Category Archives: schwa sound

The schwa – the most common sound in English, but the one they don’t always teach in English classes.

Standing Next to Me

Alex Turner forces you to guess. The first words of Standing Next to Me are too quick to hear clearly.  You guess: “Want to have her” or “Want her, have her“?  Either is possible, though the first is crass, the second wistful. Your age, gender and personality feed into your decision. If you find The Last Shadow Puppets cute, you give them the benefit of the doubt. You guess Want her, have her:

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Singing The End

One of the most disruptive mistakes you can make when you sing in English is to mispronounce the. One of the most wasteful mistakes you can make is to take the for granted.

The is a word of many colours – from a schwa sound the (hear it here) to the the that rhymes with thee. As a native English speaker, the choice between the two comes naturally. If English isn’t your first language, always check that you’re using the right kind of the when you sing. Otherwise you’re in danger of sounding like this.

Pronunciation isn’t the end of the. Like all small English words, the is available to be filled with feeling when you sing. Subtly. Listen to Jim Morrison making the most of every single the of The End – which, surprisingly, began life as a love song.

I’ve used this particular video (if you’d like a clearer, longer one, try this) so that you can hear the presenter introduce the song with a standard English pronunciation of The End. The presenter puts the stress on end. Jim invites the to the party:

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All the Existential Flavours of Pop

Your little brother’s a struggling actor. He’s been struggling for as long as you can remember. He’s got a walk-on part in the new Camus musical. His only line is: I am the Messenger. How should he sing it?

The Messenger in question moves through the world, observing but never partaking. The word Messenger needs to resonate with existential alienation. Of course, the English word Messenger usually carries its stress on the first syllable: Messenger. Changing the stress pattern will attract the audience’s attention to the word (and to your brother). Try each one: I am the Messenger?  I am the Messenger? Or I am the Messenger? Which one should he use?

Decided? Sure? Watch this …

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Moon River: a swan of a song

The first line of Moon River gives crystal clear guidance to singers. Any river that’s “wider than a mile” must flow smoothly and sedately.  The words are soft ripples raised by an evening breeze, moving gently on the spacious, lilting waltz time. No jagged rocks or rapids disrupt Moon River’s course:

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