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The Troublesome R

The American English speaker, depending on individual and regional dialect, may have some trouble when it comes to singing the consonant “R.” Try it: say, “Q, R, S” as if you are reciting the alphabet. Feel how “Q” is formed in the mid mouth with a k sound and travels to the front of the mouth where the lips form the u sound? What a wonderful consonant to sing! Singing should always feel this good! Alas, much work is required to make it so. Case in point: now say "R." What do you notice about the path R travels? The opposite of Q! For most American English speakers, R starts with a nice open “ah” sound, with a relaxed jaw, and then is brought into the throat as one tightens the jaw to close the mouth. The R sound is then on the throat, sounding smothered and somewhat like a pirate. Imagine what singing such an R does to the phrase you are trying to sing. If you are having trouble with a phrase, experiencing an interruption of sound or a disturbance of pitch, this troublesome R is often the culprit. I can help!

There are elegant ways of addressing this unfortunate R. If you already can roll your R’s, you have the solution within your grasp. Practicing the rolled R over entire phrases is the main solution for addressing R’s in the beginning and middle of words. If you cannot yet roll your R’s, playful work is ahead of you. Substituting an Italian or Spanish ‘d’ (Marianna becomes Madianna) can take the place of the American R with good effect. If you can imagine the phrase “Park the car” in a Bostonian accent, where the R is implied but not voiced at all in the throat, that is a singerly way to the approach an R at the end of a phrase. That is, you don’t sing the R at all, but rather a schwa, an unstressed syllable at the end of a phrase. In International Phonetic Alphabet, the schwa is represented by “ə.” For instance, a phrase ending in the word “Here” would sound like “hee-uh” (“hi-ə” in IPA) and the singer would by-pass the r, while the audience would still hear the implied R and understand your text. 

At first singing your R’s these new ways may feel a bit affected. But I think you will be so happy with your easy flowing sound stream, you will soon find yourself addressing R’s this way very naturally. 

Happy Singing!