Rather Be: a Victoria Sponge of a song

Before you sing a cover of Clean Bandit & Jess Glynne‘s Rather Be, think of this:

Why? Because the mood of the song is light and easy.  When you sing it, your vowels need to be spacious and your consonants clear, but smooth.  Keep a light sponge cake in mind.

Rather Be‘s verses are loaded with smooth rhymes involving the long vowel sound /iː/ : me, sea, we, be, scene, peace, simplicity, beat and the long diphthong /eɪ/: staked, make, shame, name, sacred, place Consistent rhymes support an easy rhythm. If you’re mistakenly singing make with a short /ɛ/ or peace with a short /ɪ/ to sound like this, then you’re in trouble.  Check. The vowels need to be right and they need to rhyme. Remember: no constriction, no obstruction. In the verses, keep your consonants smooth, soft and clear – this cake doesn’t want the surprise of whole walnuts. Add plenty of air and space to your vowel sounds, so they can rise and expand.

How? Try this: sing the line We’re a thousand miles from comfort into your mirror. Notice your mouth – the shape, how open your mouth is and how relaxed it looks, especially on the word thousand, especially on the first syllable. Relaxed is the important word.

Clean Bandit chose the phrase a thousand miles for a reason. 1000 kilometres wouldn’t have worked. The consonants are too hard and they require tongue gymnastics which would disrupt the light mood. Instead, Clean Bandit chose a phrase full of relaxed schwa sounds (like a or the and of thousand). You just open your mouth and out they come. No energy or tension involved. The diphthong in thousand is spacious. Relaxed open mouth.

Can’t imagine how it works? Try watching covers on YouTube. When native English speakers sing directly to camera, watch their mouths as they sing. Look in a mirror to compare what they’re doing with what you do when you sing the same words. You might be  surprised.

You probably haven’t heard of Ruva Ali or Lloyd Smallwood. Yet. They’re still at school. Their cover of Rather Be is a superb example of the spacious relaxed vowels that the song needs. Watch Ruva singing the word thousand. Does she look relaxed?

Ruva gives the word enough space to suit the airy, expansive feeling of Rather Be. She and Lloyd give all their vowel sounds plenty of room. Learn from them: in English, especially in  light songs like this or this, your vowels need to be spacious. Don’t flatten songs with vowel sounds borrowed from your native language. Let them float.

Pick a phrase from Rather Be and sing it to your mirror. Compare your mouth shape to Ruva or Lloyd’s.  Copy them (relax your mouth) and see how it feels. Persevere, even if it feels a bit strange. To sing well in English you need to let your vowels expand sometimes.

Rather Be is full of words you probably know: you, I, no, sea and forever. Don’t get snared in short, standard spoken versions of words when you sing in English. Your words often need to expand when you sing. Think sponge cake or feathers when you sing Rather Be.

© Sing Better English, 2014



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