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Get Your Riffing Right

Knowing when, where and how much is vital –says Daniel Borch

Riffing is vocal ornamentation (a.k.a. Melisma, Licks, Turns) where the singer makes small changes in the melody.

These can either be rehearsed or improvised.

Riffing occurs frequently in rock, pop and soul genres with soul in particular making it into an art form.

Just think of Beyoncé or the Riffing of Gavin DeGraw which is more sparely done than Beyoncé but still very much present.

To Riff or Not to Riff?

The tendency to riff in certain styles depends upon the prevailing style ideal or the particular abilities or taste of the singer involved.

Knowing when, where and how much is vital to achieve the desired effect.

Riffing should be used as a spice to enhance your musical expression rather than getting in the way of it.

In Sweden we call this “wail” – you see, we misunderstood what the English-speaking singers meant with wailing and now we are stuck with this misconception ☺.

Try These

Here are a few phrases for you to practice the technique:

Riffing Exercise 1– Old School

We’re going to travel up in pitch first, and then down. Don’t sing this any faster than you can manage the “pitch shift”.

Old School

Riffing Exercise 2 – The Challenge

This one is longer and pretty hard, but don’t give up. Practice makes perfect.

The Challenge

A Final Word on Riffing

Remember; When it comes to vocal rifflng there are innumerable variations and it’s up to you and your musicality to find a “riff language” suitable for your unique personal expression.

My Reaction To This Week’s Peer Review Vid

Marissa Jerome – Forget You (Cover)

Marissa, you have a really nice sound and style. Let’s talk about some fine tuning that you could do for an even more effective performance. Try singing even more staccato in the places where you already keep it pretty short. I would also love to hear you a bit more laidback in timing. But overall Greeeaattt!

See VoiceCouncil’s Feature Interview with Daniel Borch

Daniel Zangger Borch is one of Sweden’s most recognised vocal coaches. He has been a regular on adjudicating panels for popular TV shows such as ‘Idol’, ‘True Talent’ and ‘X-Factor’. He is also a professional singer, recording artist (with seven albums) and songwriter. Daniel holds a PhD in Music performance and is Head of the Voice Centre, Stockholm. His book “The Ultimate Vocal Voyage” has been released internationally. Hear more about Daniel’s career.
Daniel’s Ultimate Vocal Voyage on Amazon

  • Annie

    Fantastic to get such great free practice.  Thank you, I really enjoyed riffing along, as I have not thought of incorporating riffing into my singing.  All change!

  • Wow! That second challenging riff in particular is one of the best riffing exercises I’ve ever heard. Not only is it a highly stylistic pattern, but is amazingly & tastefully vocally delivered as well – you guys are the best :-) 

  • This is great! Do you have any MORE riffing exercises?

  • Charlie Victoria


  • Angie Greene

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