How To Greatly Improve Your Riffs
Understanding Riffs Using Your Chest, Mixed, and Head Voices
Breathing and Memorizing Techniques for Riff
Confidence in Riffs
You’ve likely heard the term Riffs or Runs, but what are they? Riffs are a series of notes usually 3 or more that are used to create a beautiful melody that goes down or up a scale.
A scale can be used with instruments but also can be used in the voice. What is a scale?
Think of “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do”. The pitch is moving higher and is contingent on the note being changed by the vocal cords or the instrument.
Riffs require good control, breathing, and memorization of the scale. As long as you can focus on those things, your riff will sound much more rounded and comfortable.
Understanding Riffs Using Your Chest, Mixed, And Head Voice
Understanding your chest, mixed, and head voice will allow you better riff control. If you are familiar with the piano’s relation to your voice. You can see where your chest voice starts.
Do the “Yawn” exercise from the Soft Palate to see how your voice moves from head, mixed, to chest. Take your voice from the highest note and slide to your lowest note with your hand on your chest.
When you feel zero vibrations, you are in your head voice. When you feel a little vibration, you are using your mixed voice; and regular vibrations means you’ve switched to your chest voice.
Your chest voice will feel more like your speaking voice. Your mixed voice usually starts after your vocal break in your voice. It is a softer and breathier type of voice.
When we use this voice, we use a lot more air and effort. This is the voice we transition to when going to higher notes that we feel we cannot continue to push. As you go higher, your mixed voice will transition into the head voice, at which you can push more volume out.
If you notice a Vocal break in your voice: When you practice slides and scale exercises, you are training your voice to work around your vocal break where your voice may cut out or skip notes.
This section takes time and patience to work through but in the long run you will be able to move between your full range; making riffs/runs easier.
For males this is typically around A3-E4 and for females C4-G4; but that also depends on your vocal type(Bass, Tenor, Alto, Soprano). See a vocal instructor for a better understanding of your vocal placement.
Breathing And Memorization Techniques For Riffs
First let’s look at what kind of riff we are doing. Is it from a song we like? Or are we creating the riff ourselves? There are many different kinds and types of riffs.
We can start by asking ourselves if the riff is fast or slow, does it get loud or quiet, and which voice is the riff sung in.
The key to riffs is taking each note individually one at a time until your voice can replicate the notes given. It is much harder to sing notes fast without them turning into slides or missing some of the notes.
Try them slow first and memorizing the notes, drill this until you feel you can kick up the pace.
If the riff has notes that are soft and hard; imagine your voice singing one note soft, and one note strong. Drill this transition of your voice and overtime you will become much faster at singing riffs.
One of the best tools you’ll have once you understand your chest mixed and head voice is to sing some notes of a riff in chest, and some in mixed or head voice.
This is how we can gain better control with our range without straining and improve our riffs.
Confidence In Riffs
Lastly, confidence has a lot to do with riff execution. Do you find you can do riffs in silence, but when you try them around others you make mistakes?
This is because we tend to get in our heads about everything sounding perfect. Just know, it is ok to make mistakes with riffs; and that singers do this all the time.
It is ok to spend hours practicing riffs, as long as you strive for accuracy. They will start to sound great with vocal consistency.