“Riffs and Runs”, that catch-all phrase that describes singing many notes, often on a blues scale, on a single word or vowel. Riffs and runs are used commonly in gospel singing and in R&B singing-think Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, Beyonce. Listen to the control that these singers have over their songs. The SINGER is controlling the song, not the other way around. How are they controlling the song? By controlling the things that they as singers, have in their power to control: Breathing ( just the right amount of air), balance of air and compression of the vocal cords, and the shape of their mouth. They also practice the runs so they know exactly what note they are starting on and ending on each time they approach the run. Precision is key, as well as having an emotional connection to the phrase. If the run gets too technical, then it can sound mechanical instead of soulful. Every note that comes out of a singers mouth needs to be in control and balanced. Remember, there may be 200 notes in a song, but if you sing 198 of them perfectly, and 2 of them imperfectly, you will be remembered for the 2 imperfect notes.
In my vocal studio, when I am working on songs with singers who want to sing riffs and runs, we work on precision by slowing the riffs and runs down and isolating each note in the sequence. We then gradually speed the notes up until we are in the correct tempo of the song. We modify vowels where it’s needed, and sometimes sing the riffs and runs on sounds such as ‘doo doo” or “no no” to work on precision. I want to make sure that each singer I work with knows the starting note and the ending note of the run they are attempting to sing. Then we drill the run over and over until it becomes imbedded in their muscle memory.
Our goal as singers is to be able to control the song, not have the song control the singer! With good vocal training and practice, we can achieve just that!
Having recently moved to Portland, Oregon from San Diego, I can honestly say that one of the best changes that I have enjoyed is the higher ratio of adult voice students at my studio. In Southern California, most of my singing students were children or teens. As much as I enjoyed teaching them and watching their talents blossom, there sometimes was the prevailing feeling that some of these students lives were so over-scheduled that they really couldn’t fully engage in the process or find time in their busy schedules to practice during the week. Not knowing what type of student clientele I would get when I opened my voice studio in Portland, I was pleasantly surprised to fill my roster with mostly adult singing students. Most of these students have full time jobs, and many of them also sing professionally, but quite a few of them have always wanted to sing for various reasons, and are now at a point in their lives where they can make it a priority. They REALLY want to be there!
There is no question that teaching kids and teens is a very rewarding experience, but I can see how I have been missing out on the rewarding experience of teaching more mature students. It gives me great gratification to listen to these adults as they find their voices from within, and learn how to express themselves through song. I am teaching a 70 year old retired gentleman who would like to sing at family functions, a 48 year old male who used to sing professionally and wants to get back in the game, a 45 year old mom who wants to repair her damaged voice, an office worker who needs to build up her confidence, and others who are committed to the task of training their voices. Yes, it takes daily practice….not just checking in with me once a week, and these students are willing and ready to take on the work. They know, as I do, that it’s never too late to find joy in music and song..no matter what your goals may be.
Having just moved to Portland, Oregon from San Diego County I realized that I would sorely miss some of my long-time voice students who had been with me for years. A spotty internet connection at my San Diego residence make Skype voice lessons prohibitive, but at my new location, the internet has been very reliable! I offered the online lessons to several of my students and am now teaching 5 of them at their usual times via Skype! I have to say, that I love this platform for teaching. It has it’s drawbacks, mainly the delay in sound over the internet makes it impossible to accompany the students, and if the student does not have a decent microphone, the sound can be troublesome. But, for the most part, I find that the lessons are just as effective online as they were in person. The student has to take a bit more responsibility for themselves by playing their own tracks, getting their own equipment and in general, learning the songs with less of my assistance on the piano, but I have found that in taking this responsibility, the student has more ownership of his/her lesson. I can also see their faces up close, which is very important in singing when teaching vowel placement and relaxation in the face and mouth. They are up close and personal! Another advantage is that the student is able to stay in the comfort of their own home, not have to rely on a parent to get them to their lesson if they are a teen, or not have to get on the freeway if they are an adult. The students are always relaxed and engaged when their lessons start.
I prefer to see a student in person for a few lessons first if at all possible, but if the student is committed to do the work, online lessons are a great alternative to in-studio lessons. It opens up the whole world to me, and what could be better than that?
This past weekend, my most current Glee Group “Vocal Intensity” had their performance in front of their friends and families. This was an amazing group of 11 girls, ranging in age from 7-14, and ranging in experience from NEVER ever having sung before, to seasoned pros. At first, this combination may seem like a disaster waiting to happen, but what did happen is the older girls mentored the younger girls, and the more experienced singers were cheerleaders for the newbies! The biggest challenge is getting over performance anxiety, and the only way to get over that hurdle is to jump off the bridge and do it!
Once those girls saw the audience smiling at them, once they heard the roaring applause, and once they realized that all their hard work was really paying off, they were hooked!! It just takes one time of feeling that adrenaline rush to become addicted to performing. Or, maybe it just takes one time to know it’s not the right direction for you. Either way, this is why I strongly encourage all of my students to perform on a regular basis. It builds confidence which only helps make you a better performer as well as spilling in to other areas of your lives.
I will keep you posted on my next “Singers Showcase” in my new city of Portland, Oregon! I’m expecting a lot of ‘converting’ to happen that day!
So many of my voice students come to me with what they think is ‘the perfect song’ for them. They have come to this conclusion because the song is sung by one of their favorite artists. An artist who may be of a different gender, or simply sing in a higher or lower register than they do. The students can’t figure out why they can’t jive with the song, and it’s up to me, the vocal coach, to clue them in to reality. We all have styles that are better suited for us than others, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be able to have a varied repertoire of songs at our disposal. But let’s face it, some singers voices are more suited for gospel and R&B , while other singers voices are maybe more suited for country or pop. Then there is the issue of the key signature. Sometimes, all it takes is bringing the key up or down a few steps to make the song easier to sing. I am amazed at how many inexperienced singers don’t know this.Singing in the wrong key is like trying to fit in a pair of jeans that are too small! Just get a bigger size…or just change the key!!! Those judges on American Idol have been pounding it in our brains for 10 years now…PICK THE RIGHT SONG!!!As an experienced vocal coach, that is what I am here for. Picking the best songs, in the best key , that best show you off as the best singer you can be!