#1
I've been writing some metal riffs and licks and what-not recently. However, something I'm not quite sure about. I know that if I play normal chords in the A Minor key, I can just play notes in the A Minor scale, and it will sound in tune.

However, if I'm just making up random chord combinations that just 'sound good' and I don't even know what the chord is. How do I then write lead parts in the same key?
#2
alistairdunne1994 Well a good start is to learn how chords are built so you can figure out what it is you're playing over.  All music (or nearly all, depending on who you talk to) has a key though, if you can't figure it out from the notes that are in the chords/riff then it's a little more complicated, but there's a few heuristics for how to get to the key:
  • It's often the first note in the riff, or in the case of something chord-based, the lowest note of the first chord.
  • In metal it's quite likely to be the low chug in the riff (if there is one).
  • If neither of those work... your best bet is to get there by ear.  Play the riff and figure out what note or chord sounds like the "home"; the centre of the riff.  The note that you end on to make the riff sound "finished".  That's going to be your key.

If none of those work then you're going to have to do more work to really be able to solo over it fluently; if you can't find a consistent key then you're probably going to have to approach it by following the notes of the riff, almost like a jazz player follows the chords that they're playing over.  That is more complicated though, and something I'm really not good at so if it comes to that someone else will have to help you!


Worth noting, though, that just playing the notes of a scale without regard will not always sound in tune.  In a minor key, let's take A minor for example: if you have a set of chords that includes the 6th, an F major chord in this key, and you sit on the 2nd of the scale, B in the key of A minor, then you're going to get a very dissonant sound.  It forms a flat 5th over the chord which is a dissonant interval anyway but also forms a flat 2nd against the 5th of the chord being played.

This may be a little too much technical detail for now, but the point is: you can't just play a scale and have it sound good.  No matter the backing and no matter your approach you will always need to use your ears and think about what you're playing.
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#3
Depends how long these other chords last for ... and you don't have to slavishly follow the chords with the solo. These other chords probably aren't in the key (I can't tell from your description) ... but don't fear clashes ... jkust don't hold clashing notes for too long, and never stop on a clashing note.
#4
Quote by Zaphod_Beeblebr
alistairdunne1994 Well a good start is to learn how chords are built so you can figure out what it is you're playing over.  All music (or nearly all, depending on who you talk to) has a key though, if you can't figure it out from the notes that are in the chords/riff then it's a little more complicated, but there's a few heuristics for how to get to the key:
  • It's often the first note in the riff, or in the case of something chord-based, the lowest note of the first chord.
  • In metal it's quite likely to be the low chug in the riff (if there is one).
  • If neither of those work... your best bet is to get there by ear.  Play the riff and figure out what note or chord sounds like the "home"; the centre of the riff.  The note that you end on to make the riff sound "finished".  That's going to be your key.

If none of those work then you're going to have to do more work to really be able to solo over it fluently; if you can't find a consistent key then you're probably going to have to approach it by following the notes of the riff, almost like a jazz player follows the chords that they're playing over.  That is more complicated though, and something I'm really not good at so if it comes to that someone else will have to help you!


Worth noting, though, that just playing the notes of a scale without regard will not always sound in tune.  In a minor key, let's take A minor for example: if you have a set of chords that includes the 6th, an F major chord in this key, and you sit on the 2nd of the scale, B in the key of A minor, then you're going to get a very dissonant sound.  It forms a flat 5th over the chord which is a dissonant interval anyway but also forms a flat 2nd against the 5th of the chord being played.

This may be a little too much technical detail for now, but the point is: you can't just play a scale and have it sound good.  No matter the backing and no matter your approach you will always need to use your ears and think about what you're playing.


Thanks for that input

So, essentially, there isn't much 'theory' to writing leads? It's all just a case of playing what sounds good?

What if, for example, a rhythm guitarist is playing something in a Drop C tuning (or something alternative from standard). How would you improvise over the top of it without hitting lots of 'out of tune' notes?
Last edited by alistairdunne1994 at Feb 26, 2017,
#5
alistairdunne1994 theory will give you pointers towards what will get you the sound you want, but ultimately it all comes down to what your ears tell you is good. For soloing over something in drop C it would depend on the exact key of the song, if we're assuming some relatively standard metalcore riffing where the key is likely to be C minor then that's the scale I'd start with as a framework for building ideas, but ultimately there's nothing apart from you that will tell you if that's the sound you want.

I would also note at this point that I should have been more careful about what I said earlier, the way I worded what I said made it look like dissonant is the same thing as bad, when it's very definitely not. Dissonance is a way of creating tension in your music, and even if it's not for the purposes of building tension, that's quite possibly a sound you want to use sometimes. So dissonance isn't always a bad thing, not by a long shot, it's just something you need to be a little careful with; if you don't do it carefully and purposefully, audiences will think you're just bad.
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#6
Quote by Zaphod_Beeblebr
alistairdunne1994 theory will give you pointers towards what will get you the sound you want, but ultimately it all comes down to what your ears tell you is good. For soloing over something in drop C it would depend on the exact key of the song, if we're assuming some relatively standard metalcore riffing where the key is likely to be C minor then that's the scale I'd start with as a framework for building ideas, but ultimately there's nothing apart from you that will tell you if that's the sound you want.

I would also note at this point that I should have been more careful about what I said earlier, the way I worded what I said made it look like dissonant is the same thing as bad, when it's very definitely not. Dissonance is a way of creating tension in your music, and even if it's not for the purposes of building tension, that's quite possibly a sound you want to use sometimes. So dissonance isn't always a bad thing, not by a long shot, it's just something you need to be a little careful with; if you don't do it carefully and purposefully, audiences will think you're just bad.


