The Case of the Strong Accent

Rachel Bennett
Zana, 22, had written a touching song about a past love and performed it with accompanying guitar.

Zana had a strong accent from a region in England where the vowels are quite ‘clamped’ and whilst the song was already moving, the tightness in her jaw and her strong vowel pronunciation detracted from the tenderness in her expression.

This was a sensitive issue as Zana was training to be an actor and was encouraged, rightly, to retain her natural accent.

The changes made would need to be subtle, believable and carefully handled

The changes made would need to be subtle, believable and carefully handled.

Typifying the Genre

There’s a smooth quality in the way most artists deliver ballads, unless they are traditional folk ballads; it ‘comes with the territory’.

Zana’s accent was disturbing this typical quality and whilst her natural timbre was beautifully tender, the accent was the more noticeable feature.

It was important to produce a softer sound without knocking Zana’s confidence about her own identity.

The One Word Game

I stood with Zana on the performance space and introduced a game that involved delivering each consecutive phrase in the song as if it were one long word; good breath control is required and at first it feels awkward and contrived; however after a while, Zana relaxed into the exercise and had fun.

A Slight American Lilt

The initial result was quite successful, with an easier feel to the lyric and a delivery that allowed for empathy as the accent became ‘general’ with a slight American character.

Zana was clear that she didn’t want to sound American so she reworked the ‘one word’ more clearly in her own accent; the results were still much more relaxed than her first delivery.

When we alter accent, we observe the shape of the accent on the mouths of speakers

Assimilating the Sounds

This approach to ironing out uneven characters in the lyrics will take time, as our natural phonetic shapes don’t alter easily.

Sometimes the mouth shape is a ‘way in’.

I instructed Zana to sneer very slightly as she sang through some more phrases and this shape really helped her relax into the flow of the lyric more.

When we alter accent, we observe the shape of the accent on the mouths of speakers.

In song, the overall flow of lyric can be very affected by the phonetic shapes of the singer; apparently babies learn to speak by sight, by watching the mouths of their parents and I believe its no different for performers; focusing on mouth shape really helps us with minor changes in our accent and timbral qualities

– Raie


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