While Italian and French are inherently legato languages, German is the opposite. It presents an interesting challenge for the singer in that we want everything to be as legato as possible. I urge everyone to listen to native German speakers and singers. German is not the parodied "Hitler German" we often hear in movies. It is a beautiful and soft language. With a bit of practice and a few tricks, it often becomes a singers favorite language. The rules are predictable, and once one has figure out the sounds, it becomes easy.
My best piece of advice concerning German, is to have a reliable dictionary close at hand. Word structure has a lot to do with word stress. If you want a good, detailed explanation, refer to A Handbook of Diction for Singers by David Adams. But in the simplest of terms, words with more than one syllable are based around the word stem. The primary stress, more often than not, falls on the word stem. A good example in English is the word “love”. “Love” is the word stem for “lovely”, “loving”, “lover”, “loved”, etc. Notice that the word stress always falls on “love”. It’s the same in German. “Leb” is the stem of “leben”, “lebst”, “lebhaft”, “gelebt”, etc. And the stress always falls on “leb”. Hence the need for a reliable dictionary and if possible a verb book or app that will reverse conjugate.
We also have a new diacritical mark in German; the umlaut. It looks like two dots written over a vowel (ä, ë, ö, ü). It modifies the vowel it is written over. More about this can be found in individual sounds.
Click here for a basic discussion of IPA symbols and sounds.
Sounds and Symbols
Again, let's begin with sounds we already know. The sounds and symbols that remain constant are...
Plosive and Fricative
Nasal and Glides
There are quite a few new symbols for German, as well as some diphthongs. There is also a new category of vowels called mixed vowels. Mixed vowels are a combination of a tongue vowel and a lip vowel. Start with the tongue vowel, and then form the lip vowel around it. Then practice saying them simultaneously. The goal is make one sound, not a diphthong.
For the mixed vowels, I’ll list the tongue vowel first, followed by the lip vowel.
The symbols for mixed vowels are…
[y] this is a combination of [i] and [u]
[Y] this is a combination of [ɪ] and [ʊ]
[ø] this is a combination of [e] and [o]
[œ] this is a combination of [ɛ] and [ɔ]
German diphthongs are...
[ae] this is very similar to [aɪ] in English
[ao] this is very similar to [aɔ] in English
[ɔø] this is very similar to [ɔɪ] in English
Finally, there are two new consonant sounds.
Both of them are classified as fricative.
[ç] this is the “ichlaut”. Say the sound [i] and then blow air through that vowel space. It should sound similar to the beginning of the English word “huge” or the hiss of an angry cat.
[x] this is the “achlaut”. Similar to the ichlaut, but the vowel space is [a], followed by air.
To examine each sound individually, click the applicable category below. And again, one should always have a trusty dictionary, complete with IPA. If you're unsure, always look it up.