Composing: Tips & Suggestions. Part 2: Riffs

This time I'm going to deal only with guitar riffs.

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This is sort of like the sequel to the first article I wrote Composing: Tips and Suggestions. Part 1. First of all let me thank all the critics for their comments, and to them I want to say that the article was not over, and that's why I couldn't touch on so many other issues in the song.

The first article touched only on the basic elements of a song. Plus, I want to remind you people that this article does not deal with pop, country, dance and genres like that. This article deals with rock and everything heavier. Anyway, this article will give you a couple of tips and suggestions on the riff factors needed to make a song, and also to help you make a better song. So here goes.

I understand that I dealt with guitar riffs in the last article, but that was only regarding the main riff. Here, I'm now going to deal with the other important types of riffs.

The main riff is already discussed. Now I want to move into the other riffs namely - the verse riffs, the chorus riffs, bridge riffs, solo riffs and finally ending riffs (which has already been discussed).

Verse Riffs

Verse riffs can follow two patterns. You can either use the main riff for the verse riff, or make something that goes with the lyrics. Here there are three ways of doing this. The first one is, well, make the riff according to the tune and key of the vocals. In the sense, if the vocals go from a note in C to say a note in G, then your guitar riff will contain notes C and G. The second way is to make sort of a twin tune to the vocals. It's exactly like making a twin lead, only let the first guitar be the vocals, and the second guitar follow the chords of the twin riff. The third way is, let the vocals follow the guitar riff. Confused between the first one and this one? It's simple. In the first type, you made the vocals take first priority. In this type, you make the guitar riff first and then the vocals (something I do). Example is Dream Theater's Under A Glass Moon's first verse riff.

The riffs used for the first verse need not be the same one used for the other verses. They can be different. But the irony here is that the vocals tune too must change. Some clever musicians employ the trick of making a two guitar riff for the verses, and then making two separate verses without the same tune that is followed by the chorus. In the sense, the patterns of their songs are verse 1-guitar riff 1, verse 2-guitar riff 2 and then go to the chorus. Here the hyphen signifies relates to. The patterns, I'll discuss in another article.

It is better to make the verse riffs simple, if you want the listener to divert his attention to the vocals. Else if you want to hide horrible or crap lyrics you can make a very technical riff and make the listener listen to that. But the latter doesn't always work. Power chords added to a couple of notes are the widely used forms of making a guitar riff for the verse.

The X Factor - Riffs are to be made either following the vocals or input vocals on a given guitar riff.

Chorus Riffs

Chorus riffs are normally made very simple. There are a couple of rules in making the chorus riff. Firstly, all chorus riffs must sound the similar if not same. Only subtle differences should be there like a pinch harmonic or say a little fill note. Secondly, chorus riffs are not to follow the main riff, if the main riff is used in the verse. Sounds obvious, but a couple songs are like 1 riff songs, where that riff is played throughout the song, and the song doesn't sound monotonous. If you can do something like that, then hats off to you. Thirdly, if the verse riffs are unique, then in this case the main riff can be used as the chorus riff.

Chorus riffs can be done quite cleverly. After a bit of the vocals, you can add a little guitar lick that amazes the listener. An example? Take Ugly Kid Joe's Too Bad - in the chorus the lead guitarist does this sort of technical shit that sounds pretty cool. Another clever trick is to make 2 choruses. Here the 2nd chorus includes the 1st chorus, and a continuation of the chorus. This is also widely accepted.

The X Factor - Chorus riffs are made using more power chords than usual.

The Bridge Riff

This is a riff I give a lot of importance to. It is always good to have a bridge riff. Why is it important to me? The answer is very simple. Say you're listening to a song with the same patters, the same riffs and the same vocals used over and over again without the slightest change in the tune of the song. You'd probably never want to listen to the song (exception are there) because it's so monotonous. The bridge riff is sort of a relief riff from the original tune to the song, and played normally after either the second chorus or the solo.

Lets take the two scenarios. The bridge riff after the second chorus - this is followed more commonly in rock and roll, not in metal (well at least not a lot). Like I said the bridge is sort of a relief riff. So after the second chorus, the composer either would not like his composition the same throughout, and would want to try something a little different. Therefore, he tricks his listeners into thinking that he's going back to another verse riff, when actually he cleverly changes the tune and goes to the bridge. Now let's take the second scenario - the bridge after the solo. This is not very common, but if it is, it's done very professionally. You'll find it harder to make a bridge after the solo than the 2nd chorus. Again, there is a very clever trick followed by numerous musicians while making the bridge riff after the solo. They sort of slow the pace, or make a softer riff (normally with a clean guitar mode).

