We’ve talked about consonants: how important it is to keep them clean and clear when you’re singing at full force (here) and how you can evoke an emotional response from your audience by emphasising just one consonant (here).
Here’s Rosemary Clooney singing Love, you didn’t do right by me. Listen for the subtle difference between the final t of heart and all the other final t sounds
Plenty of the words that Rosemary sings end in t. For some, like get, the final t must be pronounced clearly because the next word, anywhere, begins with a vowel. It would be an uncomfortable stretch to ghost a t before a vowel, and that would distract her listeners.
Rosemary ghosts every other t in Love, you didn’t do right by me. She sets her audience up to expect smooth, soft endings to words. She hypnotises them. Then she hits home with the unexpected: the clear t of heart. Love, you didn’t do right by me is a song of disappointed love and damaged hearts.
Rosemary sings of a lover who “had winter and snow in his heart.” The man in question (Bing Crosby) is sitting in the audience watching her sing. She wants him to understand how much pain his cold heart has caused her warm heart. She wants the word heart to make a strong impression on him. Just a shade of difference in the final t will do it.
It’s subtle. She doesn’t spit out the t while staring Bing down. That would make her sound foolish, and at his mercy. She’s giving him a message, but leaving her options open. Humans read subtle sound differences, without effort. Bing receives her signal, loud and clear.
Heart is always an important word. It appears in a lot of songs. If you sing in English, always check the original version of the song you’re covering. Does the singer emphasise or ghost the t in heart? Why?
If the following word begins with a vowel, a final t must be made clear. If, however, the next word begins with a consonant (as in Love, you didn’t do right by me) then the singer is making a conscious choice to sing the t strongly in that word.
Of course, har isn’t a word in English. You must shape that final t with your mouth, lips and tongue, whether you choose to pronounce it clearly or not.
Be a detective: does a strong t affect the emotion or the phrasing of the song? Are you going to make the same choices when you sing your cover?
Choose wisely. Heart is a word that always attracts attention. Make that attention work for you.
© Sing Better English, 2014