Singing Learning Tools

These are resources you can use to assist in improving your voice,  learning and performance quality.

The Benefits of Singing


The Wiremu Vowel Clock

The Wiremu Vowel Clock is an alternative to the International Phonetic Alphabet, which is a system of symbols (glyphs) that represent specific sounds (phonemes), Robert Wiremu created the Wiremu Vowel Clock. It is a system that allows for quicker communication between ensembles/soloists and conductors/coaches about vowel matching, in any language. It was a response to the complexity of discussing vowels using IPA, which is less specific. If tuning for choirs is both about the placement of a pitch plus the alignment of the vowel (and its endemic harmonic structure) then we must find a way to better communicate and understand vowels. It’s an ongoing exploration…

The Wiremu Vowel Clock


Equal vs Just Intervals- Dr Andrew Whittington

Visit Dr. Andrew Withington’s website below  to learn about  the interval in equal temperament followed by just intonation.


Rhythm Exercises

There are 6 pages that get progressively more complex.

1 – 5 have 2 lines of music, the bass line is the beat while the treble line is the rhythm Joe is asking you to figure out.

There are 2 ways do these exercises

1. Tap the bass line with 1 hand and the treble line with the other. Joe tends to use left for beat and right for rhythm as he is right-handed.
2. Clap the bass line and make a sound “Ta” on each note in the rhythm line. Make sure you hold it for the full length of the note.

Set a metronome going at Crotchet = 60 to keep you in time. This can be the second hand on your watch or the second flashing on the digital clock or you can download a metronome for free.

If you have never done this type of rhythm exercise before it will be confusing and difficult at first. If it doesn’t seem to make sense contact Joe. Go slower if it is difficult, count quavers instead of crotchets or minims.

This is not a test for you to pass or fail. It is a skill you need to develop because all the top choirs in New Zealand expect the singers to be able to read music so NZMC should at least be able to read to Grade 1.

Rhythm exercise 1
Rhythm_exercise 2
Rhythm_exercise 3
Rhythm exercise 4
Rhythm exercise 5
Rhythm exercise 6


Phonetics   [fə’netɪks]

A set of symbols that represent vocal sounds that allows you to sing/speak in any language.

If you have a good dictionary it will have phonetic symbols after every word showing how it is pronounced (as above).

Check this website to get a better understanding of the use of the symbols.

Many of you are aware of the importance of harmonics in singing and the better you tune the vowel the better the collective sound will be.

Try saying foot, goose, school. These words are spelt with the same central vowels but there should be subtle changes in the position of tongue and lips for each, it is this subtle change that makes the difference between singing in tune and singing out of tune with the people around you.

At the moment we will start with these symbols:

5 Vowel sounds

a          father                        e          bed                             i           feet

ɔ          pot                              u          school

2 mute/short vowel sounds

ə          father                        ɪ           kit

3 consonants

ʃ           ship                            ʧ          child                           k          kid

The Latin word coeli in phonetics is                  ʧeli

The Italian word che in phonetics is                 ke

The English word I in phonetics is                      aɪ

The English word day in phonetics is                deɪ

The last 2 of these are diphthongs where one vowel has 2 sounds during its duration.

All Kiwi vowels are diphthongs



Latin pronunciation


Singing Technique – Vowels Sounds

First the vowel sound “oo” as in school, pool, fool and Hah-lair-loo-yah. Assuming you don’t have an Aussie accent these are all described as a long sound.

A long time ago we did an experiment with the 3 words “foot, goose, school”. We said them and felt the 3 different placements in the mouth for the same spelling. “Foot” is short and more towards the back of the palate. “Goose” has a higher tongue so is flatter in internal shape and close to the upper front teeth. “School” is a long sound and reliant on the length of the top lip.

Everyone of us sings with a slightly different sound even on the same words and notes but this is not a problem when on our own.

My NZMC stooges in the audience, were amazed that despite the different sounds when singing solo, the cohesive sound was stunning when you sang together and got the same vowel pronunciation. It was a big, bright, vibrant sound.

The point is that you cannot sing words as you speak them and expect to make a great sound you have to join the herd.


Singing Technique – diphthong



A sound formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable, in which the sound begins as one vowel and moves towards another (as in coinloud, and side ).

We need help to break the habit of doing them as they are a part of usual NZ speech and we sing them when not concentrating or not being sufficiently aware.

The “How can I leave her” in “Anthem” is the classic example of a diphthong. Say each of the words in italics (above) slowly and also “How”. You will feel your mouth close on the second sound in each word. This is speech, it can’t be allowed to happen in singing.

The problem is not so much that we do it but that we all move from one sound to the next within the same syllable at slightly different times giving me 30 odd variations on a pitch and word at any point in the song as if I recorded the different Hallelujah’s and tried to smash them together after the fact. This has to stop.

Any one voice changing vowel sound (diphthong) at a different time to the ones around will be picked up by the mic. Don’t sing English, make sound. Keep your mouth open and your tongue forward all the time.


Pronunciation Guide Video for Tarakihi (opens in a new tab)

I ask that you watch this for several reasons.

The angle of the camera up to bar 28 “A te tarakihi…” gives you an ideal view of the perfectly relaxed tongue giving clearly enunciated vowels. The tongue is flat across the blade with no tension evident.

This is teamed with  precise lip and jaw motion. At bar 28 the [a] vowel elicits a little more action in the jaw but still no tension anywhere evident in the tongue, jaw, face or neck.

This is what I expect you to see when you watch your self in the mirror. Tongue flat, wide, relaxed, moving easily from one vowel position to the next.

The speaker is Robert Wiremu. Robert has a lovely bass voice and has been conductor for NZ Secondary Students choir, a voice clinician for NZ Youth choir and Voices NZ as well as his position as a Professional Teaching Fellow at Auckland University Music school.

His fields of study include

  • Singing Technique and Practices
  • Operatic Repertoire and Pedagogy
  • Lyrical Linguistics
  • Choral Repertoire and Pedagogy
  • Vocal Coaching

If you can do it like Robert does it doesn’t get any better than that.

Please look at the video then imitate the easy production of sound by watching carefully in a mirror.

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