This is one of the trickiest vowels for choirs singing in English – but we’ve been able to train ourselves through drilling the vowel in the technique portion of the rehearsal.
The basics are exactly the same as the ‘ee’ vowel – except that the ‘ay’ has just a tiny tiny amount of relaxation downward in the middle of the tongue:
1. ‘ay’ 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
3. The back teeth need to be apart – about the distance of a tic tac on its end. As with the ‘ee’ vowel (let’s be honest – every vowel!) I ask the singers to check that the teeth are open by sticking a finger into the side of their cheek (from the outside) – right where the back teeth meet.
The tricky part about singing ‘ay’ in the context of a word is that when we speak a long ‘A’ we all start to drift to the ‘ee’ resolution of this diphthong right away. To get the most free and full sound when we’re singing we need to sing on the target vowel ‘ay’ for almost all of the value of the note (scanning the tongue for tension) – then quickly and clearly sing the ‘ee’ followed of course by the Roiling ‘Y’ Tongue thingy.
I have hand signals for each of the big deal vowels – ‘ay’ ‘ee’ ‘ah’ ‘oh’ and ‘oo’ that remind my groups of the drill they’ve done on a particular vowel. This is working really well for all my singing groups. Once I figure out how to post videos I’ll show you all. Hmm – or maybe a youtube link! At least it’ll be a little less dry than reading about vowels!