# Writing Riffs In Metal

For beginners: some theory basics and technic application examples over famous songs.

214
Hi, first of all this is my first lesson so excuse me if it isn't good and for my grammar mistakes because I'm not English :D In this lesson I'm going to give you the basics for the riffing in heavy metal. This is for beginners, or for those who are new to metal. I'll talk about the really essential theory first, and then I'll analyze how to use the basic technics involved in riffing, with a lot of examples. Let's start with a bit of theory: in metal you can write good riffs without knowing theory, but it's harder and cannot work forever. Basing yourself on scales can help, but (imho) you don't have to see them just as a cage. Use the scale as a safe pattern and then, if you find a riff that sounds good with a note outside it, just go where your ears brings you! So, in metal nowadays are used a lot of low tunings; anyway in this lesson we are going to play most of time in standard E or D, as in the '80 metal scene. We are going to see first the Major and minor Pentatonics, which are thee classic scales to compose rock and metal. A scale is Major if between his first and third note there are 2 tones. This three notes are called a Major Third; conversely if there is a tone and a semitone it's a minor third. Every Major scale has got a relative minor, built on the 6th note of the scale (so, if we have C Major the relative minor will be an A). After this theory pills here is the C Major (or A minor) pentatonic in 4 patterns all over the neck:
```e--------------------------5-8--
b---------------------5-8-------
g----------------5-7------------
d-----------5-7-----------------
a------5-7----------------------
e-5-8---------------------------```

```e---------------------------0-3
b----------------------1-3-----
g-----------------0-2----------
d-----------0-2----------------
a------0-3---------------------
e-0-3--------------------------```

```e---------------------------3-5-
b----------------------3-5------
g-----------------2-5-----------
d-----------2-5-----------------
a------3-5----------------------
e-3-5---------------------------```

```e--------------------------------8-10-
b--------------------------8-10-------
g--------------------7-9--------------
d-------------7-10--------------------
a-------7-10--------------------------
e-8-10--------------------------------```
Transposing it in other tonalities and you've got the basic for riffing. If we add the diminished fifth, we'll have the blues scale, so just the scale as an extinction of the minor pentatonic, for example on this pattern:
```e----------------------------------5-8-
b----------------------------5-8-------
g-------------------5-7-8--------------
d--------------5-7---------------------
a------5-6-7---------------------------
e-5-8----------------------------------```
Last but not least, the chromatic scale, which is just a scale that covers all the 12 notes of our system, important to add color at our riffs and to link scales. Now let's take a look at the classic Metallica's song "Jump In The Fire":
```   PM---------------   PM---------------   PM-------------
e:-------------------|-------------------|-----------------|-------------
B:-------------------|-------------------|-----------------|-------------
G:-------------------|-------------------|-----------------|--5----3-----
D:---------3---------|---------3---------|---------3-------|--5----3-----
A:-----3-4---5-4-3p0-|-----3-4---5-4-3p0-|-----3-4---5-4-3-|--3----1-----
E:-3-6---------------|-3-6---------------|-3-6-------------|-------------```
The main riff is based on the G minor blues scale. Another example can be "Cowboys From Hell" by Pantera
```|-------------------------------|-------------------------------|
|-------------------------------|-------------------------------|
|-------------------------------|-------------------------------|
|-------------------------------|-------------------------------|
|-----------------------------5-|-------------------------------|
|-0-3-0-3-5-3-5-3-6-3-5-3-5-7---|-0-3-0-3-5-3-5-3-6-5-3-0-------|```
Now we know the scales, but how can we use them to compose a powerful and awesome metal riff? Here are some technics and clichs used (I'm not going to explain the technics, just how to use them in a good way). Palm Muting This is one of the musts. Palm muting can turn a bad riff into a good one: just look other two examples from Metallica and Pantera. For Whom the Bell Tolls
```PM------------------------------------
e:-----------------------------------------
B:-----------------------------------------
G:-----------------------------------------
D:-2-5-4-3--2-5-4-3--2-5-4-3--2-5-4-3--2---
A:-2-5-4-3--2-5-4-3--2-5-4-3--2-5-4-3--0---
E:-0-3-2-1--0-3-2-1--0-3-2-1--0-3-2-1------```
A New Level
```PM--------------------------------
||------------------|------------------
||------------------|------------------
||o-----------------|------------------
||o-----------------|------------------
||--0-1-2-0-1-2-3-0-|-1-2-3-4-6-6-6-6--
||--0-1-2-0-1-2-3-0-|-1-2-3-4-6-6-6-6--```
This two riffs shows that even simple ideas, with a good tone and the right thinking can become bonecrushers. Combining the Palm muting with the next tech is another standard ability you must have. Tremolo Picking: Here are the Keys of extreme metal. This tech is just an high speed alternate picking, used in Death Metal in runs like this
```|-----------------|
|---------------------------------|
|---------------------------------|
|---------------------------------|
|---------------------------------|
|33334444333344446666777766667777-|```
or doing a pedal point like in Slayer's Angel of Death:
```Eb:-------------------------------------------------------------
Bb:-------------------------------------------------------------
Gb:-------------------------------------------------------------
Db:-------------------------------------------------------------
Ab:-2-----------------------3-3-----------------------4-4-------
Eb:-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-1-1-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-2-2-0-0-0-```

