Episode 43 – The Magic of Vowels
Updated: Sep 13, 2022
Artists and painters use colors to create other colors. They blend and mix and play until they get the “perfect” color.
As singers, our colors and paints are our vowels.
Rarely is a vowel “just a vowel”. As you’ll discover in this show, an “ah” is never just an “ah” and an “o” is never just an “o”.
Listen as I play examples of some great singers to demonstrate this point.
When you really get this it will change your singing forever. Things that seemed impossible will be easy and words that were difficult to sing will be fun.
Listen and enjoy!
The Inner Singer Podcast
Episode 43 – Transcripts
The Magic of Vowels
Well, hello there, everybody. This is Mike Goodrich with the Inner Singer Podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in again.
I have been off for a couple of weeks unexpectedly. I couldn’t do a podcast. And unfortunately, I did not have any in the can, so I had none ready to go. I was coughing a lot and didn’t have much of a voice. I won’t go into details, but we’ve all been there. I just could not get anything done.
So anyway, I’m thrilled to be back. I’m so sorry. A lot of people, I’m unable to reach. I had no idea how to let people know that I would be back—except for people on my mailing list which I could alert.
Others of you folks that just download the podcast and have come to me somehow were probably feeling left in the lurch and wondering what the heck was going on. So, I’m sorry, I just had no way of getting to you.
But if you want to avoid that in the future, you can hustle on over to TheInnerSinger.com and sign up. I have a free thing that you can sign up for that will get you all on the mailing list which if I’m ever going to miss a podcast or anything special, you’ll be able to find out about it.
Anyway, enough of that, so sorry. Thrilled to be back though and all ready to go here. So, The Inner Singer Podcast number 43.
I gave a talk recently right before I had to take a couple of weeks off, a talk on Los Angeles on the inner singer. I had a great time doing it. And as I have been living with the Inner Singer for quite a while now, this whole idea of the concept of the inner singer and all these things that we’ve been going over in the podcast and what have you, surprisingly, what has happened is that to me the whole idea of the Inner Singer is beginning to expand and include a lot more than I thought when I started with the Inner Singer.
When I started of course I was talking about the mental game, the mindset, wiring, programming, conditioning, all of these kinds of things, the beliefs. And it’s completely that.
Yet what I’ve discovered in teaching and incorporating this and integrating it into what I do is that it is all inclusive in terms of it is everything singing.
And I’m not trying to appeal to everybody on all levels—I don’t mean that—but it is. The way that I am working with the Inner Singer now infuses vocal technique and it infuses vocal performance. And it’s all from the standpoint of the Inner Singer.
So, what it does, as it integrates into these other areas, it influences and infuses its own being, if you will, into it, so that I’ve began to teach technique differently and performance differently and include the aspects of the Inner Singer which are now expanding into the whole—what I referred to I think in one of the last podcast—vocal trifecta, which is the inner game, the inner singer which we’ve come to talk about, the performance aspect of it and the technique aspect of it.
And that’s the nature of the talk that I gave here in Los Angeles which I have recorded. It’s well over an hour. And I’m building a completely new website. I’m not sure when you’re hearing this, but when I’m recording this—this will be obvious—it’s February 29th, leap day in leap year, in 2016. If you’re listening to this anywhere near there, my new website is probably not up yet. But if you’re listening to this months down the road, then the new website is up and ready to go. That talk is on there. And you might find it very interesting. We did a lot of really cool things.
But anyway, that’s all to say that this particular episode of the Inner Singer Podcast is devoted to something that we might not ordinarily think of as having anything at all to do with the inner singer. And yet as the Inner Singer takes on more of an expansive nature, I realize that of course this does had everything to do with it.
And I’m going to talk about what we singers use as our colors. An artist, a painter—years ago, I had the joy of playing the role of George in Sunday in the Park with George, a painter painting the sun in the island of La Grande Jatte among other wonderful things, pointilism and what have you. I learned a lot about painting back then, and mixing colors, and all that stuff because I was studying the role.
And what we use as singers, as artists are vowels. Those are our colors.
Now, that may sound over simplified, but I’m going to kind of expand on this a little bit. And I’m going to show you how it relates to the inner singer, and I’m going to play you a couple of examples. So this is going to be really fun. I actually did some preparations for this episode—not that I don’t prepare for other episodes, but often times I just turn on the mic and go. This, I actually did more preparatory work. So it’s going to be kind of fun.
