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English: Handling Elision in English

Well, I was once again reminded that I am among incredibly knowledgeable
colleagues. Thanks to all (and it was a lot of you!) who responded to my
question. I also learned that there are really 2 main theories about this--
as I alluded to in my original postings-- and that either one is probably
very "O.K."

Here is my original question, and then the long compilation that follows:

Hi Listers--

I'm wondering if anyone has some clever and helpful ways to explain
articulation between two words -- when the first word ends in a consonant
and the second word begins with a vowel. For example, last Sunday we sang
"Order My Steps." The phrase, "Order my steps in your word" repeated over
and over, and we really had a challenge to place the "s" at the end of
"steps" in the right place. Some people put the "s" too soon, and others
went the "step sin" route. I was at a loss to describe the happy medium
that I was looking for...or it is that horrible to do "step sin"? I've read
conflicting theories about eliding final consonants into the next word.

Your thoughts and suggestions???

Jennifer Anderson
Director of Music and Youth Ministries
Richfield United Methodist Church
5835 Lyndale Ave. South
Minneapolis, MN 55419
Phone: 612-861-6086 ext. 209
Fax: 612-861-6332

What you're talking about is a "glottal" attack on the second word "in."

Madeleine Marshall, in her book "The Singers Manual of English Diction, "
says "when a word of importance might be mistaken for a different work, the
words should be separated."

"In," in your case, wouldn't be an important word.

She continues: "When a word beginning with a vowel requires special emphasis
for dramatic effect, the words should be separated." Ex. ...if / aught but

Hope that's helpful.

David Brensinger
Organist/choirmaster, Holy Innocents', Atlanta
Artistic director/conductor, The Atlanta Singers

Normally i separate before a vowel when I can, but "s" is usually too

One of the things contributing to the problem is a choir's tendency to
actually stress the elision in question, because of all the attention given
to it in rehearsal. It will only sound like "sin" if you push on the
elision. Give a tenuto to the word "steps" and gently connect the two
without a stress and i think you'll be happy.

Kevin Badanes
Director of Choral Activities
Virginia Tech University

For volunteer choirs I always encourage the "step sin " approach. Robert
Shaw did too. I find that tha constant preaching of this pays of in long
phrasing and a legato line. The singers placing final consonants too soon
are usually grabbing breaths.

I wouldn't hesitate a second to do "steps sin"! I can't think of a reason
not ot, unless you thought people would confuse the meaning because of the
word "sin."

David Griggs-Janower
228 Placid Drive
Schenectady, NY 12303-5118
518/356-9155 (h); 442-4167 (w)

soloists glottalize the 'i' and sing "steps in"
choral folks should maximize the vowel. therefore - "steh....psi...nyoh"
etc. is how we do it.
The sound is the vowel!!!!

Ilan Glasman, D.M.A.

Dr. Doug McEwen taught a very useful tool in avoiding unwanted elision of
ending consonant to initial vowel... he called it "bracketing". You put a
bracket at the vowel you want separate form the preceding consonant. The
choir has to be taught who to initiate the new vowel cleanly and without
harsh vocal stuff going on, but this is a very clear way to notate the kind
of separation. Some call it a glottal attack, but I find that term too
aggressive and vocally rough. Then, to get the preceding consonant to sound
in unison before the bracketed vowel the choir is trained by speaking this
combination of sounds together. Most often it works like a dotted eight
vowel with the consonant on a sixteenth rhythm, then the new vowel. I.e..,
and-dih [ev-er. It takes a little drilling to get it clean, but the bracket
written in helps a lot.

I would note, though, that I'm not sure the elision you mentioned, "steps
in" would be much of a problem if elided. The discipline there is for the
choir to have a clean, short, and underemphasized 's' should be
perfectly clear, even if elided. We can drive ourselves crazy if we listen
too creatively to our elided words. I actually find the bracket more
helpful in developing forward motion and "notches" in the phrase, and poetic
emphasis than for actual intelligibility or awkward mis-readings. (Like,
"gladly the cross-eyed bear") I think audiences hear text in context and
rarely hear these strange new combinations we hear in rehearsals.

