A Handbook of Diction for Singers: Italian, German, French

PDF A Handbook of Diction for Singers: Italian, German, French 3rd Edition

Lesson Books
  1. David Adams
A Handbook of Diction for Singers Italian German French

Now in its third edition, A Handbook of Diction for Singers is a complete guide to achieving professional levels of diction in Italian, German, and French. Combining traditional approaches in the teaching of diction with new material not readily available elsewhere, author David Adams presents the sounds of each language in logical order, along with essential information on matters such as diacritical marks, syllabification, word stress, and effective use of the variety of foreign-language dictionaries.

A Handbook of Diction for Singers places particular emphasis on the characteristics of vowel length, the sequencing of sounds between words, as well as the differences between spoken and sung sounds in all three languages, all while taking care to clarify concepts typically difficult for English-speaking singers. This revised third edition offers significantly expanded coverage of each language as well as a new chapter that introduces readers to the specific sounds unique to those languages. The result is a concise yet thorough treatment of the three major languages of the classical vocal repertory, and an invaluable reference for vocalists and voice teachers.


The repertoire of opera houses internationally, as well as the art song repertoire explored in music schools and conservatories, has expanded greatly over recent decades. That expansion means that singers of classical music are required to confront many more languages than in the past, particularly the Slavic languages. Nevertheless (putting aside English for the moment), the core repertoire remains Italian, German, and French. The English-speaking student of singing must first master the lyric diction of these three languages (as well as their own) as a first step on the way to professional competence.

The third edition of this book is the culmination of a process that began in the mid-1990s. Although the basic content of the previous editions remains, much rewriting, reorganizing, and reformatting will be apparent to those familiar with the earlier editions. It is hoped that the new opening chapter, introducing the IPA symbols and describing the sounds they represent, will make the book more useful to less experienced students. For more advanced students already familiar with the IPA, the opening chapter may be used as a reference.

The subsequent chapters, devoted in turn to Italian, German, and French, have many more example words than before, most of which have been translated into English and transcribed into the IPA, which were not features of the earlier editions. Some exercises have been inserted throughout each chapter, another new feature. They address specifics of pronunciation for some of the more difficult sounds and provide practice in IPA transcription. The teacher is certainly encouraged to expand on these suggested exercises according to the needs of the particular class.

The distinctive aural qualities of any language can be gleaned only imperfectly from a book. It is crucial that students of singing hear Italian, French, and German sung by a variety of native singers. It is likewise important to experience the inflections of the spoken languages to the extent possible, and to gain at least some expertise in speaking them. It is absolutely essential to study the grammar of each language as thoroughly as possible. Fluency is not required, but developing an ear for the cadences, modulations, and phrasings of a language will make a significant difference in the authority with which it is sung.

The study of “diction” can encompass at least three levels:

Beginning: Mastering the basic rules of pronunciation: what sounds result from what letters in what contexts, such as when s is voiced or unvoiced.

Intermediate: The above, plus mastery of those characteristics of a language that are different from one’s native language, such as purity of vowel sounds uncolored by English diphthongs, non-aspiration of consonants in Italian and French, and relative length of sounds (single and double consonants in Italian, vowels in any language), to name a few of the more important examples.

Advanced: All of the above, plus a subtle understanding of stress and inflection over longer phrase groupings.

The aim of this book, if used to the fullest extent, along with input from teachers and other resources, is to help the student achieve an intermediate level of proficiency, as would be expected in a graduate-level lyric diction class. For less experienced students, study of the opening chapter followed by selective use of the subsequent chapters may get them beyond a beginning level. All students should realize that working with languages is an ongoing, long-term process. There is always more to learn.


The original edition of this book was made possible by a sabbatical leave granted by the University of Cincinnati. Throughout the three editions of this book, I have had input from many colleagues. A few of them deserve special mention regarding the current edition. I would like to thank Michelle Chen, senior editor for music at Oxford University Press, for initially contacting me about the possibility of a new edition. Michelle has made valuable suggestions and offered welcome support throughout the process. Pierre Vallet, from whom I have learned much over the years, brought my attention to aspects of French that made their way into the book. Robert Barefield and Daniel Weeks read through the manuscript and provided insightful feedback. Lyndon Meyer provided indispensable help in creating the musical examples. In particular, I want to thank Quinn Patrick Ankrum, who would not rest, and did not let me rest, until the book was as good as it was going to be.

My thanks to all, Michelle, Pierre, Rob, Dan, Lyndon, and Quinn
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