Rihanna’s so special, that we all want what she’s got.
But how can you imitate someone who is always changing, always keeping us guessing, and most of all…
You guessed it, the best way to imitate her is to not imitate her at all, but work at perfecting your own unique voice.
But we can still learn practical tips for being a little bit more awesome by following Rihanna’s lead.
Read on for 3 reasons Rihanna is so awesome, and how you can be inspired to sing like her.
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How to Sing Like Rihanna
Chris Martin once enthused that Rihanna is the “Frank Sinatra of our generation”, possessing a voice that just sounds “pleasing to most people”.
What makes Rihanna’s voice so appealing?
Martin described it as “this whole, rich thing, solid like a tree trunk”, and his fan-boy account is spot-on.
Rihanna’s voice is solid, strong, and wonderfully textured.
Rihanna’s success is due more to an interesting sound than astounding technique - though she has had vocal lessons in recent years which have improved her singing voice by leaps and bounds.
But at the end of the day, she’s gifted with a unique, beautiful voice, and she’s not afraid to play it up. She embraces what makes her special and doesn’t try to sound like anyone else.
So how do you embrace your own unique sound, while still paying homage to your favorite Barbadian songstress?
Here’s 3 main takeaways from Rihanna’s unique sound:
She Rocks Her Lower Register
We sometimes make the mistake of thinking a “good” voice needs to be up high all the time. Of course, soaring high notes can be exciting, but it’s just one flavor of voice.
Rihanna has certainly sung some high notes in her time, but when she is singing in her lower register, the full beauty of her voice shines through. You can hear the rich velvety texture of her voice when she hangs out in the lower register: think Stay or the verses of Russian Roulette.
Everyone loves the “bells and whistles” of pop music: the belts, the vocal runs, the exhaustingly long notes. And Ri-Ri is capable of all of that.
What we really love though, is her smoky, iconic voice, best heard in the low end of her range.
She Embraces a Textured Sound
Rihanna is known for edge: both in her style and in the music she creates. However, her voice also has a natural texture that lends itself well to that kind of sound.
If you don’t naturally have as textured a voice as Rihanna, you can add texture, as she does, for even more edge.
In this live performance of Where Have You Been, we can see two ways Rihanna accomplishes this.
Rihanna adds texture by over-enunciating words: in this performance, for example, she seems to almost chew the words “Are you hiding from me, yeah” like tough meat.
Rihanna also adds edge to her voice with her vocal placement. When she sings in her head voice, it sounds soft and warm. When she flips into chest voice, however, she often places her tone in her nasal resonators, creating a throaty, harsh tone.
You can see in this clip that juxtaposition of sound she creates. At the top of the song she sits regally in her golden throne, her voice warm and controlled. As the song intensifies, she leans forward, both literally and vocally, leaning into that edgier tone.
She’s Not Afraid of “Imperfect” Singing
Rihanna’s loyal followers love her, in part, because of her intensity.
In concert, she’s often more focused on delivering an impassioned performance than being pitch-perfect.
This has earned her some criticism in the past, but Rihanna’s authenticity is one thing the “Rihanna Navy” love about her.
Rihanna’s favoring of authenticity over perfection plays out in many ways: playfully slurring her words until they’re barely recognizable in the Caribbean-inspired Work, for example.
But nowhere are Rihanna’s perfectly-imperfect sensibilities more admired that in her gritty, impassioned performance of Higher.
In this last-ditch plea for late-night love, Rihanna is pushing herself emotionally, physically, vocally. She’s at the top of her range, but her delivery is scratchy, urgent, and desperate.
Her unrelenting vocals are a stark contrast to the smooth strings accompanying her. And this is, perhaps, the perfect musical expression of Rihanna’s appeal boiled down to a three-minute song: the brazen and the gentle, the vulnerable and the cool-girl, all blended together to create one mesmerizing puzzle you know you’ll never quite figure out.
How You Can Sing Like Rihanna
Rock that lower register (or wherever your voice really shines)
Sometimes we get so caught up in “showing off” our vocal skills that we forget what people really want to listen to is a beautiful, strong voice.
Rihanna sounds best when she’s in the low-to-mid range… where do you sound your best?
Read this article to discover your vocal type, or work with your singing teacher to figure out where you sound the best.
Find material that shows off your beautiful voice, and use the “bells and whistles”- the far-reaching high notes, the dizzying vocal runs- as a garnish, not the main course. Your performance will be a lot more memorable and far more unique.
Enhance Natural Texture with Stylistic Choices
Remember how the queen of textured sound adds even more texture to her performances with her vocal stylings?
Take a page from her book and experiment with adding texture to your sound.
Imagine you’re a character saying these lines in a play. Are they filled with hatred, bitterness, cool manipulation? Giddy first love or an epic declaration of undying attachment? The emotional story behind the song can guide your texture choices.
Remember how Rihanna chews up and spits out her words on her hit Where Have You Been?
Now think about her vulnerable, barely-getting-the-words-out delivery on Stay.
The way she delivers her words not only adds to the truth of the song, but makes listening to an entire set more interesting.
You can also play with your resonators to change up your sound even more. If switching up your resonance is a totally new concept to you, ask your singing teacher to guide you through your different resonances.
One of the most memorable tracks on Anti is the already-mentioned Higher, and for good reason:
We see a crack in Rihanna’s cool-girl armor, and the effect is powerful.
On songs like this, and in her most impassioned performances, we see the real reason Rihanna is so popular:
More than her distinctive fashion choices, more than the glamorous lifestyle she projects, her magic lies in being a girl who just loves to sing, and is insistent in doing it her own way.
So, if you want to channel Rihanna’s perfectly-imperfect singing, don’t be afraid to go out on a limb and push yourself vocally. And if it’s less than perfect, shrug it off and just keep singing.
A word of warning here:
It’s always a possibility, when pushing yourself vocally, to strain your voice.
Please work with your singing teacher to ensure you’re not doing damage to that beautiful singing voice of yours.
Practical Tips for Your Own Brand of Rihanna-Style Awesomeness:
Remember that what we love about Rihanna is her unique sound.
That sound can’t be copied. If it could, it wouldn’t be special anymore.
So, the best thing you can do is get to know your own voice and what makes it so awesome.
Using these tips:
Playing with texture, exploring your resonators, and embracing the quirks and imperfections of your natural voice, will help you get to know your voice in a whole new way, and teach you what it is capable of.
Remember though, that while a large part of Rihanna’s appeal is her laid-back attitude, her voice really opened up when she got down to work, hired a singing teacher, and worked on improving her singing voice.
If you want to get down to work like Rihanna did, consider working with an online vocal teacher. It’s easy to get started, just click here for more information.
Most importantly, find the joy in singing.
It is possible to find that balance of working towards improvement, while embracing the joy of singing, and celebrating where your voice is now.
Rihanna has found it, that’s what makes her loyal fans so fiercely enthusiastic.
So, find that own balance, and find joy in your own unique voice.
And be your own unique “only girl (or boy) in the world”.