Vocal Riffing

by Matt
(Monroeville, OH, US)

Okay, I've been performing for about three years now, on a very small scale, and I do okay at it. Recently, I've wanted to add a little something to my songs/performances. And it hit me, vocal riffing. I can do some very simple riffs.

I've heard some in various songs though, that I would LOVE to be able to do. I cannot seem to make my voice do them.

I can do a short, downward riff. For example an F, E-flat, and C, with ease, but cannot go up AT ALL..like E-flat, F, and G...I've heard it done before, but I cannot go easily from one note to the next.

Also, the kind of riff you hear in "A Moment Like This" by Kelly Clarkson, in the chorus in the line "I can't believe it's happening to me"...on the "ning-syllable" of the word happening. Now, I know exactly the notes she's singing, but I cannot figure out how to make my vocal chords make it happen.

The same riff can be heard in "The Climb" by Miley Cyrus, in the first verse in the line "you'll never reach it", in the word "reach". I would really love to be able to do this, if for no other reason, to be able to do it.

As a musician, there's always something to learn, but when I find something I cannot do, it irritates me, and I just have to figure out how to do it.

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Sep 20, 2015
Breaking Down the Riffs NEW
by: Anonymous

If you want to learn how to riff, you should try checking out Breaking Down the Riffs on Youtube, taught by Broadway vocalist and master riffer Natalie Weiss. She breaks each riff down into small sections, and even provides notation.

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Jul 08, 2012
Vocal Riffing NEW
by: Anonymous

I'm not the best at hitting high notes either, only the speaking voice and a small bit of head voice, you have to start out slow. However I'm tone deff but I was born with the ability to riff (not literally, just all the noises and beatboxing I used to do joking around helped me a lot).

Try this:

Low A, Speaking Voice A, Head Voice A, Low A, Speaking Voice A keep repeating it and do it faster, thats a simple riff.

I don't have a piano of any kind so idk the exact notes.

Mar 17, 2011
Vocal Riffing
by: Anonymous

I would say definitely sing along to some R&B songs and practice just switching by the notes in a scale. I recently went to a voice teacher and they commented how I had vibrato and could do vocal riffs and runs naturally, as I'd been doing a lot of R&B singing since I was very young.
So, you should sing, for example, 'ah-ah-ah-ah' going up in a scale, and then faster each time. With practice, this should help you with your vocal runs. Good luck with your singing!

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About The Author

Roger Burnley - Vocal CoachRoger Burnley - Vocal Coach

Roger Burnley is a vocal coach located in Hollywood, California. He has been teaching the voice for over 30 years and singing for even longer than that. 

Notable past and present clients include Macy Gray, Brandy, Ray J, The Beastie Boys, James Torme, Taylor Lautner, Nona Gaye, and many more.

His clients have collectively sold more than 30 million albums, with several reaching Platinum and Gold status. 

Roger has been featured on VH1, TV Guide Channel, TV One,
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