Dan Wagner
Pastoral Musician
Church -
Wheaton Bible Church
Franklin and Main
Wheaton, IL 60187
Are you saying you prefer a glottal stop after the word
"steps?" If you really want to emphasize the word "in," that
would be a way to do it. However, unless there's a
compelling textual-clarity reason not to elide final
consonants, "step sin" is not only not horrible, it's almost
essential. No one will hear it as a funny phrase, although
it may look that way in print.

When I want something articulated well (and I get
compliments on how easily understood my choirs are) I go
through the words one sound at a time. E.g., maybe "oh(uh)
duh mah(ee) steh psih nyoh(uh) wuh duh." (With the short,
subtle, vanishing sounds in parentheses and at the very end
of the syllable.) It sounds very strange to the choir, which
often has no clue what I'm teaching them to say, until it
magically transforms into clarity when they run it all
together in song.

Except for instances like the infamous "weep, o mine eyes,
and see snot," (which can be avoided by slightly elongating
the 's' at the end of 'cease' and smoothly singing the 'n'
on the next note) I'm having trouble imagining why anyone
would advocate separating the words. Seems like that would
begin to sound note-y.

Good luck deciding how you want to do things.

Stan Yoder

Great question. I admire your desire for clarity in text - a sign of a
great choral conductor. I love this kind of brain teasers. I have a few
ideas/techniques on cleaning up articulation of diction.

The first suggestion is an important one, but it doesn't apply to your
specific problem of "Step - Sin" or even "Slumber - Snot" (my personal
favorite) but I will mention it anyway for future reference.

#1-I like to call this technique...

"Is he serious...?"

I actually specify the rhythmic value of the articulation. This works well
if you know exactly how you prefer the word to be articulated. For example,
if I the word is God - I consider that as a two syllable word (Gaw-duh).
Please excuse the substitution of the "Poor-Man's Phonetic instead of the
IPA- but you get the idea. Anyway, lets say the written value of the word
"God" in the score is a quarter note, then I decide (based on tempo,
character, texture, level of the group and other things) how to divide it
into two syllables usually deciding on two 8th's (Gaw-uh) or dotted 8th and
16th (Gaw..duh)

Your question requires the above plus the addition of another layer of
protection against sloppy diction - which actually can provide for some
comic relief (as you noted) which is fun for bit, but does need to be
corrected quickly...

#2 - I call....."I'm Telling my Voice Teacher on You."
Whenever a vowel begins a word, (whether it is preceded by a consonant or
vowel) you have the option of adding a slight glottal (as the voice teachers
shriek Ahh!! No Glottal!!) to the beginning of the word. Some may say to
separate by putting a space before the word beginning with a vowel, but I
think that is more difficult and less specific. You can also vary the
amount of glottal to enhance whatever character or mood your in. Of course
being careful not to be to abusive to the chords.

#3 I don't have a name for this one yet...
In the case where the ending consonant is an unvoiced consonant, like the
'ps' in "Step-Sin" I would allied the 's' but use technique number to. When
I have tried to notate the rhythmic value of the unvoiced consonant, singers
for some reason tend to add voice to it, thus saying "Step-suh-in" which is
fine in the south I suppose but being a yankee, especially in the great
Lutheran singing tradition of the Midwest, I don't think that would fly.

So I go ahead tell the choir that they are to elide (well, to them I
probably something like "..throw that 's' on the next word," or something
less haughty than 'elide') the 's' or in this case the 'ps' to the next
word, but still adding the glottal on "in."

When I teach these concepts to my groups, I usually write in the rhythmic
value (or have them do it - thus the title "Is He Serious") by actually
changing the score, it looks like a mess initially but it makes quick work
of getting them into good habits. Regarding the glottal, I notate that in
the score also with a more iconic marking placing a " [ " before the word
requiring the value, as in "steps [in"


You need to have them do a shadow vowel, and you will have to decide the
rhythm, since I don't know it. If, for example you have a quarter on "step"
then you could do the "suh" on the second eighth. i.e. "Order my step-suh
. . . ."

