I get the same sort of reaction from voice students when I want to talk about diphthongs as when I want to talk about glottal stop management:
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
According to Google search, a diphthong is a sound formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable, in which the sound begins as one vowel and moves toward another (as in coin, loud, and side). And I just learned today that it has two pronunciations: dif-thong and dip-thong. I always thought the second one was incorrect.
Why You Should Care About Diphthong Management When You Sing
Besides getting your mouth open (see Opera Open), learning to manage your diphthongs is the next most effective way of improving your singing. Unless a country singing style with a Southern accent is your goal, you need to learn this technique.
Remember the Five Basic Vowel Shapes
Before you can understand diphthongs, you need to understand the five basic vowel shapes in singing for those of us singing in English. You can watch the 51 second video here for a demonstration, but here’s the list:
Combine Vowel Sounds for Common Words
Many of the common diphthongs in English aren’t spelled the way you might think. The main one that we sing all the time is “I.” It combines the AH and EE vowel sounds.
According to FluentU, there are eight official diphthongs in American English. Here’s there list using the International Phoentic Alphabet (IPA):
- /aɪ/ as in “Light”
- /eɪ/ as in “Play”
- /eə/ as in “Pair”
- /ɪə/ as in “Deer”
- /oʊ/ as in “Slow”
- /ɔɪ/ as in “Toy”
- /ʊə/ as in “Sure”
I don’t know about you, but the idea of learning the IPA seems more painful than sticking pins in my eyes. Click on the link above if you want to know more from them and get a demo of all eight.
I only want to address four using my spellings of the pure vowel sounds:
- AH + EE as in “I” and “High”
- EH + EE as in “Hey” and “Say”
- OH + OO as in “Slow” and “Hope”
- OH + EE as in “Boy” and “Joy”
Notice that your mouth tends to be more open for the first vowel and more closed on the second vowel.
The Big Bang for Your Buck
What will get you big results is this idea:
Hold out the open vowel for as long as possible before closing to the second vowel sound.
In John Denver’s song “Rocky Mountain High,” the last word of each line of the chorus has the diphthong AH + EE, and he holds each word out for at least four beats:
But the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye
Rocky mountain high (Colorado)
Rocky mountain high (Colorado)
Enough Talk, Here's a Demo
I will say that only AFTER I made this video, I watched Katy sing it, and she does close down to the “ee” when she sings “ignite,” but it doesn’t bother me so much because she keeps it open when it counts on the word “Firework.” “Baby, you’re a FAAAAAAAH-er-work!”
2 thoughts on “Diphthong Management in Singing”
Great stuff Sandy! Hope all are well!
Hi Ed! So good to hear from you! I love that you are clicking through to my post on diphthong management. Lol!