I know that Mark Holcomb from Periphery regularly creates dissonant chords, and heavily discusses it in many interviews.
#7
Quote by alistairdunne1994

So, essentially, there isn't much 'theory' to writing leads? It's all just a case of playing what sounds good?

What if, for example, a rhythm guitarist is playing something in a Drop C tuning (or something alternative from standard). How would you improvise over the top of it without hitting lots of 'out of tune' notes?


Well, ultimately it's all about creating the sound you want - and thus what sounds 'good' or 'intended'. However, stating that there's no theory to writing leads is, simply put, wrong. There's a reason why some leads will sound good and others won't and those reasons can be described by applying music theory. Generally speaking, if you have a chord progression, there's multiple scales that you could use to write a melody that would 'fit' on top of that chord progression. For instance, song that's written in the key of C with a chord progression that consists of chords that work in that scale (for instance C - G - Am - F) could have you play a lead using the notes of the C major scale. Note that all the chords consist of notes in the C major scale (CGE, GBD, ACE and FAC). Any chord tone would sound good over that particular chord, but other notes from the scale way also be used. Be wary with dissonance, Z_B pointed out above that a B over the F chord does indeed sound very dissonant, even though it's in the C major scale.

Oh, and the tuning of the guitar doesn't matter one bit. I could play the same chord progression on a guitar in regular tuning and on a guitar in Drop C without there being a difference in how someone else would improvise over it.

If you're unsure about what I'm trying to explain above, you might want to get some basics on music theory, both the theoretical standpoints, as well as how to apply that stuff on a guitar. I'm sure there's plenty of videos on Youtube that could showcase it even more.
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#8
Use the notes of the chords and arrive at those notes by using adjacent notes on the fretboard.

Do you have a chord progression in mind or is this a general question?
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#9
my suggestion for a starting point:

even if you're just making random chord combinations that sound good, they usually sound good because it implies a more common, less dissonant movement/progression, but just with some chromaticism or some other more specific harmonic wizardry baked into the riff.

as a result, at least one of the following would work: natural or harmonic minor, phrygian dominant, diminished.

with riffs that are clearly not one of the previous cases, like if it implies a shifting tonal center, you might modulate along with the riff, but you would still usually use one of those scales at any point in the riff.
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#10
You can always play notes from those chords in your leads/melodies, and it'll work. 

Ah, someone just said that two messages ago. I need to learn to read.
Last edited by Elintasokas at Mar 6, 2017,
#11
I think this problem outlines the main difference between metal and most other contemporary genres: where most genres use chords as the foundation, metal relies almost entirely on riffs (repeating musical phrases throughout a piece). So to analyse metal in terms of chords is kind of a red herring, you're going to be chasing your tail for a while. Instead, analyse the riffs that you're playing over: what key is it from? What is the home note? Is it exotic sounding? Does it outline a chord progression or chord? Questions like these will help you steer your note choices.

First, find the key, if you're having trouble working that out, what note sounds like home to you? If you're chugging a lot on the open strings, then more than likely it'll be whatever your low E is tuned to (99% of metallica riffs are either in the key of Em, or at least have E as the home note, for example). Now, listen for stressed notes, if your riff has some notes that last longer, land in more important parts of the beat, or just have more importance in the riff, then that's either a note you'll want to target, or perhaps it's suggesting a chord. ie the first bar emphasises the notes E, G and B, with a few chromatic passing notes. E G and B make an Em chord, meaning we can just play Em or Em pentatonic, and you don't even need to worry about the chromatic notes because the listener will only focus on the stressed notes, and the others are just kind of colour/ornamentation. This is also why the pentatonic scale works so well, because it's not the whole minor scale and just the most (arguably) important notes, the underlying harmony/riff can have more odd notes and the scale won't clash. Sometimes it may be a good idea to modulate (change key) when a new stressed note comes about, like say an entire bar starts riffing on the open A string and the riff starts to accentuate that, it may be a good idea to jump over to the Am pentatonic, or at least stress the A note more in the lead. So make a note (haha) of the stressed notes, and try isolating them. Get rid of the other notes and try writing a solo that reflects just those main notes. There are a lot of "name that chord/name that scale" websites out there (I like this one https://www.scales-chords.com/scalefinder.php), if you feel like the stressed notes have a more complex colour than just "Em", putting your stressed notes in this site may tell you of some alternative scales that may bring out the desired flavours more (a lot of metal uses more exotic sounds, like harmonic minor, phrygian dominant, diminished etc.) 

If you've got some weird chords that you don't understand, there's a few things you can do. In the solo, just target the notes of the chord, don't worry about scales and that, you can just arpeggiate. Another thing to do is to work out the notes in the chord and chuck em in one of those "name that chord" sites and write down the names of all these chords. From there you can use this site (http://www.all-guitar-chords.com/chords-to-scale.php), select all the chords that you want to solo over, and the site will give you a list of possible scales that will work over them, it may give you an obvious answer like natural minor, but some progressions may result in more exotic scales which can be fun. Be careful though, some progressions may have one or two chords that are completely outside the key/scale, and the site will have trouble giving you practical scales that fit over everything, so if there's a chord that completely goes against the rest of the progression, it's best to find a scale that works more the majority of the progression, and use separate scales over the leftover weird chords; although it's still always a good idea that even if you have a scale that works over everything, to still target the notes of the chords that are underneath.
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