#1
So I've been playing guitar for like 7 years now, but I didn't start getting into theory until a few months ago. I'm mostly self-taught, so I've been stuck in some places.

I'm writing a song, and I have a riff that combines multiple scales, of the same key of course. It sounds good to me, and the way I see it many bands don't strictly stick to the rules in their riffs.

It goes something like this: 1st bar Phrygian dominant, 2nd bar minor, 3rd and 4th bars Phrygian dominant, and at the end of the 4th bar the 7th note of harmonic minor. On repeat, it's the same, but this time at the end of the 4th bar I'm using notes from the blues scale. The riff consists of mostly power chords.

I'm mostly using mutual notes between the scales, but it's at the end of each bar that I introduce notes characteristic to one of the scales.

My question is, would it be theoretically correct to do this? I also have another question. If I have a backing track, and throughout the entire track there's only one power chord, D5. Then this means I can basically play any mode, or combination of modes, that's in they key of D, right?
#2
Very interesting ideas you've got there! Yes, power chords are so popular in metal because of that ambiguity, which basically means you can go nuts with your choice of scales. Now, you may have trouble laying a vocal melody or a solo on top, especially if the tempo is fairly rapid. That doesn't mean it's insurmountable, though - take chances, experiment and explore. Your ear is the best guide for this, since you are the boss of your music. And as for the rules - they're meant to be broken. Don't take my word for it - check out Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor and you'll hear (and hopefully see if you can read music) that he goes nuts with modulations, although he connects them smoothly to each other via common chords, so your approach is, I think, more than valid.

Play on, mate! Enjoy the study of theory, it'll help you produce all sorts of cool sounds!

EDIT: If you've got the riff recorded and on the Internet somewhere, please post a link. I'd love to hear what you've got going on.
Yamaha F310P "Bella"
Epiphone Les Paul Standard Goldtop "Chrysa"
Fender Standard Stratocaster "Michelle"
Fender Classic Series 70s Stratocaster "Nefertiti"

Marshall DSL15C
BIAS FX & AMP
Line 6 POD X3

Dunlop Stubby 3.0mm picks
D'Addario strings
Last edited by CostasNoir at Sep 2, 2015,
#3
To ask if something is "theoretically correct" is meaningless. Theory doesn't have rules. The job of theory is to explain music and, in doing so, it must include all possibilities. Theory is not something you can use to say "this is allowed" or "this is not allowed".

Write the music that sounds good to you. Theory will explain and accommodate the music. It won't forbid anything.

I would say that trying to explain your riff and melody in terms of scales may not be the best way of looking at it. You could instead think in terms of a key centre and intervals; scales and their names would be irrelevant. This would free you from the restriction of trying to fit in with a certain scale for the sake of perceived correctness.

If you have a backing track playing D5 you can use any modern church mode with tonic D. The Locrian, however, has a diminished 5th that will be very dissonant against the perfect 5th of the backing.
#4
Yep.

If it's just D5 you're golden, since anything that revolves around that power chord is fair game.

If there's a chord progression though, we have a different story entirely.

A WORD OF CAUTION ON A RELATED ISSUE:

A lot of players try to combine all the possible scales over a chord into a "super scale" to cut down on mental calculating, but this robs all the direction and harmonic specificity from your playing. I would highly caution against it.

But you should be good since it's only one harmony, and you are actually changing from scale to scale, rather than lumping them all together into some near-chromatic sludge.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#5
Quote by Jehannum
To ask if something is "theoretically correct" is meaningless. Theory doesn't have rules. The job of theory is to explain music and, in doing so, it must include all possibilities. Theory is not something you can use to say "this is allowed" or "this is not allowed".

Write the music that sounds good to you. Theory will explain and accommodate the music. It won't forbid anything.

I would say that trying to explain your riff and melody in terms of scales may not be the best way of looking at it. You could instead think in terms of a key centre and intervals; scales and their names would be irrelevant. This would free you from the restriction of trying to fit in with a certain scale for the sake of perceived correctness.

If you have a backing track playing D5 you can use any modern church mode with tonic D. The Locrian, however, has a diminished 5th that will be very dissonant against the perfect 5th of the backing.

