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Vocal agility

The Secret to Mastering Vocal Agility ⏱ 2 mins

Help your students emulate the vocal agility of stars like Stevie Wonder and Beyonce using these four tips.

Great singers share one common trait – vocal agility. They bring colour and life to songs using licks, riffs, trills and turns in a way that looks and sounds effortless.

But while these superstars make it look easy, it takes discipline and hard work to master the art of moving nimbly and seamlessly across a variety of notes.

So what’s the best way to help singers start their journey towards vocal agility? We put that question to vocal coach Jono McNeil (formerly head of vocals at the Academy of Contemporary Music).

Speaking on the Singing Teachers Talk podcast, Jono says: “As so often in music, it’s about mastering the basics and developing discipline, agility and muscle memory.”

Here are Jono’s four tips for mastering vocal agility.


Jono encourages singers to listen to the work of great vocalists and analyse what they hear. “It’s a bit like being a forensic scientist. You take everything apart and work out how they did it.”

And he’s a big fan of how YouTube vocal coach Natalie Weiss breaks riffs down into small segments and works on them separately.

“Natalie has influenced the way we all teach licks now. She’s great at applying numbers, directions and learning tips in an accessible way.”

Slow practice

Once you’ve broken the song into smaller parts, go through each leg at a slow tempo. (Remember you’ve got to walk before you can run). “Make sure you’ve got beautifully balanced phonation and perfect intonation. Be aware of what you hear and feel when you sing – it’s all about building somatic awareness.”

Problem areas to look out for include signs of jaw or tongue tension and poor alignment.

Use a metronome 

“After we’ve done all that, I will get the singer to go through the same part again using a metronome,” Jono says. “I know it’s boring, but it has to be done – that’s where the discipline kicks in.

“Once all that heavy lifting has been done with one leg of the song, the next one will be easier. Before you know it, the singer will be doing really ambitious stuff.”

Be patient

“I’m all about the hare and the tortoise – there are more tortoises than hares in the music industry. Lots of talented people fall asleep on the road; those who are slow, steady and consistent end up going far.”

Learn more

Listen to the full interview with Jono on the Singing Teachers Talk podcast to discover:

  • The exercise he uses to help singers dig into the emotion of a song.
  • The two scales any singer needs to master for vocal agility.

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