Are you a singer who really wants to get better at singing riffs? A riff (sometimes called ‘run’) is a pattern of descending or ascending notes on one syllable at rapid pace. Riffs have their origin in gospel and jazz and can be found in R&B, country, rock, dance, pop and even more recently contemporary musical theatre. Find an easy and short riff pattern to start and follow these tips:
Step 1: Pick an easy riff with not too many notes, from a song you like. Play the riff on piano or guitar to make sure you have all the right notes.
Step 2: Sing the riff with a consonant on each note, such as “buh, buh, buh, buh buh” or “nuh nuh nuh”. Take vibrato out and sing it on a straight tone only so there is more clarity on the notes.
Step 3: Take the consonant out and put a gentle glottal stop on each note (such as “ah. ah. ah.” or try it on “m. m. m.“ to get your voice to feel that separation between each of the notes within the pattern.
Step 4: Take the glottal stop out and just use a pure vowel such as “uh”, “oh” or “ay”.
Step 5: Start to speed up the riff, slowly increasing the tempo until the notes are all clean. Don’t merge any of the notes, if you have done that, then you have sung it too fast. Try not to push too much air while singing the riff. (This will help you keep that resistance of air pressure to be able to sing several notes in succession at a quick pace)
Step 6: Repeat the riff many times until you have it smooth. Repetition of the riff pattern will also build muscle memory on how to move from one note to the next with a clear separation of the notes. (versus clumping the notes altogether)
To get better at riffs, practice riff scales on a regular basis. Voice Tutor app has an amazing ‘riff and run’ section. Or download “Funky Vocal Licks” by John Fluker on iTunes. Natalie Weiss’ web series “Breaking Down the Riffs” is also super fun! Keep listening to Gospel, mowtown, R&B, Jazz and artists who riff quite a bit. (Callie Day, Karen Clark Sheard, Smokie Norful, Steve Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Usher and Tori Kelly just to name a few) Even if you are a country, pop or musical theatre singer, listening to Gospel or R&B will help you gain a better ‘ear’ for riff patterns. Before you know it, you willl be riffing effortlessly!
Alida is a singer and vocal coach based in Vancouver, Canada. A graduate of UBC School of Music, Alida holds an IVA Advanced Certificate in voice teaching. She is also certified in Speech Level Singing and is a member of NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing). Alida has been teaching voice for 9 years to clients from the Lower Mainland as well as across Canada and worldwide.