December 8, 2023

About the Author: Stefan Joubert

Passionate manager of LSI. Discover your voice, regardless of age or talent. Contact now at to start your singing lessons in London or online!

At some point in your singing journey, you will want to add a few riffs and runs to your vocal briefcase. These stylistic actions let you have a little fun with your voice, bringing new life to tired songs and delighting any audience lucky enough to hear you.

Woman singing emotionally

What Are Riffs And Runs?

To use these style techniques efficiently, you first need to know what they are! Riffs and runs are a repetitive series of notes sung quickly over one word or syllable in a song. Those notes usually come from the pentatonic scale. Riffs tend to blend into the music more, adding a more subtly fancy edge to the song. Runs, meanwhile, demand attention, standing out in a landmark fashion.

Riffs and runs are based on the major and minor pentatonic scale. They are singing ornaments that move quickly from the bottom of the scale to the top and back again. There are some incredible singers who have truly mastered this style. Listen to artists like Luther Vandross, particularly on his song, Never too Much, and Tori Kelly on Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing. Beyonce and Mariah Carey are big fans of riffs and runs!

Those singers play the pentatonic scale with ease, chasing those notes up and down and delighting their fans. But it doesn’t come easy. This is a singing style that takes practice, commitment and a true understanding of your voice.

Girl with microphone singing against yellow color background with music notes

What Is The Pentatonic Scale?

The pentatonic scale is one that musicians know well. The major scale is similar to the well-known regular major scale. But instead of singing Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, you drop the Fa and the Ti. So, it’s just:

    • Do


    • Re


    • Mi


    • So



And then down again. Meanwhile, the minor scale focuses on the black keys of a keyboard. There are five of them and they are:

    • C# (D♭)


    • D# (E♭)


    • F# (G♭)


    • G# (A♭)


    A# (B♭)

The scale follows these notes up and down. It’s super simple, but once you know it well, you’ll notice it cropping up in songs all over the place!

To master riffs and runs, you need to practice singing your pentatonic scales religiously. You should start slowly, getting your own voice exactly in tune, and then speed it up, until your voice runs smoothly over all the notes, so they almost sound like one.

You should start by playing the note on an instrument, so you can ensure your voice sounds exactly the same. You could record yourself to help with this. Eventually, you’ll know the scale so well, you’ll be able to do it without the instrument. That’s when you know the pentatonic scale is part of your singing repertoire!

A man and a woman singing togerther

What Do You Need To Master Riffs And Runs?

Riffs and runs are not usually something that beginners will be expected to master right away. But as you become more experienced in your vocal ability, you can start to add them into your repertoire.

The key thing you need to be able to perform riffs and runs is an agile voice. So, make sure you loosen up with some effective warm-ups. You’ll need to be well practised at relaxing your voice, so that you can run up and down that pentatonic scale with ease. And, you’ll also need to be experienced at controlling your breathing.

Ultimately, you need to understand the mechanics of singing and what works best for you. We’ve spoken about breathing and relaxation techniques in previous blogs, so you should definitely be able to find some helpful information.

Man singing at music studio holding a music sheet

A Few Tips To Help You

Start by feeling where your larynx is. It’s that bumpy bit in your throat that sticks out slightly. When you talk or sing, it vibrates. Practice a little pentatonic scale while touching your larynx so you can see exactly where the muscle is that you are trying to control.

And, like any muscle, the more you work it, the better you get at controlling it.

As we said above, start your pentatonic scale slowly. You should really extend each note to warm up gently. Then, as you get into it, you can get slightly faster.

Don’t worry if you think it sounds a bit funny. As your muscle gets stronger and you get better at controlling it, that beautiful voice will come. Practice is always the key!

Woman singing

It all sounds a bit complicated, but it’s really not, and anyone has the ability to do riffs and runs well. The best way to master them is to get a singing coach, who can help build up your singing muscle and confidence. Contact us at the London Singing Institute and we’ll have your voice running all over those pentatonic scales!

Meta description: Riffs and runs sound so impressive when the professionals sing them, but they don’t have to be scary. Find out how to master the technique here.

Tags: Vocal riffs, Vocal runs, Singing improvisation, Singing with pentatonic, Singing riffing, Singing runs

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Tags: Vocal riffs, Vocal runs, Singing improvisation, Singing with pentatonic, Singing riffing, Singing runs