How to Write Progressive Metal - Part 6: The Art of Transitions

In this lesson, we'll discuss how to transition into and out of different time signatures and tempos without jarring your listener's attention.

Ultimate Guitar
Hey, guys! Kevin Goetz back again with another free YouTube lesson. As with part 2, I've opted to skip part 5 and go straight into this lesson, where we'll discuss transitions, that critical skill that allows you to connect the different sections of your song into something coherent and enjoyable. Of course, my usual disclaimer: This is part of a series of over two-dozen lessons, all of which have been tried and tested by both my students and myself. I promise, everything important to the genre WILL be discussed in its own time, and everything written throughout this series is relevant to the genre. I ask only for a little patience. Note, though, that after this article, we'll finally have covered all the pre-requisites I wanted to discuss before we get into odd meter and polymeters. Hooray! Alright, with that out of the way, let's talk about transitions. Transitions are, in the most commonplace use of the technique, a way to increase flow between different song sections. This is most often a simple tom roll or other similar drum fill in rock and metal. While that's fantastic for simply adding some glue between a verse and a chorus, we need to know how to transition in greater depth when dealing with the commonplace prog moves such as odd time signatures or drastic tempo changes. The reason for this is, most drum beats retain some kind of easily-counted groove as they go. For instance, regardless of what your kick and snare are doing to lock in with your riffs, a lot of drummers like to keep the hi-hat grooving a simple 1-2-3-4 kind of count. If you simply come out of that 1-2-3-4 count into a completely different tempo, your listener will tend to dislike it subconsciously because the speed has changed. So, everything we want to do with these transitions, is to make them forget that count long enough to start a different count.

Step # 1 - Transitioning by Altered Meter

If you're playing a groove with that 1-2-3-4 count, you'll need more than a tom roll on the last four sixteenth notes in order to distract them enough to go into a 1-2-3-4-5 count, if you'd like to switch into a 5/4 section, for instance. The way to do this, is to elongate the last measure of your section into 5/4. Treat it as a standard 4/4 riff, and on that last, fifth group of four sixteenth notes, let your drum fill and your riff go longer than normal, or perhaps let everything but the drums cut out into silence. This creates the kind of change that throws your listener, forcefully enough to get rid of the pre-conceived count, but subtly enough that it doesn't feel jarring.

Step #2 - Transitioning by Silence

Never under-estimate the usefulness of silence. Another great method of transition is to use a transitional measure. Say, hypothetically, that your riff, in 4/4, ends on a fourth measure, with a simple power chord. Hold that power chord through the next 4/4 measure as a tied whole note, with a drum fill, something like a fast, complicated tom roll, all throughout this measure. Then, place a single measure of 2/4 that is pure silence. This will cause a beautiful spill of ambient reverb from the toms, and perhaps a bit of feedback from your amp as the chord's duration runs out, if you've got your gain and your sustain staged properly for typical prog metal. From this state of silence and audible ambience, you could pretty much do whatever you want as your next move and your listener won't particularly mind. The near-silence of this state pretty much diminishes almost every memory of a count, especially with the preceding fast tom roll.

Step # 3 - Additional Information

There are a few more possible forms of advanced transition, but discussing them would be completely redundant at this point. I'd prefer to show them in this video, along with some audio examples that help to illustrate what I mean.
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The companion YouTube playlist to this article series is updated every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so check this out if you don't feel like waiting for my uploads. Thanks for reading, and until next time, see ya.

4 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Thanks, this really helped me in a song i'm writing- going from 3/4 to 4/4. It actually sounds good now!
    Glad to hear it was helpful! Let me know if there are any other topics you'd like some help with
    Sweet lesson dude. I like the ideas. I personally like just changing time signatures without doing anything. I like tricking people.
    There's nothing wrong with doing it that way, as long as it fits. But I kind of gravitate more toward a slightly more accessible prog sound, which necessarily requires being "nicer" to the listener, so to speak.