Helpful Hints for People Who Sing in English


The English language has its own internal music. Get the music of the language right, and pronunciation and intonation naturally fall into place.

Sing Better English is designed with singers in mind. Singers who have come to English from other languages and native English speaking singers who want to pay close attention to their words.

Some of our favourites:

Has anyone told you that a schwa is the most common sound in English? If you want to sing about love, if you want to sing Moon River or if you want to sing or speak about most things in English, you need to make friends with the schwa.

There’s a lot to discover – and a lot of subtlety to harness when you sing. Every sound that you sing will have an effect on your audience. You want to be in control of that effect. Walking a song can help.

You can search by song or by genre. If there’s an English sound that you’re not sure about – all the varieties of ‘a’ for example, have a look in Sounds English?


© Sing Better English, 2014

13 thoughts on “Helpful Hints for People Who Sing in English”

  1. I’ve been reading here and there on your website and honestly, I wish I had more time today just to read and enjoy your tips and great knowledge. It’s obvious that you love this beautiful language.

    So, you’ve gave me two priceless gifts today: your encouraging comments and the pleasure of reading you.

    I wish I knew your name.


    1. Hi Pati – thanks for your kind comments. I started the blog because I noticed, when people sing in English, as they do now on lots of contests like The Voice (or on Operacíon Triunfo when we lived in Spain), that the mistakes that they made were easily fixed, but it seemed that nobody had pointed them out. English needs to stretch into the shape of the music when you sing it and a lot of people only learn one ‘size’ of word when they learn the language in class. They learn the language as it’s spoken, not as it’s sung.

      I do vocal coaching for people from other countries who sing in English and I help songwriters to say what they need to in English, but I thought I’d write a blog where people could pick up some tips for free. I post songs with a particular detail of English to consider. Something a bit unusual so that people come to it with ‘fresh ears’ – like The Snake ( My favourites are the ones with cool 60s dancing like California Dreaming ( or with a 1980’s flavour like ‘Big in Japan’ ( I like the Desmond Dekker one too (

      You might enjoy this song if you don’t know it already. It’s about having family in different countries: White Wine in the Sun

      My name’s Elaine, by the way. I live in Brighton, on the south coast of England.

      Now let me ask you a question – have you been speaking English for years and years? You write it as if you enjoy it. I remember learning Greek when I went to work in Greece, years ago. I absolutely loved it as a language. I learned it little by little, as you do when you learn a language through listening, rather than through books, but it sits a lot closer to my heart than the languages that I learnt at school.


  2. Hi Elaine,

    I will enjoy every entry you’ve mention one at a time like a box of chocolates. My husband and I already love the first one. Thank you for taking the time to show me where to start on your website. It really helps me to understand it and to appreciate your knowledge.

    About your question, I started studying English in high school. My first teacher was very enthusiastic and kind, so I had a great first impression. After that, everything was normal, through books… Until I decided I wanted to apply for a MA in the UK. Back then, I started reading books in English and making friends online from London and New York. My MA didn’t worked out, but José (my husband) and I decided to immigrate to Canada and we did it in 2007. José loves jazz and blues and definitely listening to music had also been helpful and inspiring.

    Greek must be gorgeous!


    1. You’re sweet to say that.

      Have you and your husband heard the Billy Stewart version of Summertime? – it’s the last video on this post. Bob Dylan’s favourite, apparently.

      And is Gregory Porter famous up in Canada? My son went to see him at the Love Supreme Festival here. He was very impressed

      Are jazz and blues popular in Venezuela?


  3. I wouldn’t say they are popular in Venezuela, my husband is a rare gem. He enjoys almost any kind of music, any kind, but specially blues and jazz.

    About Porter, I’m not sure. I don’t think I listened to him before, sadly. He might also have been in the Montreal Jazz Festival. We went to see Woody Allen playing with his band and it was amazing.

    Thank you again Elaine. I’ll be back for sure to bother you again.


    1. Please ‘bother’ me as much as possible! You’re a very welcome presence here.

      I thought of two other things that you might find interesting – I think they’re both available outside the UK. First – this radio series called ‘The Listeners’ from the BBC. I think you can download it – radio’s always best when you’re walking around! I thought it was fascinating. We don’t think much about the skill of listening.

      The other thing is from a course called FutureLearn – as university fees increase in the UK (£9,000 a year at the moment), lots of universities are investing in distance learning and, at the moment, while they work out how to do it best, it’s free. FutureLearn has some fantastic courses and this one is starting soon https: It’s all about how we read words and create worlds out of them inside our heads. But more scientifically put than that! I’d never heard of ‘cognitive poetics’ before – a great expression to drop into conversation!


  4. I loved listening to the radio when I was a teenager and some of my sweetest memories come from those days, at night listening to music with my mom before going to sleep. Nowadays, I rediscovered it thanks to my husband (again, sorry!). He loves listening to it and to podcasts, like the ones from ‘a href=”””This American Life.

    The course sounds great. I joined in and by the end of the year I hope we can have that conversation!


      1. Thank you – and thank you to José too.

        No, I hadn’t heard of it – but what a great idea. They have booths in different cities for people to record their stories? I see that Studs Terkel supported it – and he was a wonderful man.


      2. I thought of a song that you both might find interesting – 1) ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’. Were The Jam popular in Venezuela? This song is very much of its time – the 70s – when racism was quite overt in the UK. The words are strangely poetic and it leaves you with a very strong image of an Indian man on his way home to his wife, in the underground (subway) at night, being stopped by a racist gang.


    1. American Public Radio is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? I remember, when I lived in San Francisco, they used to have an auction to raise money for KQED (the local public tv/radio station). One of the most popular prizes was visiting the kitchen of Just Desserts, a much-loved local bakery, and eating as much chocolate frosting as you wanted!

      Your husband sounds like a man of very good taste!


      1. Some prize! Who wouldn’t love that?!

        Thank you for The Listening Project, we’ll enjoy it for sure and for the compliment, haha! (I wish I could listen to you both talking about music).


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