How to ad-lib like pro overnight

Doug Todd adlibsAd-libbing, by definition, is the art of making it up as you go. In Gospel music it’s often referred to as “pressing”. Many would-be lead vocalists, in fact, avoid leading songs at all simply because of they don’t think they’re good enough at ad-libbing to “carry” the song .

It is one of the most feared tasks many singers face in all generes of music, not just Gospel. But it doesn’t have to be! What if I told you you could become almost instantly better at doing ad-libs without taking a single lesson or doing any studying beyond what you’re about to read here?
What I’m about to share with you is one of those “well guarded industry secrets” that, once you know it, you go….”that’s it???” It’ll seem painfully obvious once you read it.

I don’t have to tell you that what scares people about ad-libbing is having to make things up on the fly, in the middle of a performance, in real time, right in front of everybody! That’s a lot of opportunities to stumble or get tongue-tied, freeze up, go blank, etc. That’s exactly why most professionals don’t, and you shouldn’t either.

If you’re a regular follower of my blogs, you’ve seen me talk about the importance of being prepared and well-rehearsed. Knowing as much as possible in advance. Nowhere is this more important than in ad-libbing. The “skill” is a nice one to have, but it’s importance is way over-rated. It’s way more important to nail that song without any mistakes, than it is to be really good at making stuff up on the fly. At the end of the day nobody knows or cares if you’re making it up or if you wrote it all down a week ago.

So the secret to great ad-libbing is to do the exact opposiite of it’s meaning. Write your ad-libs in advance! Yes, I know that’s a direct contradiction of the very meaning of ad-lib. But consider this. If you’re doing a song where you know you’re going to need to ad-lib, and you know you simply don’t have have the mental quickness and confidence yet to make it up as you go (and the thought of trying scares the crap out of you ) then what makes more sense than writing some stuff out in advance?!

First of all, as I always say, the more you know in advance the better you’re going to perform. You’re going to be less nervous, more polished, more comfortable.

Secondly, nobody in the audience will know (or care) that you wrote your stuff out in advance. They’ll think you’re awesome.

So the next time you’re faced with singing a song where you’ll have to ad-lib a lot, sit down with a pen and pad, and write down as many lines as you can think of that would fit the subject matter you’re singing about.

Rehearse these lines and get familiar with how you want to sing them in the song. There’s no need to rehearse and memorize them in any certain order. It’s really about having a pool of material to pull from that you’ve come up with in advance so you don’t have to come up with it live in front of an audience. Not about memorizing a complicated sequence of lines in a certain order. That’ll just make you more nervous.

In fact the more random the better, in my opinion. I personally don’t like to hear a person rhyming in their ad-libs. It sounds too rehearsed and to me, makes it really obvious they wrote them in advance. Stay away from that and you’ll sound like you’re making it up as you go.

The cool thing about this is that over time you’ll build up a sort of “mental rolodex” of material you can draw from at any time. it’s a lot like scripture in the sense that what you hide in your heart is there for the Holy Spirit to bring back to your memory when you need it. So in time you’ll be able to truly make it up on the fly, right out of your spirit.

But until then, if you want to be instantly better at ad-libbing, don’t try to make it up live, writing some things down will definitely help at least alleviate some of the fear you have of ever stepping out there to sing. If you’re someone who has tried that before and were unsuccessful, you may be wondering what else you could do in the meantime to help you get to that place I mentioned above. After all, just writing stuff down and memorizing it doesn’t work well when you’re new to ad-libbing and leading songs.

You’re already afraid and nervous. You’re bound to go blank sometimes just because you’re nervous. I’ve actually thought a lot about this over the years, and I’ve seen so many people that have this same fear.  So I wanted to do something to help people get past that initial stage, overcome their fear and get started. So with the help of the Lord I created a step-by-step, paint-by-the-numbers system. I explain the details in this 5 minute video you can view here: ad-lib banner




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12 Responses to How to ad-lib like pro overnight

  1. okorie chinyere says:

    please have not been able to put myself together when it comes to ad-libbing,, am always scared to do it please help me I really want to ad-lib in songs

  2. Sammy says:

    Am actually leading his Sunday “it’s not over by Israel” however am not new to adliping but I mistimed think maybe am doing too much or so and other times I forget my lines or don’t want to sound too slurry. Other times consciousness of all this can even make me forget my lines… Does his also work for me or you have other suggestions. Less I forget, when am emotionally down, it also affects me negatively sometimes

  3. Fred Joe says:

    I’ve been a back-up singer for years,I have been assigned to lead songs in my choir many atimes but the fear of making a caricature of myself as a result of my inability to ad lib well,has kept me glued and made me a stagnant-perpetual back-up singer,Pls how do I get the video for personal practice.thanks

  4. KINGDOM ERIC says:


  5. Miracle says:

    I really love and admire ad-libbing. As far as i’m concerned,it adds beauty to songs. I want to learn it so i need all the help i can get. Thank you

  6. Opeyemi Joshua says:

    i am new to adlibing . so can it also work for me. i try to make a good one in my closet but ended up going off key. what can i start with.

  7. Lynn Edge says:

    I’ve just done my first ‘big’ solo in a gospel choir and had to do some pressing (a new word for my gospel dictionary!). The thought of doing it scared me so much it was getting in the way of me singing the actual song until a friend told me to do what you suggested – practice pressing! I did just that and in the end I was doing it using some of the stuff I’d rehearsed and some that just came out during the performance. Thanks for all you tips.

    • Ron Cross says:

      Awesome Lynn! When you’re ready to take it to an even higher level be sure to check out my on-line training DVD “Adlib Like A Pro”. The link is in the article. Thanks for the update!

  8. Christopher B says:

    Thank you much for this article! I used to always wonder what should I do in that situation. My choir director, when happy and full of the spirit, will vamp multiple times and turn a 5 min song into a 9 min song, lol! If this happens to me, I’ll have an idea of what to do or just let the spirit have it’s way and lead that way. Thanks again!

    • Ron Cross says:

      Exactly Christopher, and that’s why you can never depend solely on memorizing just what the original leader said. It never goes like that! My new on-line training DVD “Ad-Lib Like A Pro” takes this article and goes in to great detail teaching a complete system anyone can use to learn how to ad-lib in less than an hour. Powerful stuff! The link is in the article above. Thanks for commenting!

  9. Reggie Gee says:

    I needed this because I get tounge-tied all the time. It’s like I know what to say, it just doesn’t come out at all. Thanks for the helpful tip!

    • Ron Cross says:

      Exactly Reggie. That’s one of the biggest fears of all about ad-libbing. In my on-line training DVD “Ad-lib Like A Pro I teach a simple technique you can use to insure you never get stuck or go blank. Good comment!

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