Nerina Pallot and the Plasticity of Rhyme

When you’re singing in English, you’ll often come across songs with slant rhymes.  When a songwriter plays with sounds, you need to join the game. If you stay with the ‘classic’ pronunciation of English words, you’ll sound wooden and odd; bend too far and you’ll sound odder. Unusual sound rhymes, done well, are a treat for the listener.

For native English speakers, it’s natural and easy to play with the sound of words, while still sounding recognisably English. If English isn’t your first language: be careful not to overcompensate when you pull two words that don’t usually rhyme into a slant/half rhyme. It’s a question of hinting and shading. Think of feathers, not mallets.

Watch Nerina Pallot playing with the words up and stop in her song Put Your hands Up. Without her help, only the would rhyme. Does she sing up exactly the same every time? And, for extra points – how does she squeeze her North London football club into her video?

Nerina stretches and bends the vowel sound of up to suit her needs. Up has to carry different layers of emotion  in her song – from pleading to certainty. She makes it sound subtly different accordingly.

If you’re planning to sing Put Your Hands Up, you’ll need to do the same, or to give the tiny word up your own subtle shades of meaning.

If English isn’t your first language: remember the many meanings of Put Your Hands Up. It can be an order to surrender, to confess or just to have fun.

The Nerina Pallot video for her song Rousseau gives you one of the clearest images for the way English words need to vary in song. Look at the animal-headed actors – each one is recognisably human, but each one has a different, interesting detail about them. When you sing in English, each word has to be recognisably English, but each word has to carry its own detail:

Oh yes, the football club. Nerina is an Arsenal supporter. So, it seems, is the taxi-driver in the video. The nick-name for Arsenal is The Gunners. 

© Sing Better English, 2015



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