Whether you’re a singer or not, almost all of us can agree that musicians and non-musicians alike typically judge singers through a harsher lens, as it can seem that vocals is something that everyone can do - at least a little. It’s the vocalists who take it to the next level, with wide leaps and bounds of dynamics, range and ability to riff. It’s these elements that, whether the listener realizes it or not, makes a vocalist stand out and helps the listener realize that some people can be gifted with that little extra dash of tone or agility. Some say that this can be acquired through lots of practice and a little bit of luck.
Become Singers states “Before you can even embellish a song with riffs and runs, you need to know the notes embedded in a song. Riffs are usually short and may include two to four note patterns. There are longer riffs, however, but these longer riffs are generally just short riffs that are strung together. At the onset, you should listen intently to the melody of the song and don’t give much attention to the words or vowels used in the lyrics. Once you learn the melody thoroughly, then you can proceed with learning the vowels and words. It is crucial that you know which notes or pitch you are going to sing in a riff. If you are unsure of the pitch, you may end up sounding pitchy. The reason behind this is maybe due to your inability to break down the notes and the order of the notes likewise. Hence, it is important that you first know the notes. Furthermore, you should break down the melody into fragments or segments”
When diving into the deep waters of vocal riffing, we strongly suggest three things to start with. First, make use of all of the incredible and complimentary videos on YouTube. There are so many layers of talented educators who break it down in the best way. Even better, you can replay the video as many times as you like until you’ve mastered it. A few of our favorites include Aussie Vocal Coach, Jacobs Vocal Academy and Saher Galt. We’re so lucky these days to have endless supplies of knowledge. Soak it up!
Second, take it slow. The secret to learning something new and complex is to first cut the tempo in half and then break it down into smaller divisions. This will allow your brain to not be so overwhelmed. You’ll be most successful at learning something new if you allow your mind to take it step by step. This way, you’ll recall the fragments as major batches when you’re attempting to recreate the line in full. This is the secret to mastering that which seems impossible and out of your league.
Third, record yourself. When you’re learning how to riff and run, you’ll want to record yourself so you can be sure that it isn’t messy. Just because you’re hitting all the notes doesn’t mean that it’s all good and gravy! You must still maintain the tone and crispness of pitch. You’ll be happy with the results if you dissect each of these elements and shine a spotlight on each individual part and work out its kinks until it flows cleanly and freely.
How about the difference between a vocal riff and a vocal run? Quora reminds us that “A vocal run is based on scale. It is where you go up or down in quick sessions. A vocal riff a repeated chord or like a pattern (mostly with instruments since in a song the notes they play is usually repeated over and over).”
Vocal riffing and running is not something that you’ll conquer overnight. This is why it’s so dazzling to the typical and untrained ear. Take it easy and recognize that it will come to you as long as you take the time to compartmentalize each note. Have fun with it, sometimes it’s nice to show off!