Magic Choral Trick #139 Marking Formed and Unformed Vowels On the Sheet Music

I was asked recently how I would get a choir to sing more musically – especially when it comes to more appropriate word stresses.

The singers need to know:

That all syllables are not created equal (Post #43 )

That all vowels were not created equal in the context of singing in English. Some are formed, and some are unformed. (Post #’s 14 and 15 and )

That if they fix just these two things (which are related, because every unaccented syllable needs an unformed vowel) people will suddenly notice how much more ‘musically’ they’re singing.

I’ve found that real learning of these two things takes a very long time to become habit, but that it’s really worth the consistent effort.

And although it may initially seem a bit labour intensive, the best way to start work on this is to mark the formed and unformed vowels right into the score. I use the spelling out of the formed vowel (‘oh’, ‘ah’, ‘ee’) and just a little wiggly line above the unformed vowels.

It also works best if the singers mark the sheet music themselves – although it’s ok for the director to mark these in the score prior to photocopying something you’ve bought online. I find the singers take more responsibility for noticing their own markings – but if the director has included them on the master copy, rehearsal time is not used, and everyone’s markings are identical.


About janetkidd

I've been waving my arms in front of choirs now for more than 35 years - and these are descriptions of all the very best things I've learned. I direct a Women's Competitive Barbershop Chorus, a Men's Competitive Barbershop Chorus, a Med School choir, and for a few weeks each year - Big Choir (about 100 voices) - which performs at an annual fundraising concert. Hope at least some of these Choral Magic Tricks will be useful to you - and thanks for reading. Janet

Posted on May 13, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Nice trick, Janet – not least because it gives attention to the unstressed syllables without over-loading them. The converse problem you quite often hear is a musical and meaningful attention to lyric delivery getting undermined by loss of support and tone on the syllables that have been subconsciously classed as ‘unimportant’.

    Btw, could you possibly include links when you refer back to earlier posts? You’re getting a good body of material here and it would make it much easier to navigate around if you could help out with the cross-references!


  2. Thanks Liz,

    I have tried to put other links in the body of the blog, but it always appears in ordinary text, and not something you can click on.

    But that’s a great idea – even if people have to copy and paste the link

  3. That’s a very quick response, Janet – most impressed! And thank you for catering to those of us who are greedy for ideas but lazy about navigation 😉

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