October 30, 2011

The Tickle of Tee

No one likes it after they've been taught to acquire it in the voice, that is, if it's not there naturally. Its presence can be- and often is- upsetting. What am I talking about? The [i] buzz. Students look at you in disbelief.

"Really? That much?" You hear them thinking: "That can't be right!"

But it is.

"You need to acquire that buzz in every note of your voice whether loud or soft. It's your own private audition- a bone-conducted phenomena. It doesn't sound buzzy out here. Rather, it sounds round, full, free and beautiful."

But they don't believe you, not at first anyway. You have to keep them on [i] for a long time, combining it with other vowels - [a] especially. If you can get them to hear their voice on tape, well...that can go a long way.

"[i] is like a T. The top of the T is at the level of your eyes, and the stem goes down into your sternum."

Many hear these words, but because they can't quite accept what they hear, look at you and blink. It doesn't make sense yet, but will if they keep at it with hammer and tongs. It takes awhile to accept this [i]. Many want it to be nice and artistic. But nice doesn't cut it, or cut through an orchestra (the Musical Theater singer needs it as much as the classical voice student, abet, without the darkness). The ones with executive ears imitate your demonstration, often getting the idea immediately. The tone gleams and is full, rich and chiaroscuro. But even they need constant reminding. It always seems too much to them. Too aggressive, whiny, too much like one or the other parent yelling, too much too much.

"Really? Are you sure?"

"Did you know the Old School singers vocalized their songs on [i]?"

More blinking.

"It's the steering wheel for the rest of your voice. The [i] vowel is very forward. Take every tone you make from it."

They leave the studio and practice a whole week and come back thinking they've nailed it and are surprised when you tell them it's not enough. Then you take them to the very edge of the cliff and push.

"OMG!  I had no idea!"  They say. "It feels so easy!"

You smile.

"Don't forget your T."


  1. And how should the student shape his lips, how should he form the tongue (in comparison with other vowels) and how far should he open his mouth (or lower the jaw)? There are so many ways to produce an (I). You ment the pure Italian (I), right? Any example video's?
    Much obliged if you could answer these questions. Seems like a good general advice!
    Greetings, Erik Couvret (Holland)

    1. Hi Erik. Thank you for your comment.

      Yes - a pure Italian /i/. Here's the thing with shaping: if one is thinking about it,too much, one is not listening to what a clear /i/ sounds like. The simple truth is that the vowel will have the correct shape when the sound of the vowel is apprehended by the student. That said, /i/ only needs a thumbs-width opening. The lips? Not pulled back into a grin certainly. What one should strive for is a clear vowel. Dark or light (the result of more or less rounding of the vocal tube), it needs to be CLEAR.

      What helps? Calling. That is, pretending you are intent on communicating to someone across the street. This entails a certain vigor. Use of "M" can be helpful too, that is to say: "MI!"

      Sorry, I haven't made any video examples, but you've given me a great idea! In the meanwhile, if classical-based, you might listen to a tenor like Jussi Bjorling or Luciano Pavarotti.

      The tongue on /i/ is the most arched of all the vowels.



I welcome your comments.