R&B Vocals

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Authored by Gabrielle Goodman, Jeff Ramsey


Course Code: OVOIC-243

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

Level 2

Level 2

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Learn R&B vocals from the masters in this extensive online course. Written by Gabrielle Goodman and Jeff Ramsey, who together bring years of experience performing and recording with legendary artists like Roberta Flack, Al Jarreau, Patrice Rushen, Maxwell, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross and Mary J. Blige, this course is the perfect introduction to learning the proper approach to singing R&B music.

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In this 12-week course, you'll explore the foundations of effective R&B singing, including phrasing, riffing, and shouting - in addition to traditional vocal technique used for overall healthy singing. The course begins with a history of R&B music from a vocal standpoint, including the use of falsetto by Doo Wop artists such as the Platters. Since R&B is a style that has a large improvisational component, you will also study improvisation techniques in this genre ranging from the shouts of Little Richard to the riffs of Chaka Khan. You will discover how various scales, like the pentatonic and blues scales, are used in R&B to create a truly soulful sound. You will learn to properly utilize diaphragmatic breathing, range extension, vocal textures, and much more.

This course covers the vocal techniques of the key singers in the R&B genre, including Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Michael Jackson, Beyoncé and many more.

The goal of the course is to enable you to sing in the R&B style with facility and freedom. You'll also gain a clear awareness of R&B phrasing, scale patterns, proper breathing, pitch accuracy, and clear rhythmic articulation. By the end of the course, you will be able to demonstrate solid vocal technique, as well as stylistic authenticity in the R&B genre.

By the end of the course you will be able to:

  • Learn classic R&B repertoire, as well as the music of contemporary R&B artists
  • Use vocal phrasing for the R&B style, employing syncopation and rhythmic articulation
  • Understand improvisation techniques for R&B singing including blues scales, blue notes, pentatonic scales, slurring, and belting
  • Learn the history of R&B music as it relates to songs performed
  • Employ basic vocal techniques, including breathing, placement range extension, and vocal textures
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: R&B History and Performance Techniques

  • Defining R&B
  • Introduction of Basic Warm-Ups and Basic Vocal Technique
  • Early R&B Music and Its Relationship to The Blues
  • A Brief Discussion of Key Suitability for Your Blues

Lesson 2: Early Forms of R&B

  • Ribcage Expansion
  • The Blues Form and Scale as It Relates to R&B
  • Improvisational Styles of Early R&B Artists
  • R&B Improvisation Showcase: Ray Charles
  • R&B Improvisation Showcase: Jackie Wilson
  • R&B Improvisation Showcase: Sam & Dave
  • Doo Wop Songs and Groups: The Use Of Legato and Falsetto
  • Doo Wop Showcase: The Platters

Lesson 3: The Motown Era

  • Registers, Releasing the Jaw, and Developing Range
  • Vocal Styles Used in the Motown Era
  • Informal Diction and the Use of Colloquial Expressions

Lesson 4: Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Soul Music

  • Registers, Voice Classifications, and the Importance of the Chest Voice in R&B
  • Characteristics of R&B and the Similarities in Gospel Singing
  • Vocal Improvisation Showcase: Aretha Franklin
  • Vocal Style Showcase: James Brown
  • The Connection Between Gospel Music of the 1960s and Its Relationship to R&B

Lesson 5: R&B Music of The Early 1970s: Soul and Funk

  • Discovering Forward Placement
  • Falsetto Singing Spotlight: Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield
  • Falsetto Singers, the Sweet Sopranos, and Discovering Forward Placement
  • Performance and Expression
  • Singing Over the Ending Vamp While Using Light Textures

Lesson 6: Transforming Pop and Folk songs into R&B

  • Using Crescendo
  • Vocal Dynamics
  • The Groove and The Importance of Accented Beats and Syllables
  • Examples of Song Transformation into R&B

Lesson 7: R&B Music Mid 70s to 80s

  • Soul/Disco and Soul/Funk Groove Patterns
  • Nuances and Affectations
  • Vowel Modification and Sung Speech
  • Stevie Wonder

Lesson 8: Gospel Influences in R&B/ Soul and Vice Versa

  • Summary of 70's- 80's Gospel artists
  • Glissando and Its Usage in Gospel and R&B
  • R&B Artists Who Grew Up Singing in Church

Lesson 9: Prince, Michael Jackson, and Adult Contemporary R&B

  • The Music of Prince
  • Vocal Textures Used by Michael Jackson
  • Covered Tone
  • Adult Contemporary/Quiet Storm

Lesson 10: New Jack Swing and Pop/R&B

  • New Jack Swing
  • Whitney Houston
  • The Commercialization of Melisma in Popular Music
  • Babyface

Lesson 11: Hip Hop Soul

  • Hip Hop Soul
  • Crossover Commercial Success of R&B to Mainstream

Lesson 12: R&B Mid/Late 90's – Current

  • Summary of Neo Soul Artists
  • Beyoncé
  • Putting it into Motion


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Students must have basic vocal technique including the ability to match pitches and possess a strong sense of rhythm.
In order to strengthen the skills listed above we recommend that students take Voice Technique 101.



