Tag Archives: emotion

Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat, live at the BBC

There’s a point at which all the conscious thought and preparation for a song composts down into pure energy. The singer lives the song and the song lives in them. It’s a privilege to watch alchemy in action:

© Sing Better English, 2016

When White isn’t Right

When you sing about love, it helps to think about chocolate. From  the whitest of white to the darkest of dark, with added chilli.  From Michael Jackson’s upbeat love in A.B.C. to Bob Dylan’s weathered disappointment in Love Sick.  Same word, different flavours.

You’ve tasted white chocolate, I’m sure: light, sweet and easy. White chocolate love is the version you learn at school – full of innocent enthusiasm: I love Maths. He loves kittens. We love Zayn Malik. 

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If you grow up in an English speaking country, the word love grows up with you. There comes a time when you start using love for men and women, not just rabbits and Geography. The word love gets coloured by your experience of romantic human love, good and bad. You will be able to shade the word when you say or sing it, from white to dark, and anywhere in between. Your thoughts will shape your mouth.

It’s the idea of love that you’re holding in your mind as you shape your mouth that forms the word. It’s not necessarily a conscious decision, but your audience will read the intention behind the love you sing or speak. Each time you shape the word for them.

Has anyone ever told you “I love you” without putting their heart and soul into the words? It feels disappointingly hollow, doesn’t it?

A white chocolate, emotion-free “I love you” communicates flippant disinterest, in a romantic song. When you’re looking into another human’s eyes, you need to use a milk chocolate love, at least. In song and in relationships, it’s wise to get the love flavour right.

If you learn English as a foreign language, the word love may never have an opportunity to grow up. If love stays, filed away in a corner of your mind, in a single, childish, white chocolate version, your mind will shape your mouth the same way every time you come to sing the wordYour audience will feel the mismatch if the song calls for emotion, but you offer them disinterested enthusiasm and an “I love tennis” version of love. You’ll lose their trust.

Yes, there are white chocolate love songs – usually written by very young, very innocent men. They’re light and casual. They skip along. They’re the only place that your jolly, white chocolate love will ring true. But, even in a white chocolate love song like the Beatles’ Love Me Do, first written out in a school notebook, notice Paul McCartney deepening and darkening the flavour of the title line, from white to milk when he sings alone:

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Black Raven

You won’t find a single word of English in it, but here’s an English question: what feeling does this Cossack song convey to you?

You don’t need to understand Russian  to play the game. Empathy is a universal:

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Sing if you’re happy that way, hey

When you think of the English word happy, how do you imagine it? A hop and a skip across the double p, with a spring up into the air on the y? That typical Pharrell Williams-style happy.

Now listen to Tom Robinson’s happy. A shadow version:

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