Check Out The Difference Between Riff And Run

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Most times, when artists finish recording their songs, they include vocal effects. The vocal effects help to add more melody to the music. They also add aesthetics to the song. You can see such vocal effects in songs with riff and run.

Some people use the two words interchangeably because of their similarities. However, they have slight differences.

This post aims to help you understand the differences between riff and run. We’ll also show you how to sing riffs and runs.

What Is A Riff?

A riff is what you, as a singer, utilize to add flavor to your melody. It shows off your degree of artistic interpretation. So, you can add notes where it didn’t exist in a song with riffs. Riffs are known for repetitions.

When you sing riffs, they are called vocal riffs. However, you can play a riff on a guitar, and it’s called a guitar riff. 

Riffs can be simple and subtle, as with singers like Adele. It can also be complex, as with singers like Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey. 

However, it’s best to start with a simple riff before trying out complicated ones. It’ll also help to start slowly. So it’ll be easy for you to learn as you practice with other songs.

What Is A Run?

A run is a series of notes that stands out from the song and involves moving in fast succession. You sing the notes using one syllable. It’s also known as vocal run or melisma.

Furthermore, long riffs become runs. They also draw attention to the singer. So, the lead vocalist sings the run without the contribution of other singers.

Difference Between Riff And Run

  • Runs usually depend on scales more often, but riffs can base on scales, melody, and rhythm.
  • Riffs consist of short notes (usually two to four), but runs are long riffs. That means runs consist of several notes.
  • Runs stand out from the music, but riffs fit into it.
  • Riffs have any level of intervals between notes, whereas runs have small intervals between notes.
  • Runs have uniform rhythms in notes, while riffs can have different rhythms.

Similarities Between Riff And Run

  • They both consist of notes.
  • They both usually make use of pentatonic scales. The major pentatonic scale consists of the normal scale intervals without the fourth and seventh intervals. So, it contains only five scales, excluding the upper octave.

But the minor pentatonic scale consists of the normal scale without the second and sixth intervals.

  • You need a mixed voice to sing them effectively. A mixed voice enables you to move from chest to head voice without a vocal break. It ensures you hit high notes quickly. You’ll also be able to transform easily between low and high notes.
  • They serve as musical decorations and show off the artistic skill of the singer.

How To Sing Riffs And Runs

Step#1: Relax and get rid of tension 

Before you sing riffs and runs, you have to relax. It ensures that there’s no tension when you sing. Some muscles in your tongue, jaw, and neck need to relax, as you don’t need them when you sing. But some muscles in your throat control your pitch. So you need to isolate these muscles.

Once you’re able to relax and relieve tension in your throat, your vocal cords will flow without stress. It’ll enable you to riff and run freely. And that way, you’ll sing powerfully without losing your voice.

Note that the way you react to your voice is what leads to tension. So, create space for it to ease tension. 

Lie down on your bed or anywhere comfortable, and let your head hang off the edge a bit. Also, don’t hang it totally over the edge so that it can still have support, as your jaw drops automatically. Then, maintain that position for some time till your body starts to relax. 

You’ll feel your breath flow through your mouth, throat, and down your diaphragm. Stay there for a while till you feel ready. It can last from a few seconds to minutes. Take deep breathes and exhale with sighs. Ignore your sounds. 

Continue the sighs till the openness from your diaphragm extends through your throat and mouth.

When you feel ready to sing, bring your head fully on the bed or stand up. Do it while still feeling the openness. Gently place your hand on your larynx, still in that laying or standing position. It’ll help you sense what happens to your larynx when you sing.

Then, sing at half your normal tempo and feel the openness as you do so. Don’t pay much attention to diction. Instead, maintain your relaxation. Your larynx shouldn’t move a lot, but you’ll feel vibrations on your hand. Try to maintain the same volume as you go higher, even if you crack.

The exercise will help you relax and remove tension from your voice. So you can sing at your optimal level. 

