Two Virtuoso Singers On Vowel Tuning

Tuning vowels is the act of precisely adjusting for optimum resonance on every pitch.  While it can be painstaking to learn to do correctly, it is one of the cornerstones of great singing.

In order to tune vowels you need to be keenly aware of your two resonators.  Your throat and your mouth.

You can adjust the size and shape of these resonators by making adjustments to the larynx, tongue, jaw and lips.  Each of these control the vowels you make.  Change the resonator – change the vowel.

Different vowels, as well as different shades of a vowel, will interact with the pitch being sung in various ways.  Some shades of a vowel will cause incorrect resonance, resulting in vocal issues such as strain, flipping, cracking, etc.  Other shades will create enormous power and ease.

Your job is to work in the correct shade of the vowel on all pitches.

Although my two examples are opera singers, these male tenors are approaching the notes very much like a contemporary singer who requires power.  Their approaches to vowel tuning are extremely instructive.


Example 1. Luciano Pavarotti

One of the great voices of all time singing his signature aria “Nessun Dorma.”



Forward the video to 2:05.  The first high note he hits at 2:07 is an A4 (A above middle C) which sits in the male head register.

The first time through I want you to listen for a deep UH sound on this note.

Now play it again and see if you can hear a bright AW (almost an AH) sound on the same note.

Listen one more time and try to hear both the deep UH and the higher, brighter AW sound together at the same time.

What you are hearing is the deep UH part of the vowel provided by the throat area and the bright AW provided by the mouth.

Pavarotti has perfectly tuned both portions of the vowel for maximum power and beauty of tone.


Example 2 Juan Diego Florez

Juan Diego Florez is a brilliant young tenor who has gained fame by singing the same role that brought fame to a young Pavarotti.  The famous aria from The Daughter of the Regiment” with nine high Cs!

We will be analyzing a different piece today.  Forward the video below to 7:20.  This moves quickly so it may take a few listenings.

Florez does a run on an AW vowel starting on A below middle C (male chest voice) and ending on a brilliant high C (high upper register).

His voice shows no breaks or strain, but goes through his transition perfectly.  How does he do this?

Florez employs brilliant and lightening fast vowel tuning to accomplish this.  Let’s break this down.

When he starts the run on the A he is on an open AW vowel, which helps him tune into chest.  As he ascends the AW goes towards UH in order to negotiate the transition of registers and to avoid pulling chest voice.

When he hits the high note he now adjusts the vowel towards EH, in order to boost the high resonance and get a brilliant cutting sound.  Three distinct shades of the vowel in order to get maximum results on each pitch.

All of this is done smoothly and quickly and goes unnoticed by most listeners.

This expert adjustment of vowels takes study and discipline to accomplish but is well worth it if you wish to join the elite ranks of virtuoso singers.