I haven't always used shadow vowels, but since I've begun doing so it has
really improved the diction. Assigning the rhythmic vowel of the consonant
is also very important and will do more than anything to help your choir
up their final consonants.

micki gonzalez
This one's easy! Just instruct your singers to use a light glottal stroke
when pronouncing "in" and, presto! No more "sin." The trick is to have them
not overdo it so that the glottal stroke on the "i" vowel doesn't turn into
a "glottal slam." Your demonstration of the desired effect should be enough
to get what you need. By the way, a "glottal stroke" is simply that little
closing at the back of the throat that you get when pronouncing words that
begin with vowels, like "egg," "under," "at," "open," and so forth. I don't
always have my singers use the glottal thing--there are cases where elision
is clearly called for--but in your case, the sense of the text calls for its

Good luck eliminating "sin" from your "sin"gers!!

Tim Benson
Assistant Conductor,
Milwaukee Symphony Chorus

First I need to say that it is definitely important that the lyrics will be
clear to the audience. This is a common complaint from listeners, that they
cannot understand a word the choir is singing.
There are different ways to address the problem. You could tell them
where you want the s to occur. For instance if the word steps is on a
quarter not, you can ask the choir to separate it into two notes: dotted 8th
and a 16th and put the s on the 16th, or divide it into two equal 8ths. You
can also rehearse it without the consonant at the end of the word: "Order my
ste in your word". After you practice it like that for a while bring back
the consonants and chances are that they will sing it correctly. I
personally find demonstration to be most helpful. If you sing it to them
correctly, especially if you concentrate on the problem, sing "steps in" the
way you want it, and ask them to repeat it, most singers will sing it

Raanan Shefa
Choral conductor

I'm sure you will get many responses to your posting, probably pretty split
down the middle. In general, there are two schools of thought. One (the
older one) says to always elide final consonants with the next word. Great,
until you run into a situation like this, or the infamous "slumbers not"
turning into "slumber snot!" So, I usually go with the more current trend,
which is to add a little glottal attack at the beginning of the second word
if it begins with a vowel. Basically, you stop the air from passing through
the vocal chords for a split second and then release it with the sound of
the vowel. A good way to have your choristers learn this is with the word
"hit." They can say it with the "h" several times. Then, have them say
"it" with no "h". Finally, take away the "t" and they are left with the
glottal attach on an "ih" vowel.

Good luck!

Brian C. Clissold, Music Director
Battle Creek Community Chorus
Battle Creek Girls' Chorus
Music Center of South Central Michigan

I don't know the piece, so someone who does know it might be better to help
you with this one, but is the piece fairly legato or rhythmic? I've been
asked to ellide consonants to the next word like when singing French, but if
the piece is fairly fast and rhythmic, you might want to have them clear the
's' and get in a light glottal start on 'in'. If the piece has a fair bit
of flow, however, I'd elide the words together. Despite what it may look
like, very few people will think that you're saying the word 'sin'.
audiences and congregations are usually quite forgiving when it comes to the
text giving way to melodic line.


Thank you for your question which caused me to search for my copy of
Madeline Marshall's "Singers' Manual of English Diction".

Page 65 states "When a word of importance might be mistaken for a different
word, the words should be separated...." (pg.66) "The singer must, of
course, determine the importance or non-importance of words....". In your
phrase "Order my steps in your word" it seems to me the important words are
"steps" and "word" (or "steps" and "your word"). "In" is of little
importance. Therefore to elide as "stepsin" will probably not cause
confusion and make more sense than cleanly separating the two words thereby
creating a musical pause in the phrase. Compare that to the phrase offered
in Marshall's book (p. 66): "Let us in". The crux of the phrase is the word
"in". If you elide the s to the word in, then the phrase would definitely
sound "Let us sin"---perhaps more fun, but probably not the desired effect
of the phrase.

I'd elide in your example.

Mary Beth Wallig

I think "step sin" is fine, and pretty much the way to go here

Unless you want to break "steps" clean and then start "in" - but that would
tiring pretty quickly if the phrase is repeated many times

Bottom line, sing on the vowel, and don't put the consonant on early - this
a continuing problem for church singers but they definitely can learn good
habits over time (with lots of reminders from the friendly choral

Good luck

John Helgen

1. Only if the tempo is brisk and the note value too short for
effective division would I go with "step sin," but in such a case it's a
forgivable sin. . .

