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Old 08-16-2013, 10:23 AM   #1
batfink84
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arranging metal riffs

I don't really get how to arrange a metal song. I'm into the brutal extreme stuff atm but even older bands like suffocation, I don't really see what they are doing to link their riffs like other guitarists would link chord cycles. Are all the riffs in the same key, maybe I'm not imaginative enough?

Any ideas?

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Old 08-16-2013, 10:42 AM   #2
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Metal music generally doesn't worry too much about staying in key, especially thrash and death metal type stuff. Lots of chromatic stuff. When they are in key, it'll generally just follow whatever the pedal tone is (ie: if they keep hitting the open E string, it's probably E). When I'm writing metal stuff, I think less about theory and more about "does it sound good?" Trying to approach metal from a theory standpoint will probably be difficult.

That is NOT to say you don't need theory. But thinking in terms of keys and chord progressions probably isn't the best approach, as much as good riffs
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Old 08-16-2013, 12:42 PM   #3
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hey thanks Mr Cacodemon. So maybe I should start thinking like a bassist, spacing out an arrangement and then filling in the gaps?I've just started learning the drop 2/4 and drop 2/3 inversion systems on my fret board but it didn't really seem to translate in a metal environment. I read up about counterpoint and serialism at university but again no real help with metal riffs. Lead guitar theory translates but just don't seem to get the riff cycles,
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Old 08-16-2013, 01:20 PM   #4
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A cacodemon it is, indeed! Well done on getting the name right

But yeah, metal isn't really put together by people with a strong base in theory, by and large. If you know your theory, then that'll likely help you, but it's not really a good starting point for writing a metal song. I strongly suspect if you asked any given metal band what counterpoint is, they couldn't tell you You'd have more luck just riffing on your guitar until you found something you like.
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Old 08-16-2013, 01:40 PM   #5
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^you need to listen to metal that isn't made by 12 year olds because some of what you've just said is pretty way off.
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Old 08-16-2013, 02:05 PM   #6
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What's a drop 2/3 inversion?O_o
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Old 08-16-2013, 02:10 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by HeretiK538
When I'm writing metal stuff, I think less about theory and more about "does it sound good?" Trying to approach metal from a theory standpoint will probably be difficult.
:


Theory just defines why it is that what ur playing sounds good.

To TS: u just need basics of theory to get ur composition to a different level. just learn intervals and how they work against each other. also read about different music arrangement styles, these apply to all types of music, metal or otherwise.
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Old 08-16-2013, 02:10 PM   #8
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Here's a plan - Why don't you find out the tabs for some pieces you like, learn to play them and then work out what kinds of structure each piece is and try and find the common threads. You will probably learn more than you'll learn from this thread.
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Old 08-16-2013, 02:23 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HeretiK538
A cacodemon it is, indeed! Well done on getting the name right

But yeah, metal isn't really put together by people with a strong base in theory, by and large. If you know your theory, then that'll likely help you, but it's not really a good starting point for writing a metal song. I strongly suspect if you asked any given metal band what counterpoint is, they couldn't tell you You'd have more luck just riffing on your guitar until you found something you like.

This couldn't be further from the truth, especially when it comes to bands like Suffocation and many other Death Metal bands. Yes, they use a fair amount of chromatic notes and such. However, they don't ignore keys or just play against the pedal tone. A key isn't determined by just using the notes of the key signature.

Generally, riffs in Death Metal aren't all in the same key throughout entire, but that's perfectly fine from a theory standpoint.

Consider the following riff (tuning is in C# Standard), from the song "Catatonia" by Suffocation:


-------------|---------------|-----------|
-------------|---------------|-----------|
-------------|---------------|-----------|
-------------|---------------|-----------|
-2---------2-|---------2-----|-----6-4-3-|
-0-1-2-1-2-0-|-1-2-1-2-0-1-2-|-1-2-4-2-1-|

We have a C#5, D, D# motif for a bit; then D, D#, F5, D#5, & D5. Now, what's the theory behind this? Well, my best guess is that the riff is in C#major. (The notes of C# major are: C#, D#, F, F#, G#, A#, & B#.) The F note (in the F5 chord) is a major 3rd, and the riff sounds resolved when I play the C#5 chord -- therefore, the key is C# major.

