Learn How to Riff – 5 Easy Steps

March 1 - How to Riff - 5 Easy Steps

So you want to learn how to riff better! Singing riffs and runs isn’t something that’s natural for everyone. Yes it’s true that some people find them easy to do, copy, and come up with. But for most of us it takes time, patience, and a little know-how to learn how to do them.

But it’s not necessarily easy to hear a riff and copy it accurately right away. And it’s certainly not easy for most singers to be able to express emotions through riffs and runs. But that is what we want them to do: help us express. They are not just there to help us show off what we can do. They are there to help us to share the message of the song more effectively.

Why is it tricky to sing riffs and runs?

The first reason is that it requires a level of muscianship or musicality. If you’re able to hear and match pitches easily, copy and repeat lines, or memorize effectively and quickly, you will have an easier time picking them up. The second reason is fear of sounding bad. It isn’t common to be able to hear a riff made up of several notes, and be able to copy and repeat it right away. It takes time and many attempts.

The third reason is your beliefs. I find that singers have some interesting beliefs around riffs. Let’s debunk them before we go further.

3 Beliefs That Hold You Back From Doing Riffs

#1: Something’s wrong with me if I can’t instantly copy a riff

#2: If I can’t do riffs right now, it means that I’m not able to do them

#3: It’s not a part of my vocal style so that’s why I can’t do them

There’s nothing wrong with you if you can’t do riffs or runs right away. If you can’t do them instantly it does not mean you can’t do them. It means you need to take time and have some patience to learn them. And regardless of whether doing riffs and runs is in your style or not, if you want to do them just because, then you can!

So where do you begin? It helps to have a little know-how when it comes to learning a riff or run. Here are 5 easy steps that you can follow to get started!!

The 5 Steps

Step 1: Find the Shape

The shape of the riff could be ascending (starts low and goes higher like climbing a staircase). It could be descending (starts high and goes down like descending a staircase). Or the shape might go up, then down, and up again. When you listen to the riff, simply listen for the main shape of it. This helps you learn it faster.

Step 2: Get the Pattern

This step basically involves figuring out the actual pitches and rhythm of the riff. Try to count how many notes you think you hear. Then apply that to the shape and give it a try! If you need a little extra help, you can use a tempo slowing app to slow it down. This is the step you will be at for the longest. Be patient!

Step 3: Get the Tempo

Now that you have the shape and the pattern, it’s time to do it in tempo. If you’ve slowed it down, now is the time to gradually do it faster. This stage requires an element of vocal agility. Be patient here as well. It’s coming!

Step 4: Make It Your Own

Once you have the riff down, listen for the things that you do naturally. Do you use a flip? Does your voice want to scoop on a certain note? Do you like to switch from head voice to chest voice at a certain spot? Make the riff your own.

Step 5: Use It In A Song

Finally, it’s time to use your riff in a song. You may need to modify your riff to fit where you want it to. Or you might be able to slip it in exactly as it is. But listening for the spot you can insert your new riff will help build your ears and musicianship!

Time to Put it to Practice

Check out this week’s video to try out these 5 Steps. Included in the video is a 6 note riff to practice with!

Want to further improve your ear to help you with riffs and runs? Check out these videos: