top of page

Training and Guidance To Improve

Your Jazz Singing Skills

 ■ Singing Jazz In English  

Singing Jazz

In English



The "Singing Jazz In English" series starts with what non-native singers should know about lyrics when singing jazz.

 Working With Lyrics

Lyrics are undoubtably important to the jazz vocalist. And how you go about capturing the lyric and making it your own is a very important process.

The first step in approaching the lyric is reading the "English" in the lyric. For non-native singers, what you do at this point has a great influence on your growth as a jazz vocalist.


In jazz, the lyric's English is closely related to the song's melody and rhythm, so how you approach it at this stage will directly affect your performance.Let me explain why.

→ The following points are especially important for those who are serious about singing jazz.

1. Rhythm in the Language

When working on English lyrics, it is, of course, important to carefully read the word with good pronunciation. But in addition to that, it is also important to stress accented syllables and use the word's rhythms, as well as read each sentence using characteristic intonation and rhythms found in English. In other words, be aware of how the language flows.

All languages have their own linguistic rhythmical characteristics. When writing a melody for a lyric, these linguistic rhythms are generally used. So in order to sing well in English, familiarity with both the sound/pronunciation of English and the natural rhythm and flow of the language is needed. 

1-1 Rhythm in the Language and Jazz Vocal

The following apply in particular when singing jazz:

a) many songs have a natural rhythm and flow that closely resembles spoken English.

b) Rhythms in the language have a direct connection with the characteristic rhythms as well as swing/groove on which jazz is based.

c) Unlike singing pop tunes, vocalists tend to alter the melody much more (changing pitch, expanding/contracting the phrase, altering rhythms).

So with the language (English) closely related to melody and rhythm, expressing the music well when singing jazz requires skills and understanding of not only the proper pronunciation of the words, but their rhythm and flow as well.

1-2 The Influence of Rhythm in the Language When Singing

Singing jazz with a good understating of the language's rhythms, lyrics and melody blend together with a natural flow that feels and sounds good when combined with the rhythms found in jazz.

On the other hand, singing with a poor concept of the language will adversely affect both melody and rhythm, making the melody not only sound unnatural, but also fit poorly with the rhythm, and lack swing or groove. It also lays the foundation for bad habits.

Problems like this impede your improvement musically, and once bad habits start, it becomes increasingly difficult to fix them. So the way that you approach lyrics at this first step is extremely important.

1-3 English and Jazz Vocal

The approach to English, which we covered here, may seem like an impassable wall for non-native singers, but in order for jazz to truly be jazz, an understanding of English and the skills that accompany it are essential.

—"Do I need to be fluent in English to sing jazz?"

No, don't worry. If you know how to approach the English lyric correctly, you can practice effectively. 

What is important when working on jazz vocals is from the beginning, recognizing and understanding the link between rhythms in the language and how they correspond to the musical characteristics of jazz, and then, take appropriate measures with that in mind.


The next installment of "Singing Jazz in English" will cover how to practice the English in the lyrics.

Language (English) is undoubtably a major barrier for non-native singers, but jazz, being an American art form, is unfortunately English. If you try to put the lyrics to the melody with insufficient knowledge of the language, it will have adverse effects on musical elements such as phrasing, rhythm, dynamics, expression, etc., resulting in an inability to sing well. It is also often the source of bad habits. Many of the problems expressed by vocalists attending our seminars can be linked directly insufficient knowledge of the language, its rhythm, and associated skills. Because the way you approach the lyric has a great influence on your progress as a vocalist, it may be a good idea to reexamine wether your practice methods are appropriate, especially if you are experiencing the following problems such as; difficulty with rhythms, can't make it groove, choppy phrasing, melody doesn't flow cleanly, don't understand how to use expression, don't understand the meaning of the lyric. 

bottom of page