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The meaning of the term “rhythm and blues” has evolved throughout the years. Rhythm and blues or R&B as a popular music genre originated in the communities of African-Americans in the 1940s. Record companies originally used this term to refer to the recordings that were predominantly marketed among urban African Americans from the 1950s to 1970s. During the 1950s, however, R&B was referred to as those music styles that incorporated electric blues together with soul and gospel music. During the onset of the 1960s, some bands like the Rolling Stones, Animals, and the Who were branded and promoted as R&B bands. A relic poster from 1964 indicated that slogan “Maximum R&B” for the band The Who. At present, the mixture of R&B and rock and roll is referred to as “British rhythm and blues.”
The following decade of the ’70s manifested a gradual shift in the meaning of the term “R&B,” and the term was used to refer to soul and funk. However, the ’80s then elicited a new connotation to the term R&B. During the ’80s, R&B developed a new style; hence, the R&B during this decade was referred to as “contemporary R&B.” This contemporary R&B mixed elements of pop, rhythm and blues, soul, hip hop, funk, and electronic music. At the end of the 20th century, however, some R&B bands and vocalists including R. Kelly, Chaka Khan, Prince, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston became popular.
Distinctive Singing Style of R&B Genre
One thing that makes R&B very distinct is the use of vibrato by R&B singers on the sustained tones, especially in ballads, although in many lines and phrases, they don’t use vibrato. Moreover, R&B singers generally vary their voice in order to reflect the message of the song. Furthermore, the lyrics are very critical to R&B renditions. Unlike in the opera, wherein singers do not use the microphone, R&B singers generally use mics that allow them to project the tone of their voice easily.
The distinctive qualities of R&B singers include being versatile to be able to sing riffs and reach top notes of the higher range. They also need to be flexible enough to balance the use of chest voice and head voice. Moreover, they should be able to strike a balance among the different tones while attempting to be clearly understood without necessarily overemphasizing and over-articulating every line.
R&B Singing Techniques You Must Learn
1) You Should Internalize & Understand the Lyrics of the Song
One technique that would surely make you a better R&B singer is the technique of perfectly internalizing the lyrics. To do this, at the onset, it would be good for you to choose a song that really appeals to you or that speaks directly to your heart. Since R&B thrives in improvisation, if you feel the song, your emotion will freely flow, and you can render a nice soulful rendition of the song with all the improvisation that you can naturally muster. This can surely make your performance very meaningful, not only to you but also to your audience. It would be good to read the lyrics of the song thoroughly and to figure out what it really wants to relay to the listeners. You should ask yourself questions like: “Is the song about triumphant love?” or “Is the song about heartbreak?”
It is important at the onset that you select a song with which you can really relate. Once you have chosen a song, you should try to recall the moments in the past when you had experienced the same emotions as portrayed in the song. Moreover, you can also choose a song with which you can relate at the present moment. If you have just undergone a heartbreak, for example, you can choose a song about heartbreak.
2) Include Riffs in Your Rendition
The thing that distinguishes an R&B singer from other singers is the type of riffs that an R&B singer introduces into his/her rendition. An R&B, a singer, must embellish his rendition with unique vocal riffs. Riffs are additional melodic notes that a singer infuses into the song to enhance a line of the song. Additional riffs are a staple aspect of R&B rendition, and hence, you should be master of adding vocal riffs.
You can master adding additional riffs by listening thoroughly to the lines of the song. Then, you should figure out on which part of the song’s line you can infuse an additional riff for more nuances. R&B singers usually rehearse and use the same riffs over and over. Hence, you don’t need to be elaborate or copious with riffs. You simply must incorporate a few good vocal riffs to make your rendition unique.
You will surely get the hang of this or develop the natural flair for discovering where in the song you could add riff. Moreover, you’ll readily figure out the moment wherein you would like to emphasize a part of the song through constant practice. You can add riffs to the song’s emotional highlight. You can also add riff at a point when the song expresses great poignancy. However, you should bear in mind this caveat: “Don’t overdo it for you may sound awkward as if you are parodying the musical genre of R&B.
The audience usually waits for the moment when the R&B singer would start riffing or improvising. They expect this because they know that this moment would show the distinctive character of the R&B singer. Hence, it is safe to say that the riffs and scats characterize R&B performance. However, the use of too many riffs is like playing with fire; it may ruin your performance if you overdo it.
3) Dig Deeper into Your Emotion
What makes R&B unique is the ability of R&B singers to convey their emotions through their vocal renditions readily. For this reason, one technique that you should master is the art of making your emotions resonate in your voice. Every song expresses emotion, and as mentioned above, you should figure out the emotion behind every song and try as much as possible to convey that emotion in your rendition. If you haven’t experienced the pain of heartbreak, for example, it would be very much difficult for you to give justice to a song that conveys heartbreak. However, it usually takes practice and the ability to empathize with the song that would surely make you a successful R&B singer. But even if you haven’t experienced heartbreak, for example, you can still think of the saddest moment of your life and try to capitalize on the emotion elicited by the memory of that sad moment.
4) Make Use of the Correct Vibrato
The correct use of vibrato can surely enhance your R&B performance. Hence, it would be good to figure out when will be the best time to use vibrato in a song. You should also put some harness on your use of vibrato. This means you should have control over your use of vibrato while singing. Women can make use of fast vibrato because fast vibrato generally gives female R&B rendition its charm. You can refer to the renditions of Whitney Houston in this case. Slower vibrato, on the other hand, fits well male R&B singers and make their rendition sexier.
You should be aware of your vibrato range and capabilities. If you can fully harness and control your vibrato from one word to another, you will surely evolve into one of the most expressive R&B singers.
5) Use R&B Runs to Create Your Own Style
The most popular artists at present are those who are capable of singing great R&B runs. The reason for this is that if you can sing runs, you are definitely capable of uniquely singing with much freedom. Moreover, you can develop your own unique style if you can sing with great freedom. If you compliment these great runs with deep emotion, you will surely be a sure hit as an R&B singer.
6) Learn to Sing with Correct Trills
As an R&B singer, you should develop your unique style. You can develop a unique style if you employ the use of correct trills. A trill is a unique technique in style. A singer usually sings part of the phrase or word in a song using stylistic trill. The singer can do a trill by stringing together notes that he/she sings together rapidly. Trills can simply be a few notes strung at the end of a word or phrase. However, they can be huge in creating your own style. You should listen to how Usher sings to know more about trills.
Trills don’t necessarily follow the exact key signature of the song. However, they usually complement the key in which the song is in. Hence, sometimes even if the song is found in the key of C, the singer would still make use of flats and sharps to create dynamics in the song. There is no clear-cut formula on how you can use trills, but you’ll surely get the hang of it as you practice more often.
Final Thoughts & Additional Tips
The most distinct characteristic of R&B is its tendency to improvise and vocally riff songs. Hence, if you intend to become an R&B singer, you need to begin practicing vocal riffing and improvisation. This means you need to come up with your distinctive melodies. To start off with this endeavor, you simply need to choose a simple blues scale that you can use for riffing over and creating distinctive melodies. You can also scat over any popular melody as a good practice. You can do this by practicing vocal improvisation in the solo section of the song. Once you get the hang of it, you can then move on to a more complicated contemporary R&B song. The cue is you don’t need to mimic every twist and turn of the vocals; you can simply use the artist’s vocal style as your guide.