How to Sing R&B | 4 Tips for Beginners

r&b singing

Interested in learning how to sing R&B? Check out these helpful tips from online voice teacher Liz T...


If you’re a fan of contemporary R&B singers today, such as Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson, and Rihanna, and want to learn how to sing R&B music, then this article is for you! R&B is a very specific style of music – think pop and rock with an “urban” feel. To get a better idea of how to approach R&B songs, check out these musical tips!

1. Listen to the greats
Start out by listening and studying R&B, also known as “Rhythm and Blues.” Rhythm and Blues started in the 1940s and was popular in African-American culture. Singers such as Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and James Brown were some of R&B’s founding fathers. The style eventually progressed to bring out artists such as TLC, Brandy, and Boyz II Men.

2. Practice vocal improvising
R&B music is known for improvising and riffing vocally, so start practicing improvisation and coming up with your own melodies. Find a simple blues scale to riff over, and create your own made-up melody. Or try performing a riff or scatting over a well-known melody. You can also buy many books that come with audio CDs to practice with at Berklee Press; many start right at the beginning with the basics of riffing and vocal improvisation.

3. Start singing
First, I suggest you take a look at simple jazz ballads, such as:

  • “God Bless the Child” – Billie Holiday
  • “Misty” – Erroll Garner
  • “Summertime” – Ella Fitzgerald
  • “Body and Soul” (jazz standard)
  • “At Last” – Etta James
  • “My Funny Valentine” – Ella Fitzgerald

Practice your vocal improvisation and riffing in the solo section. Then try a more contemporary R&B song that you are familiar with. You don’t have to copy the artist exactly, but use their vocals as a guideline.

Ideas for contemporary R&B ballads to learn include:

  • “Fallin'” – Alicia Keys
  • “One Sweet Day” – Mariah Carey
  • “Unbreak My Heart” – Toni Braxton
  • “Ordinary People” – John Legend
  • “All My Life” – K-Ci and JoJo

SEE ALSO: How to Sing for Beginners

4. Analyze song lyrics
Find that R&B soul in yourself, and don’t be afraid to show it! Many R&B songs have compelling lyrics about love, overcoming struggle, inspiration, and hope. Find a song that speaks to you, and make it your own. Also, don’t be afraid to try a little writing of your own. Start out with writing a poem, and then put your lyrics to a melody. R&B artist Alicia Keys is notorious for writing and performing her own music – she would not be where she is today if she did not take a stab in the dark at writing her own R&B tunes. This is what makes her such an authentic artist, because what she is writing and singing about comes from her own personal journey and experiences, and truly shapes her as an artist.

R&B music is a unique genre. It’s OK if it doesn’t come natural to you at first, but educating yourself by listening to the greats and practicing specific R&B techniques in your voice lessons will definitely help you become a better R&B singer!

LizTLiz T. teaches online singing, acting, and music lessons. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!

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Photo by University of Delaware Alumni Relations

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