But anyway, as I said, the vowels are our colors and that’s how we paint. We shade our vowels. We color our vowels. We caress our vowels depending on whether we’re singing a love song, if we’re happy, if we’re angry, if we’re mad, if we’re jealous, if we’re whatever. And we paint and color our vowels like that.
Often times in pop music—and this is a real simplified thing to say—but in pop music, somebody saying the word “baby”, they say, “baby” because “baby” sounds kind of funny depending on the attitude that they’re singing with, right?
But in classical music or on Broadway, where it’s a little bit more of a legit kind of thing, and the words usually have to very, very understood, that kind is style is the color. It usually isn’t used too much, if at all.
But there are many great opera singers that have said over the years, they would happily sacrifice the sound for the emotion. So that’s the same thing. It kind of goes along with that.
But I’m going to talk a little bit more today about the purity of a vowel, and how the shades and the colors help dial in the resonance so that we can really find the sweet spot in the vowel.
And once we find that sweet spot in the vowel, what’s amazing is as we dial in to the right harmonics and the right formats—and this is getting sort of scientific.
And by the way, I do want to give a recommendation to my buddy, John Henny. In case you’re really interested in the science of voice, he has a wonderful podcast called The Intelligent Vocalist. His name is John Henny, a good buddy of mine, a fabulous teacher. We go way, way, way, way back.
And so if you’re interested in delving more into the performance, and the harmonics, and the science of the sound, the science of singing, then I highly recommend you listen to his podcast.
But anyway, I would just gloss over the science aspect of it. But when you’re dialing in and tuning in those vowels, you’re dialing in the different harmonics, the different formats. And you’re finding the sweet spot in that vowel. And when you do, there is an amazing thing that happens as that begins to feed back and relax the vocal chords.
And that’s why people can hold notes so long when they dial in the vowel. It’s actually just relaxing. It’s a relaxing exercise to be sustaining the note. So we’re going to talk a little bit on how that’s done.
Now, the fun thing about vowels is that just like colors, they all sort of blend together. And we have different qualities or colors of vowels that we borrow. In other words, if we have to say an “a” vowel like singing the word father or something like that, then the “a” will have colors of other vowels in it.
For example, let’s go this way, I’m looking at a beautiful painting hanging in our living room right now by an amazing artist named Vladimir Kush, and it’s called Music of the Woods. It’s phenomenal. We bought it for our little boy before he was born. We met the artist, had it signed. You actually should google Vladimir Kush, [confirming spelling]. Amazing! Just unbelievable stuff.
But as I look at this painting across the living room here, there’s a magnificent color of orange. But there are different shades in this particular flower—many, many different shades of the same color of orange. And when you’re an artist and you have your palette of different colors, and you’re going to mix an orange, and you want the perfect color, you’ll add a little red, a little yellow. You’ll mix these together. Now, not being an artist, I don’t know what the heck else I would add other than red and yellow to create orange, but he would certainly know.
So, you start playing around with these different colors. Maybe you added green. Maybe there’s a brown. Maybe any number of colors goes in to creating the one color that you want. So, maybe to get one color, you got five colors in there to create the shade that you want.
Now, this is similar to vowels in that if you have to say an “a” let’s say—well, I’m going to play an example here in just a second, of a gal that is singing on a C in a strong, strong mix–one would call a belt, but it’s a mix, really strong—and it’s on the word “love.” and
We all know how awry that could go if it was on the hands of somebody less skilled than Sutton Foster (who I’m going to play you in just a second). That could turn out to be [vocalizing]. It could just go all over the place.
But what you’re going to hear, you’re going to here a few different vowels. I’m going to go through this three times with you. And I’m going to have you listen to one specific vowel sound on each pass. And you’re going to marvel in that because you’re going to say, “Oh my gosh! When I’m listening for that particular sound. I hear it.”
Now, if you’re not listening for it, and you’re just enjoying the song, all you’re going to hear is the word that she’s singing. You’re just going to here “love.”
But as I guide you through the different colors and the different qualities that she is borrowing from three different vowels—and there’s probably more, but we’ll only use three—you’re going to hear exactly what I mean.
So, I’ve got a little technical work to do here, and then we’re going to go. So let me just get that cued and I’ll be right back with you. The first one I’m going to have you listen for is the actual la, “uh” like U-H. That’s the first one I want you to listen for. So here we go. I want you first to listen for the “uh.”