The key isn't immediately obvious just by looking at the riff initially, as there are several accidentals (such the D note [1 on the lowest string], the C note in the F5 chord, & the A in the D5 chord). However, by determining where the song resolves and realizing that it has a major 3rd, my best guess is that the riff is in C# major.
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Old 08-16-2013, 02:46 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Banjocal
^you need to listen to metal that isn't made by 12 year olds because some of what you've just said is pretty way off.


I certainly agree that there are metal bands out there that do, but I was thinking more along the thrash metal/ death metal stuff, in general. Of all the metal musicians I've met, only about one even considers theory, the rest just throw stuff together. It kills me on the inside.

Bands like Necrophagist are a good example of death metal with some homework behind it, but I was thinking more Slayer, and I'll be damned if there's any actual theory put into their stuff
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Old 08-16-2013, 02:58 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HeretiK538
I certainly agree that there are metal bands out there that do, but I was thinking more along the thrash metal/ death metal stuff, in general. Of all the metal musicians I've met, only about one even considers theory, the rest just throw stuff together. It kills me on the inside.

Bands like Necrophagist are a good example of death metal with some homework behind it, but I was thinking more Slayer, and I'll be damned if there's any actual theory put into their stuff


Most Death Metal bands know theory well enough. Usually the members have some sort of musical training as well.

I still wanna know what a drop 2/3 inversion is. >_>
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Old 08-16-2013, 03:01 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HeretiK538
I was thinking more Slayer, and I'll be damned if there's any actual theory put into their stuff

Um...but there is. Yeah, they don't form fit it to some template. But a lot more bands consider things properly than you think. Listen to Slayer's Reign in Blood. Honestly, you need to stop thinking of theory as prescriptive and start thinking of it as descriptive.
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Old 08-16-2013, 03:35 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by crazysam23_Atax
prescriptive and start thinking of it as descriptive.


OH GOD NOT AGAIN.

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Old 08-16-2013, 06:13 PM   #14
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First thing on Crazysam's post, it would be Db major, not C# major.

Second, that has to be one of the most sideways and loopy pieces of reasoning I've read on this board. Db/C# may be the tonal centre, but there is no way that piece can be adequately described as being in Db major. Or even at all in the terms of common practice harmony, it barely has anything that could be described as 'harmony' in the conventional sense at all (From general knowledge of how metal works I would say those fifths are probably more like doublings of the fundamental notes than the fifths of chords), let alone functional harmony.

'Music theory' isn't a set of tools you can use to take apart and understand any kind of music you like, it's an abstraction from the techniques of composers of previous eras in an attempt to describe in a general way their common practice. That's why if you took something like ABRSM's graded theory exams you'd mostly be working with harmony and concepts related to pitch, because that's what most composers in the common practice era thought in terms of. A lot of popular music operates on other levels like timbre and rhythm which those composers didn't explore in quite the same way as they did pitch relations. In this case, the percussive and rhythmic effect of that riff and it's timbral characteristics are probably more important than the pitch content, ergo trying to say that it's 'really' in Db major is missing the point.
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Old 08-16-2013, 06:19 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nietsche
First thing on Crazysam's post, it would be Db major, not C# major.

Second, that has to be one of the most sideways and loopy pieces of reasoning I've read on this board. Db/C# may be the tonal centre, but there is no way that piece can be adequately described as being in Db major. Or even at all in the terms of common practice harmony, it barely has anything that could be described as 'harmony' in the conventional sense at all (From general knowledge of how metal works I would say those fifths are probably more like doublings of the fundamental notes than the fifths of chords), let alone functional harmony.

