The Difference Between a Run & a Riff

Singer will use runs and riffs to enhance the song they are singing. They are both a melodic sequence of notes. How do you tell the difference between the two?

A run is a long sequence of notes starting high and dropping quickly (within a second or two) through the scale down to lower notes. It can also be done from low notes moving quickly up the scale to higher notes. Runs are spontaneously, created to embellish (enhance) the melody. A run is also called a “melisma”. Christina Aguilera and Beyonce are famous for their very elaborate and masterful riffs and runs.

A riff is a short series of melodic notes used by singers to express their emotional intensity. The most outstanding vocal riffs are usually done to deepen the expression of emotion within a song, just like a run. But a riff is a repeated (short group of notes) melodic idea used throughout a song; whereas a run is like ornamental spontaneous creation of many notes.

Listen to Lexie Torres sing “Listen” by Beyonce (which has many runs and riffs in it). This song is difficult because you have to take each riff and run individual breaking down the notes in sequence and getting them just right. There are many riffs in the song. The majority of runs happen at the Bridge: “I don’t know where I belong” and the last chorus you can here the embellishments. Not only does this song have extreme riffs and runs, it has a large vocal range from highs to lows. Check it out!


My dad always told me I should sing tenor.

Ten or twelve miles away

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