Writing Riffs In Metal

author: The_Flesh_Storm date: 06/18/2012 category: music styles
rating: 8.1 / votes: 291 
Writing Riffs In Metal
Hi, first of all this is my first lesson so excuse me if it isn't good and for my grammar mistakes because I'm not English :D In this lesson I'm going to give you the basics for the riffing in heavy metal. This is for beginners, or for those who are new to metal. I'll talk about the really essential theory first, and then I'll analyze how to use the basic technics involved in riffing, with a lot of examples. Let's start with a bit of theory: in metal you can write good riffs without knowing theory, but it's harder and cannot work forever. Basing yourself on scales can help, but (imho) you don't have to see them just as a cage. Use the scale as a safe pattern and then, if you find a riff that sounds good with a note outside it, just go where your ears brings you! So, in metal nowadays are used a lot of low tunings; anyway in this lesson we are going to play most of time in standard E or D, as in the '80 metal scene. We are going to see first the Major and minor Pentatonics, which are thee classic scales to compose rock and metal. A scale is Major if between his first and third note there are 2 tones. This three notes are called a Major Third; conversely if there is a tone and a semitone it's a minor third. Every Major scale has got a relative minor, built on the 6th note of the scale (so, if we have C Major the relative minor will be an A). After this theory pills here is the C Major (or A minor) pentatonic in 4 patterns all over the neck:
e--------------------------5-8--
b---------------------5-8-------
g----------------5-7------------
d-----------5-7-----------------
a------5-7----------------------
e-5-8---------------------------

e---------------------------0-3
b----------------------1-3-----
g-----------------0-2----------
d-----------0-2----------------
a------0-3---------------------
e-0-3--------------------------

e---------------------------3-5-
b----------------------3-5------
g-----------------2-5-----------
d-----------2-5-----------------
a------3-5----------------------
e-3-5---------------------------

e--------------------------------8-10-
b--------------------------8-10-------
g--------------------7-9--------------
d-------------7-10--------------------
a-------7-10--------------------------
e-8-10--------------------------------
Transposing it in other tonalities and you've got the basic for riffing. If we add the diminished fifth, we'll have the blues scale, so just the scale as an extinction of the minor pentatonic, for example on this pattern:
e----------------------------------5-8-
b----------------------------5-8-------
g-------------------5-7-8--------------
d--------------5-7---------------------
a------5-6-7---------------------------
e-5-8----------------------------------
Last but not least, the chromatic scale, which is just a scale that covers all the 12 notes of our system, important to add color at our riffs and to link scales. Now let's take a look at the classic Metallica's song "Jump In The Fire":
   PM---------------   PM---------------   PM-------------    
e:-------------------|-------------------|-----------------|-------------
B:-------------------|-------------------|-----------------|-------------
G:-------------------|-------------------|-----------------|--5----3-----
D:---------3---------|---------3---------|---------3-------|--5----3-----
A:-----3-4---5-4-3p0-|-----3-4---5-4-3p0-|-----3-4---5-4-3-|--3----1-----
E:-3-6---------------|-3-6---------------|-3-6-------------|-------------
The main riff is based on the G minor blues scale. Another example can be "Cowboys From Hell" by Pantera
|-------------------------------|-------------------------------|
|-------------------------------|-------------------------------|
|-------------------------------|-------------------------------|
|-------------------------------|-------------------------------|
|-----------------------------5-|-------------------------------|
|-0-3-0-3-5-3-5-3-6-3-5-3-5-7---|-0-3-0-3-5-3-5-3-6-5-3-0-------|
Now we know the scales, but how can we use them to compose a powerful and awesome metal riff? Here are some technics and clichs used (I'm not going to explain the technics, just how to use them in a good way). Palm Muting This is one of the musts. Palm muting can turn a bad riff into a good one: just look other two examples from Metallica and Pantera. For Whom the Bell Tolls
PM------------------------------------
e:-----------------------------------------
B:-----------------------------------------
 G:----------------------------------------- 
           D:-2-5-4-3--2-5-4-3--2-5-4-3--2-5-4-3--2---           
           A:-2-5-4-3--2-5-4-3--2-5-4-3--2-5-4-3--0---           
E:-0-3-2-1--0-3-2-1--0-3-2-1--0-3-2-1------
A New Level
PM--------------------------------
||------------------|------------------
||------------------|------------------
||o-----------------|------------------
||o-----------------|------------------
||--0-1-2-0-1-2-3-0-|-1-2-3-4-6-6-6-6--
||--0-1-2-0-1-2-3-0-|-1-2-3-4-6-6-6-6--
This two riffs shows that even simple ideas, with a good tone and the right thinking can become bonecrushers. Combining the Palm muting with the next tech is another standard ability you must have. Tremolo Picking: Here are the Keys of extreme metal. This tech is just an high speed alternate picking, used in Death Metal in runs like this
|-----------------|
|---------------------------------|
|---------------------------------|
|---------------------------------|
|---------------------------------|
|33334444333344446666777766667777-|
or doing a pedal point like in Slayer's Angel of Death:
Eb:-------------------------------------------------------------
Bb:-------------------------------------------------------------
Gb:-------------------------------------------------------------
Db:-------------------------------------------------------------
Ab:-2-----------------------3-3-----------------------4-4-------
Eb:-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-1-1-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-2-2-0-0-0-

-------------------------------------------------------------
-------------------------------------------------------------
-------------------------------------------------------------
-------------------------------------------------------------
-----------------------3---3/7-6-----------------------------
-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-1-0-1/5-4-----------------------------
This is it's a classical music clich, but also is extremely used in Heavy Metal, especially in its harder forms: just play chords or notes between a repeated note (usually the low string open and palm muted). Legato: Fast hammers on and pulls off (trills) can give a different taste at a riff, just not limit to the classic chug & chords riffs. The Iron Maiden masterpiece The Trooper is the best example.
||--------------7---------|----------------|
||o-----8-7tr8----8-7tr8--|-8--------8-----|
||------------------------|---9-9--7---7-9-|
||------------------------|----------------|
||o-(7)-------------------|----------------|
||------------------------ |
This is a slower way that is really effective, mixed with a pedal point on the low E Holy Warsthe Punishment Due
|--------------------------------|----------------------------|
|--------------------------------|----------------------------|
|--------------------------------|----------------------------|
|--------------------------------|-----------------------10---|
|-5h7-------10p7-----------------|-5h7-------5h7----------8-9-|
|-----0-0-0------0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-|-----0-0-0-----0-0-0-0----7-|
Slides: Last but not least, slides. With power chords they can give a strong effect, especially with slow and mid tempos. Dime's was a great user of this, in Mouth for War, for example.
|--------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------|
|-2---5/9------5------5/9----5/9----5--|
|-0---3/7---0--3---0--3/7-0--3/7--0-3--|
Here we are at the end of the lesson. This isn't the whole thing behind metal riffing technics, but in this article there are the basic ones and their main applications. I didn't explain how to do the technics because you can easily found lessons here on UG or anyway on the net. Start with learning the examples I put and the two or three things of theory I wrote, and then try to transpose your ideas using them or just jam around remembering the things you know. Hope the lesson helped, good work.
Comments
Your captcha is incorrect