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Jono McNeil returns from our last episode, joining Alexa to discuss licks, riffs, runs, and how to master vocal style. Jono has served as Head of Vocals at the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM), designing degree vocal curriculum content. He’s also an external examiner for institutions such as Leeds Conservatoire, combining his passion for popular music and artistry with innovative research. With academic qualifications, including a Jazz degree and a Voice Pedagogy Master, he’s dedicated to realizing the potential of popular music.


  • Formants, borders, and trills allow singers to stamp their personal touch on each phrase.
  • Jono believes that exploring onsets – from the breathy and balanced to the glottal – can profoundly shape the vocal narrative. Onsets can add a rich dynamic palette that captivates the audience’s attention.
  • Dynamics aren’t merely about loudness but encompass shading and texture. Moreover, these nuanced shifts in volume and intensity create a vivid musical landscape.
  • Embellishments like licks, runs and riffs are essential for vocal agility and technical prowess. Furthermore, these techniques add an exciting layer of creativity and individuality to a performance. However, Jono encourages singers to incorporate these elements organically.
  • Jono’s approach emphasizes the fusion of technique and musicality. He believes that true mastery of style involves knowing when to apply specific techniques.
  • Smooth Singing and Ornaments: Terms like licks, riffs, and runs, refer to singing agilely across notes. For instance, “lick” might refer to a melodic ornament. Meanwhile, “riff” could mean a repeating motif in pop. The goal is to master these elements to create engaging performances.
  • Different Runs and Combinations: Vocal stylization involves various runs. Some are single-note embellishments, while others are combination runs with distinct sections. Learning and combining these parts enhances vocal skills.
  • Technique and Artistic Expression: It’s important to balance technique and creativity. Maintaining a loose jaw, proper airflow and posture enhances licks, runs, and riffs. These elements become easier with a strong technical base.
  • Enhancing vocal agility begins with dissecting licks, riffs, and runs. Natalie Weiss’s approach of breaking them down makes them accessible for all skill levels. Slow, methodical practice is essential to establish precision and awareness of physical sensations. Gradually increasing the tempo with a metronome builds discipline and muscle memory.
  • In conclusion, achieving vocal agility requires steady, patient progress. Recognizing individual differences is crucial. The metaphor of the hare and tortoise holds true. Steady, consistent practice leads to substantial growth. It’s about building a foundation and gradually progressing towards ambitious goals.


‘Style gives you a discernible sound, making your performance stand out’

‘Dynamics are about shading, texture, creating a sonic landscape’

‘True style mastery is knowing what to include and exclude, weaving musicality into a unique performance’

‘At the core of mastering vocal style lies a focus on foundational elements’ ‘Get those licks on clicks, use a metronome’



Social Media:

  • Instagram: @jonomcneil

Relevant Links & Mentions:

  • Artists mentioned: Miles Davis; Lester Young; Dexter Gordon; John Coltrane; Karen Carpenter; Whitney Houston; David Bowie; Doja Cat; PinkPantheress; Bella; No Guidance; Scissor; Lalah Hathaway; Yebba
  • Singing Teachers Talk Podcast – Ep. 123 Insights into TV Vocal Coaching with The Masked Singer’s Jono McNeil
  • Youtube – Natalie Weiss’ Breaking Down the Riffs:



Jono McNeil has provided vocal coaching, arranging and production for pop artists, groups and vocalists within the UK music industry for over 15 years. He works as a vocal coach on TV shows, including The Voice UKThe Voice KidsThe Masked SingerLittle MixThe SearchWedding Day Winners and Change Your Tune. He also does coaching and vocal arrangement for touring acts such as JLS, New Rules, Needanamebro and July Jones. An artist and singer in his own right, Jono has performed with Michael Buble, Paloma Faith, Josh Groban, Nelly, Jamie Cullum, Philip Selway (Radiohead), Lemar, George Ezra and Jocelyn Brown. He also has several original albums available on streaming platforms. Passionate about the possibilities of popular music and artistry, he pursues innovative research and strategies to see this realised. His academic qualifications include a degree in Jazz and a Masters in Voice Pedagogy.

Link to podcast presenter’s bios