How To Make Killer Rock And Metal Guitar Riffs

I frequently receive emails from guitarists who want to know how they can improve their rhythm guitar playing and make their own rock and metal guitar riffs.

How To Make Killer Rock And Metal Guitar Riffs
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I frequently receive emails from guitarists who want to know how they can improve their rhythm guitar playing and make their own rock and metal guitar riffs. Most guitar players do not learn much about rhythm guitar outside of how to play basic power chords. As a result, they quickly run out of ideas, and have a hard time creating interesting rhythms on guitar. After reading the rest of this article, you will understand how to play rhythm guitar more creatively so that you can make killer guitar riffs. Starting off, you will likely need to think about rhythm guitar playing in a totally different way than the way you are used to. In order to make cool riffs for rhythm guitar, you need to think less about the specific notes you are using and more about HOW you play the notes you use. Fact is, you can take even a simple power chord and make it sound awesome without using any additional notes. Additionally, you don't need to rush out and learn a bunch of new chords in order to create interesting rhythm guitar ideas. You probably already know that to truly master rhythm guitar playing, you must work on improving a variety of different skills and you may even know what some of those skills are. However, if you are still having a hard time writing rhythm guitar riffs that you are happy with, most likely your approach to practicing this area of guitar playing could use additional help (even if you aren't aware specifically of what skills need to be improved). If you would like to understand exactly what needs to be done in order to improve all areas in your guitar playing, I recommend that you seek out a great guitar teacher who has already helped many other guitarists make significant progress toward their musical goals. In the meantime, there are 5 essential ideas that you can use to make great rhythm guitar riffs regardless of your current skill level. Once you have become comfortable with using these ideas in your rhythm guitar playing, you will be able to make creative guitar riffs any time you pick up the guitar:
  • Focus on playing rhythm guitar as cleanly and in time' as possible. If you cannot do this well, your rhythm guitar playing will sound mediocre at best. Most guitar players understand that being able to play in time means to play consistently to a beat, but few of these guitar players can determine when rhythm guitar parts are TRULY in time. If you can't play tight to a metronome or drum beat, your rhythm guitar playing will not sound good regardless of the notes you play. An easy way to test your rhythm guitar timing is to record yourself playing quarter note rhythms using a single note. To keep the beat, use a metronome that is playing quarter notes. If you are playing the rhythm with perfect timing, you will start to notice how the click of the beat seems to blend together with the notes of your guitar, creating the illusion that the click has been turned off. However, if your timing is a little off, the click of the metronome will sound like it happens slightly before or slightly after the notes you are playing. Aside from having great timing when playing guitar to a beat, it is important to improve other areas in rhythm guitar playing such as palm muting control and pick attack articulation. Having the ability to play well in these areas will not only help improve your overall rhythm guitar skills, but it will save you A LOT of cash in the studio if you ever record an album. Learn how to master these aspects of rhythm guitar by checking out this free guide to recording guitar in the studio.
  • Think about the way the actual rhythms you play work together to make the guitar riff as a whole. Similar to lead guitar, many guitarists overdo it' when playing rhythm guitar riffs. The truth is that you can make great guitar riffs by using only one or two notes. It's easy to get caught up in all the various aspects of rhythm guitar playing, but rememberrhythm guitar is about RHYTHM! By building guitar riffs with only one or two notes (or chords) you will naturally focus more on the rhythm of the notes you are playing. Here is a good exercise for this: Start by writing down 32 eighth notes on a sheet of paper. Next randomly erase 8 of these notes. Once you have done this, replace the notes you have erased with rests. Now, play the resulting rhythm with the notes that are left on guitar using only single notes or power chords. This exercise will give you many rhythms that you can use to create cool guitar riffs. Additionally, you can make things more interesting by using various time signatures or alternate note durations.
  • Use a single rhythm to create many new guitar riffs. Take an interesting rhythmic pattern and use it with 5-15 different groups of chords or notes. This will greatly expand your capacity to play creative rhythm guitar. Additionally, you can use this idea from the opposite perspective: Use a single chord or note to play 5-15 different rhythmic patterns. This will give you a lot of material to use when coming up with new guitar riffs.
