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Why Do Singers Speak With Accents But Don’t Sing With Them?

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Yes indeed that’s Bono singing in front of American flags, and he sounds perfectly Irish in an interview but when he sings, I’d pass him off for pure-blooded American!  Ever wondered why that is? And how come country singers have no problem at all singing with their accent? Hmmm….

As a vocalist and instructor I can speak from experience with this one… It all comes down to vowels. The secret to an accent lies in how someone pronounces their vowels and when you speak, your vowels are short and quick and to the point.  I mean think about it, consonants all sound the same no matter what dialect: S’s, T’s and K’s are just what they are, so the difference comes in what’s between those ‘harder’ sounds. The only exception appears to be the ‘R’ consonant which when sung usually sounds ‘British’ like an ‘ah’ sound, ever notice this? Try singing your ‘r’s’ the right way and you’ll end up sounding like a pirate! Anyway, back to the vowels, when someone sings their tempos are usually slower to match the tempo of the song and this makes the vowels longer especially when a singer holds out a note at the end of a phrase like what Bono is doing in this picture.

But that’s not all… when we sing, we breathe differently than when we talk. Singing is similar to raising your voice or yelling and therefore requires much more breath support. When an artist is speaking in an interview their breathing and therefore their talking is much less labored so accents are very perceptible.  But what about thick southern accents that are still present in country music, is there a stylistic factor too?

Well, most traditional country music is very conversational and in the lower register of their voices so it’s like they’re right next to you speaking, so when you hear them in an interview they don’t sound all too different than when they sing.  Not many country singers belt their notes out (sing at the top of their lungs so to speak) like pop/rock singers do, but if they happen to you’ll notice the accent is much less perceptible.  This is also true with much of the newer crossover country that sounds more ‘poppy’ (not poopy!). Starting to make sense?

Also, because it’s all about vowels, the same holds true when an actor needs to put on a foreign accent or make their own disappear for their next role. I know this sounds mysteriously like English class in the middle of summer, and you may not be a singer or actor but try paying attention to an accent that isn’t your own next time you see a movie or listen to a song and see if you can apply this stuff and impress your friends or just yourself. Cheers!

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