Diction in Context: Singing in English, Italian, German, and French

First Edition

Brenda Smith

Details: 345 pages, B&W, Softcover, 8.5" x 11"

ISBN13: 978-1-63550-120-9

© 2021 | Available

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Diction in Context is a unique and highly practical textbook for singers learning to sing in English, Italian, German, and French. Each chapter is designed for use in diction courses in academic music and voice programs, helping students learn through pronunciation, articulation, enunciation, punctuation, and cultural context in each language.

Students and teachers of singing will benefit from the text’s pertinent biographical, historical and literary sources along with diction rules and textual examples of English, Italian, German and French song. For each language, there is a section on sentence structure and syntax intended to assist readers with poetic analysis and word-by-word translations. Representative song texts are provided for the purpose of comparative listening and phonetic transcription. Comparative listening reveals subtle differences in expression and diction. In addition, the texts are presented in a workbook format, allowing space for IPA dictation practice.

Diction in Context provides singers with the tools needed to delve deeply into the poetry and music they sing, to pronounce text accurately and to feel confident in expressing it. By combining English, Italian, German, and French into one easy-to-use textbook, students will benefit from a comparative perspective of singing in each language.

Key Features:

  • Repertoire lists are provided for each language and are designed to be used for class presentations and assessments
  • Discussion questions to challenge reader comprehension of key concepts and songs
  • Word-by-word translations to accompany foreign language texts
  • An end-of-book glossary featuring definitions of terms in the text as well as terminology encountered in related literature
  • Three practical appendices, including:

o   Practice drills, quizzes, and assessment forms

o   A list of additional resources for diction learning

o   An Index of Works Cited featuring all poems and songs referenced in the book in one easily accessible list

  • Access to a PluralPlus companion website with PowerPoint lecture slides, lesson plans, exercises, electronic versions of the appendices and supplementary resources


"Brenda Smith’s Diction in Context is a unique and worthwhile resource for teachers and students of undergraduate diction. It is evident that an enormous amount of experience and research went into the creation of this text, and yet at fewer than 400 pages it is a manageable length for a year of diction study. The organization and content are such that diction and interpretation are inextricably linked throughout, a message that is of the utmost importance for young singers. As stated in the first chapter, 'If the singer does not thoroughly grasp the text, the singing will be a vocal sound event without pathos and artistry.' Smith has created a resource that promotes knowledge and artistic expression from the earliest stages of vocal study, and it is a welcome contribution to the vocal literature canon."
—Jeanette Fontaine, Mississippi State University, in Journal of Singing (May/June 2020)

"I began this review by identifying one of the singular features of this new lyric diction text. Borrowing techniques from the field of literary analysis, including comprehension, contextualisation and close reading, places expression and meaning at the forefront of the singing diction student’s mind, illuminating and invigorating what can otherwise be a dry subject. The book’s other impressive features - the uniting of all the major elements of diction and interpretation, the recognition and provision of online and other resources, the course design and the inclusion of learning and assessment tasks –lead me to place this book high on a list of recommended lyric diction texts. One feature, however, stands out above the rest for its uniqueness, necessity and timeliness: the use of guided comparative listening tasks. In a loud, overwhelmingly visual world, whose busy pace may be said to encourage casual and cursory relationships, the ability to listen attentively and critically has become an art and a craft. Smith acknowledges this by including comparative listening tasks for every language, naming individual singers and pianists, and citing actual commercial recordings."
—Linda Barcan, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, in Australiian Voice (2020)

