Voiced Consonants have pitch.

Voiced Consonants must be be executed (Some of you probably want the sentence to end right there, I’m sure) with the same support and attention to sonic detail as the vowel sounds.

When a Voiced Consonant begins a word or syllable, it should occur on the same pitch as the word or syllable itself.

When a Voiced Consonant ends a word or syllable, it should not fall off in pitch but rather provide the word or syllable with a clean cutoff with sonic and rhythmic accuracy.

As in all things artistic, there are many exceptions. Artistic singing has more to do with communicating ideas and emotions than it does with carefully obeying arbitrary rules posted on the internet by pedantic maniacs like yours truly. However, slovenly executed Voiced Consonants are like a quarter-inch hair mole hanging from an otherwise stunningly beautiful woman’s nostril. No matter how badly you want to get into the vibe of the moment, you find your focus returning to that one little follicular blemish. So if your listeners are being distracted and can’t get into it because you’re sliding around on your consonants, no matter how artistically intended,  it might be a good idea to adopt the motto, “It’s perfectly okay to know what I’m doing.” Do some homework!

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