R&B is a beautiful genre of music that influences countless other popular music styles across the world. This genre, also written as RNB, stands for rhythm and blues and originated in the 1940s in America. When R&B first started, that rhythm came from the beats often found in jazz styles. When the 1950s came around, the rhythm was more influenced by the early sounds of rock.
Singing R&B is all about singing with passion from your soul. If you have a good singing voice, can tap into emotions, and are willing to study some of the greats, you can sing R&B pretty well! A lot of people like to associate R&B singing with a lot of riffs and embellishments, but it's about much more than that.
Although I've sung in almost a hundred different styles before, R&B music is my ultimate favorite genre to sing in. It's where my roots are when you combine R&B with gospel music, which is the story for countless other professional singers. I encourage you to check out some of my song releases here to get a feel for my connection with the genre.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, I live, eat and breathe music. I've been creating songs for over 15 years and have no intention of stopping any time soon. I sing anything that matches well with soul singing. That includes R&B, hip hop, funk, house, jazz, and more.
Before you get into the world of R&B, make sure you have the basics down when it comes to singing. The basics can include pitch accuracy, learning rhythms, and finding unique flavor in your own voice. You want to also know how to have proper breath support, how to sing in a good position, and generally have practice and experience under your belt. You likely won't need to get into reading music since this genre rarely calls for it.
Once you know the basics of singing, the best course of action is to simply study some of the greats from R&B history. Since you have about 60 years or so to cover, it won't take you that long to study how R&B grew over the decades. Start looking in the 1940s when it was often called "jump blues". Study greats like Little Richard and Chuck Barry, who pioneered R&B and rock and roll.
After you take a deep dive into the music between the 40s and the 60s, transition into around the 70s and 80s when talented singers like Sam Cooke paved the way with smooth vocals and more relaxed, ballad-styled rhythms. Around this time, funk and disco came into the picture, and R&B became a blanket term for the three genres.
In the 80s and 90s, ballads were a huge deal from great singers like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Allow your ears to hear how hip hop largely influenced the sound of R&B and changed the way that rhythm became involved in the creation of "rhythm and blues". The 90s was a really big deal for the R&B world that still influences how it's made today.
Emotion can make or break the quality of your performance. Singing with emotion means that you are connected with the song and allowing the energy of the music to affect your performance positively. To feel the emotion in a song, you have to be able to let go of your anxieties and get lost in the space of the song and its lyrics.
Many songs in the R&B realm are about love and heartbreak. The best way to get emotionally involved in the genre is to sing a song about losing someone you were romantically involved with. If you're singing a song and you've never been heartbroken, you may feel like you won't be able to express this song as well as a heartbroken person would. But we all know what heartbreak looks like from the outside! All you need to do is act like a heartbroken person, and you will fool people well enough.
Ever since the 90s, hip hop and R&B created a bond that is still ever-present in music to this day. A lot of rappers include some melodic flows (sing-rap) in their verses and vice versa. This is why you really need to grasp the rhythmic flow in music if you want to sing in this genre. Compared to other styles, you will be challenged to sing a ton of lyrics in sometimes difficult rhythmic patterns. Those who don't have a natural feel for music rhythms will find this a bit challenging.
Vibrato for this genre comes in a few different forms, but mainly two. As I mentioned in the previous section, one common and more modern way of singing is without vibrato and with hip hop flavor. Singers who are doing more modern verses and hooks like rappers will be more focused on simplicity in their tone. For ballads, you want to have a smooth, powerful, yet not overpowering vibrato. Take Whitney Houston, for example. She has a stellar vibrato that is powerful but not as strong as an opera singer. Good R&B singers have the ability to play around with multiple vibrato styles.
Falsetto singing is a big deal for modern R&B singers, especially males. While female and male singers alike tend to focus a lot of their vocal delivery on falsetto notes, male singers like Usher, Chris Brown, and Lucky Daye have songs where they sing the whole thing in their falsetto range. The falsetto also pairs well with emotionally resonant lyrics that are often about love.
Ballads and fast songs alike can feature some powerful belts by R&B singers. Beyonce, for example, has fast and slow songs that feature her belting very impressive high notes. While all singers don't have to belt, they are encouraged to know how to. This can help with emotionally powerful lyrics and showcase your talents as a singer. The complaint about many singers and styles of R&B these days is that they don't feature enough "real singers" that can belt.
Riffs and runs are one of the most exciting yet challenging parts of learning how to sing R&B music (or any other music that has soul in it, for that matter). Before I confuse you, riffs and runs are the same things. Some people just prefer to say one over the other.
A run or riff is a series of at least three notes close in pitch, sung consecutively, and very fast. Think of someone running down steps, where the person running is the voice, and each step is each note or pitch that they hit while singing downward.
You can really throw a run anywhere in a song as long as it isn't overkilled. Short, three-note runs fit into so many places in a song that many singers subconsciously do it. They are best used when you're freestyling on a song, also known as adlibbing. The longer the run, the more impressive it is. You will often hear runs in intros, outros, and the adlib part where a singer freestyles over a song's hook. Runs are also often used in the climactic point of a verse or chorus to emphasize a key phrase.
Harmonizing is when you layer a note above or below the lead part with a different pitch that will perfectly fit the song's chord progression. My absolute favorite part of background singing is when I get to harmonize. Listen, harmonizing is probably my favorite part of music, period! I get a really nerdy smile any day I'm in the studio laying down some beautifully layered harmonies—the more complex, the better.
Dubbing your vocals is the process of doubling the lead part of a song. Whether adding dubbed vocals to key phrases in a verse or highlighting a whole section like the hook, dubbed phrases are a must, especially in mainstream genres like pop and R&B.
Adlibbing, also known as improvising, is another form of backing vocals. It's the beautiful part where you hear a good singer freestyling in the background of the repeated hooks. Sometimes the intro and outro can be considered adlib if you're literally just winging it!
Related Post: Backing Vocals - 3 Ways They Elevate A Song
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
If you are ever in need of singer, songwriter or song producer services for your music project or brand, see what Yona Marie can offer you on her song services page. As an Amazon Associate, Yona Marie earns from qualifying purchases. Amazon and other affiliate products are recommended to genuinely help readers and keep this site up and running as well.