Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Techniques for Vocal "Licks"

Vocal embellishments, colloquially known as "vocal licks", can enhance or detract from a vocal performance.

When used correctly they:
  • Make the sound of the singing more interesting
  • Heighten emotional connection and response
  • Make the voice feel better, not worse, by throwing off tension.
When used incorrectly they:
  • Make the delivery of the song sound fake
  • Flatten emotional connection and response
  • Cause vocal strain just attempting them.
Here are some tips for doing them correctly:
  • Learn to support and control your breath pressure! Not enough - or too much - breath pressure will sabotage any vocal lick, because it will not allow the tiny controlled movements of the diaphragm which are necessary to power the vocal lick smoothly and accurately. 
  • Learn to use your hands, arms, other body parts to help accomplish licks.
  • Learn how letting your tongue base, jaw hinge and soft palate relax enough so they can make the automatic, fine, quick movements necessary for creating the licks. Learn to "pull off" air pressure for certain licks much like the guitar "pull off" technique.
  • Only do vocal licks where they 1. create interest/emotion in the language of your genre or 2. de-stress your cords. 
  • Get feedback from trusted source(s) about how your performance makes the listener FEEL.
  • Learn the typical types of vocal licks, and where/when they are put in songs, of other master singers in the musical genre you are interested in singing so you can 'speak the language'.
  • Practice "scat singing", a phrase that means just throwing some random vocal syllables around. Scat singing is typically performed over a song's instrumental, tag or fade, but here's Ella Fitzgerald scatting a whole song "One Note Samba"...
What has been your experience with vocal licks, embellishments, runs, flips, scats or whatever you call them?

Labels: , , ,


  • At August 18, 2010 at 1:03 PM , Anonymous Leigh Ann Otte said...

    I appreciate the tips on how to do vocal licks. I've never mastered them. It would be fun to learn.

    However, I'm so glad you said to use vocal licks where they "create interest/emotion in the language of your genre." Sometimes singers use them so much you long for the days when someone could just hold a note!

  • At August 31, 2010 at 8:55 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Leigh Ann... I totally agree with you. It's like having too much of anything, really. And if something we are doing vocally isn't adding meaning, why would we do it? The answer, of course, is that we are trying to show how amazing our vocal ability is. Which paradoxically decreases our vocal impact on our listener. Thx so much for the insightful comment!

  • At August 31, 2010 at 9:14 AM , Anonymous Kim Rushing said...

    whoops! that's Ella Fitzgerald
    on One Note Samba
    and what an amazing vid...
    have watched many many times...

    I would define "scatting" a bit differently,
    improvisation based on motifs, scales and arpeggiated chords
    wordless vocal syllables such as do, ya, la, be, dah etc.
    which is usually sung after singing the first chorus with the lyrics
    sometimes used as you mentioned, on outros, tags, intros, etc.

    I am glad you talked about "licks" -- I hear way too many licks/
    "melismas" in young singers, that come from from pop/"R& B" singers
    they then insert them into jazz standards, where it sounds fake and inappropriate stylistically.

    OK, i'm gettin' off my jazz singer soapbox now...LOL

    Kim R

  • At January 6, 2020 at 12:31 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Kim... wow, I just now saw your comment, thank you so much for that correction, I shall put Ella's name in right now! Also, thanks for your authoritative source definition of scatting. You know your stuff, and I really appreciate you sharing your experience here. Thanks again!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]