Be Good – Be a Good Detective

You need no excuses to listen to Gregory Porter. It’s always a delight. If you’re inspired to cover his songs, do your detective work first. Like a lot of jazz singers (Amy Winehouse comes to mind) Gregory often ghosts consonants like d, t, n & m at the end of words. Softened endings often suit the jazz mood. But be careful when you sing a cover: a softened consonant isn’t the same as no consonant.

Try this exercise: in his song Be Good (Lion’s Song) Gregory sings the phrase Be Good fifteen times. Can you hear the d sound every time? Does the d sound exactly the same every time?

Did you hear the differences and degrees of d? You can think of all the different d sounds as pigments on Gregory’s sound palette. Songs are often described as sound pictures. As in any painting, sometimes you need strong colours and sometimes you need paler colours, to give depth and veracity to your work. Dcan come in many shades.

Sometimes Gregory’s final d fades into a shadow of a d. The d is faint, but it’s definitely there. Gregory never sings Be Goo. He forms the whole word Good with his mouth, then chooses to mute the final d. Just as a trumpet player sometimes mutes sounds. For effect.

Sometimes the final d‘s easy to hear. Gregory chooses to sing it strongly, for emotional effect and for variety. Singing a sound strongly or wrongly attracts your audience’s attention.

Sometimes Gregory’s choices are limited by the needs of English pronunciation. He has to pronounce the d clearly before the vowel of is her name for example. Otherwise he’d be forced to use linking sounds like w or y. ‘Be Gooweeez her name’ wouldn’t work, especially when the word Good is essential to his song.

If you’re not a native speaker of English and you want to sing a cover, check that you have heard everything in the original – even the ghost letters.  A native speaker can guess the missing letters in a ghosted ending. They imagine the word completed. They add the missing d, t, m or n when they sing a cover because they visualise the whole written word to understand its meaning. A non-native singer often sings exactly what they think they heard: goo instead of good, neigh instead of name or buy instead of bite. It confuses and unsettles their audience.

Without knowledge, you have no choices. You need to know that a letter exists before you can choose to mute or strengthen it, for the best emotional effect.

Before you cover any English song, listen to it carefully. Write down what you hear. Check the spelling of the words you heard here or here.  Any consonants that you missed? Add them. Then choose to mute them or strengthen them, as you wish. Just don’t ignore them.

Could you hear the b of brush my mane? Or the g of cage? The of delight? Leave them out and your audience won’t like it. Use them to good effect and your audience will appreciate it.

Don’t let the ghosts escape you. Do your detective work.

© Sing Better English, 2014



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