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I propose a New Years resolution that will definitely change your life. I want you to learn to sing and speak with powerful and clear diction. Read on to accept the challenge!
Proper Diction is one of those subjects that is often misunderstood or ignored completely due to complete ignorance or cultural aversion. Yet, the mastery of performing powerful and clear diction is critical to how you present yourself as a competent citizen and educated professional in a highly competitive world.
The truth is, you can drive the greatest car, live in the biggest house or wear the finest clothes, but if you mumble your words and think talking in “cultural slang” is “to cool to get real and change” then your first impression with people will always be less than you probably wanted.
It is like a person with bad breath, dirty nails, soiled and wrinkled clothes or body odor. People will always remember these things about you and not the “flashy lifestyle.” Your presentation is very important and exercising proper diction should be high on your list of personal development goals.
One of the challenges in America is that, because we are such a melting pot of cultures, the overall “American Diction” has become very sloppy. Isn’t it true that you wish you had a dollar for every time you had to ask somebody, “Can you please repeat that?”
Let’s read the “official” definition of Diction.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Diction, in its original, primary meaning, refers to the writer's or the speaker's distinctive vocabulary choices and style of expression. A secondary, common meaning of "diction" is better, and more precisely, expressed with the word enunciation — the art of speaking clearly so that each word is clearly heard and understood to its fullest complexity and extremity. This secondary sense concerns pronunciation and tone, rather than word choice and style.
Diction is divided into two types: Denotation is the literal meaning of a word. Connotation is the attitudes and feelings associated with a word.
Diction has multiple concerns; register — words being either formal or informal in social context — is foremost. Literary diction analysis reveals how a passage establishes tone and characterization, e.g. a preponderance of verbs relating physical movement suggests an active character, while a preponderance of verbs relating states of mind portrays an introspective character. Diction also has an impact upon word choice and syntax.
Diction is comprised of eight elements: Phoneme, Syllable, Conjunction, Connective, Noun, Verb, Inflection, and Utterance.
Don’t you hate some of these “High Brow” definitions?
Now it is time to discuss some solutions to our “Diction Dilemma”. First, let me remind you of something very familiar to you. The English Language when it is actually spoken by the English. That’s right, our former landlords across the Atlantic Ocean. Most people like to hear the English speak. Their diction, for the most part, is very clear. Proper diction is a part of their culture. I like to watch news reports from England. You will see somebody, for example, that looks like they came from India (there is certainly a strong accent in this culture). But, when they open their mouth and start speaking, they speak very clear English, the accent and all! This fact demonstrates great hope for anybody who wants to clean up his or her diction. If someone from India can completely change how he or she talks then anybody can.
There are many aspects of diction that can be discussed that need improvement. I thoroughly discuss these in the chapter on Diction in my e-book, Singing and Speaking on the Edge of a Grunt. I will attempt to simplify one of the obvious ones: Improper use or complete lack of Consonance.
The Consonances that get neglected the most are the ones at the ends of words. For instance, we may not pronounce the D in Made, the T in Flat, the K in Park or the CH in Latch. Go ahead and test yourself. Find something to read and read it out loud. You are probably like most people and you do not make the effort to pronounce these consonances. When you do not, your speech is sloppy and run together. We are so much in a hurry these days to get from one end of the sentence to the other, we forget about what we are saying. Then, we get irritated when someone requests that we repeat ourselves. Somehow it is their fault and not ours. Am I hitting any nerves? Good!
One important reason why Consonances are so important is simple physics. Lets take a Consonant like T. It does not matter if it is at the beginning of a sentence or at the end, the performance is the same as is its importance. Perform the Consonance T. You will notice that the tip of your tongue touches the back of your top teeth and, after you build up some air pressure, you let it all go and hence we have a T. The important aspect of this is that it is what I call an “explosive Consonance”. When the air pressure is released, the “explosion” moves a lot of air molecules a longer distance than if we just said the vowel “aw”. This being the case, the T will travel farther in the air. Therefore, it will be heard at a greater distance and your diction will be more powerful. If you are an actor on a stage all by yourself performing a monologue, the back row will be able to understand what you are saying more clearly. And if that is true then those closer to you will definitely understand you. This is always the result that clear diction will provide.
In private practice, one way I coach vocal students to accomplish this is to “get in character.” Simply pretend that whomever you are speaking to, act like they are all hard of hearing and your message is very important. When you do this, you will find yourself moving your lips, face and jaw to try to make your diction also clear by the actions of your body. I would say most of us have tried to speak to someone very hard of hearing or had to communicate across a distance with our facial expressions when we had to be quiet. This exercise will bring your body diction to its optimum potential. Add the clear Consonance to the mix and your will become a clear communicator every time.
To conclude, practice reading your Lyrics, Speech or Monologue slowly and with clear and articulate diction. Take your time. The goal should always be not WHEN we get to the end of a sentence, but HOW we get there.
I hope you enjoyed the article on Diction.
I also hope that you will click on the links below for a FREE Diction Video Lesson, FREE preview of my Ebook and a FREE Holiday Newsletter.
Goodbye for now!
Jonathan Morgan Jenkins/Vocal Warrior
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