Gemination? Time to elongate your consonants.

Gemination, or as I tell my students time after time with a smile, "Elongate your consonants!" What does this mean? Well, it's difficult to hear and understand at first. It's one of those things when you get it , you'll hear yourself and every other singer do or not do it. And you won't ever forget it.  

Elongating consonants is the act of making the consonant itself longer and more audible. Typically, when a singer tries working on consonants for the first time it's easy to smack into them and go straight into the vowel. After all, the vowel is more important anyway. Right?  I don't believe so. Especially not in commercial music. Consonants are just as important as high soaring vowels during the final chorus of the ballad. Why? They are the set-up to just about every vowel you ever sing. They shape the word and give your singing the percussive rhythm that draws listeners in. Consonants make songs catchy. Consonants give those that pay more attention to the lyrics than the high notes, guitar riffs, or drum fills something to really zone in on. From past experience, and especially down here in Nashville, voicing strong lyrical content as a singer or songwriter will get a singer much further up the music industry ladder than just hitting a high note. 

So why do we need to elongate the consonants? Why can't it just be a hard fast "T" in the word "take" or a quick loud "L" in the word "love"? It can be, but it won't implement the the emotion you as the singer are trying to convey. There are two main reasons why elongating consonants are important.

Technique 

  • Related to my last blog, High Notes? It's all about the approach., long consonants are a great way to approach higher notes, and every other note. The simple act of holding a "T" or "S" and an "H" requires a fair amount of air to slip through. The moving air is really really good. This will relieve a lot of the compression and tension that is created when hitting a consonant and the popping into the vowel. While the consonant is forming, the vocal cords are already buzzing, the light steady air flow is going, and going into the vowel will be just a slight bit easier. That slight bit of ease will add up over a long performance. And last but not least in technique, this will help your motor memory. Over elongating your consonants while learning new songs, or even your old songs, you'll notice it's more difficult to forget words. Why? Your body gets used to shaping the consonant at that particular moment in the song. Just like learning an instrument, motor memory is key to playing everything better. Looking or finding the note on the guitar or piano isn't fun for anyone. Trying to remember the lyrics isn't very fun either. I think a lot of us have learned that the hard way.  Even if you consciously forget the lyric coming up, your body and brain hasn't. Just keep going and you'll be surprised how the right word appears.  

Performance

  • Listeners will understand your words. Simple as that. It's extremely easy to forget about the importance of lyrics while working on breath support methods, scales, and expanding your range. To most of us, the whole reason we take voice lessons are to become a better singer. Not just to get better at scales. By lengthening your consonants, you will sound like a singer first. A singer that connects to and emits emotion with their music. Those who are involved in theater have often heard the director say, "I'd rather you give me too much, than too little." This is a very important lesson. While the performer knows the song, knows the words front to back, backwards and forwards, the listener does not. The listener, even if they know the song, doesn't usually know the song as well as the performer. As the singer, you are putting on a performance every time you sing for others. Give them your words. Make sure they understand every word you say. The listeners will thank you for it.  While it may seem silly at first and even a bit challenging to over exaggerate and lengthen your consonants, it won't seem that way to the listener. In quicker songs, elongating the consonants leads to a percussive nature to the voice. The rhythm in which you chose to sing your lyrics is more present. Who doesn't love a good groove? Even in a song without a time signature, your voice has a flow to it. Let the consonants set the pace. Not only will your listeners enjoy, as the singer, you will get more into what you're singing. Easier vowels, better reception, getting into your natural lyrical groove, all this will boost your singing confidence. That is definitely going to make your performance better. 

How should you practice this? Like I said, it can be a little difficult at first to understand and hear the difference. My favorite way to have my students pick it up easier, is to have them imitate well spoken movie stars. Long time Hollywood stars such as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and my favorite, Christopher Walken, speak very naturally with this technique. Were they trained in it specifically? In a way, yes. A lot of this actually stems from acting. What these actors as well as many others do so well, is convey strong emotion without pushing the volume while generating a hypnotic flow to what they say. Rappers also do this extremely well at a much quicker pace. Listen to Eminem, Tupac, or Jay-Z, every consonant is very clear. It's not as fast and hard of an attack as you would think. It's very well enunciated. As my friend Jimmy Gnecco once showed me, there is a much deeper impact when saying something quietly with long slow consonants than just a sloppy shout on a high note.

Try saying "Are you talking to me?" very slowly. Make the consonants long, not the vowels. "Are (Yyyy)ou (Ttttt)alking (tt)o (Mmm)e?"  Try again. Space out the words. Keep doing it over and over. Let the air flow. Make sure the consonants are longer than usual, not long vowels. It will sound silly at first. For fun, try lengthening the vowels one time. Now that sounds really really silly. Go back to the consonants. Next, pick a phrase from your favorite song. Just speak it, very slowly, space out the words a bit, focus on the long consonants. Do this over and over. As you build speed back to normal, you'll notice your consonants are not any harder to say this way. In fact, you'll notice it's a bit easier. You'll fall into your percussive lyrical groove and want to keep going. When you go back to singing in the original key, it will feel more natural. And your listeners will be able to sit back and relax and not have to think about what you're saying as much. They will enjoy your overall performance that much more. 

Are you elongating your consonants? Gemination is key.