Some songs have like 2 or 3 bridges, works most of the time, but the song turns out to be long, almost always above 7 minutes (at least all those songs which I've heard).

The X Factor - Bridge riffs are to be made different to the chorus, and verse riffs, and eventually to the vocals and basic tune of the song.

Solo Riffs

Not given a lot of importance, but actually very important. The rhythm of the song is normally taken to make a solo. The verse riff is generally taken as the rhythm for the solo. Sometimes, the pattern followed for the vocals of the song (e.g. verse riff 1 to verse riff 2 to chorus riff) is also used.

Some musicians prefer making a whole other riff, something very unique for the solo. This, I definitely respect. This is, you guessed, a bridge riff. Guns n Roses use this pattern for most of their songs. Again, there are 2 scenarios to this type of solo riff. The first one is you can continue with the bridge riff used for the solo, and make vocals (use this with varying drum beats and it will sell) over the bride riff. The second one is not to use the solo riff ever again. Though the first one seems logical and it shows that you're giving importance to all your riffs, but most metal musicians use the second type, for example Megadeth uses the second type very very often.

The X Factor - Must follow the solo, not some random riff that follows only itself.

I think this article is long enough. Once the comments come out, I'll think of making the 3rd part. Again, let me remind my readers that riffs are better if made simple and easy to remember and play. Don't worry if some other guy picks up your riff very fast, and says it's not good because it's easy to play and learn, that's all shit. But beware if he's trying to sell the riff to someone else. Compositions are best played after copyrighting it.

I want to add something to the solo section of my last article that, the X Factor includes 'you must be able to play the solo over and over again, with minor differences, or else it's a spot jam, which no one appreciates.

Also I will be dealing with bass guitar composing after I finish with this series.

Thanks for reading.

