If you’re new to caring deeply about vowels, the long ‘e’ (‘ee’) is the place to start.
And for those of you who read my original post back in November 2011, this is a gentle reminder.
If you say ‘ee’ to yourself a few times and pay attention to what your tongue is up to, you’ll notice that it tightens, and then tightens some more – because in English, ‘ee’ is not just ‘ee’. There’s always a ‘yuh’ at the back end of the vowel, and our tongues, knowing this, gradually tense up, then lurch into the full stoppage that is the ‘y’.
This not only makes it difficult to sustain high notes (your tongue is gradually choking you) but the tension tends to create flatness in the pitch, and harshness in the tone.
Typically the tension when singing an ‘ee’ vowel will be felt as tightness in the back third of the tongue.
However, as much as these are physical symptoms, the fix is in the retraining of the mind. First, you need to become conscious of the vowel every time you sing it. This step alone can take a chorus months or even years to master. But the Director can assist with this initially by having a hand signal to remind singers to keep this particular vowel tall and relaxed.
I drill vowels during warm up, and have the chorus use the same vowel-specific hand gestures as I use. This imprints the vowel, and the way to sing it, more quickly than having me be the only one using the signals.
These three hints about singing ‘ee’ are from my original post:
1. First of all, ‘ee’ needs to be sung through the width/shape of ‘eu’ as in the French word ‘peu’
2. The tongue needs to be relaxed forward (think stupid stupid stupid) so that the tip of the tongue touches the bottom of the back of the lower front teeth (at the gum line)
3. The back teeth need to be apart – about the distance of a tic tac on its end. I sometimes ask the singers to stick a finger into the side of their cheek – right where the back teeth meet – to keep the teeth apart.
The major mental task here is to think of only the first part of the sound as you are sustaining the ‘ee’ – and not allow the thought of the ‘yuh’ until the cut off.
Here’s the original post: