What Is An Adlib In Music? + What You Need To Do It Well Saturday January 21 2023, 11:30 PM
Yona Marie
Singer, Songwriter, Producer.
What Is An Adlib In Music? + What You Need To Do It Well

What Is An Adlib?

You may ask, what is an adlib? Why are you spelling it as all one word? Well, adlibbing is also known as improvising. It’s the beautiful part that you hear a good singer freestyling right in the background of the repeated hooks. Sometimes the intro and outro can be considered ad-lib if you’re literally just winging it!

The word adlib comes from the Latin phrase "ad libitum", which can be translated to 'at one's pleasure' or 'as you desire'. It's all about freestyling, also referred to as improving in the music world. 

Traditionally, the word was used as two words or with a dash (ad lib or ad-lib), but more modern writers and creators seemed to accept the term as one word (adlib).

I always get excited in my session singing day job when I get to the part where the verses are laid, the hook vocals are all in, the bridge is complete with climactic harmonies and everything, and then I get to adlib. I always save my adlibs for last, since I adlib based on every other part that was previously recorded. 

Ways To Adlib

An adlib can come in many different forms, including spoken words, hums, oohs, ahhs, and dung words. The great thing about adlibbing is that there are no rules (as long as you stay in the right key, I suppose).

You can come up with your own rhythmic phrases that are short or long. You can come in with a note that is high or low. It's all about you getting in tune with the feel of the instrumentation and letting it take you away. 

Runs and riffs are often best used when you're ad-libbing on a song as a vocalist.

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.

The longer the run, the more impressive it is. You will often hear runs in intros, outros, and the adlib part, where a singer is freestyling over the hook of a song.

What Genres Have Adlibs?

The cool thing about ad-libbing, freestyling, or improvising is that it can literally happen in almost any genre you could think of.

The only times you may want to be careful with your adlibs is when it comes to religious and cultural pieces in some instances, but for the most part, it's fair game when tasteful.

You can add your own musical improvisations to styles, including classical, rock, jaxx, folk, country, R&B, soul, instrumental music, and so much more. 

Scatting Adlibs

Scat singing is one of the most complicated adlibbing techniques a singer can pull off correctly. It's mostly used in the genre of jazz, where improvisation is a big part of the performance for singers and instrumentalists alike.

But for scatting in particular, the technique is reserved for singers who improvise vocal lines without using any meaningful words. These vocal improvs can include random vowels, small words here and there, or complete gibberish. 

The focus on scatting is not about what the singer can do with their words but about how they can freestyle a phrase that includes rhythmic and melodic improvisation.

Hype Man Adlibs 

You could say that being a hype man in the genre of hip hop is also a unique approach to adlibbing that has spanned from one particular style and spread to other genres as well. 

Hype men had their peak in the 90s, but they are still a vital part of the urban music performance and recording world today. A hype man is a backup singer or dancer that adds adlibs and interjections throughout a performance to help get the crowd excited.

Having a hype man (or a group of them) is a great way to get the energy right in a performance atmosphere. This is especially true for crowds that are not that connected with the performer and could use some energy from multiple people in the room to get into the vibe.

A hype man is also helpful for rappers and singers with word-heavy lyrics that are hard to pull off while performing live. You've probably seen a few performers trying to get the crowd to sing or rap a part to take a quick breath.

Tips For Adlibing 

Record yourself freestyling, AKA adlibbing, to get a feel for what your voice truly sounds like. It's hard to tell when you're singing or rapping live. 

Don't just practice your freestyling skills once in a blue moon. You need to be consistent to get results in becoming better at your flow and your ability to come up with melodies and rhythms that are on the spot. 

You also want to practice balance when it comes to your adlibs. There is definitely such a thing as overdoing it, and sometimes it's a better idea to just let the instrumentation shine for a bit! 

Musical Ear

Singing is all about hearing the music correctly. If you're singing and don't know how to sing on pitch or think you're on the right pitch, but you notice your audience looks troubled, you may not have a good musical ear. 

Even without formal training, good singers are likely to have a naturally good ear and be able to match the key of any song their singing or humming along to.

The better your ear is, the easier you will be able to come up with adlibs that fit the melodic flow of a song. If you can hear, understand, and anticipate the scales and chord changes you will be following vocally, you will be able to impress your audience with an improvised sound!

Vocal Control

Hearing is the first step, and without having a good ear for music, you will find it hard to be able to control if you're in key or not.

Good singers are able to identify and sing the right pitches when performing a song. Getting your voice on the same page as your ear is critical in becoming a good singer.

It's one thing to be able to hear the right pitches to sing, but another thing to be able to control your vocals enough to be able to hit the right notes consistently. Control is all about consistency here, which leads to the next quality. 

Experience and Practice 

All good singers take the journey far past the point of just having a nice tone and good ear in order to truly become good. You can't just have the basics of something and automatically master good vocal control, no matter how many natural talents are in the mix.

Ever heard of putting in your 10,000 hours to become good at something? What hour are you on in your journey to become good?

When I was around 10, I had a lovely singing voice and a naturally great ear, thanks to my family, church, and my personal music collection. Yet, I was not quite a good singer.

I had really just started practicing getting good around this time, and it was a long uphill battle full of bad notes, shaky adlibs, and an overall lack of connection to the music.

Gain experience with self-help, formal training, and practicing consistently. It's very simple to do in theory but can be a challenge to do!

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Yona Marie

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.

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