Get into the Groove

Mastering rhythm may be your secret to fantastic vocals –says Daniel Borch

As singers and vocal coaches, we often focus on reaching high notes, increasing volume and control, safe singing techniques and vocal effects –but seldom really address rhythm.

Yet rhythm contributes hugely to the creation of fantastic vocals.

Most people can hear when a singer’s out of tune, but not everyone can point what was wrong or what is right when it comes to rhythm.

I believe that most of us can FEEL when the singing is great and when that happens the phrasing is always well timed.

What You’re Aiming For

Singing with rhythmical freedom and confidence increases your chances of getting your message across to the audience—whether that message is the lyrics and/or a musical feel or groove.

You want to be totally in control of your musical presentation through changing rhythmic patterns.

And you want to be free to place your timing exactly where you want it: before or after the beat, shorten/lengthen notes or mixing straight with triplets –whatever you need to make your vocals come alive.

This means that your vocal work needs to move beyond the basics of singing in pitch or increasing range.

This is why I want to devote two weeks of my “residency” with you to the rhythmical aspect of your singing.

Today we will deal with timing and next week, in part 2, we are going to work on “ghost notes”.

Make Friends with A Metronome

As for all rhythmic training the metronome is your best friend (and sometimes, your worst enemy!)

You can sing on the beat, before the beat or after the beat – it’s all up to taste and intention but it should always be a choice and not up to musical limitation.

Here’s an interesting fact: it takes 12 milliseconds for the nerve signal to travel from the brain to the larynx.

In addition to this, humans perceive the note onset on the following vowel and not on the starting consonant – so words that start with a consonant will always be after the beat if you don’t put the onset before the beat!

Got it? If not, read that sentence again!

In other words, in a rehearsal situation you will often be behind the beat.

In the exercise below we’ll practise the feeling of being behind the beat.

In reality the differences are smaller than in this example but it will give you the idea of how it feels to be behind the beat/laid back.

Try This

Exercise – Laid Back

What I want you to do first is to feel where the beat is and to notice how the singers are intentionally staying behind the beat.

Then I want you to try doing this yourself. You may need to listen to it a few times to get familiar with the beat.

My Reactions To This Week’s Peer Review Vid

Johnson – We Gone Make It (Original)

Hi Johnson, you have a really nice voice. I’d like you to work on keeping your pitch and then, when that is more developed, it would be cool to hear you add that characteristic bluesy style. But I want you to “nail” that pitch first, otherwise it will end up being a bit too bluesy… ;-)

See VoiceCouncil’s Feature Interview with Daniel Borch

Daniel Zangger Borch is one of Sweden’s most recognised vocal coaches. He has been a regular on adjudicating panels for popular TV shows such as ‘Idol’, ‘True Talent’ and ‘X-Factor’. He is also a professional singer, recording artist (with seven albums) and songwriter. Daniel holds a PhD in Music performance and is Head of the Voice Centre, Stockholm. His book “The Ultimate Vocal Voyage” has been released internationally. Hear more about Daniel’s career.
Daniel’s Ultimate Vocal Voyage on Amazon


  • Right on! This is SUCH a neglected area in contemporary vocal teaching in general and yet is so vital to stylistic accuracy & authenticity :-)

  • Excellent rhythm is one of the most important hallmarks of a good singer.  Being able to sing on, in front of, or behind the beat can add a great deal of depth to a song and performance.  Ella Fitzgerald was the master of playing with timing.