Tag Archives: pronunciation

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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Which Side Are You On, Boys?

I’ve had a powerful punch of Billy Bragg today. The BBC’s been playing clips of his song, “Which Side Are You On?” every time they’ve mentioned the 1984 miner’s strike and the Battle of Orgreave.

Listening today, it struck me how the letter d of side slowly thickens and coagulates as Billy’s story leaves hope behind and reaches angry confrontation. In the first chorus, the of side is an ‘ordinary’ d. In the final chorus, as the words slide up one side of d and down the other, it’s become the bitter dividing point between right and wrong:

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Oh Beryl, I think it’s time for running for cover

You’re writing a song, in English, about a young woman whose life has taken all the wrong turns, most of them involving rock musicians:

Well, sometimes it seems impossible
That the game could get that rough
But the stage is set, the exit’s barred
And the make-up won’t come off

To fit the music, you need a two-beat, two-syllable name for your young, damaged woman. Something that begins with a young, clear-as-a-bell consonant,  but dulls into a schwa sound. Better still if the end of her name is a thick, tongue-clogging l, so that you can drag her name down into the dirt when you sing it.

You think I make the choosing of names for songs sound mechanical or cynical? No name finds its way into a song unless its sound serves that song. Layla, Emily and Jane suit the psychology of the songs where they appear. Each name is a sound picture.

To choose your heroine’s name, you start running through the alphabet and come to B. Two syllables, the second one a schwa followed by an l. Beryl. Beryl the rock groupie. Really?

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