Summertime: a yoga class for your voice

Summertime: where the music asks the words to stretch out like lazy cats. Ella Fitzgerald makes it all seem extremely easy.  So why does the pianist turn round in appreciative surprise (1.43) when Ella sings the word mornings?

The pianist knows that Ella’s vocal technique and control are unusual and impressive. Still, you can learn a lot by singing along with her and noticing which words you find easy to stretch. As in any yoga class, some stretches will be more of a challenge for you. Focus on these. Which vowels are the hardest for you to sustain cleanly?  The wide vowel sound of easy or the narrower vowel sound of high? Are there any consonants that get in your way? The w of wings? How are you singing the tt of cotton? Watch Ella, carefully. Do you take a breath when she does?

Think of Summertime as a yoga masterclass for your voice and Ella as your teacher. At first your teacher’s superior flexibility will seem unattainable. Don’t give up. If you practise regularly, little by little you’ll start finding it easier to bend and stretch more and more. Even Ella had to start somewhere.

Moving on to Janis Joplin’s bluesy version of Summertime gives you the opportunity to focus on different words. Janis stretches rich to 5 seconds long. Her mornings extends to 6. Join her and see if you can keep up. If you can’t, practise until you can get closer:

Finally, we come to Billy Stewart. His Summertime bends and stretches in places that the ladies didn’t reach. There are new things to learn in Mr Stewart’s vocal yoga class. Get your tongue ready for some serious exercise:

It may be that you don’t like jazz and blues. It may be that you detest Summertime. Even so, the song offers useful opportunities for a vocal workout. Practising word bending and stretching, with a little scatting and trilling, will be useful to you, no matter what you choose to sing afterwards.  Think of it as vocal yoga. Few people spend their daily lives physically tied up in complicated yoga knots, but every little move they learn in yoga class will train their muscles to be flexible and strong. That’s exactly how you want your voice to be.

*If you’re not a native speaker of English, the er of Summertime might be a challenge. Be sure to sing er as smoothly as the song demands. If you want to roll your r, it has to be a conscious choice, and you’ll have to make adjustments elsewhere, so that the sound fits the song.

© Sing Better English, 2014

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6 thoughts on “Summertime: a yoga class for your voice”

  1. The first time I heard Summertime (Joplin’s version) in Canada, was the first time I experienced a snow storm. It was a big one in 2007 and I remember clearly the sarcastic feeling on the introduction in the radio.

    I didn’t know Mr. Stewart’s version. I bet it will be also added to my husband’s repertory for the weekend. Although, I won’t even try to emulate that r… my pronunciation of the regular one is already pitiful, Elaine.

    Or maybe I will 😉

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    1. I remember, when we lived in Spain, at the village school the children who couldn’t roll their ‘r’ were taken out of class and given tongue twisters to practice. Things like this: ‘Erre con erre cigarro. Erre con erre barril. Rápido corren los carros sobre los rieles del ferrocarril’

      It’s not such a big deal in Venezuelan Spanish, is it? Your Spanish is softer, I think?

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      1. Yes, you’re right. Our Spanish is softer and we don’t make a difference in the pronunciation of “v” and “b”, “c”, “s” and “z”.

        How do you know that Elaine?!

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      2. From living in Mexico for a while – and from hearing people from Colombia or Venezuela speaking Spanish when we lived in Andalucia. I think it’s much easier to understand South American Spanish because it seems ’rounder’ somehow. It’s the same for Brazilian Portuguese versus Portuguese Portuguese. The words in Brazilian Portuguese seem further apart and softer. Funny, isn’t it?

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  2. I haven’t thought about it, but I believe you are right. When I started studying English I thought it was easier to understand British English than American English, but now I think the opposite. I guess the original language reminds stronger in their own land.

    I love Brazilian Portuguese. It feels like they are singing while they speak. Endearing!

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  3. I like Spain-Spanish the best because they lisp so much! 🙂 It sounds funny at first, but it’s really soft without the hard SSSS and things. My sister lived for years in Andalucía (speaking Castellano), studying and teaching.

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