The one thing every great singer does…

First off, I suppose I’d better start off by defining what I mean by “great singer”. When I mention the “greats” I’m talking about those vocalists who have achieved critical acclaim for their singing. I’m talking about singers who are universally considered some of the best there is, by people across all genres, styles and backgrounds.

There are, for example, some artists in Gospel that have achieved great things and have a huge fan base. Gospel fans may think they’re the best out there but very few people who don’t listen to Gospel know who they are.

So, who are some people who have achieved this kind of universal acclaim as great singers? I’m talking about people like Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston (pre Bobby Whitney, ok?, lol) Luther Vandross. Remember Mel Tormey (sp?) Considered such a smooth vocalist his knick name was “The Velvet Fog”.

I could go on, but you get the picture. These are people who are known the world over as simply some of the best vocalists out there…by everybody, not just fans of their respective genres.

There’s one thing that every one of these singers do, that you can do too; immediately and without a single lesson.

Ready? The answer is one word…..


I happen to know that most of my subscribers to this blog sing either R&B or Gospel. In both of these styles of music people tend to equate great singing with the ability to do lots and lots of vocal runs, riffs, trills and such. This has to be one of the most coveted vocal abilities of them all. It’s so important to many singers that they do it almost the whole time they’re singing.

But often I think we get so caught up with the fancy stuff we mistake the fancy stuff for actual singing. Riffs, runs, trills, and other “vocal acrobatics” (as Arron Nevel called it once) are style elements; they are nice touches that should be sprinkled into your singing here and there for style.

But many singers mistake riffing for singing. Because this is such a highly regarded ability in Gospel and R&B, many singers mistakenly put way too much emphasis on it in their singing.

But look at the singers I mentioned above again. I’m sure you can add a few names to the list I’m not thinking of right now. But the point I’m making here is this: all of these singers are known the world over for their ablity to create some of the most beautiful music with their voices. Why? Because they place the emphasis on pure, honest, true tone production.

I heard Whitney’s performance of the Star Spangled Banner again the other day and it gave me chills. Still considered to be one of the best renditions of it ever. No trills, runs, or riffs. She just sang the notes; pure, clean and with deadly accuracy of pitch.

There is no instrument more complex than the human voice. It is about the only instrument that can’t be accurately duplicated by any keyboard. As such, no sound is more beautiful or unique than the sound of a human voice producing pure, clean musical tones with spot-on pitch.

So, as simple as it sounds, if you want to instantly improve your sound, do what the greats do..simplify. Just sing honest, true musical tone as clean and as pure as you can. If you want to work on anything, spend as much of your time as possible working on pitch. Always be on pitch, even if you have to sacrifice style elements you want to do.

Want make that Worship song transport the audience into the very presence of God? Strip your performance of it down to nothing but the pure musical notes it calls for, and sing them as clean and simply as possible. You will move your audience to tears.

Want to make that love song have people gazing into your eyes? Same thing. Luther Vandross hardly ever did a run or riff, and was overweight most of his career. Yet he was considered one of the most amazing ballad singers of our time.

Let’s look at an interesting contrast, just to prove a point. I’m a big fan of Stevie Wonder. Now, let’s face it. Stevie Wonder does a lot of riffing, and he does it like he invented it. The man is incredible. He uses his voice like a weapon, lol. Stevie can sing, no doube about it. AND….Stevie has indeed received critical acclaim the world over.

But NOT for his singing. When you think of Stevie Wonder what do you think? “That man’s a musical genius! He’s an incredible writer”. So does everybody else. That is his claim to fame.

Now, when you think of Luther, what do you think? “That man can saaang!”So did everybody else.

Get it?

So the word for today is…..Simplify.


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12 Responses to The one thing every great singer does…

  1. alyce says:

    This time out I’m just going to echo everybody’s comments…and mine too!

  2. Kande' says:

    Ron, you have given me so much valuable information, I am truly grateful for your knowledge and expertise. I was driving to work today and listening to gospel, one song after the other, both artist did a lot of riffs and runs, and I thought to myself, jealously, Lord why, seems like everyone can do this with their voice but me. And I was getting depressed again and thought, oh well, must not be meant for me to sing anyway. So tonight, while catching up on e-mails, I read yours about simplicity in singing and thought, I can’t believe it, I was just thinking about this very subject earlier this morning. This insightful information helps me, Ron, really it does. I’m so glad you share your knowledge and information with the world.

  3. I just conquered “Ave Maria”. Bliss.

  4. Alyce says:

    Agree completely! I like to hear a purity of sound. Any embellishment is meant to be just that; a little something extra. If you have whipped cream on everything all day, every day, it loses its impact. There’s no opportunity to ‘build up’ to a moment. Vocal musicians who value their talent and consider it ‘art’ I suspect would be more likely see it that way.

  5. Lakia Johnson says:

    Coach, I believe this article falls right in line with “cajun” style of singing. Sometimes less is more…great article. I definitely put it into practice.

  6. Traci says:

    I totally agree. There is such a thing as too much “vocal acrobatics”, though it seems now-a-days, this opinion is in the minority.

  7. You really stated it very well. Let’s get back to singing!!!! Too few of the new singers stand out because we don’t get to hear their true tone quality.
    But I still think Stevie can sang!! LOL

  8. SSSooooo true Ron! Well said.
    Singers need to be able to sing pure vowels with beautiful tone before worrying about riffs and runs. Unfortunately, some singers think they are copying correctly, when in fact, they are not on pitch, and their tone is muddy.
    We need to know how to walk before we can run!! Susan

  9. TC says:

    I agree with you 100%. Singing shouldn’t be based on how well you are able to do riffs and runs but should be based on the honesty, sincerity and the passion heard through your voice. Whitney has always been able to portray a quality sound that gave me chills every time I listen to her. She will go down in history as one of the greatest singers in history.

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