Hard Songs To Sing: Rather Be, by Clean Bandit

Clean Bandit, by NCVO London, under CC BY 2.0

Love it or hate it, the Clean Bandit hit “Rather Be” is everywhere. While the song has taken some (what I find unfair) flack for its “fusion” with classical music, I love Jess Glynne’s sultry mezzo voice and the song’s catchy use of stringed instruments. Listening to the song for level of difficulty, the verses and pre-choruses, and even the beginnings of the choruses are fairly tame. But the ends of the choruses, along with the bridge, are hard enough for many singers that I decided to include “Rather Be” in our hard songs to sing collection.

Why The Song Is Hard

“Rather Be” isn’t easy, but its difficulty level doesn’t measure up to some of the other songs in this collection, like “Chandelier” and “Let It Go.” But there are some very challenging aspects to the song. At the end of the choruses, many singers have trouble with the line, “No, no, no, no, no, no place I’d rather be.” While the no’s aren’t unreasonably high, the line moves swiftly enough (and is high enough) that it’s hard to balance agility and power. Singers often slow down on the line, sound shrill, or mix in too much head voice to maintain the contemporary vibe.

The C#5 on the be in rather be after the no section can also be tough. The “EE” sound has a tendency to sound shrill when belted that high.

The bridge isn’t too bad until it hits the “yeah.” The long pitch climb that the word takes is difficult on its own and is made more difficult by the fact that it culminates in a D#5.

Instant Gratification

Let’s look at the no’s first. Try shading some “OO” into your “OH” sound. The smaller vowel will help with agility so that you’re able to keep the pace of the line. Try to stay chesty on the “OO” sound. The combination of the lighter, smaller vowel with your chesty push should help you mix your chest and head voice together in a healthy way. Note: If you find that you’re sounding too nasal or shrill this way, open the vowel a little and try a “nuh” sound. If this doesn’t hurt your agility, it’s possible that it’s a better vowel for you.

While Jess Glynne belts the be in rather be, this word could be made to sound good in head voice as well. It’s high enough that you can stylize it and make it sound like an intentional register flip. If you plan to belt it, make sure it isn’t sounding shrill by opening the “EE” into more of an “i” (as in kick) sound. If you think head voice is a better bet for you, go full-on head voice with it rather than trying to make it a pretty musical-theatre mix. To do this, think about opening the vowel a little bit and sighing into it. Be slightly hooty with it. Make sure to only be that heady on the word be. Singing the entire line in head voice will kill the contemporary vibe..

On the bridge, whether you’re able to belt the D# or not, be as twangy as possible on it. This way, even if you’ve flipped into a head-dominant mix, you’ll have enough brightness in your tone that you’ll still be able to make the top note climactic. Try scrunching your nose for some added zing.

Not-So-Instant Gratification

Whether you’re able to belt the no section or not, you’ll want some strength in that area of your voice. Try arpeggiating on “no, no, no,” thinning the “OH” to more and more of an “OO” as you go higher and higher, but making sure to keep the intensity and forwardness. Over time, you’ll build strength in those hard-to-hit middle notes.

In order to make sure that the yeah section in the bridge doesn’t sound sloppy, try running the musical pattern over and over again but adding a consonant before each note. First try it on a “NA” (as in cat.) Once you’re able to hit every note clearly, get rid of the “NA” sound and change it back to “yeah,” continuing to make sure every note is clear and non-muddy.

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