Verbs bring language to life. If you don’t pronounce English verbs when you sing, your song will be as dead as an ex-parrot.
“Ha!” you retort. “Do you think I’m stupid? Of course I sing the verbs, all the verbs: do, love, fall, believe, sigh, echo, sparkle. Any verb a song requires. Name a single verb that I’ve missed. Speak.”
Easy. The M verb.
You know, of course. M isn’t an English verb. But ‘m is. Short for am. The ‘m of I’m is one of the sounds that non-native English singers drop when they cover an English song. If you sing “I so in love with you,” “I so excited” or “I your man,” you sound like Tarzan. “Me Tarzan. You Jane.” That’s not good. Nobody quotes Tarzan in admiration for his use of English.
Some singers find it hard to hear the ‘m in the original. It can be easy to miss, especially when ‘m appears, for a millisecond, in the middle of a line. Test your ‘m detecting skills: listen to Down in the Tube Station at Midnight. How many times does Paul Weller sing I’m? 4 times, 5 times or 6 times? Don’t count I’ve or I. Concentrate on I’m. Don’t let the mod suits distract you:
Paul sings I’m six times. He repeats the phrase “I’m down in the tube station at midnight” five times. It’s less easy to hear “I’m on my way home to my wife” at 1.45. That’s the kind of ‘m that’s easy to miss, especially if English isn’t your first language. But if you sing “I on my way home to my wife” without the ‘m, you’ll sound like Tarzan swinging home to Jane, through the jungle trees.
It’s your job, as a singer, to check the lyrics if you want to sing a cover of an English song. It’s your responsibility to pass the baton of the songwriter’s words on to your audience in good condition. To respect the words, the writer and your audience. If English isn’t your first language, always use a reliable lyric sheet to check that you’ve heard the words correctly.
If your first language doesn’t have English style consonant clusters, you might find it a struggle to pronounce the ‘m when it comes just before a consonant – in lines like I’m no good, I’m yours, or I’m coming home. Don’t give up and ignore the ‘m. “I coming home” “I no good” and “I yours” are Tarzan-speak, not English. Don’t fool yourself that your audience won’t notice.
Your audience will notice. If you remove the ‘m you remove all traces of the verb to be. How can your song make sense without it?
Respect the M verb:
- Sing I’m with clarity and confidence.
- Close your lips completely to make the ‘m sound.Completely.
- Take your time.
- If it helps, leave a gap, a tiny gap after the ‘m so that you have time to get your tongue into position for the following consonant.
- Try it. It works.
Little by little, as you train your muscles to move smoothly from the ‘m to the next consonant, you’ll notice that you need less and less of a gap to achieve a graceful transition. One day you won’t need to leave a gap at all- unless you choose to. Think of it as a new dance regime for your tongue. If you never train your muscles to make this movement, you’ll never sound right when you sing in English. Sorry. It’s sad but true.
When you sing in English, the verbs are vital. Don’t ignore ‘m just because it’s a tiny form of the verb.Think of ‘m as a rare orchid when you listen to the original version of an English song: easy to miss but always worth seeking out.
To be is the most important verb in the English language. You won’t get anywhere without it. As Hamlet discovered.
© Sing Better English, 2014