Bobby McFerrin is without a doubt, one of the most accomplished vocalists of this century. He leads the way in 20th/21st Century solo vocal performance through his unique use of the voice and body, combined with highly skilled musicality and improvisation. His style transcends genres, being equally comfortable and accomplished in classical, popular, folk and jazz. He has collaborated with many top musicians from Yo Yo Ma to Chick Corea and he has received 10 Grammy wards for his work to date. If you only know him through is hit song ‘Don’t Worry’ then I URGE you to dig deeper.
I attended one of his concerts at the Barbican in 2010. He performed old and new repertoire including a composition VOCAbuLarieS accompanied by The London Vocal Project, a jazz choir. Bobby loves to involve the audience in his concerts, this one was no exception. We provided a vocal accompaniment as he sang and improvised over the pentatonic scale and then we harmonised another accompaniment as he sang and improvised over the melody of Ave Maria. At the end of the concert instead of delivering an ‘encore’ of more songs he announced a Q&A session. He answered all the questions with humour and respect. I came away feeling as though I had been as much a part of the concert as I was an audience member. I was also left with a sense that I had spent an evening getting know him on a personal level.
Bobby talks about improv
I found the following video clip on YouTube, Bobby talks about vocal improvisation and how he developed his vocal prowess as an improvisor. I think it is very much worth noting his very deliberate practice approach, the strategies he put in place and how much time he put into developing his craft. If you wish to achieve a high level of skill and accomplishment you will also need to consider putting this kind of effort and focus into your development. Talent alone is not enough. Set your goals, plan your practice, develop strategies and then let your passion for what you do be the driver. Study anyone who has reached high levels of achievement, no matter what field of work, and you will find all these components present.
We are very fortunate that Bobby is eager to share his passion for the voice, not only through his many released recordings and concert tours but also through his involvement in education. He often holds masterclasses as he tours the world gigging. Pop his name in the YouTube search box and you will find plenty more gems from Bobby McFerrin out there.
I hope you enjoy this insight into how Bobby became an expert solo vocalist. Feel free to share your inspirations for vocal expertise in the comments below.