Do the exercise anytime your throat feels tight. Such that whenever your throat tightens, you breathe and sigh continuously. It’ll take away tension when singing songs, especially high notes.

Step#2: Be creative

Riffs and runs don’t follow a uniform vocal method like the actual song. They act to improve the feel of your music. It’s best to add lots of twists and colors to your voice when singing them. Don’t use the original tune of the song. To do this, you can increase or lower your vocal pitch.

Step#3: Master the notes and melody

You need to understand the vocal notes to sing riffs and runs successfully. Riffs usually contain two to four notes. The lengthy ones are a run, which is a couple of continuous riffs. Learn the melody, and hit the right notes.

Break down notes that are long so that you can practice short ones before putting them together. Focus on enhancing your voice and melody rather than aligning with the song.

Make sure the notes are distinct enough for your listeners. It’ll help you maintain your pitch. It’s best to sing the notes continuously so that you’ll remember to place them rightly. That’s to avoid mixing up your riffs and runs. 

Step#4: Work on your tempo and rhythm

After you master notes and melody, you have to work on your rhythm and tempo. Your tempo and rhythm help align the punctuation, speed, timing, and sound of your notes. 

Runs and riffs don’t have definite rules for their tempo and rhythm, but it makes them uniform. That’s why you shouldn’t stretch and compact them too much.

It’ll help if you clap, play a keyboard, or only sing out. And make the tempo stand out according to how you want the riff to be. It’ll help you not to focus only on the notes. Start with an easy and slow tempo and let your rhythm be steady. When you master it, you can slowly increase it to suit the tempo you want.

Let your run and riffs have a smooth flow. It comes with practicing the tempo of the riffs and runs of your song. Make sure that they stand out from the rest of your music but shouldn’t be off-tune. Sing them continuously, and pay attention to your rhythm and tempo as you do so.

You’ll find that the more you practice it, the better you get at maintaining the rhythm and tempo in your song. 

Step#5: Develop high vocal stamina

To master runs and riffs, you must keep developing your vocal stamina. Put in the effort to work on your vocal flexibility. That will help you to move from low to high pitches and vice-versa without stress. Also, control your breath flow. 

Don’t expect to master it overnight. You’ll need to practice with various songs to know how to use the riff and run correctly, according to your voice box. 

Step#6: Practice with professional help

Practicing with the help of renowned vocal coaches and professionals is a better way to learn the basics and technicalities of singing. You can pay a professional to help you learn runs and riffs. Having a vocal coach to teach you face-to-face will help you adjust your rhythm and tempo. 

However, if you already attend a music school, you’ll learn riffs and runs eventually. But you can download music videos or songs online that focus on riffs and runs. It’ll help you sharpen your skills personally.

Step#7: Use riffs and runs workouts

When you do workouts for riffs and runs, it ensures you sing them with ease. Such exercises also keep your voice flexible and agile. 

However, use exercises that are comfortable for you or maintain a comfortable pitch during the workout. You can use a keyboard to help you with the notes. Some workouts include:

Pitch flexibility with slow tempo workout: It helps you target the correct pitch. To do this, sing a note with the “ah” vowel using a slow tempo. And then try out the slow tempo, with different pitch levels. Doing the exercises often will help you master them.

Pitch flexibility with fast tempo: It has the same note pattern as the first exercise. But it has a fast tempo.

Leaping intervals and a run with slow tempo: It helps build on your pitch and voice control. The note consists of “ah” and a series of “e” vowels. It goes like this, “ah ah e e e e e e e.”

Leaping intervals and a run with fast tempo: It’s the same note as the slow tempo but has a fast tempo. Do it with different pitch levels too.


Now that you know the differences between riffs and runs, chances are you’ll start using them properly. Ensure you practice regularly. It’ll help you improve your skill.

Due to their similarities, you can practice them using the same steps. Constant riff and run exercises will help improve your pitch flexibility and avoid vocal breaks.

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