Please don’t think that there is only one correct version of English. There isn’t. English flourishes in a multitude of dialects and accents. Each one is a perfect form of English in itself.
Listen to Kurt Cobain’s cover of The Man Who Sold the World. Knowing that the song was written by David Bowie, a Londoner, does Kurt’s American accent ‘spoil’ it?:
David Bowie is from Brixton. You can see him interviewed on television at the age of 17 here. As you’d expect, his vowels are rounded London vowels. He’ll have written the song with his own voice in mind :
You can hear David’s London vowels clearly in alone, face or gazed. Kurt’s West Coast vowel sounds are flatter (except when he sings roamed or alone). Does it matter that Kurt’s vowel sounds aren’t exactly like David Bowie’s? No, it doesn’t.
Is British English more correct or somehow better than American English? No, it isn’t.
Each singer breathes life into The Man Who Sold The World with their own personal style. If they are native speakers, no matter where they come from, their English will naturally bend to fit the music.
Milliseconds matter. Songwriters choose words for their meaning, sound, value, stress pattern or length of vowel sound. Each word and each sound strengthens the mood and supports the rhythm of the music. If you place stress in the wrong place or if you sing the wrong vowel sounds you will unbalance and then break that close connection to the music. It will begin to slip away from you and you will find yourself sliding, note by note, out of time and out of control.
Do your homework when you want to sing in English: use your ears first and your eyes second. Kurt Cobain and David Bowie sound very different, but both sound very right. Why? It’s part of your job, when you sing in English, to work out the answer.
© Sing Better English, 2014