33 comments sorted by best / new / date

    nightwind
    Kind of good article. It is a little boring though. I mean, their is only so much difference in each riff, and most people in the forums do not seem to have trouble with this aspect of writing riffs.
    joshgiesbrecht
    Technically. Theory is nothing but rules made my musicians from the early days that noticed patterns.. There was no theory when they made music, and some of it is amazing. So there is a good thing to think about!!!
    druz15_UG
    HardyRock wrote: Creativity is not hindered by theory. Theory opens doors. Theory is the language of music. You are playing it whether you want to or not. The rules are not tryign to oppress you. Relax...When you wanna get to it.
    DUde u sound like Morpheus (from the Matrix)
    HardyRock
    Creativity is not hindered by theory. Theory opens doors. Theory is the language of music. You are playing it whether you want to or not. The rules are not tryign to oppress you. Relax...When you wanna get to it.
    HardyRock
    There are rules and formulas to music. Don't freak out.... relax. There are rules and formulas to all things in life. This does not make it uncreative or "another brick in the wall." That is the thinking of an 18 year-old living in Mom's basement. If you are 18, that's ok. If not, relax and grow up. When you right a song, there is theory (rules) behind it. If you do not know the theory that does not mean it is not there. The rules that the article speaks of are the language of music. The rules simply help us talk about common patterns which are repeated by song writers. What is a joke is the 18-year old thinker who writes "man... song writing is a personal creative experience." That is about the most uncreative thought there is. Don't worry, the article is not trying to oppress you. Get out of your Mom's basement and open your mind.
    elcapitanloco
    This article deals with rock and everything heavier.
    Really?!?! Both part one and part two have dealt with...only metal. I would suggest either putting the word "metal" somewhere in the title, or give examples from some non-metal bands.
    poontastic
    not bad but did get slightly too complex for me, i dont know if thats a comment on me or the article
    redwing_suck
    your generalizations are only true for today's music. and the bit about G'n'R was way off base. music doesnt have formulas...
    Snipe
    I think this is a very good article. Good guidelines for a new band, or a new songwriter. Im hoping for a third.
    Ivy
    travislausch: Man... I hate all these people preaching the "rules" f songwriting. If I wanted to write a song that had absolutely no structure as far as parts are concerned, was in 7/16 time, and had 5 guitar solos crammed into 4 and a half minutes, I'd write it. Whether people like it or not is up to them. And there is still musical validity to thinking "outside of the box", to use a cliche. Now... I say this coming from a band who's original music can switch from Nickelback-style hard rock to Dream Theater-style progressive fury in seconds. As far as riffs and songwriting goes, just write the kind of music you want to write. If you want to write a song with no chorus at all and no repeated parts... do it! These rule preacher's aren't going to stop us! [POSTED: 08 April 2005 - 13:42]|
    i absolutely agree!!! these type of articles and 'advices' kinda teach you to rip off by sain' : "here's a good riff/song! and here's how to make one just like it!" which is absolutelly bollocks! forget the rules and what other people tell you to do. just do as you feel! i feel like writing 12 minute a song about a sock with no riffs and a lot of repetitions. it might suck ass....but at least it's original.
    kirk_tremonti
    i am just an amateur but i feel that one cannot impose a style of song composing to anybody else. i mean saying that something must be should here and something else must be done like this. the composer should bring out his own idea of a song... ppl respect that. For eg My Last Serenade by killswitch has only 2*2 verses and a chorus.. no solos.. short song but it sounds amazing. By the way nothing was mentioned abt the change of the tone of a song in between old metal bands do that a lot. like 'one' by metallica - slower beginnnig becomes heavier as the song progresses. can anyone give tips on that. and also the change of scale in the middle of a song. song
    travislausch
    Man... I hate all these people preaching the "rules" f songwriting. If I wanted to write a song that had absolutely no structure as far as parts are concerned, was in 7/16 time, and had 5 guitar solos crammed into 4 and a half minutes, I'd write it. Whether people like it or not is up to them. And there is still musical validity to thinking "outside of the box", to use a cliche. Now... I say this coming from a band who's original music can switch from Nickelback-style hard rock to Dream Theater-style progressive fury in seconds. As far as riffs and songwriting goes, just write the kind of music you want to write. If you want to write a song with no chorus at all and no repeated parts... do it! These rule preacher's aren't going to stop us!
    KENZI
    Okay article with some alright points but riffs and songs need to be personal to be good
    Comet
    Exelent artilce, very informative indeed, 5 stars! keep up the good work!
    Alexsy
    i'm not sure i get this guy's apparent obsession with great bridges. i only know one or two songs with really interesting / memorable bridges, the first being "good vibrations," from the beach boys, which, aside from being one of the 5 greatest rock songs ever, has about the most complex structure i've ever heard, and the other is "adhesive," by the stone temple pilots. that has a freaking awesome psychadelic-mellow-rock (i know, it's weird) bridge. other than that, most bridges i hear feel thrown into a song for the sake of having a bridge thrown into a song. cool it with overly-done and utterly unnecessary bridge-writing. IMO, there is no shame in simplicity.
    lifeguard
    Well what if i feel like following bridge riffs with verse riffs and a random other riff that follows itself followed by a ending riff and a nice little solo? I want my freedom back!
    kornrules09
    I agree. I thought it was a good article, helpful I guess, I will be hoping for a third. It seemed as though in some parts he was trying to say something about metal though, I can't quite figure out why.
    DaveGilmour1189
    I'll agree with psycho and craig, writing songs, rifts, licks should be personal. There's not formula that will make you an amazing composer. Its about being creative and doing what u feel sounds good. You should have made some rough guidlines instead of rules.
    craig_thomson
    a nice article, but i find that there are no real rules for composing riffs or structuring them. You don't need five or six completely different riffs to make an ace song; point - heroin by the velvet underground and territorial pissings by nirvana - both brilliant and neither using more than three chords throughout the whole thing. But a good starting point for absolute newbies anyway
    psychodelia
    Too controlling, while some decent points were made, you used too many hard-and-fast rules that really aren't hard and fast... these are meant to be guidelines.
    Copaman
    S_Snakepit - I read both your articles, and I have to say, good work. However, you really do need to broaden your horizons. Rather than put one posts in response to each article, I have to say this: In this article, you attack repetition as monotony. In reality, it is crucial to developing the "hook" of the song. I.E. if you have a verse with a certain riff, and you've been using chords or whatnot for other parts of the song, placing the chords under the sound of the riff helps to aid a feeling of continuity in the song. Don't know about anyone else, but a song with no continuity hurts my ears. Slash... is a good guitarist. But he's not phenominal. By no means is he a god - he just came up with some catchy sh*te. Regarding this, a solo is not necessarily something that nobody else can play. Take Tom Morello as an example here. His feedback looping, pedal control, and string scratching creates such a unique soloing sound, but with a bit of work and a guitar that has the right electronics, a similar sound (but not the same) can be produced. Take that a step further, and somebody with a ton of time on their hands can produce the new sound. Look at RATM cover bands if you don't believe me. ==== Otherwise, you've written a very good two articles - the whole x-factor deal is sweet too. Well done. 4/5