Duffy is a Welsh singer/songwriter who made a huge impact on me as a young teen. I wrote about her previously (see that here) after she disappeared, seemingly without explanation, from the music scene almost 10 years ago.
Recently, Duffy announced the harrowing, horrible reason behind her departure: she was kidnapped and held hostage for over a month, leading to years of suffering and trauma. There is a lot more to it, but I don’t want to trigger anyone and you can read it in her own words here. I do plan on making separate videos covering that for those interested.
For now, I would like to simply focus on the timeless beauty of Duffy’s singing voice, what makes her unique, and how you can use those unique features to sound like her.
Imitation is a form of flattery, and as a session singer, I am often asked to “sound like an artist” for a client. This is my series on how to sing like different artists (you can find others I’ve done here).
How to Sing Like Duffy
Please note: I am not a vocal coach, so please do NOT do anything that will cause you vocal harm! If it hurts, stop doing it. If you don’t know how to do certain techniques correctly (such as vocal fry), please do not attempt them.
Please also note: Your own unique voice is good enough! This post is not saying that you should change how you sound or that who you are is wrong. These are just tips in case you’re a session singer with a special request, you want to slay at karaoke, or you’re just a die-hard Duffy fan like me.
Learning someone else’s techniques is always fun and will add new tools to your vocal toolbox. The more effects and styles you can add, the more interesting your performance will be and the more ideas you’ll have when singing.
If you prefer to watch videos instead of read, here is my video post:
1). Unique Vowel Sounds
This is probably the easiest and quickest way to mimic Duffy’s sound without changing too much of your vocal style. In her single “Warwick Avenue” you can clearly hear how she plays with changing the shape of her vowel sounds:
Most of her vowel sounds remain consistent in their unique traits. For example, “I” sounds like “ah”, while “ah” sounds like “aw,” and she has a pretty strong/harsh “eeee” in “leaving.”
Vocal “placement” is tricky to explain. My first vocal coach told me “singing is a thinking game” and that’s so true. Placement is essentially where you envision your sound coming from. You can completely change the sound of your voice just by where you put your placement.
In my post about How to Sing Like Billie Holiday, I mention her placement in her nose and the back of her throat, varying between the two. Duffy is similar, however I feel her placement is more focused on her nose.
3). Tongue Shape and Position
This one is probably easier to watch than read, but just in case you learn better by reading: When I sing Duffy’s “I” vowel, my tongue is pushed against my back teeth, but I keep my tongue flat to make the “ah” sound.
When I made my “How to Sing Like Halsey” video, I mentioned to keep your tongue against your teeth but put your tongue into a “U” shape. For Duffy, you’ll want to have less of a “U” shape and keep it flat. This will make a difference in sound (as well as other technical differences between the two singers, of course). Halsey has a breathier sound while Duffy has more of a dry, brassy feel.
4). Heavy Vibrato on Phrase Ends
My friend Matt Ramsey has a great tutorial on vibrato here. You really need a strong, wide vibrato to pull off Duffy’s sound. Almost every note she holds has a lot of vibrato. There are occasions where a held note will have NO vibrato, which just adds to her vocal character.
5). Liberal Vocal Fry
Vocal fry is another tricky technique that you can easily do wrong, so be sure you *KNOW* how to use this correctly before doing it! I recommend a vocal coach if you feel any pain when using fry.
Duffy uses a LOT of fry so if you can do it safely, feel free to use it a great deal. My natural voice has very little fry, but when imitating others I can turn it on and off. Some people just have it naturally so you might find it easy, but please do it safely!