When you sing country music, it doesn’t sound completely authentic without a little bit of a southern accent. Now, there are many different southern accents, and I am not an expert in them. I’m going to share with you a few rules that are just an analysis of what I hear most country singers doing and what I tend to do when singing any country music myself. Some of the biggest names in country music weren’t native to the South, so no matter where you’re coming from, these rules can help you add a bit more country into your sound!
Rule #1: Flattened vowel shape & relaxed jaw
Country singers tend to flatten their vowels by maintaining a wider embouchure, or mouth position. Here’s an example: “get” becomes “git”. Instead of a taller EH vowel, I close into a wider IH vowel. So think: wider mouth, but keep that jaw relaxed. For example, “love” becomes “luhv”.
Get = git When = whin Love = luhv Can’t = cain’t Truck = truhck Ride = rahd
Rule #2: Eliminated diphthongs
In general we want to eliminate diphthongs. A diphthong is a single vowel that contains 2 vowel sounds within it. For example, the “y” in “my” is actually “ah+ee”. Country singers often eliminate the second vowel sound; especially when there’s a long I or Y sound. So “I” becomes “ah”.
I = ah My = mah Drive = drahv
Nice work! Remember that in addition to these techniques, your best teacher is your own ear! Singing along with great country singers and imitating their tone or pronunciation is a great way to learn. We don’t want to end up with an exact imitation of another singer's voice, but rather, we want to capture the style and tone, while still sounding like you - just the country version!
Vocalists often imitate the timbre of the instruments playing around them. With country, think of a banjo, mandoline, fiddle, or slide guitar. Country singers often use a full chest resonance, with a bright, forward tone quality called twang.
There is very little breathiness in the tone and not a lot of head voice. Using full chest voice all the time can be taxing, but the addition of twang helps to give your voice extra carrying power, use your air efficiently, and develop more overall vocal endurance.
Exercise: Nyaw 5-3-1
We can create more twang a number of different ways, but I find focusing on your tongue can be especially helpful here. Bring the tip of your tongue forward to the roof of your mouth. Notice how both the N and Yuh sounds help you find this edgy, pingy tone by narrowing the space in your mouth. Let’s work this with an exercise.
Exercise: “My Darling” with a scoop 3-2-1
Country singers also don’t shy away from the “r” sound. This is pretty unique, because the inherent tone of an “r” isn’t the most beautiful on its own. However in the context of a country song, it fits. This is yet another way to get some twang in your tone. The tongue pushes back into your throat a bit and sometimes curls to create this sound.
The jaw can get involved here, but watch out for excessive tension. You may also notice that I’m naturally scooping the pitch while I do this. Imagine you’re picking up these words, and they are a little heavy. Country singers do a lot of scooping up and falling down to a pitch, much like a slide guitar.
Alright let’s try out what we just learned with an excerpt from a few old country folk songs. The first one is called “Shady Grove”. See if you can pick out some spots where your pronunciation may need to change and where you can lean into some extra twang.