6 Steps to Learning Riffs

Are you a singer who really wants to get better at singing riffs? A riff (sometimes called ‘run’) is a stylistic pattern of descending or ascending notes on one syllable at a rapid pace.  Riffs in contemporary music have their origin in gospel and jazz and can be found in the genres of 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. Or simply ‘break it down’ listening to it in smaller sections.  Count how many notes there are.

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.  Download “Funky Vocal Licks” by John Fluker on iTunes.  Natalie Weiss’ web series “Breaking Down the Riffs” on youtube 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, Mariah Carey, Ariana Grande, Usher, Tori Kelly, Jessie J, Demi Lovato 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!

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Welcome to my site!  My name is Alida and I am a certified and qualified vocal coach, singing instructor, mentor and consultant.  I work with recreational singers, singer/songwriters, touring artists, musical theatre performers and many other professional voice users.

What have I been up to lately?  Coaching and training major label recording artists preparing for tour, mentoring other voice instructors, doing webinars on vocal health, and also continuing to work with film/tv actors.

I am passionate about helping singers to achieve vocal wellness, vocal balance and sing amazingly well.  As a result, they can sing for longer periods of time and avoid injury or strain no matter what genre they sing.  All it takes it hard work and dedication and consistency in their training!

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