Sing with no Accent

Why is it that most people lose their accents when they sing?

I don’t have a long OP to make about this, I was just wondering after watching some interviews, why you don’t notice these really strong spoken accents when these people sing.

The split personality of hick-accented speaking Gomer Pyle and golden-toned baritone singing Jim Nabors comes to mind.

When the Beatles first came to New York, they were asked: “Why do you talk like Englishmen and sing like Americans?”

They answered:
“It sells better.”

(Odd how this was treated as their great witty sense of humor just because they gave an honest straightforward answer!)

IMHO it has something to do with the way a song is learnt.
Try this one: Ask someone to say the alphabet. In my experience they will most ofetn burst into song (dunno about other countries but in NZ it is to the tune of twinkle twinkle little star). I reckon songs are similar. The singer has not learnt the words but has learnt the sounds.

I currently live in Liverpool and moved here from NZ a few months ago. The local accent is very strong. I walk past a kareoke pub on the way home. The locals there sing country songs with an American accent (sorry but virtually all 'merkins except deep southerners sound alike to most NZ people). Then they acknowledge applause (if any) in their own (scouse) accent.

I bet if you asked them to say the words they would be unable to without singing.


The ‘accents’ are a part of the singing style associated with a given genre of music. Just like opera has a particular set of vocal affectations associated with it, so has most pop and rock music been associated with an American accent, country with a southern US accent (you don’t think Shania Twain talked like that growing up, do you?), and rap with urban or ‘black’ English.

Which leads me to another question: If you were to sing, say, a French punk song or an Italian rap tune, would there be a given accent associated with it?

d’ugh pretty much got it right, at least for copying a song. A more interesting part of the question, however, is how do singers with original music sound like americans, without ever hearing the song before? From what I’ve heard and seen (on mtv, so don’t take this as gospel) is that recording companies have people that train singers to sound like americans, and help them by guiding their voice so they sound more american.

For instance, a german group may write a song in english. If the record company likes the music and the lyrics enough to promote them, when they sit down in the studio, the person that’s in charge of recording it will make them practice it over and over till it sounds american. The same thing probably happens a little more when they get ready to tour as well.

Why american? Who knows. I’d guess that if a song sounds american it has more value. Most of us americans tend to discount music from other country’s unless we hear it first, then we might buy it if we like it. It may be similar to people other countries that want anything that has an american feel to it.

Most of the original British Invasion (Beatles Who Stones Kinks etc.) learned their chops from copying American blues singers, whom they worshipped. Thus, the American accents. If you didn’t know, wouldn’t you think that Eric Burdon (of the Animals) was a burnt old sharecropper from the mississippi delta?

In addition, they were (after a point) trying to conquer America, and may have more or less tailored their style to play well there.

So then the next generation learned to play rock n’ roll by copying the Beatles and such…

And after a point American media dominated the airwaves, so everyones version of pop was derived from the American market.

I’d guess those reasons explain 80% of it.

In the early '80s, many punk artists from the UK seemed to go out of their way to sound extremely British when they sang. Take anything by The Clash, for instance.

Mostly as a reaction against the rock n’ roll generation before them.

Now that I think about it, The Clash are the only group I know who sound British when they sing.

I have just two words for you:

Billy Bragg.

On the other side of the problem, I (an American from the Northeast) learned to sing in formal Choral groups while simultaneously listening to a lot of Peter Gabriel and Genesis.

I now have annoying British pronuciations when I sing. They’re tough to shake. The cure is basically to try to pronounce vowels more like a hick. The lead singer from “Live” has a good, solid American accent, which I can emulate if I sing their songs, but have a tough time applying to other tunes.

Darn Brits.

Heh… heheheheheh… heheh.

I’ve always assumed that the reason peope who cannot speak a foreign language without a strong accent can sometimes sing a foreign language song without a strong accent is because singing and speaking are very different tasks accomplished with different brain structures. The classic example is the person who becomes aphasic following a stroke and cannot form words but who can sing the Star Spangled Banner (or at least the first stanza).

When ever I had to sing in the church choir in Texas as a little kid I remember having to sing in a kind of annoying fake upper class british accent. It seems all church choir music sounds like that to me. I was scolded once for saying path as “path in an American accent” as opposed to “poth”.

What about Hermins Hermits?

Blast, sk8rixtx beat me to it! Who ever said Kiwi’s don’t have a sense of humour. ROFL

aenea, this thread does a good job of addressing your question.

Well, Green Day has a british accent, :rolleyes:.


Because a lot of what makes an accent… accenty, like word stress and intonation (linguists would call it prosody) is subsumed by the act of singing the words instead of speaking them.

For instance, which syllables are stressed greatly affects how vowels are pronounced (like in American English dialects where most unstressed vowels become schwas), and when you sing, you stress phrases differently that would if you were talking.

Perhaps British punk bands like the Clash sound more British because their singing style tends to be more like speaking or shouting to a beat instead of singing.

I’m not saying that’s bad- I love the Clash. But next time you hear a song, and are able to peg where the singer is from by how they sing, ask yourself, is it really from the accent you can tell, or is it from the content of the words, the musical style, or factual knowledge of where the band is from? And are they singing or rapping or talking over a guitar, or what?

Creedence Clearwater Revival were from California.


heh heh. Merkins. :slight_smile: