Accented Notes - How do people lose their accent while singing?

31 March 2008
Presented by Diana O'Carroll


For this week's Question, we find out why it is that although some people speak with a strong accent, this almost completely disappears when they sing.& Could it be that there are language lessons to learn from singing Karaoke?& Plus, we ask how long you could survive on the air in a sealed car, and if you're dying of thirst would drinking wine help, or finish you off?

In this episode

Harry Belafonte Singing, 1954. From the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection.

00:00 - Vocal Accent While Singing?

Why should people lose their regional or foreign accent when they sing?

Vocal Accent While Singing?

Dr David Howard, University of York, Voice Production, Department of Electronics:

In answer to the question which relates to accents, what you hear when people sing as opposed to when they speak, I think the answer to this lies in the way people are trained to sing. We learn vowel sounds, particularly in singing, in a way that allows us to project them to a loud audience. That means that the front of the mouth needs to be more open than it is in speech so it's a bit like a megaphone. The vowels take on a different sound in terms of their timbre which is really what accent is. Therefore the vowels are being placed in a position for singing which is not the same as speech.

The other way of thinking about it is that the-certainly the Opera tradition of singing, certainly the Bel Canto tradition of singing come very much from the Italian school of vowels. Singers are encouraged to make their vowels very clean, very Italian-like: "Spagheeetti." When you do that, no matter what language you start in, you will aim towards the vowels that have that clean, slightly Italian sound. Even if it's not Italian they do merge to a sort of fund-vowel quality which rather removes the accent variation which in terms of mouth movement is really very small.


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