I’ve written before about the concept of getting rid of, de-emphasizing or mumbling unimportant words or syllables – but when my chorus was being coached by music judge Kathy Greason, she had an eloquent term for describing this.
Word Sounds. She asked my chorus members to just sing word sounds rather than enunciating the actual words, or the syllables that make up those words.
Our listening understanding of Word Sounds is rather like those texts we see on Facebook – where the words are printed upside down or backwards, but we still have no problem reading them.
When we listen analytically to natural speech patterns, most of what we hear is just Word Sounds. In fact, when we hear someone speaking and enunciating everything really clearly, it comes across as not only unnatural, but also as slightly condescending or judgmental. We get so caught up in listening to every syllable that we tend to miss the meaning of what’s being said.
Most of the songs we sing were written to be immediately accessible, in the language and cadence of our times. Meticulous enunciation is not only unnecessary, but can be an emotional barrier for the audience. If they are being distracted by the accentuation of syllables that would normally be swallowed in speech, it takes a moment for the brain to discount their emotional usefulness.
If the songwriting is good, the music matches the flow of a natural delivery of the lyrics.
Strong song delivery finds the most meaningful word or syllable of the phrase and communicates that one thing very clearly – while allowing the rest of the lyrics to flow in such a way that they point to that meaningful word or syllable.
By the way – just as a rule of thumb, I say that all articles, prepositions and any words or syllables on a pick up beat need to be just Word Sounds, and not enunciated.