Now that you know how to control your pitch and resonant spaces, it’s time take into account how you form your words.
Vowels like “ee” (as in “key”), “a” (as in “ate”), and “æ” (as in “cat”) are bright because the tongue is raised towards the roof of the mouth and placed forward closer to the teeth, creating less space in the mouth (as we discussed in the resonance chapter). Whereas the vowels “oo” (as in “shoe”), “o” (as in “pole”), and “ah” (as in “bother”) are dark because the tongue is low and to the back of the mouth, creating more space.
Also pay attention to the differences in your embouchure, or the placement of your lips, while saying these vowels. When you say the first set of vowels, your lips are spread into kind of a smiley face. Whereas when you say the second set of vowels, your lips are rounded like a kissy face.
When your lips are rounded, you create more resonant space in your mouth. Try saying “ssss” and round your mouth. See how the sound changes?
So we want to say all of our vowels with our lips widened into a smiley face (you should smile more!/s) and with our tongues placed forward. You can practice by keeping the tip of your tongue placed against the tops of your bottom teeth.
It’s going to take a lot of practice to relearn how you say all of your vowels, so be patient and just give it time! It might be helpful to imitate a valley girl or Australian accent, as their vowels tend to be brighter sort of to the extreme.
Hey, speaking of valley girls, it’s time to imitate them again if you weren’t already! Intonation refers to how the voice rises and falls during speech. Not to lump people in categories because gender is largely a social construct, but at least in the Western world, men tend to have more monotone voices than women. Women tend to have more ups and downs in our voices. We’re more lyrical.
So give me those sing-songy voices! While you’re practicing, imitate voices you like. Again, valley girl voices are a great example. You can always tone it down later, but go ahead and get use to speaking lyrically.
This also brings us to upward inflection at the ends of sentences, as if everything we say is a question, even when it’s not? There’s a lot that can be said about this. Women exist in a submissive role in our very patriarchal society, so women aren’t given the confidence to speak their minds even when they’re making a statement they know to be true or attempting to set a boundary. This is, of course, a very real issue that deserves broader discussion for sure.
On the other hand though, isn’t that sort of looking at things from a patriarchal lens? Notice that women also use this upward inflection with each other. Which, yes could just be socialization and maybe we don’t actually know how to be assertive, but is assertiveness actually the end goal? I personally find it so refreshing that I can be talking with women and for the most part no one speaks over each other and when we want to assert a point, we’re polite about it. Perhaps overly polite, yes. But I don’t think that the goal should necessarily be for us to be more assertive like men, because that over-assertiveness is kind of a problem, isn’t it? Of course, we are living in their world so we have to use their tactics against them if we want to be heard, so…. I’m truly at a loss here.
You may be thinking, “Isn’t this off topic for a discussion on vocal theory?” And you’d probably be right, except that the ways we communicate say a lot about the world we live in and our places within it, so no. Sit down.
So anyway. Should you or shouldn’t you do the upward inflection? I don’t know, try it out to see how you like it. If nothing else, it’ll help with your inflection while you’re practicing. And if we remove the social implications and just make it about musicality, then you might notice that in music (especially classical), higher, brighter instruments tend to feature ascending resolutions more than lower, darker instruments. That is, higher instruments tend to end with upward inflections. It’s the thing to do when you’re a soft and pretty mezzo-soprano or a contralto. You emphasize those highs!
Which makes me wonder if maybe women always did the upward inflection with their voices historically just because it was a natural thing to do and maybe men decided to rebrand the upward inflection as subservience in order to subvert us for something we did anyway for our own reasons? I don’t have any evidence to back this up and I’ve already derailed this lesson enough so moving on. Point is, life is complicated so just live your lives.