“In her new book on the subject, Diction in Context: Singing in English, Italian, German, and French Brenda Smith successfully argues that how stories are told deserves more respect and interest from students and teachers alike. There is so much more to what one is saying than the simple mechanics of “how to.” For the singer, examining how culture and language affect poetry can open a window on intention and interpretation that is not always considered.
Diction in Context is a comprehensive guide to sung diction for both the teacher and student of singing that uses a “poetry first” approach. Smith takes a deep dive into the close reading of text to inspire a technical study of diction that asks students to consider not merely how a word is pronounced, but how the text as a whole came to be, the relationship of composer to poet, and where it lives in the development of both the language and the canon. She gives the student tools to illuminate not just the poetry of the sung word but also the importance of a strong understanding of the formation of sound that will serve across a wide range of musical disciplines.
It could be especially helpful in smaller vocal programs 
without as many resources; a separate diction coach and/or course are not always available. In these settings, professors and private teachers can use Diction in Context not just as a helpful reference but as a supplement over the course of study, depending on the studio teacher or the program’s goals. English can be tackled in the first semester, Italian in the second, and so on into German and French, rather than the suggested year-long course. Among the helpful tools provided in the book are a list of commonly used poetic terms in all four languages, Greek and Roman mythology references, and literary symbols. The online resources are strong as well. Smith provides the student with a helpful chart comparing IPA sounds and symbols across the four main languages. A delightful addition is the list of tongue twisters created by her husband, Professor Ronald Burrichter of the University of Florida. This can be used with younger students in the private studio, and it will keep the college students laughing, too. […]
Overall, I highly recommend this book in any number of academic settings. It could also 
serve as a helpful refresher for the singing professional.
Susan Derry
, American University, in Voice and Speech Review (October 2020)


A Message to Students

A Message to Teachers




Chapter 1. Gathering the Tools      







            Cultural Context

The Anatomy of Diction

The Mechanics of Diction

            Classification of Vowels

            Classification of Consonants

Diction and Vocal Health

            The Rainbow Passage

Interpretation: Where to Begin

            What Do Singers Sing About?

            Where Were Songs Sung and Why?

            Why Do We Sing as We Do?

            How is Love Expressed in English?

            What is the Italian View of Love?

            How do Germans Interpret the Concept of Love?

            Do the French Have Different Views of Love?

            Love and the Seasons

            Singer’s Diction: Poetry in Song

            Discussion Questions

Orpheus and His Lyre

Can Poetry Be Defined?

            What is Poetry?

            Who Writes Poetry, When, and Why?

            How Should Poetry Be Read?

            How Does a Singer Approach a Poem Set to Music?

            Why Is Close Reading Important for Singing and Diction?

            Discussion Questions

 International Phonetic Alphabet: History and Use

            Rules of the Road

Essential Vocabulary

Additional Tools

            Terms from Greek Mythology and Roman Legend

            Literary Symbols

Translations – Literal, “Singable,” and Poetic




            Expressivity of Vowels and Consonants

            Literal or “Word-by-Word” Translations

            Singable Translations

            Poetic Translations/Equivalent




Chapter 2. English

The Sounds of English

Singing in English: Why is English Such a Challenge?

Singing in English: How is Singing English different than Speaking English?

The Sounds of English

            English Vowel Sounds: The Cornerstones of Singer’s Diction

            English Consonants

Study Guide: English Consonant Sounds

Practicing Vowel Sounds in English

The Parts of Speech and Elements of Syntax in English

            Component Parts of English Sentences

William Shakespeare: The Place to Start in English

Early English Song

            Lute Songs and Their Lyrics Defined

            Discussion Questions

Diction in Context: Comparative Listening Exercises

English Ayres

            John Dowland (1563-1626)

            Philip Rosseter (1568-1623)

            Thomas Morley (1557-1602)

Early Opera, Oratorio and Airs

            Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

            George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

            Thomas Arne (1710-1778)
            George Munro (1685-1731)

English Diction First Presentation

            Repertoire Suggestions

            Duet Settings

Poetry and Song in 19th and 20th Century England

            William Blake (1757-1823) Poet, Painter and Printmaker

            The Brownings: Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) and Robert Browning (1812-1889

            The Rossettis: Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

            Ivor Gurney (1890-1937): Poet and Composer

            A. E. Housman (1859-1936): Poet Whose Words Sparked British and American Song

The 19th and 20th Century American Song

The American Approach to Poetic Thought

            Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) and Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

            James Joyce (1882-1941) and James Stephens (1880-1950)

            Discussion Questions

English Diction Final Presentation Repertoire List




Chapter 3. Italian

The Sounds of Italian

            Italian Vowels

            Italian Consonants

Diction in Context: Italian Vowels

            The Letters “e” and “o”

Diction in Context: Consonants

            More About the Letters “c,” “g,” and “sc”
            Double Consonants and Consonant Clusters

