Her highly successful YouTube series ‘Breaking Down The Riffs’ has reached millions of singers – now, Natalie Weiss takes us behind the scenes.
Renowned Riffer Natalie shares her inspirations, singing secrets and tells us how to nail that melisma.
How did your love for riffing begin?
When I was younger, about 8 or 9, the Bodyguard came out. I listened to the entire soundtrack and started imitating Whitney, and around the same time, Mariah. I went to a lot of concerts with my parents and always knew I wanted to be a pop star. Well, you can’t really study “pop stardom” in college, so I chose musical theater, because that seemed like the most sensible option. Luckily, after college, I was able to find a way to blend both mediums.
Which of the BDTR videos are the most memorable?
The funniest is episode 4 when I teach a 10 year old to riff. He doesn’t exactly perfect the riff but it doesn’t matter because he is so funny and cute. Episode 27 with Amber Iman was memorable because our banter is really funny and she is amazing so it was entertaining and educational.
How did you approach BDTR?
At the beginning it was a learning curve because I was testing everything out for the first time on my test subjects. For episode 3 there was a girl who was very, very advanced and when the camera was off she said, “it would help if you broke it down more like this…” so we had to re-film and pretend! If SHE couldn’t get it, nobody could!
How long does it take to work out a riff?
It takes time if I don’t know the riff. I need to sit down, plan and figure out time to film. In a recent episode of Tori Kelly’s Nobody Love, I thought I couldn’t do it and avoided it, but I sat down and it took 15 minutes, so it wasn’t as hard as it sounded. There were some that took 2 minutes, others 3 hours. Sometimes I need to use my slow down app, Anytune…SOMETIMES.
Have you ever had a riff fail?
Oh, all the time! Just watch some of the outtakes of my BDTR videos!
Is it possible to riff too much?
I do believe that too much riffing can become self-indulgent especially if it takes away from the emotion of the piece. On episodes of BDTR, it’s not really about the “emotion” of the piece so riff away!
Who taught you to sing?
I had one main teacher named Mary Saunders at Penn State University. She continues to be my mentor to this day. She is internationally known her work, ‘Bel Canto Can Belto’. In terms of the pop stuff, no one really teaches that stuff, so you could basically say I made a lot of stuff up along the way, mimicked a lot of singers, and found a way to incorporate it into my own style of singing.
What is your teaching style?
I say ‘one voice’. If people ask what type of voice they are, I say ‘one’. I try to blend the voice all together. I am also a big believer in pitch accuracy, so I’m pretty tough with pitchiness.
Do you have any more BDTR videos planned?
I have a new one coming out this weekend!
Natalie Weiss just completed a run as Candy in the U.S. premiere of the new version of Saturday Night Fever. Last fall, she went on a European solo concert & teaching tour. In August 2013, she completed a 2 1/2 year run with the national tour of Les Misérables. Back In 2010, she made her Broadway debut in Everyday Rapture. She also performed in the national tour of Wicked. Natalie was an American Idol season 4 semi-finalist and performed the National Anthem at Cowboys & Shea Stadium. She has gained an international following from her web series, “Breaking Down The Riffs”.