How To Sing Runs & Gain Vocal Flexibility

What is a vocal run exactly? It’s a fast moving melodic line that requires a great deal of skill to sing cleanly and in tune. Singers like Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilara and Beyonce are famous for singing impressive (and frequent) runs.

Many of the singers I love use runs to showcase their monster ears, flexible voices and tasteful musicianship- Stevie Wonder,  Prince, Jill Scott, John Legend, Amy Winehouse, Musiq Soulchild….just to name a few.

A great way to practice this skill and gain vocal flexibility is to sing runs along with your favorite artists. The only problem is, runs are fast and difficult to sing. Don’t fret! There is a easy solution to this problem.

How To Sing Runs- Practice Exercise


When I was in college studying jazz vocals, we transcribed a lot of solos (Learning an artist’s improvisation by ear and then writing them down). A lot of these solos were very fast and difficult (think John Coltrane). They were just beyond my ears and vocal cords at their original tempos. So, I slowed them down with a computer program so I could hear the lines more clearly and sing along.

Once I mastered them at a slow tempo, I would gradually increase the speed until I could execute them at the original tempo.

This practice technique can be applied to mastering difficult runs in Pop, Soul, & R&B as well. If you own any kind of recording software (Garage Band, Cakewalk, Audacity, Ableton Live etc…), you should be able to drop a track in to the program and slow the tempo down (without changing the key).

Personally, I like to make things super easy when I practice, so I use a program called ” The Amazing Slow Downer”. It is simple and designed for exactly this purpose. I actually have the app on my phone. I simply import a song and then I have the option to adjust the tempo or the key (or both). You can even loop the run you are working on.

FYI- This program can also be used to change the key of a karaoke track if the original key is out of your range.

How To Practice

Choose a short run from one of your favorite singers. If you have some piano skills, you can pick out the notes in the run and play them for yourself on the piano (like I do in today’s video tutorial). Start slow and increase the speed after you master the run at the slower tempo. Use a metronome to gradually increase the tempo by 3-5 bpm each time until you can execute the run at the 100% speed. Sing the run in all twelve keys.

Alternately, you can use a simple program like “The Amazing Slow Downer” to slow the run to a easy speed and then increase the tempo from there. You can practice the run in different keys with this program as well.

This is the best way to learn how to sing runs. Simple and effective. Enjoy your practice & see you next time!


  • Siegfried

    Reply Reply January 16, 2017

    Hi, I read your suggestion on learning runs and I’m going to try it out. Kind of have done it that way in the past but not systematically in every key. Makes sense!

    Is it different for everyone or are descending runs easier to master in general? For me ascending runs are harder.


    • Meghan Nixon

      Reply Reply January 18, 2017

      Hi Siegfried. Descending runs are generally easier to execute (much like running down a hill is easier than running up).Think of your voice as light and flexible as you practice these runs.

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