As faithful readers of this blog know, it’s been a while since I’ve been moved to add anything to this project. Between the pandemic and all its stressful effects, the demands of teaching voice online for both a college and my private studio, and the complexities of taking care of my family— whew!!! That’s more than enough to fill anyone’s day! But, when something drives me to write, I just HAVE to get it down on paper (or in this case, a laptop). What’s bugging me now? Something so simple, but yet, so profound: as a singer, you should KNOW THE PARTS OF YOUR VOCAL INSTRUMENT, and for Pete’s sake, know how to spell the most important parts!
What has finally driven me over the edge on this issue? I’ve seen incorrect information and poor spelling about the vocal instrument and singing many a time. I usually just shake my head and let it go. But this morning, I saw advertised online, through a prestigious professional singing organization (of which I am a member!) a health product advertising that it helps all kinds of throat issues for singers, including “Vocal Chord inflammation”. Argh!!!!!
If you want me to take your product seriously, could you at least spell the body part you are purporting to help correctly? If you cannot get that basic element right, how can I trust you to get the medical part right, for something I have to put into my body, that could affect my singing?! As Charlie Brown would say, “Good Grief!”
The Top Five Mistakes and How to Fix Them!
So, my fellow singers, don’t be one of the poor souls who suffer from a lack of knowledge about your own instrument! Here is a short primer on major parts of the vocal system that I often see mispronounced and misspelled:
Vocal Cord. Notice the absence of the “h”. A “chord” is a group of notes played or sung simultaneously. Definition: The vocal cords (also called vocal folds) are two bands of smooth muscle tissue found in the larynx (voice box). The vocal cords vibrate and air passes through the cords from the lungs to produce the sound of your voice.
Larynx. Notice that the “n” is after the “y”. I can’t tell you how many times I hear people say “larNyx”. Say la-Rynx, with the “r” before the “y”. Definition: The larynx or “voice box” is the cartilaginous structure at the top of the trachea or “windpipe,” which is in your throat. The larynx contains the vocal cords and is involved in breathing, swallowing, singing and talking.
Diaphragm. This is one of the most misspelled of singing-related words. Try to memorize that the “g” is right before the “m”. The “g” is silent, but I often tell my students to mentally say “dia-frag-m”, sounding the “g” to remind them where it goes. Definition: The diaphragm is a thin, dome-like muscle that separates the abdomen from the chest. When it drops, it creates a vacuum effect that pulls air into the lungs. When you exhale (or sing or talk), the diaphragm relaxes back up and the air is pushed out of the lungs.
Vocal Tract. Okay, folks, it is not vocal “track”, but “tract” with a “t” at the end. Definition: The vocal tract is a pathway and receptacle for air that starts from the top of the vocal folds (cords) and goes all the way to the edge of the lips. In the production of speech and singing, this allows for vibration of the voice in the pharynx (throat), mouth, and nasal cavities.
Soft Palate. This one is a humdinger. I’ve seen it spelled “pallet”, “palette” and everything in between. A pallet is a slab or framework of wood used for carrying things. It can also mean a makeshift bed or straw mattress. A palette, as defined by Merriam-Webster, has several meanings. It can be a thin oval or rectangular board or tablet that a painter holds and mixes pigments on; the set of colors put on the palette; or a particular range, quality, or use of color. NONE of these have anything to do with singing! Definition: The soft palate is the fleshy, flexible part toward the back of the roof of the mouth. This is important to singers because muscles there need to lift at inhalation and stay lifted throughout each phrase while singing.
Is your brain hurting yet? Sorry, but it’s SO important to be knowledgeable about your own vocal instrument, and that also means knowing how to spell its various parts, so you can at least appear to be “in the know” in front of other people!
A Final “Bonus”
Now, to complete my rant, some bonus words that you may be guilty of mispronouncing and misspelling, that have nothing to do with singing! It just grates on me every time I hear them twisted into tortured pronunciations.
First: The spice is TUR-mer-ic. Not “tumor-ic”! I hear chefs on the Food Network, who should know better, say this all the time! They make a heck of a lot more money than I do, this is their business, and yet they cannot even bother to say the name of the spice correctly?
Second: Attention waiters and waitresses everywhere! The pronunciation for bruschetta, everyone’s favorite Italian appetizer, is Bru-SKet-ta, with a hard “k”, not bru-SHet-ta with an “sh” as in “shoe”. Hey, I’m Italian– it had to be said!
Ah… I feel so much better now! … While there is a whole world of misspelled and mispronounced words I could add to this post, I’m a singer, not an English teacher. I hope that even if you’re already an ace at spelling, you’ve learned a little something about your voice, and perhaps even been entertained by my somewhat humorous tone.
Finally, DO take my advice and brush up on how much you know about the vital parts of your vocal instrument, as well as on knowing how to spell them! Yes, there are much more important things going on in the world. But anyone who is serious about their singing and how they present themselves as singers should appreciate the importance of getting those basics correct.