Adapting or modifying the melody of a song is an important aspect of a vocalist making a song his or her own rather than attempting to copy the original note for note. That being said, I believe its good practice for singers to respect the song’s original melody.
As a vocal coach, I help singers achieve this balance by instructing them to sing the melody without major modifications up to at least the first verse and chorus. I feel that this gives the listener the chance to recognize the song and connect with the performance & the performer before the vocalist starts putting his or her stamp on the song. By respecting the original song in this way a singer is more likely to get an audience on their side through familiarity.
This familiarity with the song helps audiences connect with emotions and feelings that they experienced when they first enjoyed the song. A singer is able to take a person back to that moment in time when that particular song was played, unearthing the same past emotions & feelings they experienced with the song.
Once the unaltered melody has been established the fun can start. Adjusting the song’s melody to suit the singer’s intention, vocal strengths, stylistic characteristics, vocal nuances and tone is the key to any vocalist discovering how to communicate their own unique interpretation of a song and is a great way to improve your voice by developing an awareness that there are other very satisfying melodic movements that can complement and enhance a song. The continual development of these vocal ideas becomes very useful stylistic skills. Allow yourself to be free enough to make mistakes whilst creating your ideas.
As a vocal coach I like to use the 20/80 rule when working with singers in this way. That means a ratio of 20 per cent teacher’s guidance to 80 per cent the singer’s own ideas. I believe it’s important to give students the opportunity to make their own mistakes and learn from them. Making creative and complimentary modifications to a melody is something that requires a lot of repetition & patience. Eventually it gets easier to do with consistent practice.
Melismatic singing is fantastic. Melisma, in music is an expressive vocal phrase or passage consisting of several notes sung to one syllable of text. Music sung in this style is referred to as melismatic singing, as opposed to syllabic, in which each syllable of text is matched to a single note. It is basically the technical description for “Riffs & Runs” and it’s something that is a bit of a specialist area for me so do understand that I love it.
But an entire song does not need to be dominated by riffs & runs. Use them tastefully in a way that adds musical value, variation and virtuosity to a song. Singing with melisma can make or break a song, so choose your moments wisely.
Make mistakes. This is the best way to learn and grow in improving your voice. Making mistakes is a learning opportunity for us to figure out what is happening with our own voices, how it works & how it doesn’t work, what makes it feel good and what doesn’t etc. It’s a fundamental component in how to improve your voice. Mistakes are a great way to learn more about your instrument and how it works best for you. So embrace and enjoy that process it’s how you develop greatness.