  • Work to improve your pinch harmonics and vibrato skills. These two guitar techniques can make your guitar riffs sound very intense (especially in rock or metal guitar playing). Vibrato is useful for giving your guitar a voice-like quality, and when you combine it with pinch harmonics, the end result is a powerful guitar riff that is sure to get the attention of your audience. If you have not fully mastered these techniques, start by using them separately. Once you are more comfortable with each one, combine them both together at the end of your guitar riffs for an extra strong finish!
  • Learn creative ways to combine guitar chords together. This will enable you to think of many cool sounding groups of chords to use in your rhythm guitar riffs. If you are familiar with the idea of keys' when using chords, this will be much easier for you. However, if you don't know about this yet, simply combine different major and minor chords together with power chords. For instance, if you are playing a guitar riff that contains an A power chord, you can add in the notes of an A minor chord to get a different sound. Experiment with this idea to expand power chords into full major or minor chords. Mastering the ability to play creative rhythm guitar riffs does not happen overnight. However, as you have read, there are many things you can work on right now to make good progress in this area of your guitar playing. As soon as you learn how to make great guitar riffs you will start to enjoy the creative musical process each time you play. Not only will better rhythm guitar playing help you personally as a musician, it will prove to be a very valuable skill when performing with a band on stage or recording music in the studio. To learn more about becoming a really TIGHT rhythm guitar player, read this free guide on recording guitar in the studio. To get more help with your guitar playing, check out this free guitar playing advice. About The Author: Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, recording artist and the guitar player for the band Rhapsody Of Fire. He teaches guitar players from all over the world in his online guitar lessons. Visit his website tomhess.net to get free guitar playing resources and to read more guitar playing articles.
  • 25 comments sorted by best / new / date

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      burnummaster
      I don't think needing to practice pinch harmonics is that important for a good riff.
      zakk wylde says hi
      HavokStrife
      This isn't how I wrote at all... Never got signed though. But pretty much everything I was writing was off-time, and every song had a solo, by the time I gave it up. People in other bands that actually knew theory would come up to me after shows and tell me how crazy my imbelleshed C minor quadrants are. Or whatever the ****. This is how you write: 1. Listen to music you like, by musicians better than you. 2. Use recreational drug/alcohol. 3. Jam. 4. REMEMBER WTF you're doing, or record it. 5. Presto, cool riffs. And it would be a good idea to practice a lot in between this. Dunno how to practice? Play along to those songs by the musicians better than you back in step 1. It works, trust me. Seriously.
      rhysmcv
      Combine ^this approach with that in the article and you'll really have something...
      stef123
      I don't think needing to practice pinch harmonics is that important for a good riff.
      ibanez124
      He wasn't saying that PH are needed for a good riff, it is simply an idea on how to spice up a riff
      Minivirus2
      stef123 wrote: I don't think needing to practice pinch harmonics is that important for a good riff.
      +1. Pinch harmonics are color. They're hardly essential to rhythm guitar playing. I think this article could be summed up pretty easily by simply saying "Play with a metronome and change up the beats".
      Gortorek
      HavokStrife wrote: 1. Listen to music you like, by musicians better than you. 2. Use recreational drug/alcohol. 3. Jam. 4. REMEMBER WTF you're doing, or record it. 5. Presto, cool riffs. And it would be a good idea to practice a lot in between this. Dunno how to practice? Play along to those songs by the musicians better than you back in step 1.
      ^ This guy's the one who should be writing the articles.
      NorCalLos
      Gortorek wrote: HavokStrife wrote: 1. Listen to music you like, by musicians better than you. 2. Use recreational drug/alcohol. 3. Jam. 4. REMEMBER WTF you're doing, or record it. 5. Presto, cool riffs. And it would be a good idea to practice a lot in between this. Dunno how to practice? Play along to those songs by the musicians better than you back in step 1. ^ This guy's the one who should be writing the articles.
      Sure, if you want to write stuff that sounds exactly like your favorite bands/musicians.
      mr.blue7
      HavokStrife you sir are awesome. Thats the same way i wrote almost all my riffs. Hell we even have a song called "Under the influence of alcohol" cus thats how we write almost all our music.
      eduawrdo
      its about rythm. many lead guitarists couldn't do they're thing if there isn't a good rythm guitar player backing them up( Kirk hammet, slahs, angus young,...)
