John Fluker sung background vocals for Beyoncé and John Legend and was co- director for ONE VOICE, the GRAMMY award winning gospel choir.
He explains how to use ad-libs, riffs, runs and melismas in a meaningful and tasteful way.
Get inspiration from gospel greats
I think some of the most interesting singers who use melismas today are in the gospel field. I would start with Aretha Franklin who laid out a vocal bible in her Amazing Grace album.
From there you have Natalie Cole who effortlessly sang gospel, jazz, blues and pop all effectively while using unique melismas that characterized each song in a unique way. Natalie’s melismas in “Our Love” are quite different from “Inseparable” for an example.
Of course, there is my favorite, Whitney Houston who was able to balance the sound of R&B, pop and gospel and appeal to the whole world.
Today there is gospel singer Kim Burrell who not only challenges the average ear, but creates her own unique scales to embellish in ways that are unlike any other vocalists!