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How to Sing and Speak CLEARLY

Eh-hem.  Pipe down everyone, it is time for our dramatic poetry reading…

“She sells seashells by the seashore. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

*dramatic snaps*

Besides when you’re reading tongue twisters at your local poetry bar, do you ever find yourself getting tongue-tied? Mumbling? Speaking too fast? Do people ever have trouble understanding you when you speak or sing?  Well ladies and gentlemen, I, the great Voice Detective, am hot on the trail of the culprit behind these vocal assassinations.  And the perpetrator is…..


Cue horrific screaming in the audience.  Dang this poetry night is really taking a wild turn.  

In my last blog we discussed Tongue Tension, and the importance of disengaging that tension.  Today we are looking deeper into pronunciation and speech.  As you can imagine, this all goes back to the tongue.   

Why do I sound unclear when I sing or speak?

The reason speech or singing comes out muffled is almost always because the tongue is not creating words correctly or efficiently.  We are going to dig a little deeper into this today! Be warned, this is a little technical so hang tight with me young Jedis!

A Quick Way to Start Speaking and Singing Clearer

Its all about hitting our consonants, people.  But not just hitting them- hitting them correctly.  The way we pronounce letters like “L”, “N”, and “S” are great indicators of whether or not our tongue is functioning properly.  We should not see a person’s tongue leave their mouth on any English words or consonants except for “TH” (like “this” or “that”).  So if we see someone’s tongue in between their teeth when pronouncing an “L” (“I Love you”), then we are seeing signs that their tongue is not creating consonants in the most efficient way and therefore is probably not functioning at it’s best.  

For instance, to create an ”L,” one should lift the tip of the tongue up, and make contact with the roof of the mouth, without touching the back of the teeth.  Try it! Say “L” very slowly.

Did you bump into the back of your teeth?  If so, try again without touching the teeth at all.  Now do the same thing on an “N,” “T,” and “D.”  

THAT is how your pronounce those letters.  Lifting the tongue to the roof of the mouth, without touching the back of the teeth.  If you go about it any other way in speech or singing, you are suddenly making yourself vulnerable to vocal assassinations! And the Great Vocal Detective will not stand for that! 

As mentioned earlier, the only time we should see a person’s tongue exit their mouth in speech is on a “TH.”  Try saying: “this, that, these, and those.” Your tongue should come between your teeth to create the “TH” sound and then return inside your mouth to complete the word. Some singers and speakers want to try to create a “TH” sound in the same way that we create a “D,” which might work in the short term, but in the long term can make our speech sound mumbled. 

Final Thoughts on Mr. Tongue

First of all, I am proud of all the young Jedis that made it this far in a much more technical blog post! You did it! 

Secondly, if you think that your speech sounds mumbled or unintelligible, and you had trouble with any of the above exercises, then I highly recommend Myofunctional Therapy.  I do have training in this area (most especially as it relates to singing and public speaking), and would be happy to assess you in terms of whether or not you may wish to consider seeing a true Myofunctional Therapist Professional. These guys are more or less tongue specialists that help with training people to swallow properly.  They also help make sure the tongue functions correctly in speech.  It is a fascinating area of study, and can make a big difference to the words that come out of our mouths! 🙂

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Jacob Burton

Jacob Burton is a highly rated professional vocal coach located in Nashville, Tennessee. He offers instruction via both online and in studio, and specializes in singing with proper technique, increasing the vocal range, vocal therapy, and especially the "mix" technique.