            Single and Double Consonant Practice

Parts of Speech and Elements of Grammar

            Elements of Sentences

            Discussion Questions

Italian Language and Thought

            Dante and Petrarch

            Petrarch and Laura

Early Italian Song

            Giulio Caccini (1546-1618

            Marco Antonio (Pietro) Cesti (1620-1669)

            Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)

            Alessandro Parisotti (1853-1913)

            Stefano Donaudy (1879-1925)

            Discussion Questions

Italian Diction First Presentation Repertoire List      

Italian Vocal Music in the Nineteenth Century

            Gioachino Antonio Rossini (1792-1868)

            Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848)

            Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835)

            Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)

Italian Diction Final Presentation Repertoire List




Chapter 4. German

The Sounds of German

            Single Vowels or Monophthongs



            Fricative Consonants

            Affricative Consonants

            Lateral Consonant

            Unvoiced Stop Plosive Consonants

            Onset of Open Vowels

Parts of Speech and Elements of Grammar

            Elements of Sentences

Goethe and Romanticism

            Discussion Questions

The Poets

            Heinrich Heine (1797-1856): Lyric Poet

            Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866)

            Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857)

            Eduard Mörike (1804-1875)

The Composers

            Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1846) and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847)

            Robert Schumann (1810-1856) and Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896)

            Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

German Diction First Presentation Repertoire List

Later 19th Century German Lied

            Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)and Eduard Mörike (1804-1875)

            Hugo Wolf and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

            Hugo Wolf and Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857)

            Hugo Wolf and Italienisches Liederbuch

            Hugo Wolf and Spanisches Liederbuch

            Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

            Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

German Diction Final Presentation Repertoire List




Chapter 5. French

The Sounds of French

            Mute “e”:  [ə] or [œ]


            Mixed Vowels

            Nasal Vowels

            Diacritical Marks

            French Consonants

Parts of Speech and Elements of Grammar  

            Elements of Sentences

The Early French Art Song

            Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

            Cesar Franck (1822-1890)

            Charles Gounod (1818-1893)

Composers of the French Mélodie

            Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

            Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)

Who Wrote the Poems that Inspired French Mélodie?

            Paul Verlaine (1844-1916)

            Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

            Charles Baudelaire (1811-1867) 

            Theophile Gautier (1811-1872)

            Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

            Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)

            Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
            Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894)

            Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947)

            Discussion Questions

The French mélodies of Maurice Ravel, Francis Poulenc, and Erik Satie

            Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

            Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)

            Erik Satie (1866-1925)

French Diction Final Presentation Repertoire List




Concluding Thoughts


Appendix A. Practice Drills, Quizzes, Assessment Forms

Appendix B. Index of Works Cited

Appendix C. Resources for Diction Learning


Brenda Smith

Brenda Smith, DMA, a lyric soprano, teaches studio voice, singer’s diction, and vocal pedagogy at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She is widely recognized for her contributions to the concept of lifelong singing through proper voice care. Brenda Smith’s most recent publication is Diction in Context: Singing in English, Italian, German, and French. She is the author of So You Want to Sing for a Lifetime: A Guide to Performer, a publication sponsored by the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Dr. Smith and Dr. Robert T. Sataloff have collaborated on a variety of projects to promote vocal health through choral singing. They are the co-authors of two textbooks, Choral Pedagogy, Third Edition and Choral Pedagogy and the Older Singer that unite voice science, vocal pedagogy with choral conducting. Brenda Smith serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Voice and is a Consulting Editor for Plural Publishing. In recognition of demonstrated excellence in teaching and her interest in voice science, Dr. Smith received the Van Lawrence Fellowship in 2000, presented by The Voice Foundation and the NATS. Before joining the University of Florida faculty, she taught at Westminster Choir College, Dickinson College, and Rowan University.

Learn More

Purchase of Diction in Context: Singing in English, Italian, German, and French comes with access to supplementary student and instructor materials on a PluralPlus companion website.


To access the student materials, you must register the access code printed on the inside front cover of your book on the companion website


To access the instructor materials, you must contact Plural Publishing, Inc. to be verified as an instructor and receive your access code.

            Email: instructormaterials@pluralpublishing.com

            Tel: 866-758-7251 (toll free) or 858-492-1555

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