Well, actually I came up with the riff first and after that I analysed it theoretically. But anyway, if you have a song that constantly jumps between random keys/scales for example, then I don't believe it would sound good.

The opening riff to this song for example doesn't seem to stick to a certain scale. The thing I don't understand is, aren't you supposed to stick to a certain scale for the music to sound good? Yet riffs like this sound good and they don't necessarily stick to a certain scale. How would theory explain a riff like this? It doesn't seem to have a theoretical explanation....

I have an additional question. I've read somewhere that there are generally rules for switching keys. Yet, countless songs don't seem to stick to those rules. Take this song (by the same band) for example. Another song that comes to mind is Take the Time by Dream Theater. I'm sorry, but I'm kinda new to theory, so I have quite a few questions. lol

Quote by Jet Penguin
Yep.

If it's just D5 you're golden, since anything that revolves around that power chord is fair game.

If there's a chord progression though, we have a different story entirely.

A WORD OF CAUTION ON A RELATED ISSUE:

A lot of players try to combine all the possible scales over a chord into a "super scale" to cut down on mental calculating, but this robs all the direction and harmonic specificity from your playing. I would highly caution against it.

But you should be good since it's only one harmony, and you are actually changing from scale to scale, rather than lumping them all together into some near-chromatic sludge.

I'll keep that in mind. Sure I'm not lumping all of the scales together. I'm changing between the scales. I've actually tried lumping them together, and they didn't sound particularly good.
Last edited by Ameer27 at Sep 2, 2015,
#6
Quote by Ameer27
So I've been playing guitar for like 7 years now, but I didn't start getting into theory until a few months ago. I'm mostly self-taught, so I've been stuck in some places.

I'm writing a song, and I have a riff that combines multiple scales, of the same key of course. It sounds good to me, and the way I see it many bands don't strictly stick to the rules in their riffs.

It goes something like this: 1st bar Phrygian dominant, 2nd bar minor, 3rd and 4th bars Phrygian dominant, and at the end of the 4th bar the 7th note of harmonic minor. On repeat, it's the same, but this time at the end of the 4th bar I'm using notes from the blues scale. The riff consists of mostly power chords.
Sounds interesting. Can you tab it out, or post audio?
(Then we can steal it, hahaha..... )
Quote by Ameer27

My question is, would it be theoretically correct to do this?
Why do you care? Are you entering some kind of exam on rock riff theory? Do you need that qualification?

Like Jehannum says, it's a meaningless question. "Correctness" in theory is only about how things are defined (using the right term for whatever sound it is), not about what's actually being played.
If it sounds right, it's correct. Theorists then have to argue about the "correct" way to describe it.

You could ask, is it grammatically correct to use the word "ain't" rather than "isn't"? Depends who you're talking to (maybe)! It's up to you.
Quote by Ameer27

I also have another question. If I have a backing track, and throughout the entire track there's only one power chord, D5. Then this means I can basically play any mode, or combination of modes, that's in they key of D, right?
Right. That is - again - it's not about "can" or "can't", it's about what kind of sound you want.
You "can" do anything you like. There's no laws here.

But yes, it's a conventional principle (a "common practice") to mix parallel modes. It's not that common to mix every possible mode on the same root. But certainly mixing a few is common. ("Common practices" are what gets written in theory books. They don't bother much with "uncommon practices", but that doesn't mean they're wrong, only uncommon; probably because not many people like them.)

Naturally your riff/melody/improv should be governed by melodic logic - which only means "make it sound good" . (If you can sing your riff, then it's a good one.) It's hard to write rules for that sort of thing, because what sounds "right" in one form of music sounds "wrong" in another.
In that sense, there ARE matters of "correct" and "incorrect" in the music itself - but it's all to do with genre, stylistic idiom. There is no music theory "correct" that covers all kinds of music. (Not even all kinds of rock, or all kinds of classical, or all kinds of jazz.)
(E.g., that example of "ain't" and "isn't". One would be right in some situations, the other would be right in others.)
You will know what sounds right in the kind of music you want to make, because presumably it's your favourite kind of music and you've listened to it enough to know how it should sound. You will certainly have heard "mode mixture" (to varying degrees) in all kinds of rock music.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borrowed_chord
http://music.tutsplus.com/tutorials/introduction-to-modal-interchange--audio-14142
Last edited by jongtr at Sep 2, 2015,
#7
Quote by Ameer27
Well, actually I came up with the riff first and after that I analysed it theoretically. But anyway, if you have a song that constantly jumps between random keys/scales for example, then I don't believe it would sound good.