2. Optimally, divide the note on "steps" so that the last discernible
fraction of it is a rest (e. g., in simple meter, a half note becomes a
dotted quarter plus eighth rest or a doubly-dotted quarter note with
sixteenth rest; in compound meter a dotted quarter becomes a quarter
note plus eighth rest or a quarter note tied to sixteenth note plus a
sixteenth rest. Choose precise values based on tempo and skill of your
singers, and have them write the changes into their music.). The "s" of
"steps" goes right on the rest. The vowel of "in" begins on the note
for "in." If you wish or need a glottal stop to help get the vowel out
or contribute to the style, it precedes the note value, i. e, it happens
on the rest, immediately following the "s" of "steps."

Hope that helps!

Barbara Rogers

My vote is that 'step sin' is quick and dirty but not all that desirable.
'Weep oh mine eyes and cease not' becomes 'wee poe my nyes and see snot' for

I have no problem telling my groups to cut off the 's' on a particular beat
subdivision (say, the 4th eighth note if the word is a half note). Seems to
work when it is practiced.


There is no end to this question. Context is everything. Without a score,
I don't know how I would call this one, but every choral conductor runs into
this problem. If the tempo is quick, and the words repeat rapidly, I'd keep
the final "s' in "steps" very short, and be sure the singers layed back and
didn't rush into the next vowel, allowing it some room to speak. If the
tempo is slow and legato, then I'd probably put the final s onto the new
word, risking "step-sin", but still telling the singers to emphasize the
initial vowel, not the final consonant. But context will tell. Sometimes
composers are not a t all helpful in these matters.
Brooks Grantier, The Battle Creek Boychoir, Battle Creek, MI

I found your question very interesting. Personally I don't like the
"step sin" rule, mainly because you might get some weird result that might
muddle the meaning of the word. I would do more of a "ste psin"... make
more of an emphasis on the vowel, and let your singers know that the
consonants just flow into the next word. but STILL do the consonants during
the time value of that syllable. If you want, let them place the "ps" on an
actual note value. For Example: if the word STEPS was being sung on a
quarter note, tell your singers to place the "ps" on, lets say an sixteenth
note. a tip with this... ASK your singers where they should put it... even
if one says, put it on the 2nd sixteenth note of that quarter note, just
sing it, and ask them if that works or not... Well I hope that helps a
little bit. If you have any questions or comments feel free to email me.

Michael Meindl
Ah! The ever-thorny issue of the (dare I say it?) glottal attack. Here's
my take on your dilemma, based principally on three things: 1) my work as a
singer; 2) my work as a conductor; and 3) research into the issue (though,
arguably, insufficient). At the outset, it occurs to me that this issue
could be dealt with WITHOUT bringing in the niggling controversy over
glottal attacks, er, onsets. In your case, simply delaying the "S"
consonant of "steps" until the very last millisecond prior to "in" might
suffice, especially if it is indeed repeated numerous times. (I mean, who
really is going to think you're singing "stepsin"?) An alternative is to
place a very slight onset (ie, a soft, controlled glottal attack) at the
beginning of "in." Soloists do this all the time, and I think it works
well. I also think it is a technique that can be used effectively in both
solo and choral singing. Observe, however, the following caveat:
coordinating such a technique with an ensemble, and moreover, one in which
the singers are not trained vocalists who might use glottal attacks in a
rather unsavory and unhealthy manner, could lead to some dangerous vocal
technique. It's well-documented that *hard* glottal attacks (often defined
as a rise in the intensity (volume) of vocal sound following adduction
(closure) of the vocal cords) can and do lead to voice disorders, eg,
nodules. A soft glottal attack, or an onset that incorporates an imagined
"h" aspiration...whatever lexical representation you choose to adopt...from
an educated vocalist is, in my opinion, a valuable item in any vocal
technique gallery. I look forward to the other comments you receive
regarding this very worthy topic.

