Friday, July 6, 2012

R&B Melismas (runs, riffs)

OK, a lot of R&B singers get a lot of flak about using too many notes in their singing. I've heard the term "over-souling" which implies "too much." Haha!

I do believe sometimes it is too much, especially if it over-shadows the melody. I guess it seems that some singers are more interested in showing off their voices than concentrating on the melody of the song or focusing on the lyrics of a song. And these elements are important to conveying the emotion and/or beauty of the song. But really melismatic singing is not such a new concept, and R&B singers are not the first to "show off" their chops.

Let me first define "melisma" - it really means to sing multiple notes over a single syllable. There are other terms used, such as riffing or runs. Either way, it's a bunch of notes!

Actually some of the earliest recorded examples we have of melismas are from monks in the church singing Gregorian chant, back in the Middle Ages (yeah, it's pretty old)!!
There was also plenty of melismatic singing going on back in the 1800s as well with "Bel Canto" singing, which was opera in which the singers would singing long "cadenzas" (melismas) to literally show off their "beautiful singing," which is the definition of "Bel Canto".

I think the earliest version of what we think of as melismas in today's R&B would be the fabulous singer and performer Jackie Wilson. Listen to his song "Lonely Teardrops" from 1958. I always had thought Stevie Wonder was the first to sing melismas, but after listening to Jackie Wilson, I hear some (not a lot) beginnings of multiple-note words being sung. I will keep researching and listening until I know for sure!

There of course was a lot going on between Gregorian chant, Bel Canto, and modern R&B. This is just "in a nutshell" so to speak. More to discover!

Keep Singing!

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