♪ [music] ♪
So did you hear it? The “uh” in love? Can you hear her saying, “Luh…luhve?”
Now, I’m going to play it one more time. I want you to listen for, “uh” like foot as if she’s saying “luhv” instead of “love” I want you to listen for “luh.” So that’s the sound that you’re going to tune your ear to right now, and listen for the “uh”.
♪ [music] ♪
Now I want you to—by the way, did you hear that? Did you hear the “uh?” Especially as she dials in the vowel at the end. It starts a little [singing], then she goes in the vibrato and brings in a little bit of “uh.” And you can really hear all of that. Isn’t that cool?
Now, I want you to listen to one final vowel. This is going to take a little imagination, but I want you to listen for an “o.” And I want you to imagine that the word isn’t “Love,” but that the word she’s actually singing is “Lowve.”
And as you listen to her sustain that, if she finished with ”lowve,” if she finished the vowel like that, if it couldn’t be an “ow.” You can also hear that color in there. So listen one final time.
♪ [music] ♪
So, you got to admit that’s pretty amazing. You’re hearing it three different times, three different ways. The word is “love,” but you can hear “luhv,” “loohv,” and “lowv”. You can hear all three of those because she’s got all of the colors and the qualities of those vowels blended together, making the exact sound that she needs to be able to dial in the resonance on that C, and sustain it for that long.
Now, I’m going to show you another example of a man this time, Andrea Bocelli, singing a Christmas song. And I’m going to have you go through the same exercise. And this is going to be fun. Hang on one second.
So, this is from his Christmas album. And it’s Angels We Have Heard on High. And he ends with a big B natural at the end. It’s a half tone down from the one Sutton just sang—she sang the C.
The interesting thing is about the way men’s and women’s voices work is that, on that second bridge for a man which is he’s above that second bridge on a B natural, she’s above the first bridge on the C. And the voice work so similarly. Boy, that’s a tough word to say. We have been talking a lot. Similarly, there you go. I got that one out. I’m not even going to edit that. What the heck!
So, I want you to listen this time to Bocelli. And the line, it’s Latin, “In excelcis deo.” So, the last vowel that you’re actually going to hear is an “o,” “in excelcis deo.” He holds it forever. It’s on a high D natural. And the first vowel I want you to listen to is the “o”. That’s what I want you to listen for, the “o” in this sound, okay? I want you to listen to the “ow” so you can hear it.
♪ [music] ♪
Man, I wish I could do that. Anyway, did you hear it? You hear the “o,” right? “In exelcis deo.” So you hear that.
Now, I’m going to play it again. This time, I want you to hear how he’s seeding that vowel. And the way he’s seeding that vowel is he has, under that “o,” an “uh,” U-H, “In excelcis deo-uh,” “uh,” “uh.” Listen for the “uh” this time.
♪ [music] ♪
So, you can really hear that when I point it out. You can hear the “uh” under that “o.”
Now, this time, I want you to listen just like you did to Sutton. It’s not as obvious as this one, but it’s in there, a little percentage of “uh” like “foot” is in there. Listen for “uh.” Tune your ear to the “uh” in the sound that he’s singing right now. Here we go.
♪ [music] ♪
Okay, how cool is that? Did you hear that?
So, you heard two different singers, singing a half pitch apart, one man one woman. You heard all three different vowel sounds in two different words–and as clear as a vowel, I would imagine. And if you couldn’t hear it, go back and listen again because you’ll definitely hear it. You’ll definitely start tuning your ear to that.
Now, what I want you to do as homework—because I should always give homework. We all love homework. I was certainly not the kid in class that would raise my hand and say, “You forgot to give homework.” But anyway, I’ll give you some anyway.
I want you to start listening for this idea in the singers that you enjoy, the singers that you listen to. And often times, you’re going to have to be listening to somebody who’s got fairly good technique because the other thing that you’ll hear is when—
For example, when you don’t hear this, you could be listening to somebody singing the word “love” on a C as a woman. And if she doesn’t have the skill that Sutton has, you might just hear one sound. And it might not even be “love.” It might end up being “lahv” where they’re pulling the vowel too broad. They’re missing proper format and harmonics. They’re not dialing in the resonance. They don’t get the overtones. And they don’t get those mixture of vowel sounds that help dial things in. So you may only hear one flat dead kind of a sound.