      Devin2112
      1. Listen to music you like, by musicians better than you. 2. Use recreational drug/alcohol. 3. Jam. 4. REMEMBER WTF you're doing, or record it. 5. Presto, cool riffs.
      +1 although the article good points as well
      s-o-u-l-f-l-y
      NorCalLos wrote: Sure, if you want to write stuff that sounds exactly like your favorite bands/musicians.
      This is exactly the problem. While learning songs by your favourite bands/musicians WILL improve your technical skill, you have to be careful not to turn into the guitarist who can play every riff and solo by guitarist X but can't write his own stuff without sounding like a recycled version of X. I think it's good to listen to music you like but don't get hung up on learning loads of songs and when writing your own stuff don't think of a particular band while doing so. Just write naturally and your own musical style will soon emerge.
      Carl Hungus
      You could also just spend some time learning songs from tried and true metal bands that have had long term success. If you can master playing the material of other accomplished musicians and still maintain your own level creativity you have half the battle finished. This is not to say that you should copy anyone just bring some fresh ideas into the mix. Classically trained musicians don't learn Mozart for the hell of it.
      Mr.Rensa
      Minivirus2 wrote: stef123 wrote: I don't think needing to practice pinch harmonics is that important for a good riff. +1. Pinch harmonics are color. They're hardly essential to rhythm guitar playing. I think this article could be summed up pretty easily by simply saying "Play with a metronome and change up the beats".
      How can you be so ignorant? This wouldn't be considered a lesson if he just said that. Shut up and stop whining, this is a great article, the ideas here are priceless, thats why i rated it 10 that it deserves.
      In-Ghost
      I didn't get to trying those exercises yet, but they seem like something that can actually teach me something.. finaly a lesson with more to tell then ,,use tremolo picking, palm muting and augmented fourth to sound REALY mean" Cheers man :
      EpiExplorer
      This would be fine for people who want to play radio rock all day long, but when talking about riffs and saying 'dont overcomplicate things' and 'vibrato and pinch harmonics seem to be first in my mind' sort of.. makes little sense, when as a guitarist, its about experimenting and expanding the use of your fretboard rather than 'yeah, do this, should be fine'.
      FinleyJoshua933
      buddy's ex-wife brought home $15534 last week. she is making cash on the computer and got a $505600 condo. All she did was get blessed and profit by the clues written on this website Nuttyrich.com
      henrihell
      all you need is a guitar and a delay. just play some notes with long intervals and let the delay handle it! (surprisingly I'm listening to "the wall" right now)
      krypticguitar87
      I for one enjoyed this lesson, I think the pinch harmonics was kind of odd (however it definately works, listen to cemetary gates by pantera, its a totally different feel if you play it with out the pinch harmonics haha) but this is a good article for guitarists who are learning rhythm guitar. I've seen too many local acts that over-complicate the rhythm section so then the lead is trying to play even more complicated licks and they just end up losing the audience. and I've also seen on many occations where the rhythm is way out of time because they are trying to throw in too many chords to really focus on the songs rhythm (seriously seen a band that tried to use every diatonic chord in the verse and then again in a slightly different order in the chorus a few months ago... oddly enough sounded pretty terrible) ** oh yeah love that people who never got signed are saying to write while your drunk hahahaha kind of silly imo **
      ThankU4Smoking
      I completley agree with this article. i incorporate a ton of picking methods learning how to flow with the drums is super important. That should have been stessed more. Alot of metal drummers have rigourous fills and offtimes you cant learn to play to that with a metronome. Other than that the article holds true.
      Norgz94
      +1. Pinch harmonics are color. They're hardly essential to rhythm guitar playing. I think this article could be summed up pretty easily by simply saying "Play with a metronome and change up the beats".
      I think more what could've been interpreted from that is just learning different techniques of playing. Even though it's to add "colour" you are basicaly playing the same thing differently. Another example would be alternate picking. It's kinda important to have different techniques not only with your fingers on the fret boards, but also you're pick hand. Otherwise Rythm guitar can sound bland. I never like keeping things too simple when i play.
      theused101
      m just to add to learn. but really tom is the best teacher i think ive come across on the net