I'm writing this article to sort of help you in composing your guitar riffs and solos in order to make the perfect song for you. I hope it helps you aspiring Hendrixs, or Hetfields. This article will tell you what you need in a good riff or a solo, and obviously what not to do while composing the above.
First of all let me tell why I'm writing this article. I've been a guitarist and a vocalist for about three and a half years now. I know you people are thinkin, 'what's an amateur doing is writing articles on how to make guitar riffs and solos and own compositions. Get a life butt-head.' But anyway, throughout my 'guitar life', I've always wanted to make the perfect song with the catchiest riffs, mind-blowing leads and finally thought provoking lyrics. That's obviously the mission in all your songs I suppose. I kept making all sorts of riffs and solos and stuff, and realized that something was missing the X factor. All about the X factor later.
I asked people what they thought were good things to do in a song to make it, well, popular and at the same time good to my ears. These are the responses I got:
The above are no doubt true, and they do help in making a good song, but not the best. Almost 99% of the people here told me the stuff above. But I'm not entirely convinced that the responses would make my kinda song. Plus what most people think is sometimes false. So, to correct those mistakes and some tips to write your compositions, here are some tips and suggestions.
The Guitar Main Riff
This is no doubt one of the most important things you need in a song. All great songs have been composed thanks to the main riff. The main riff of the song must be written so that people enjoy it and more importantly sounds good. Also the guitar riffs must be made in such a way that vocals (if any) can go along with it, not just some crap you discovered in the garage while playing. The most popular of all guitar riffs were made accidentally. An example? The Nothing Else Matters opening riff and the main riff came out when Hetfield was on the phone. He played the 4 strings in a particular way, and with simple chord structures he made the main riff of the song. Amazing isn't it?
Guitar riffs are normally created by just fooling around with certain chord patterns and structures, and also playing a couple notes in a scale to sort of fill the empty spaces or finish the guitar riff. The opposite also works. Example is the Painkiller main riff (one with the first verse) - the guitarist plays a couple of notes in a scale ending it with a power chord (this one is not in the scale). Guitar riffs have three basic parts - the head, the body and the tail. The head is as you all have guessed by now is the intro and the root note on whose basis the riff was made. The body is like the hook of the riff. The tail is the ending part where most metal artists like to slip a note, dead out of the scale, to make it sound cooler. Remember one more thing, if a riff you just made sounds like total shit or just sounds way off the basic tune of the song, don't always throw it away, record it it may become one of the best things you've ever heard by altering it a bit or a riff to a whole other own comp.
The X Factor - the riff is to be made so that the basic tune of the vocals or the whole song is understandable.
The Little Fill
Some composers like to add a little fill or another small riff between two verses or to signify a change in the tune of the verses. An example? Dream Theater's Pull Me Under has a very good fill after the first chorus. But the genius of this song is that the guys have made that fill into the most amazing endings I've ever heard. But that's just pure genius.
If your fill sounds terrible then people won't exactly enjoy the song. Remember that it's not necessary to put a fill. But it's more professional if you do make one.
The X Factor - Must be made very cleverly, and cautiously.
The chorus is no doubted (to the modern musicians) the most important element of the song to grab the interest of the listener. Musicians normally associate choruses with vocals, but that's never exactly necessary. Metallica, in their song Fade To Black, had the chorus in the form of a very memorable guitar riff structure. There are many songs which were made even without a chorus (e.g., Megadeth's Holy Wars).
To metal musicians, it's not always necessary to have a chorus. But to modern musicians, it's a must. The chorus of the song is made to form a hook to the song. That's why choruses are repeated, so that the listener can identify the song with ease, and plus that he has something to sing to, and not just sit there listening to the song without much of a clue what it's about.
That brings me to the third and final point of the chorus. The chorus doesn't just signify a part of the song where lyrics are repeated (at least not to me). It's also that part of the song which tells the people what the song is about, lyrically. If the song is about hate, say it in the chorus. Tell people that the song is not about some flower or a tree, but what the song is all about (unless it IS about a tree or a flower). The use of clichs or something that really means something about the song is very much important and more grasping. (The third para is only my interpretation of the chorus).
The X Factor - Must mean something to the song and not just random lyrics you took off the road. Plus use of clichs work and sell.
I wrote this article actually solely for this part of the song. A solo is that part of the song where the lead guitarist shows what he can do; at the same time shows the listener that guitar sounds can be something like the vocals. Confused? Read on.
The solo must have two basic qualities in it - technique and overall understandability. Let me tell you what a solo means to me. The solo is also a verse in the song, only it speaks from a guitarist through his guitar. It portrays emotions and should be treated as an individual singing. Slash, my idol for solos, is the most perfect example of this kind of solo. Let's take the song Estranged (possibly the best songs ever written). After the first verse, Slash has his solo. If you listen to it with emotion and more importantly with your ears (which means deeper), you'll start to feel that's the chorus and as if there was an unwritten verse written over it but it's coming out of the guitar. Even the last solo; man!! It's like the most amazing solo ever. This covers the understandability part.
Besides this, a solo also should have technique in it. In the sense that it shows that the lead guitarist isn't just sitting there quietly, but has fast fingers or talented ones (to tap and pinch harmonics and stuff). You can use the guitar techniques like tapping or sliding (with a slider), or playing incredibly fast (like another of idols John Petrucci). Slow solos work as well. Don't be under the impression that solos only have to be fast.
There is a very false belief that the faster the solo, the better it is. Let me tell you, a fast solo without any meaning to it, is equivalent to shit. Slayer guitarists do this very often. I'm not trying to say that Slayer is not good or anything or that the solos are not amazing technically, but I feel that the guitarists have inputted that certain solos for sake of putting there coz it's a 'metal song' and 'a metal song must have solos'. This is again a very false belief. Another false belief is 'if someone else can play your solo, then it's not good'. This is pure crap.
The easiest way to make a solo is to juggle along the whole scale of the song unless you're feeling adventurous to kick some ass, by cleverly moving a little off the scale.
The X Factor - must be understandable, and probably something you can relate to.
The Ending Riffs
The ending riffs of the song are again a VERY important part of the song. It shows how good you are to the song, and that you're not just making this song of yours just for the solo or for the amazing riff you've just discovered. You must also make an ending in such a way that it doesn't sound abrupt (e.g. Dream Theater's Pull Me Under). Guitarists normally end the songs very cheekily by playing the intro riff or the main riff. Another very clever technique of ending songs and ending riffs is that you play the intro riff or the main riff without its tail. Most modern guitarists end the song with the root note of the main riff sustained. Metallica and other bands sometimes end it with the fading of a solo or a catchy riff.
The X Factor - Must be done cleverly, and professionally.
I hope this article helped. There's actually a lot more I wanted to discuss, but lets wait for the responses. Happy composing!