Diction and Intonation

by Jill Whiteman, R & S Chair for Women's Choirs, MT ACDA

An essential element with a successful women’s choir is tone quality which is based upon intonation and diction.  My choirs continually struggle with all three of these elements.  However, diction and consistent intonation seem to be areas showing the most weakness in all my groups. 

To address our problem areas I have used many different warm-ups and techniques.  I carefully listen to other performances and directors.  I am a true scavenger---I steal from wherever I see an opportunity to find a technique to improve my choirs.

Watching my choirs grow weary of the same warm-ups, I found a source which has added life to our warm-up routine.  “Singing Tongue Twisters a-z” by Brian Kane (Jazz Path Publishing) contains 50 twisters cleverly crafted into vocalizes.  For non-proficient pianists (such as me), a sing-a-long CD is included.  Students are competitive and truly want to be able to sing the complicated diction patterns which focus on consonant production.

Another reliable technique to improve intonation involves sight reading.  This activity forces students to focus and truly listen to each other in order to achieve success.  Each year I am amazed how much intonation improves as we work through sight reading exercises. 

Once again, I have dabbled with many different sources for sight reading and inevitably I return to my old standby.  “Patterns of Sound” by Joyce Eilers Bacak and Emily Crocker has been in my classroom for twenty years.  It provides flexibility along with an easy to follow teaching method. 

My high school choir meets in two small groups instead of one choir.  Due to scheduling conflicts, one group contains mostly band students who are accomplished music readers while the other group contains kids that love to sing, but lack music reading.  Using “Patterns of Sound” allows me to create difficult sight reading for the music readers while customizing lessons for the needs of beginning music readers.

Happy singing!


Great literature for women’s choirs—

Shine On - by Lynn Shaw Bailey (Brilee Publishing)
Come Live With Me and Be My Love - Brandvik (Shawnee Press)
Angel in Eternal Flight - Valerie Webdell (Lorenz)
Shady Grove - Celius Dougherty,  arr Snyder (Alfred)
Omnia Sol -  Z. Randall Stroope (Lorenz)

Jill Whiteman teaches both 7-12 choir and 5-12 band at Baker Public Schools in Baker, Montana.