Tag Archives: How to Sing a Cover

Joan Baez and Judas Priest: Diamonds and Rust

Judas Priest added more than a touch of heavy metal to Joan Baez’s Diamonds and Rust. But listen to the beating heart of Joan’s song: time and the wistful distance of memory, coming through in Rob Halford‘s voice, between the electric guitars and the crashing drum, like a blackbird singing in a deep forest. Respect:

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Take Me Out, in Love and Despair

If you want to feel your brain dancing, listen to Franz Ferdinand’s Take Me Out. The lyrics give you opposite meanings for the same phrase and your brain begins to swerve between them. It’s the closest most of us get to being Schrödinger’s cat.

As soon as you know that the phrasal verb Take Me Out is the title of Franz Ferdinand’s song, your brain starts shuffling through all the possible meanings. You wait patiently for the singer, Alex Kapranos, to provide a clue and a context for you to choose the right one.

Franz Ferdinand are known for their surreal lyrics, so Take Me Out could be an unloved library book‘s monologue, or a dustbin feeling restless on collection day. All meanings are possible until Alex Kapranos makes things clear.

Alex plays you, like a cat with a ball of wool. He starts his song with words of love: ‘So if you’re lonely/You know I’m here waiting for you.’ 

“Aah,” thinks your brain. This time, for this song, take me out must mean, as the Cambridge Dictionary has it: ‘invite me somewhere to do something that you’ve planned and will pay for‘ in the sense of ‘take me out on a romantic date.’ Forget library books, dustbins or bank loans. Focus on romance.

Just as you relax into the ‘right’ meaning, Alex throws you a surprise. He sings: ‘I’m just a cross hair‘ and you feel your brain turning somersaults. Suddenly, in a love song, take me out also means ‘kill me or destroy me,’ just as sniperstake out‘ enemy soldiers.

As the song continues, you feel yourself swerving between the possible meanings of take me out. Each time Alex sings the phrase – and there are 7 times – you make your choice between love and death. You choose and you understand. Most times you hold both meanings in your head at once. Love and destruction.

One question – as Alex sings, do you ever hear him shout? Watch his face:

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Music Moves

Singing is a 3D activity. When you’re performing an English song, live or on YouTube, your international audience ‘reads’ you and your movements, closely. Your movements help your audience decide whether to relax and trust you. To let your voice into their hearts.

Remember this and remember Tommy Krångh:

Tommy says:

“I am always all in. I want to give the whole experience of the music. I have to give my whole body. When I get on the stage the music is pumping and I lose myself. I don’t know what’s happening. I am totally lost in the moment – but somehow I still know what exactly I am doing.”

The movements you make signal, more clearly than you might think, whether you believe, feel and understand the words that you’re singing. Or not.

The University of Oslo have put togetherFutureLearn course, starting on February 1st, all about the relationship between movement and music. It’s free and available to anyone, anywhere in the world:

© Sing Better English, 2016

Change One Small Thing, Change Everything

How to cover a famous English song like Can’t Get No Satisfaction and make it your own? It’s Mick Jagger’s voice that your audience will hear, as the opening chords set their memories alight.

Do a tango version or sing it as a waltz; it doesn’t matter. Your audience have Mick in their ears. What if you snatch just one tiny word from the chorus and shake it out of Mick’s reach?

Listen to Mercury Prize shortlisted ESKA bending Mick Jagger’s no into a shape all her own, to call her audience to attention:

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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?

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