Now that’s not to put the singer down, but that’s just to start tuning your ear to say, “Ooh, okay. That person may not know what they’re doing as well. Maybe I love their voice. Maybe their emotion is great. Maybe all these things are fabulous, but there’s a distinct difference. I don’t hear those combinations in this person’s voice.”
So, that’s something to think about, something to listen to, and something that once you begin to get the idea of this and incorporate it in your singing, I guarantee you, your voice will never be the same. Things that you have difficulty with from the past will start to subside and go away. And things, areas, parts of your voice that had been challenges, and words that had been challenges and vowel sounds that had been challenges will start to clean up.
Now, obviously we can’t go in to a tremendous amount in a 20–minute podcast, but there’s a lot more to this whole vowel coloring and the combinations of vowels. And how they blend together. I could play you so many more things. Maybe someday we’ll do a little more of that.
But start listening for it yourself in things that you listen to with singers that you really, really like because these vowels are where the magic is. And the ability to dial in the resonance is where the magic is. And to be able to paint and mix the colors on the palette to get that green that you want, to get that “ah,” to get that “eh,” to get that “uh,” or that “o” or that “uh” for the emotion that you want to express is where the magic happens.
Now, how this relates to the inner singer—and I see we’re on 21 minutes already—how this relates to the inner singer is that the inner singer is obviously a lot of the internal work that we do. And this blending of vowels is conceptual. It is a concept. It is something that you can think about, play around with because what you want to do is you want to wire this in so it begins to happen naturally.
Now, from the outside in we can work a lot and get a lot done. You’ve probably heard of vowel narrowing and certain things that are out there. People talk about “vowel narrowing” or “dialing in the vowel“ or “turning in the vowel” or whatever. And those are over simplified fixes, but they work to get you in.
For example, if a man is singing the word “Father” on an F sharp, let’s say, right in the bridge, and its splatting, and he’s having trouble getting it, rather than spending a whole lot of time explaining everything, the first thing that I would do is I would get him in to experience what it feels like to dial it in, to dial the mix in, even though I’m going to have him sing a word that isn’t the right vowel.So, if he had to sing “Father” on an F-sharp, I would have him sing “Foot” and that would pull it right in.
Now, it still’s not going to be the vowel because it’s all the way to “foot,” but then you learn how to blend a little bit of an “uh,” a little bit of an “ooh,” a little bit of an “ah” until you’re saying the word ”father,” the audience is hearing the word “father,” but you’ve got a blend of “ah,” “uh,” “ooh,” maybe some “o,” maybe any number of different sounds in there that are blending to make that word sound the way you want it to sound, and feel the way it has to feel for you to have joy singing. You have to lock it in. It has to dial in. It can’t just be yelled.
And the same thing if the woman was singing the word father on a B flat or a B natural—the exact same thing.
But those are kind of quick easy fixes from the outside in—by the outside in, what I mean basically is, you’re saying this word, say this word, so you can at least feel it.
But as it starts incorporating in your wiring, then it’s when the magic happens with the subtleties. When you integrate this and your inner singer is now integrated into this, the mental game is integrated into this, and you’ve done it so much that it becomes implicit because we’re rehearsing it from the outside in, we’re saying “ooh” instead of “ah,” and we’re trying to dial and mix all these colors, it is explicit. It’s in the explicit memory system. We’re doing it on purpose, like learning how to drive.
But eventually, it becomes implicit to us. And it’s filed away on the part of the brain that begins to work automatically. And there, that’s when it gets fun.
So from an inner singer stand point, vowels are very inner singer. They’re very inner singer, they’re very outer singer. But as we’re finding,as I’m finding as I teach the inner singer, it’s expanding, like I said, and it’s all inclusive.
It is everything singing. There is nothing that escapes the inner singer and the influence of the inner singer—for good or for bad.
So anyway, enough said about that. I hope you enjoyed this episode. I had a blast doing it. It was really fun. Perhaps I’ll do more of these. I hope you really got a lot of this. This is really cool. This is really cool. I really do hope you got a lot out of this because to me it’s very, very insightful. And once you get this, once you get this, your singing is just going to explode.
So anyway, my best to you. Sorry I had a couple of weeks off. Thrilled to be back. Thanks for hanging in there with me. Let me know how you like this episode. Feedbacks are always welcome. And I will talk to you next week. Bye, bye.