  • Students are required to record video while performing with a backing track for their assignments. Options for recording video include:
    • Smartphone
    • Digital camera
    • Webcam (using either video recording software, or the video recording tool that is built into the learning environment)


  • Students are required to capture their performance, as well as monitor audio output. Options include:
    • Input (one required):
      • XLR microphone and audio interface (recommended option)
      • USB microphone
      • Built-in computer/mobile device microphone
    • Output (one required):
      • Headphones (required if multitracking and/or input monitoring)
      • Studio monitors and audio interface
      • Built-in or external speakers
  • Note: Depending on your setup, you may also need an XLR cable, microphone stand, and pop filter.
  • Recommended: Printer, if you would like to print out examples used in the course.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact support@online.berklee.edu with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Gabrielle Goodman


Gabrielle Goodman is a professor in the Voice Department at Berklee College of Music. Well-versed in jazz, R&B, classical, and gospel, Gabrielle has performed with Chaka Khan, Al Jarreau, Nancy Wilson, and Roberta Flack, who calls Goodman "one of the finest singers around today." Her 1993 JMT/Polygram debut release Travelin' Light brought her international acclaim.

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Gabrielle won an ASCAP Songwriting Award for "You Can Make the Story Right," a song she co-wrote with Chaka Khan. Gabrielle has performed in both classical and jazz idioms with the Syracuse Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony, the Baltimore Opera, and the National Symphony. Her theatrical appearances include Maya Angelou's gospel/opera King and the Canadian production of Ain't Misbehavin’, co-starring Dee Dee Bridgewater. In the early 2000s, Gabrielle toured the show Forever Swing with Michael Buble. She has performed as a guest soloist with the Boston Pops on numerous occasions. Her television appearances include The Late Show with David Letterman, The Arsenio Hall Show, A&E Channel, the BBC, and the German TV show Talk and Swing.

Gabrielle has 3 self-produced albums and has released three albums, respectively, Angel Eyes (2004), Song From The Book (2011) and Spiritual Tapestry (2014) which includes guests Patrice Rushen, Terri Lyne Carrington, Walter Beasley and Armsted Christian, in addition to authoring the book Vocal Improvisation in 2009.

Recent tours include performances in China, Bogota, Colombia, and Russia. Read Less

Jeff Ramsey


Jeff Ramsey (1967-2020) was a Professor at Berklee College of Music. Jeff toured and recorded the world over for such artists as Lalah Hathaway, Al Jarreau, Patrice Rushen, Maxwell, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, and Barbara Streisand, just to name a few. He  did commercials in radio and television for Burger King, Levi 501, Mountain Dew, and Michelob. Jeff did solo work for many different projects including famed Tower of Power bassist, Rocco Prestia's cd entitled "Everybody On The Bus", and James Day's ep "Remember When" and CD "Better Days" with the latter two garnering the UK hit "Don't Waste The Pretty." Jeff lent his voice to James Day's 2nd CD project, "Natural Things," released May 11th, 2009.

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Jeff's vocals can also be heard on a project released in 2009 on Plastic City entitled DKMA Presents Andrastea - The Ascent as well as a compilation CD released by Plastic City entitled Deep Train 6- Dedication. Jeff was also an educator and shared his experiences on the road and the studio with his students at Berklee College where he was a Professor in the Voice Department. He sang, did session dates,  and performed around the New England area, and released his solo debut CD entitled My Best, in the Fall of 2009. For more info, visit www.jefframseymusic.com. Read Less

Lydia Harrell


Lydia "LovelySinger” Harrell is one of Boston’s musical treasures. Her sultry, soulful voice and evocative songwriting have garnered her the attention and respect of the nation’s finest musicians and venues. Jazz and soul is where her heart is; however, Harrell has shown an unbreakable ability to mold herself into any musical situation. Be it performing with the Boston Pops, serenading NBA fans with America’s national anthem, or lending her vocal talents to chart-topping deep house singles by British record label Reel People Music, Harrell’s dedication to extracting the pure essence of song is unmatched.

What's Next?

When taken for credit, R&B Vocals can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at advisors@online.berklee.edu.

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