I got an interesting question from a student the other day, asking what are some of the hardest pop songs to sing. It’s a very tough, subjective question—particularly because different voice types have difficulty with different types of songs, and because I certainly haven’t taught every pop song. Because new pop songs are always hitting the charts, and because “hardness” is so subjective, I’ve decided to keep a log of these impressive and challenging songs one-by-one as I think of them, starting with Adele’s Rolling in The Deep.
At first, it seems like Rolling in the deep would be an odd choice, because there are no extremely high or low notes in the song. To be precise, the highest note, which is not all that high, is C above middle C.
The problem with that not-so-high C above middle C is it lies right around most women’s transition zones or vocal breaks between chest and head mix (if the terms chest and head mix are getting you down, don’t worry—I’ll get an explanation up in the next week or so). On top of this difficult awkward transition-y note, rests the integrity of the entire song. It is the “all” in “We could have had it all,” and the “inside” in “You had my heart inside.” Those notes are what really gives the chorus its punch. Put too much “chest” in the note, and you have a pulled, shrill, or closed-off sounding note. Put too much “head” in the note, and you’ve turned your pop anthem into a slumber party.
To top off the difficulty of the C above middle C, the words “all” and “inside” are lethal. Let’s address “all” first. The open vowel “ah” sound in “all” is one of those sounds that easily sound shrill in the chest mix. The ‘L’ sound at the end of the word can draw the tongue to the back of the throat, and close off the larynx. Any over-pronunciation of the word sounds like gargling.
The word “inside” doesn’t have the gargly “L” problem, but it does have a pesky diphthong—the “I” in “side” (think Sa-eed). Diphthongs, when at all possible, should be turned into one vowel. In the case of the “I,” the prescribed modification is an “ah” sound. Does that look familiar? It’s the same open “ah” sound that’s difficult to sing in “all.”
Hopefully you have a new respect for Adele, who can make even the toughest notes sound full-bodied and powerful. And don’t forget: just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you can’t do it. The upside of having the punchy note fall in a transition zone is that you can sing it in so many different ways. Take a little time, experiment, and find the way that works best for you.