Where do Vowels Come From?

One of the fundamentals of singing is to understand a bit about the process of forming and shaping vowels.  

Some might say that vowels are formed in the mouth. Isn’t that how we talk, with our mouths? Well, yes and no.  

Our mouth – lips, teeth, tongue, and jaw – is very important for speech and song. However, the real mouth of the singer and even of the speaker, is not the mouth.  

The place where vowels are shaped and formed is first in our minds as a concept. So, we gotta have good mental understanding! Then, the brain tells our vocal cords that we want to sing a certain vowel.  The vocal cords adjust themselves to produce that vowel. For example, there is a different shape for [i] than [oh]. Finally, the vocal cords communicate that information to the oro-pharynx which shapes itself accordingly to produce the vowel.  This process takes a split second and seems to happen all at once.

We can think of the oro-pharynx area as the real mouth of the singer, or the place where the vowel is produced. The oro-pharynx is the area in the throat that is actually back of the mouth, around the wall of the throat above the laryngeal area but beneath the area of the nose.  

When the vowel is well defined in this area, it will feel to the singer that in general, one is standing a bit above our mouth, even on the low notes. This is why a voice teacher might say to “get out of the mouth” or “do not drop the vowelled tone down into the mouth.” The teacher is describing the phenomenon of the true mouth of the singer, the place where vowels are fully shaped, as being the area known as the oro-pharynx rather than what we would commonly refer to as the mouth with teeth and tongue.  Strange, but true!

Allen Rascoe

about the author

Allen Rascoe Allen has been enjoying singing since he was a little kid. He officially studied voice at ECU and USC. However, he ran... Read More