Consonant ghosts haunt English songs. If English isn’t your first language and if you’re learning an English song by ear, don’t get tricked by the sound. It’s a choice to mute a consonant, but it’s a mistake to ignore it, just because you didn’t hear it clearly in the original version.
Practise English ghost hunting: listen to the chorus of The Easybeats song Friday on my Mind. The word mind is repeated 4 times during the song. How many times can you actually hear its final d clearly? How can you be sure Stevie Wright isn’t singing Friday on my Mine?:
Did you hear it? The d is clearest at 2.08 – the fourth and final time you hear the word mind. The first three times, Stevie mutes the d. Why? We’ll come to that.
If you heard the song on the radio but didn’t know the title, you’d be forgiven for singing along with Friday on my Mine or Friday on my My. That’s all you actually hear.
It’s fine if you sing Friday on my My in the privacy of the shower. Your problems start if you sing it in public. Especially if your audience is international or made up of native English speakers. The word mind, sung with a muted final d sounds quite different to the word mind sung without its d. Or the word my. Yes, really.
Try this experiment:
- Sing or say Friday on my My. Now sing or say Friday on my Mine.
- Notice the shape of your mouth. Notice the final position of your tongue. Remember how it feels.
- Now sing or say Friday on my Mind with the final d clear and strong. Notice the shape of your mouth and the final position of your tongue.
- Now sing or say Friday on my Mind with a ghost d. How? Form the shape of the d at the end of mind, as if you were going to pronounce it normally, but mute the sound of the letter.
- When you sing Friday on my Mind with a ghost d, where does your tongue end up?
Can you feel the difference? Each word has a different ‘shape.’
- Think about the difference the position of your tongue makes to the sound of the air passing through your mouth when you sing. Your audience, especially if they are native speakers of English, is attuned to subtle differences in that sound.
- Every difference in sound, no matter how small, affects your audience’s emotions. Every sound conveys a message.
- You need to be in control of that message.
You will confuse and distract your audience with mental images like this if you turn Friday on my Mind into Friday on my Mine. Don’t ignore the final d. Please.
Why does Stevie Wright mute the final d of mind 3 times out of 4?
- Partly because on my mind is quite a static expression. There’s no movement in it – and this is a song that moves along quickly. It’s a rush through the working week to get to Friday, when Stevie’s going to see his girl. He wears his on my mind lightly – not as a worry or obsession, but as something to get him through the daily grind, a welcome distraction.
- For most of the song, Friday is the most important word. The singer’s waiting for Friday to come. He wants his audience to keep Friday in their minds. It’s a question of dramatic emphasis – he needs his audience to know that Friday is worth waiting for. He doesn’t want them distracted by the expression on my mind, so he mutes the d.
- Stevie knows that an English speaking audience doesn’t need to hear that final d in order to hear the word mind in their own minds. He knows that the sentence I’ve got Friday on my … can lead to very few words. On my calendar? On my name tag? On my list? On my conscience?
- All the possibilities exist until Stevie sings the first two letters of mind. Once he’s sung mi his audience knows exactly what the rest of the word will be.
- It’s like the Shrödinger’s Cat thought experiment: once Stevie sings the first 2 letters of mind, all possibilities (nametag, list, calendar, mind, conscience etc) collapse into the one and only possible word – mind. The audience now have the whole word mind clear in their own minds. They don’t need to hear the d.
- When Stevie sings the d of mind more clearly, the fourth and final time, he subtly changes the meaning of Friday on my mind. Friday is no longer the most important word. Now he wants his audience to notice and consider the phrase on my mind.
- He leads them to it – like a magician leading his audience to look at a card or a coin as it ‘appears’ in his hand.
- He slows down and slightly changes his pronunciation of mind. That change attracts his audience’s attention to the word. Change always attracts an audience’s attention.
- By this point in 1967, Friday on My Mind was already a hit.
Stevie can have fun with the song – his audience knows it off by heart.
As a singer, you need to know that the d exists. Otherwise you can’t do anything with it. Always check lyrics before you sing. Once you know that you’re singing mind, you can choose how to sing it. To mute or pronounce the final consonant, as you think best. If you don’t know that the consonant’s there, you have no choice.
Of course, none of this means that you must use the d exactly as Stevie Wright does. You’re a musician, after all, not a parrot. Different artists have covered Friday on my Mind differently: Bruce Springsteen here, David Bowie here and Richard Thompson here. Which version do you prefer?
To make things more interesting, here’s Stevie miming to the 1967 recorded version of Friday on my Mind. It worth watching for his dance moves alone.
In the recorded version you’ll hear the d of mind most clearly the second time Stevie sings it. By singing the d clearly then, he draws the audience’s attention to the expression on my mind. He makes it clear that he’s using the expression to mean – “I’m looking forward to Friday” rather than “I’m worried about/dreading Friday“. Once he’s put the expression in the audience’s mind, he moves the focus back to Friday, the special day, by muting the d of mind again.
Remember: the recorded version is the first version most people will have heard. So Stevie needs to lead then through it. In the live version he tells a slightly different story. It’s amazing what you can communicate, just by choosing when to mute or emphasise a d:
How can you tell that Stevie is choosing to control the way he sings the final d of mind? Listen to him singing the final d of good, mad and glad. He knows he needs the full strength of the d to finish those words cleanly, clearly and emphatically. So he uses it.
If you want to sing effectively in English, you need to make every sound, every letter and every word work hard for you. Every sound needs to be under your conscious control. Don’t let ghosts unbalance your song. Always check the lyrics. Don’t use a standard, one-size-fits-all approach. English words should dance with the music. When you’re singing, they should dance to your tune.
© Sing Better English, 2014