Adele should be the poster child for pop vowel modifications, and “Someone Like You” is a perfect case study. If you sit down and listen to her pronounce her lyrics, she doesn’t sing in remotely the same way she would speak. As a vocal student, you should get into the habit of active listening. If it helps, grab a pen and paper, and write what you hear her doing. It’s ultimately your choice if you use all of the techniques you noticed, but training yourself to notice them will make you into a more self-aware singer.
Why Is This Song Hard?
Everything tends to run relatively smoothly until the middle of the chorus: “don’t forget me, I pray…” At this point, the high C# on “Don’t Forget me,” not to mention the high E on “I” tend to be too high for a lot of girls to comfortably sing with a chesty sound. For untrained singers, the section tends to either sound shrill or weak.
Another more generally pervasive problem is students not getting the depth or power in their voice that they want. Part of Adele’s smokey appeal is built into her biologically, but part of it is the way she modifies vowels to get power in the most economical way possible.
Like I said before, there are a ton of modifications you can make to better emulate Adele’s style, but most of the instant gratification is going to come from focusing on the chorus. You can get away with fudging the verses, but you’re going to sound like a baby bird if you try to fudge the chorus.
So let’s just look at the Chorus as it’s written:
Nevermind, I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you
Don’t forget me, I beg
I remember you said,
“Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead,
Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead”
Now for the modifications:
Since most of you probably don’t know linguistic symbols, I’m going to follow each vowel I write with a common word in which the vowel sound appears. If you see “‘a’ (‘cat’)” it just means the ‘a’ sound you hear in the word ‘cat.’ of course, if you live in the Deep South, England, or Minnesota, you might have to think about how a Californian would pronounce the word.
- Put a little ‘a'(‘cat’) into all of the ‘I’s. The usual tendency of people is to modify ‘I’ into a southern-sounding ‘ah,’ but this modification goes even further, and allows you to access more chest than the vowel ‘ah’ would.
- ‘The’ should have some ‘oo'(‘soot’) sound in it. This will thicken the sound, and lower the larynx.
- ‘Best’ should have a hint of a ‘a’ (‘cat’). This brightens the sound and makes it easier to access a deeper, chesty voice without tension.
- ‘Don’t’ should have an ‘ow’ in it so it’s closer to ‘downt.’ Even though Adele has an incredibly strong voice, she actually approaches this section with more head tones than you’d expect—It’s definitely not an all out belt. The ‘downt’ lends a more open sound than ‘don’t’ would. It isn’t a traditional modification I’d use in a pop song, but it works well in this context.
- In ‘forget’ she drops the ‘r’ and the ‘t.’ The ‘r,’ even if you aren’t British is a very common consonant to either drop or soften when singing, because it tends to sound harsh, swallow the sound, and tense the larynx and tongue. Especially when singing these high notes, the fewer consonants you get bogged down in, the better. Dropping the ‘t’ also serves a few purposes. First, it offers a more relaxed, poppy feel to the song. Secondly, in a more utilitarian way, it keeps Adele from having to close the word off— something that causes more tension than necessary in the throat.
- ‘Me’ is close to ‘may.’
- ‘beg’ is close to ‘beeg.’
- ‘Remember’ is close to ‘remimber'(‘bit). The sound keeps your larynx from pulling in the same way the ‘eh’ sound does. ‘R’ is softened at the end of the word to sound closer to ‘remimbuh.’
- ‘Said’ is close to ‘sayeed,’ and that thinner ‘ee’ sound tends to be easier to control in that three-note lick.
- ‘Sometimes’ is close to ‘seuhm-tahms’ for similar reasons as above.
- The first ‘instead’ is close to ‘instad’ (‘tad’) which makes it easier to put chest into the word.
- The last ‘instead’ is more relaxed and heady so she uses a modification that sounds something like ‘instay-aee.’ The break in the word and the softened “d” in “instead” give it a broken quality that highlights the emotional pitch of the song at this point, making sound more fragile and vulnerable.
Phew. I guess it’s not really instant gratification anymore, but if you can get these down, you’re halfway there (you still have practicing to do).
Remember all those ‘a’ (‘cat’) sounds that infused all the ‘I’s? That was so we could put more chest into the vowels without tensing or sounding shrill. Makes sense that warming up on these ‘a’ vowels will help you with the song. Arpeggiate 1-3-5-1-1-1-1-5-3-1 on the ‘a’ (‘cat’) sound.
Arpeggiate 1-3-5-1-1-1-1-5-3-1 on a dopey-sounding ‘buh.’ This is the best exercise for lowering that larynx and getting some added fullness in your voice.