The art of ad-libbing part 2

As promised, I am continuing with the subject of ad-libs and I thought it would be good to take a basic look at how ad-libs sound in other genres of music.

I have a selection of ad-libs from a few other genres. I have asked specific artists who sing in a few different genres to use our initial brief (See The Art of Ad-libs, issue 7) on what ad-libs are:

“Ad-libbing is sometimes confused as an unprepared, thoughtless and carless way of just winging a song or a piece of music…,” FAR FROM IT. It is a very useful SKILL that is developed with experience and practice and can really and truly move the soul! The other mistake singers make is to think that ad-libbing is simply riffing or doing runs (or melisma) again this is NOT what ad-libbing is.

The actual idea and practice of ad-libbing has both a lyrical and musical foundation. This is what truly separates ad-libbing from simply riffing or doing runs/melisma.”

The interesting thing about musical style is that within a particular genre you can get variations of that genre that will have a different perspective on it but will be considered as a -sort of- subcategory of that genre. For instance in the Jazz genre, you can get: Bebop Jazz, Jazz standards, Latin Jazz, Jazz Funk and Jazz fusion to mention a few, all of which will have their unique differences in terms of how the music (rhythm, beat and melody) and vocal is interpreted and delivered.

There is no way I can cover every style right now, but I certainly intend to research and explore as many as possible and present that to you as iSing journeys forward.


Rock Ad Libs

Rock Ad Libs with Backing

Rock Ac cappella

Rock Ac cappella

Key points: Highlighted by singer, songwriter and producer Rasmus Andersen.

Note selection is key. Hence some improvised lyrics directed at the conversation on the matter.

In rock and mainstream pop it is common to use the pentatonic scale. It’s easy to blues around the pentatonic scale and riff away where it’s safe. More advanced rock and metal nowadays experiment with writing around much more complex chords and harmony which is great.

I think notes should be use for colour and add emotional expression within the lyrics. I chose to look for notes outside the chord within the arrangement. For example I look for the 9th when there is a minor chord played or even #5th over other chords and likewise with major 7s, #4, b5 etc. Basically anything that will add colour to the chord but used as a passing note for the emotional expression.

The second clip for example was based around a tritonal harmony which leaves further options and challenges as the ear doesn’t usually doesn’t like those notes and it can be a challenge to use them in a vocal phrase. I start on the b5 and improvised from there around the harmony and outside the chords to give extra colour. Hence the improvised lyrics of “Message. Choose your notes wisely. Don’t you come around and tell me that notes are not important to you.”

Some of the improvisation was just a bit of riffing really. Working around harmonic minor which I love to mix up whenever I’m just walking around the house vocalising. I tend to mix it up a lot with chromatic movements as well for extra fun. Also a bit of fun in pentatonic and then choosing to move outside the scale and harmony.



Key points: Highlighted by singer, songwriter and producer Fudge Jarcheh.

It’s important to first listen carefully to the main bass line especially in funk and quickly find your scale.

Try to imagine your voice as a trumpet for instance. By this I mean articulated in the form of staccato and super precision. Funk is all about stabs and note placement.

Let loose and make it all about the feel of your melody and soul. Don’t think too much, just express how you feel through your instrument. Remember… too much thinking, KILLS music!


Jazz melodic

Jazz rhythmical

Key points: Highlighted by singer, songwriter Elaine Buckle.

In my opinion, vocal exploration of the individual notes that make up “Jazzy” chords (e.g. adding 7th notes & 9th notes to a major triad, etc.), can help to build a strong melodic base for ad-libs. Also good use of vocal dynamics and rhythm can help to make Jazz ad-libs more interesting. Developing and implementing a distinctive vibrato, volume control, nuances and tone, clear articulation and good pitch make really memorable ad-libs which entertain both singer and audience.

Arabic world music

Key points: Highlighted by singer, songwriter and producer Ramzi Slieman.

Arabic music, Persian music and music from that part of the world is driven by feeling. Use expressive vowels like “ahh’’ as this is common place in the style of Arabic music and is considered to be the most “expressive” vowel to sing with. Try using the lyrics from the song and use the right choice of notes. It would benefit any singer seeking to engage with this style of music to perhaps learn one or two Arabic scales to help them build the correct musical language and understanding. A really good scale for western singers to start with would be the harmonic minor scale, as this will start you off in the right direction to capturing that distinctive Middle Eastern sound.

R&B Ad libs

Key points: Highlighted by singer, songwriter and producer Ramzi Sleiman.

There are three things to keep in mind when ad-libbing over an R&B track. The first thing is feeling: whenever you ad-lib, it’s a way of expressing your inner feelings over the track, so make sure to sing with a lot of feeling. Secondly, use some of the lyrics from the song to get you started then start to improvise your own lyrics in keeping with the sentiments and themes of the story of the song. The third thing is make use of your range, try singing low-range, mid-range and high-ranged ad-libs, depending on which part of the song you are singing and how choose to deliver the emotions that are being interpreted. 

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Joshua Alamu is a professional voice coach with over 15 years experience as a singing teacher in the music and television industry. He has been a voice coach for the TV talent show The Voice UK and is currently vocal coach stars such as Fleur East, Little Mix and JP Cooper. Joshua’s video-enhanced vocal style course Mad About Vocal Style part 1 was launched in 2014 to rave reviews. Joshua is also the co-founder of Ultimate Artists, the UK’s most in-demand artist development camp (eight days of music industry mentorship and artist development).