Great. That's what you should do when writing songs - if it sounds good, it is good. Sound first, theory second. Musical ideas on their own don't come from theory. You need a musical idea first. After you have that, you can start applying the things you know. But you need an idea first.

The opening riff to this song for example doesn't seem to stick to a certain scale. The thing I don't understand is, aren't you supposed to stick to a certain scale for the music to sound good? Yet riffs like this sound good and they don't necessarily stick to a certain scale. How would theory explain a riff like this? It doesn't seem to have a theoretical explanation....

You are not "supposed" to do anything. You write what sounds good. You don't have to use just one scale throughout the song. Actually, the riff in that song uses just one scale - at least that's what it sounds like to me. It's the half-whole diminished scale. At least that's what the riff is mostly based on. I didn't listen to every note that carefully. But remember that music is not scales. Scales are just a way of finding the notes you are looking for. Also, using accidentals is really common.

I have an additional question. I've read somewhere that there are generally rules for switching keys. Yet, countless songs don't seem to stick to those rules. Take this song (by the same band) for example. Another song that comes to mind is Take the Time by Dream Theater. I'm sorry, but I'm kinda new to theory, so I have quite a few questions. lol

There are no rules for key changes. Many songs just jump straight to the next key. There are just common practices. The most common way of modulating would be playing the dominant chord (or the ii-V) of the next key just before the modulation. For example modulation from C major to E major would look like this: [progression in C major]-(F#m7)-B7-E-[progression in E major]. But that's just a common way of doing it. Nobody's saying you should do it. It's just an "idiot proof" way, and even it doesn't always work - many times it sounds out of place. And approaching the F#m7 chord could also cause problems, and it may sound forced. So it's really not 100% idiot proof.

When it comes to anything in music, it's always best to just follow your ears. Because music is all about sound. You can't perfectly describe music on paper. You need to hear it to properly understand it.

Don't treat theory as the rules of music. Theory explains what's happening in music. No music that you hear is breaking the rules. Everything has an explanation. And if it doesn't, people will find an explanation for it. If it sounds good, it is good.

If you think something is "incorrect", it usually just seems incorrect because you don't really know that much theory yet. You haven't learned about that stuff yet. Using out of key chords and notes is perfectly fine and it's very common. And we have an explanation for that. But still some people think it's "against the rules". It just simply isn't. If theory said "this is how your song should go", wouldn't writing music be pretty boring? Theory doesn't tell you that. It just gives you some tools.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#8
I would take a harmonic approach to this and see what chords might fit into those modes/scales you're using. Even if you're not actually using those chords, the melodic tension results from the "mismatch" between the mode and the chord. That is, the listener's expectations are defied if they hear a scale degree b2 or #7 over the I, because those notes typically belong to other chords in the mode/key.

Understanding what people naturally expect harmonically is how you can use these scales/modes to create tension and resolution without doing what's "theoretically correct" (not that such a thing exists).

You're on the right track asking these questions, just don't forget that harmony is the larger context in which scales/modes exist, and it's what people's ears hear subconsciously regardless of the musician's intent.
Last edited by cdgraves at Sep 2, 2015,
#9
There isn't a rule that you're supposed to stick to a certain scale. It's more a case of avoiding random jumps between scales. If there's a reason to change scales (e.g. it sounds good), it's okay.

If you're using a mode, rather than keys, it's more restrictive because if you change the notes too much you lose the modal "flavour" that you were presumably after when you chose to use the mode.

Accidentals can sound good, and they reduce the predictability of music.

For any rule that you can invent in music there's a negation of that rule that sometimes applies.