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8 Golden Rules for Vocal Riffs and Runs

Updated: Feb 24

Vocal riffs and runs are essential elements of contemporary music genres, including R&B, pop, gospel, and jazz. These improvised embellishments can make a song more expressive, dynamic, and memorable, showcasing a singer's technical and artistic skills. However, mastering vocal riffs and runs takes time, practice, and a keen understanding of the music's structure and style. In this article, we will discuss ten rules for vocal riffs and runs that can help singers develop their abilities and confidence.

Start with proper breathing and posture:

Before attempting any vocal riffs or runs, it is essential to warm up your voice, breathe correctly, and maintain good posture. Stand or sit up straight, relax your shoulders, and take deep breaths from your diaphragm. Engage your core muscles and avoid tensing your neck or jaw. Good breathing and posture support your vocal control, pitch accuracy, and stamina, reducing the risk of strain or injury.

Listen to the original recording:

If you want to add riffs and runs to a song, it's essential to listen to the original recording and pay attention to the melody, rhythm, and phrasing. Identify the parts where you can add your embellishments, such as the end of a phrase, a repeated chorus, or a bridge. Understand the song's structure and dynamics, and make sure that your riffs and runs complement the music rather than distract from it.

Practice scales and intervals:

Vocal riffs and runs involve moving quickly and accurately between different notes and intervals. To develop your agility and accuracy, practice scales, arpeggios, and vocal exercises that challenge your range and flexibility. Start slowly, then gradually increase your speed and complexity. Focus on the smoothness, clarity, and consistency of your transitions, and aim for a clean and effortless sound.

Use appropriate ornaments:

Riffs and runs can take different forms, depending on the music style and context. For example, gospel music often uses melismas, which are multiple notes sung on a single syllable, while R&B and pop may favor shorter, staccato-like ornaments. When choosing your ornaments, consider the lyrics, mood, and energy of the song, and use them to enhance the emotion and groove of the music.

Practice accuracy and precision:

One of the most challenging aspects of vocal riffs and runs is to hit the right notes with the right timing and pitch. To improve your accuracy and precision, practice with a metronome, a backing track, or a piano accompaniment. Break down the riffs and runs into small parts, and practice them slowly and gradually build up speed. Record yourself and listen to your performances, identifying the areas that need improvement.

Explore different rhythmic patterns:

Riffs and runs don't have to follow a strict pattern or beat, but they should still respect the underlying groove and feel of the music. Experiment with different rhythmic patterns, syncopations, and accents, but make sure that they fit the song's tempo and style. Practice with a drummer or a percussion track to develop your sense of timing and groove.

Avoid overdoing it

While vocal riffs and runs can be impressive and exciting, overusing them can also be distracting and tiresome for the listener. Use them sparingly and strategically, focusing on the parts of the song that can benefit from them the most. Avoid adding too many ornaments or too complex patterns, as they can detract from the song's melody and structure.

Develop your signature style:

While it's essential to respect the original recording and style of the song, adding your unique touch to the riffs and runs can make them more personal and distinctive. Develop your signature style by experimenting with different phrasing.

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