Call me dedicated, call me crazy… Often when I’m learning a new cover song that’s going to be in the repertoire for a while, I record myself singing it. Then I compare myself with the original singer, WORD FOR WORD. That means: play a second or two of the original recording, then play the same couple seconds of myself singing, and see what’s different in every single syllable.
Yes – I do think it sounds kind of weird if you try to imitate someone else’s voice exactly. You don’t have the same instrument, personality, history, etc. But sometimes the song sounds just a little better if you tilt the way you sing to reference the original song. (For example, if you’re covering Paramore, you might emphasize your consonants a little more than usual. If you’re covering Duffy, Adele, or Amy Winehouse, you might see whether you can find the “retro” / edgy head voice quality in your own voice. If you’re covering something Chris Cornell sings, you might want to make sure you’re solid on your high power notes, and can add a little grit here and there.)
But all that’s beside the point. The point is, you can learn a lot by comparing your voice to another singer’s voice at an extremely fine level.
In my last round of doing this, I learned about using vowel shapes to make a song more interesting.
It’s easiest to just show you an example.
Here’s a bit of the Maroon 5 song, Harder to Breathe. The first track has flat vowels – where the vowel shapes from syllable to syllable don’t vary that much. In the second track, I take advantage of SOME of the vowel shapes to make the lines more interesting.
If you want to apply this concept to your own singing:
– First, identify what the actual, pure vowel sounds are for EACH AND EVERY syllable in a line. Everything. This includes words like “in” and “and,” and it includes two-vowel diphthongs such as in the word “I”, and the unstressed syllables of words. (A good voice coach can help you out.) Here’s an example:
“How dare you say…”
AA-OO (diphthong) – EH – OOH – AA-EE (diphthong)
“that my behavior’s…”
A (as in “cat”) – AH-EE (diphthong) – EE – EH-EE (diphthong) – <schwa>
UH – A (as in “cat”) – EH – UH – <schwa>
– Second, sing the line v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, expressing every single vowel purely. Take no shortcuts.
– Finally, choose which vowels you want to take advantage of. You’ll sound a bit weird if you go enunciating every single vowel in every single syllable. But I’ve become a fan lately of making sure to sing pure “ooh” sounds, like in “you”. “OO” is a vowel sound that often gets a little squished, but it offers so much resonance when you just take advantage of it!
This may sound tedious at first, but once you get the concept, you can choose to apply it without thinking much. Have fun!
(c) 2011 Adrienne Osborn