Chi pronuncia bene, canta bene

I had a bit of an epiphany on the Old Italian nostrum “Chi pronuncia bene, canta bene.”

In English, we translate that to “Who pronounces well, sings well.” Many have taken this to mean that if your articulation and consonants are clean, then you will sing with greater clarity of tone.

However, it’s important that we interpret this dictum in its original language: Italian.

In the Italian language, the pronunciation of words is dependent on the VOWEL sound, and not the consonant. Italians express emotional states and vocal utterances in the vowel. This is in contradistinction to the English language, which uses tremendous emphasis on the consonant for the expression of the word. This is also why Italian is such a musical language: the tone is carried more in the vowels and is not disturbed by the intrusion of overly articulated consonants.

An example I use in the studio is the difference in approach to the same sentence spoken by two separate speakers, one Italian and the other English.

An English speaking person might strongly emphasize the consonant [k] in the following sentence:

“I want to kill that guy.”

However, an Italian speaking in English would emphasize the VOWEL, showing that the template of pronunciation for the Italian rests in elongated clear phonemes:

“I want to KEEEEL that guy.”

The importance of “Chi pronuncia bene, canta bene” should not be misinterpreted in our English tongue as the overly pronounced and exaggerated diction engaged in by many English-speaking singers, to ‘get the text across.’

To pronounce well, as the Italians knew, must be understood as clarity and definition of the VOWEL form. It is the vowel that is the carrying tone of the voice after all. To place pronunciation as a matter of consonants is to misunderstand this classic admonition, which has to be understood in the context of Italian, a vowel-centric romance language.

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5 thoughts on “Chi pronuncia bene, canta bene

  1. Could the Italian phrase possibly be interpreted as meaning “one pronounces well BECAUSE, i.e. as the RESULT of singing well”? Similar, perhaps, to “he who knows how to breathe, knows how to sing.” That is, breathing takes care of itself for those who have learned, or ARE learning to sing well…again, contingent upon “good vowelling.”

  2. Perhaps! Although I find that resonance adjustment and vowel definition as a causal agent does help the resultant tone – but the point is well taken. And the breath comment is absolutely true. I often think that it could go even simpler. Can you breathe? Are you breathing? Then you can sing. It’s a nice inclusionary mantra!

    • I have often asked of my students: “Do you want to improve your ‘tone’? If so, then improve your vowel(s).” … Here’s something I just made up: To become a better vocalist, become a better “vowelist.” (Shades of E. Foreman…”the voice is the vowel, the vowel is the voice.”)

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