Singing runs in music, (a group of notes on a vowel), can be tricky. You encounter them a lot in both classical music and R & B. The goal with a run is to make it sound effortless, have it be perfectly in tune, and create a smooth legato tying the notes all together to sound like 1 phrase. Regarding the word legato, you want the singing to be smooth, not short and choppy. You don’t want to hear each note being created rather a succession on notes all eliding together.
10 technical vocal tips to help you achieve a good run:
1. Take the run apart and play it repeatedly. Play the run out on the piano or guitar if you can one note at a time. Really listen to the relationships between all the notes involved. Are they all half steps? Two half steps two whole steps? etc…
2. Put numbers to the run- if there are 6 notes in it sing each note with a number, ex. 123456. (each note having its own number).
3. Break the run up into sections- if there are 12 notes in it, break them up in groups that naturally make sence according to the rythem it is written in. So you may have 3 groups of 4, you can count these out as well 1234,1234,1234 instead of counting straight through to twelve.
4. Learn the end of the run first- Just like memorizing the last page of a song first, if you conquer the end of your run first, you will have more confidence as you go through it.
5. Practice your run on a staccato (short and choppy) vowel- Of course, your end goal is to sing your run legato, but breaking up the run into a staccato will help your muscle memory learn each pitch precisely so that when you sing through smoothly your pitch will be spot on for every note involved. You want to sing it smooth not sloppy, using a staccato to practice it will help with that.
6. Separate the runs into little syllables such as bi di bi di be, or mi ni mi ni mi. Adding the consonants in practice will also help you to solidify the correct pitches of the runs. Sing with the consonants and then take them out and sing on the vowel.
7. Practice the run on different vowels. -You may have a vowel you prefer such as ee or ahh, use which ever vowels you like and are comfortable with to learn your runs. Each vowel will give a slightly different flavor to your run depending on how they resonate. You can pull a little bit of oh into an ee, or ah into an i to create the best sound.
8. Listen to recordings of the runs- Some of us learn really well through ours ears. If you have a good recording of your runs listen and learn. Then envision yourself singing them just the same or better and do it.
9. Clap or stomp the rhythm of them out physically. This will help you to get the beat and rhythem into your body.
10. Do body motions to help create a phrase- bend your knees through the run, do large eight motions with your hands, bend at the waist and pick imaginary flowers off the ground. (sounds crazy but lots of singers do these odd things to distract their mind from concentrating on every note so that they may attain a freer result in the run.
Once you have done all of the above, remember to relax into the run and sing it smoothly. Each note of the run needs to blossom and be beautiful with its own spin on it. You need to be prepared with a good breath and make the run sound effortless.
written by: Ariella Vaccarino creator of Voice Lessons To Go (singing lessons on CD), and author of Vocalize!