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

First Edition

Brenda Smith

Details: 300 pages, B&W, Softcover, 8.5" x 11"

ISBN13: 978-1-63550-120-9

© 2021

Release Date: 12/16/2019

For Instructors

Request Exam Copy

Price: $79.95

Available for purchase starting 11/18/2019

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


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 and Robert Browning

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

Ivor Gurney (1890-1937): Poet and Composer

A. E. Housman: Poet Whose Words Sparked British and American Song

The 19th and 20th Century American Song

The American Approach to Poetic Thought

Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman

James Joyce and James Stephens

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 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 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 teaches studio voice, diction and vocal pedagogy at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She has been widely recognized for her contributions to the concept of lifelong singing through proper voice care. Dr. Smith is a lyric soprano with special interests in the recital and concert repertoire. In addition, Dr. Smith was translator, collaborator, and assistant to Dr. Wilhelm Ehmann and Dr. Frauke Haasemann, the pedagogues whose work in Germany and the United States developed the concept known as "voice building for choirs". Dr. Smith works regularly as consultant, clinician, and conductor with amateur and professional choirs. She has been associated with the choirs of St. Ignatius Loyola, the Central City Chorus, and the Dessoff Choirs in New York City, the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, the Cathedral Choral Society of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., as well as the choirs of the Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, Florida. As an active member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the American Choral Directors Association, Dr. Smith speaks as a resource for solo singers, voice teachers, and choral conductors.


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: information@pluralpublishing.com

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

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