Wayne "Sandy" Glass
The easiest answer to your query is something that is almost mandatory in
German, begin a word that starts with a vowel with a glottal...I say almost
because I am frightened of absolutes, but it is a good generality.
It is also good to keep in mind that not all glottals are equal....there are
times when an explosive one is appropriate (the beginning of a ff "alleluia"
-as opposed to the opening of the Thompson Alleluia where you want an
aspirated "Ah..), and sometimes it is more like a partial or soft glottal.
One thing that helps in obtaining this is to work on having the vowel sound
on the beat...."Order my steps in..." the sound on the beat would be....oah
uh ah eh ih.
It is important to give the singers time to perform diphthongs (and to train
them to do them as a unit) and to complete consonants without sounding
hurried, i.e. "my" before the beat, on the beat...ah, prior to the prep for the next
before the next beat, on the
(If you have not read the book "Dear People....Robert Shaw", I highly
recommend it. In the book, he breaks down a phrase much better than I have

The bottom line should "always" be whatever makes the text understandable.
"Steps in", as a general rule, should be avoided...but it does take more

There is also a consonant controversy...I know this is unsolicited
but it conforms to the above mentioned "bottom line".
Say aloud the words "and" and "could". When most people do so, there is a
slight "uh" sound after the d.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and sorry I could not travel both
and be one trav'ler...."
An interesting phrase...I have added to it the "uh" so it is...
"and(a)sorry I could(a)not(a)travel both and(a)be one trav'ler...."

This should be done without any exaggeration, but as is spoken.
It is not really an 'affected' sound if the singers are allowed ample time
form the consonants. It does get a little tricky when you add in the fact
that you don't want to anticipate the end of the word.

"Purity and extension of the vowel" is what we are taught in lyric diction
and it is essential for blend. But we still need to understand the words.
Holding the vowel 'til the last instant and then getting through those pesky
consonants so we can hear that glorious voice on the vowels again is
physically satisfying, but we need to remember that while our listeners
(hopefully) may enjoy hearing our glorious voices producing vowels, they
probably also would like to be able to understand the words.

I hope this makes some usual my mind created at least 3
for every one I typed.

Bob Fox

Your question is a good one. Many choral directors have problems with this
type of transition. After 55 years of singing, 36 years of working with high
school students, and 7 working with a professional chorale, I hope I can
give you an answer that your choir can use. There is only one way to avoid
the problem in the example you gave. The breath must be stopped momentarily
after the "s" of "steps." Keeping the vowel open as long as possible in
"steps" will help avoid the final "s" coming too soon.

There are also times when like "m" or "n" will seem to produce a false word
when elided. In these cases, another method is to make sure that the final
"m" or "n" remains on the pitch of its word, and that the new word is placed
on the new pitch. A repeated pitch requires the breath stop to articulate.

Jim Myers, Musical Director
The Cecilian Singers of Columbus

I guess "steps" is a longer note. In this case I would choose "step
sin" - the courious change of sense in my ears only happens in the
written version.
For example we sing "Dona nobi spacem".
In german laguage it would be usual to begin the consonant of "in"
with a soft glottis so that the in is separated from the late s.

Greetings from Germany

Church choir singers (that is to say, older singers) do better when told
what to do rather than what not to do, especially on tricky things like
where to place ending consonants. It often helps to focus their
attention on something else that achieves the same purpose. I would
advise them to put a glottal stroke on "in" and not mention the preceding
"s". Good luck!

1. I studied with Dr. Sandra Willetts at the University of Alabama who used
the phrase "paper space" to describe articulation for this situation. The
image being to break the musical line no longer than you could insert the
thin edge of paper. It's just another way to think about what is really a
simi-glottal attack.

2. Emphasize putting the ps before the beat ( or whatever rhythmic unit
comes next) so that "in" has its own distinct rhythmic placement.

3. If it is a fast tempo, or you just don't want to complicate things and
risk messing up the musical line - you could go the stepsin route.

Just my thoughts,
John Orr

on February 5, 2003 10:00pm
The worst thing you can do with an s, in any position, is to dwell on it. Although this may not seem relevant to the "s" problem, I remember one incident when I prepared a chorus for an orchestra conductor, and the sopranos were flatting badly while he was going over and over the problem section. He turned to me in desparation and said, "what can we do about it?" I responded, "rehearse another section." The point is, esses are never pinpoints of sound, so you should just sing them as naturally as possible, and this is defeated when you spend too much time on their treatment.
Speak the offending phrase in the desired rhythm in unison a number of times, stressing to the chorus to do it as close to natural speech as possible. Concentrate on listening and ensemble--but most importantly, DO NOT, DO NOT, make them feel that they must do something special to make it come out right. If they can speak it right, they can sing it right, and if you make a big deal about it, it will NEVER come out right.. Sing it, don't be afraid of it, and get off of it.