Singer’s Diction: The Ever-Expanding Selection of Textbooks—Take Your Pick!

A Tailored Approach for Modern Times: Part 2

The following is a list of six of the most popular diction textbooks, along with their pros and cons. These are my own personal opinions—yours may differ. Many of these texts have been used for years (some for decades), and some are relatively new.

The Singer’s Manual of English Diction—Madeleine Marshall

Pros: The authoritative guide for singer’s (and speaker’s) English, thorough, and has good examples found in standard English repertoire.

Almost entirely transatlantic English, does not adequately cover contemporary/American English or received pronunciation, rather dense for undergrads, and some IPA symbols have been changed.

Diction—John Moriarty

Pros: Italian/Latin/French/German—covers most of the rules.

Some of the IPA symbols have changed, rules in Italian are regionally-based, and it does not answer all issues.

Singing in French—Thomas Grubb

Pros: The definitive book for French diction, very good examples, extra source material (arias by Fach, etc.), and well-explained rules (if not over-explained).

Cons: Very dense and concentrates on the Pierre Bernac style of French (rather than the more modernized French most books use).

A Handbook of Diction for Singers—David Adams

Pros: Italian/German/French, very well researched, authoritative, explains rules, and an excellent book for graduate diction.

Cons: Too dense for undergrad diction, does not flow well with rules, and the Italian is regionally-based.

Diction for Singers—Joan Wall, et all

Pros: English/Italian/Latin/German/French/Spanish, basic diction material, handy glossary overview of common terms/IPA at the beginning of each language, examples of words, and online content available with a subscription.

Cons: Any exceptions to a rule are not shown in the glossary section, some critical errors, and some rules are confusing or contradicted as the students reads without good explanation (especially Italian).

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S.T.M. Lyric Diction Series—Cheri Montgomery

Pros: English/Italian/French/ German/Latin, well-researched (using many respected sources), connected to free internet material on S.T.M. website, concentrates on how to pronounce sounds, aimed for undergrads (freshman), comparisons to English equivalents/near-equivalents, can be taught through three basic books (transcription/lyric readings/IPA booklet) or through individual language books (French is broken into basic/advanced), exceptions listed, assignments/exams are included, instructor’s book has answer section, and it separates IPA transcription from actual pronunciation (lyric diction).

Cons: Can be basic and rather confusing at times, some IPA symbols (developed by Montgomery) are only found in these books, does not go into a lot of detail, and audio/video examples can be contradictory and confusing.

My Approach
For a primary textbook, I use the S.T.M. diction books. For a teacher, having access to all the books specific to each language is very important, since it provides detailed instruction. For the students, however, I require only three of the S.T.M. books for ease of teaching and for
financial reasons.

Phonetic Transcription for Lyric Diction—covers most languages, it’s inexpensive, thorough, and it includes exceptions to rules, practical guides, and homework assignments.
Phonetic Readings for Lyric Diction—perfect for pronunciation and in-class readings.
IPA Handbook for Singers—a very nice reference book, especially for explaining how to make the necessary sounds. It is set up with the consonants on the left page and vowels on the right. It also shows in which languages the sound occurs. I heartily recommend this little book to everyone.

I also provide links to supplemental information available on the internet, and provide handouts with information from additional textbooks, including the individual language S.T.M. textbooks.

I include a list of translation websites. I prefer the PONS Online Dictionary (, the DOP for Italian (, ImTranslator (, and Word Reference ( The LiederNet Archive ( is included for translations, although I personally prefer students to do their own translations, if possible—it adds ownership to the interpretation.

I also add the S.T.M. homepage (—even if you don’t use the S.T.M. books, this is a free website and has a great deal of information and examples. The charts are especially helpful.

The type of handouts I provide vary from language to language. At their core is information from the individual language S.T.M. books, which offer more detail than the transcription books. For French, you can’t go wrong with material from Grubb—there are some concepts that are better explained in the Grubb, especially regarding to liaison. And I always include excerpts from Marshall for English, where IPA/explanations are well covered for transatlantic English.

Steven B. Jepson

Steven B. Jepson, baritone, is a respected international artist with expansive credits in the Americas, Europe, and Japan. His performing experience is rich and varied, from Broadway pops, cruise ship production shows, and cabaret to opera, sacred works, and symphonies. In demand as a teacher and clinician, he teaches voice and diction at the University of Missouri in Columbia.