I'll give you that it wasn't a very good example. Honestly, my first instinct was to say that it was neither major nor minor. Death Metal in general probably isn't a great example of harmony, really. In my defense, I was tired (and therefore probably shouldn't have bothered with such an example).

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OH GOD NOT AGAIN.

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Although my fore-mentioned example was really nonsense in hindsight, tell me where I'm wrong in saying theory isn't prescriptive.
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Old 08-16-2013, 07:22 PM   #16
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Theory still helps. You can listen to metal songs and analyze them. Even though they aren't really harmonic, you can still analyze them. For example what power chords they use and what kind of rhythms they use and how they do transitions. And when you have analyzed some songs, it becomes easier to write similar stuff. You know the similarities between the songs you have been listening to and know all the "cliches". When you know the style, it's a lot easier to write in that style.

Theory is not all about harmony. And music is not all about harmony. I mean, harmony is really important but there's so much more to music than just harmony.

Oh, and there's no such thing as "using theory when writing" (or "not using it"). Theory is always there. You may not know theory but it's still there. Everything can be explained.
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Old 08-16-2013, 11:57 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by crazysam23_Atax
Although my fore-mentioned example was really nonsense in hindsight, tell me where I'm wrong in saying theory isn't prescriptive.


I didn't post that because you were right or wrong. I posted that because that phrase has been used ad nauseum in the Metal forum that one time. I cringe when I see it now.
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Old 08-17-2013, 09:03 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nietsche
First thing on Crazysam's post, it would be Db major, not C# major.

A lot of popular music operates on other levels like timbre and rhythm which those composers didn't explore in quite the same way as they did pitch relations. In this case, the percussive and rhythmic effect of that riff and it's timbral characteristics are probably more important than the pitch content, ergo trying to say that it's 'really' in Db major is missing the point.


That is very true, that we all enjoy using sound as a visual color and that is what drives our creation. When I play my guitar not plugged in it is a totally different experience to using a high octane distortion and amp.

My ear training isn't that bad. I guess its a good idea to go back and forth between principals. Deep down I've always felt like that stuff I'm hearing is cycling around a low pedal tone that pulls you around and every now and then you hear some orchestrated diatonic cadence even if its just dyadic. I guess for me to progress I need to start singing the riff in my head and then translate it to the arrangement rather than messing around in a few time signatures and then gluing it together. I might start laying down some low bass notes or chords, sketching out a blank staff and build my structure from that I guess.

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Old 08-19-2013, 07:25 AM   #19
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I don't worry about trying to figure out the theory behind it when I'm writing a riff.

I jam on stuff until I come up with a few riffs I like that sound good strung together. Then if I get stuck, I'll figure out what I did theory-wise to see if it sparks an idea of what to play next.

I feel bad for any lead guitarist that has to try and solo over the stuff I come up with. A lot of it is very chromatic and jumps across keys pretty frequently. I'm sure it makes sense in terms of theory if you really break it down, but I've had more than one guitarist look at me like "What the hell was THAT?!" when I make an abrupt switch to something only vaguely related to what I was playing a second or two ago.

I subscribe to the "If it sounds good, it IS good" school of guitar playing more than anything else. My playing generally involves complex right hand cadences more than anything especially complicated with my fretting hand.

I'm primarily a rhythm guitarist, if you hadn't guessed already.
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Old 08-19-2013, 11:31 AM   #20
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I didn't post that because you were right or wrong. I posted that because that phrase has been used ad nauseum in the Metal forum that one time. I cringe when I see it now.

Ah, well...I must have missed that phase.

Anyway, to give a less ridiculous answer to TS (I get ridiculous and make no sense when I'm tired sometimes [see above, lol]), metal riffs seem to be of 2 types, either mostly rhythmic (where the key can probably be defined as something like "C" but not really as major or minor) or more harmonic (where the key is clearly major or minor and harmonic development is important to the song as a whole). What I mean is, in simple terms: some bands don't give a damn about harmony at all (at least in certain songs); other bands clearly do.
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