Category Archives: Diphthongs

Customizing Your Broken Blueprint

Your badger has broken my new phone.

How does your brain imagine the word broken? Where do you put the stress: broken or broken? Is the e like the of egg or the e in the? Do you roll your r? Is your o like the o in alone or like the o in orchestra? Your personal version of broken is your brain’s blueprint for the word.

The blueprint tells you what sound to imagine every time you read the word broken. It shapes your mouth and instructs your muscles to produce that sound whenever you speak or sing.

Listen to the way Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam) sang broken. Is his version of the word the same as your brain’s broken blueprint?:

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Wringing the Exotic out of Golden Brown

When a white man sings about a brown girl, the word brown carries a complicated history. Think of Jagger’s Brown Sugar. Think of the Stranglers kneading and stretching the diphthong of plain old brown until it exhales into the exotic, sensuous ‘otherness‘ of Golden Brown.

Singer/songwriter Kizzy Crawford has different plans for both brown and golden, as a home-made antidote to the bullying she experienced as a child. How does she warm up the words, making them personal and precious, not exotically ‘other’? She stretches the diphthong of brown beyond anything the Stranglers imagined. Then, like spun sugar, she twirls brown into a shape that’s light and warm:

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No Milk Today – in the Eternal Present

What’s the difference between the way you say the word today and the way Peter Noone sings it in No Milk Today? Does he sound angry with his milkman, happy or sad?

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Space is the Place

Minimalism isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think of Sun Ra. But, if you want to see “less is more” songwriting in action, look no further than the 4 one-syllable words he selected as title and base lyrics for Space is the Place.

They flow with the music wherever they’re placed, they encompass layers of meaning and allow layers of harmonising,  their diphthongs breathe in and out as the music requires and the placement of the 2 rhyming nouns gives the whole line a pleasing see-saw balance. That’s an awful lot of responsibility for 4 small words.

Luck or judgement? Well, consider some possible 4 syllable alternatives to Space+is+the+Place:

  • Space is super.
  • Space is a place.
  • Join our space race.

Each has 4 syllables. Each contains the word space and a positive message.  Do they fit the music? Try singing them while Sun Ra plays his keyboards for you. How do they feel? Better or worse than Space is the Place?

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