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  • Writer's pictureTim Spencer

Singing Tips | The Unwritten 'Y'

Updated: May 31, 2023

The letter ‘Y’ is a consonant.

I say this as, in many cases, when we sing we try to use it as a vowel. There is a problem with this. All the vowel sounds of singing are open and wide sounds (A, E, I, O, U). A ‘Y’ sound is not. It’s a glottal sound made at the back of the throat.

Now when we use a ‘Y’ at the start of a word we always use it as a consonant (as in the word ‘yes’ or ‘Yoda’). It gets much more confused when we sing it at the end of a word. Trying to balance the word ‘by’ on the ‘y’ sound is so much trickier. In many ways it is better to sing ‘bi’ with a y at the very end.

But there is a more hidden thing with English.

That is the many words of the English language which we use an unwritten ‘Y’ in spoken form. When we try to sing these (especially in our higher range) they can prove most unhelpful.

Try saying the word ‘name’ slowly, does it stay as an ‘a’ sound or does you put a ‘y’ before the m? What about the word ‘pain’? And if you think of a window ‘pane’ do the two words (pain/pane) sound different to each other if you slow them down. In many cases I’ve found that with ‘pain’ we tend to put a ‘y’ in whereas with ‘pane’ we might not.

I mention this because, as ‘y’ is a glottal consonant sound, it is much trickier to sing and has a tendency to help you crack should it appear in our higher ranges or power notes. That’s because the sound of a vowel might be getting ‘strangled’ by the glottal y sound from the back of our throat. It also means that the ‘vowel’ sound moves from the front to the back of the mouth, and the stiller the vowel sound of a syllable is the more stable it will sound.

One of the big examples of this being troublesome is in the song Love Changes Everything by Andrew Lloyd Webber, from the musical Aspects of Love. The final note of the song, and the highest point of the song, is the word ‘same’, as in the phrase ‘Love will never ever let you be the same’. If the ‘y’ is put into the word ‘same’ at this point it is likely to crack the note. If you can eliminate the ‘y’ you will find that the song is much easier to sing.

Another of the chief culprits with the unwritten ‘y’ is anything where we have I (belonging to me) as such. Ie I, I’ve, I’m

Words to look out for are those where we tend to make a y or glottal sound before the end of the word

-ain -eign -ight

Here’s a brief note of some of the words that turn up in songs when we insert a y

Pain, rain, same, Light, fight I’m, I’ve, I

Singing is all about the sound. The stiller the vowel sound the crisper the song will be. And the more we can avoid using the unwritten ‘y’ the easier singing can be.

Singing Tips | The Unwritten 'Y'

A Letter 'Y' with artwork inlaid
The Letter 'Y' graphic

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