```-------------------------------------------------------------
-------------------------------------------------------------
-------------------------------------------------------------
-------------------------------------------------------------
-----------------------3---3/7-6-----------------------------
-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-1-0-1/5-4-----------------------------```
This is it's a classical music clich, but also is extremely used in Heavy Metal, especially in its harder forms: just play chords or notes between a repeated note (usually the low string open and palm muted). Legato: Fast hammers on and pulls off (trills) can give a different taste at a riff, just not limit to the classic chug & chords riffs. The Iron Maiden masterpiece The Trooper is the best example.
```||--------------7---------|----------------|
||o-----8-7tr8----8-7tr8--|-8--------8-----|
||------------------------|---9-9--7---7-9-|
||------------------------|----------------|
||o-(7)-------------------|----------------|
||------------------------ |```
This is a slower way that is really effective, mixed with a pedal point on the low E Holy Warsthe Punishment Due
```|--------------------------------|----------------------------|
|--------------------------------|----------------------------|
|--------------------------------|----------------------------|
|--------------------------------|-----------------------10---|
|-5h7-------10p7-----------------|-5h7-------5h7----------8-9-|
|-----0-0-0------0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-|-----0-0-0-----0-0-0-0----7-|```
Slides: Last but not least, slides. With power chords they can give a strong effect, especially with slow and mid tempos. Dime's was a great user of this, in Mouth for War, for example.
```|--------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------|
|-2---5/9------5------5/9----5/9----5--|
|-0---3/7---0--3---0--3/7-0--3/7--0-3--|```
Here we are at the end of the lesson. This isn't the whole thing behind metal riffing technics, but in this article there are the basic ones and their main applications. I didn't explain how to do the technics because you can easily found lessons here on UG or anyway on the net. Start with learning the examples I put and the two or three things of theory I wrote, and then try to transpose your ideas using them or just jam around remembering the things you know. Hope the lesson helped, good work.

### 113 comments sorted by best / new / date

really mature of that dude who rated this 1. I think this can be quite helpful!
like the guy said: it is for beginners or people who are new to metal. Overall a good lesson for people to recognize some of the techniques and improve on them.
stonedhippos wrote: DERP this is how you write a riff in metal: E|0-0-0-0-0-0-0-000-0-0-0-0-0-0-000-00000 i'm kidding, this pretty descent article if you aren't already familiar with metal riffs.
That's my favourite Slayer song.
Most_Triumphant wrote: Drop tune your guitar. Kill your mids with an axe/bottle of jack daniels. Go as fast as you can. Have little/no emotion in the playing. Congrats! You have invented What 70% of Metal players call music.
you want fries with that bullsh*t?
DERP this is how you write a riff in metal: E|0-0-0-0-0-0-0-000-0-0-0-0-0-0-000-00000 i'm kidding, this pretty descent article if you aren't already familiar with metal riffs.
Looks like you just tabbed Chemical Warfare by Slayer.
I thought it was the entire discography.
Dude said he wasn't English. Calm down. Not bad! The only issue I have is actually...an issue I already have. I know numbers. I don't even really get the concept of semitones, or any other musical phrasing, yet. One day, I might actually learn music. I had enough trouble trying to memorize a standard staff, a while ago. Otherwise, this is a good starting point.
I think this is a very good beginning outline. Nice job.
Nice article, some things missing though, for example, the classic gallop: E|000-000-000-000-| Also harmonics could have been good to at least tell about, so that they would know that it's a special technique to make those high squeels. You could have written out what tunings the examples are in, at least "a new level seems to be in Drop D, while the others are hard to tell, and the ending in "for whom the bell tolls" is a bit wrong.
Actually I think that's called reverse gallop. Not meaning that the name would matter so much, but normal gallop would be: E|0-000-000-000-000| Also check this out to hear the difference:
Heh, that guy in the video is awesome. I've learnt alot of things from his videos.
Good job on your first lesson! There's some cool stuff in there for beginners who want to play metal.
[quote]stonedhippos wrote: DERP this is how you write a riff in metal: E|0-0-0-0-0-0-0-000-0-0-0-0-0-0-000-00000 .[/quot e] if your Ben Bruce
Vypor wrote: I know theres alot of metal written in standard, but really I think the majority of it is written in Drop tunings.
most nu metal and metalcore are usually in drop tunings, but thrash, heavy, doom, power, speed, death, and black metal are usually in variations of standard, ie E standard, D standard, C standard etc.
Pretty much. So basically what you mean is, the good kinds of metal are in standard tunings
thrash, doom, power, speed, death and black metal in standard?! LOLWUT?! unless your talking about half a step down then you need to listen to more metal... sorry to sound 'ignorant' to you, but thats how you sound to me. there's plenty of great metal bands that never touch standard, unless its fairly aged music, or melo-death metal, there's probably twice as much dropped tuning within metal nowadays...
Jump in the fire is actually f# This is great for beginners who want to start playing heavy though.. Wish I had this at my disposal when I first started 5 years ago. I could meet figure out what drop tunings were back then and could never figure out why Sad But True for instance didn't sound right when I tried jamming to it in A440. So this will be helpful for most beginners. Nice article
Jump in the fire is actually f# No, it's in G tone-wise. It's in G guitar-fret-wise as well, unless Metallica tuned their guitars up a half step, which I truly doubt.
Don't you mean down half a step? If tuned up half step it would be G# unless I am missing something or just confused.
Not exactly. I didn't explain it well. My point was that to play the riff starting at the 2nd fret (where F# usually is), your guitar would have to be tuned a half step up.
Oh okay I see where you are getting at now, you thought that the previous guy saw them on stage using second fret and making reason from that. No problem
I think this is a great start for someone who's learning to play guitar and wants to play like their favourite bands do. No need to put this lesson down just because you're an *****. His spelling was just fine, write your own damn lesson before you start criticizing.
The jazz Man wrote: Jump in the fire is actually f#
No it's not. It's a Gm blues scale played in standard tuning.
Ive been playing for several years in this fasion and it took me atleast two of those years to learn what you summed up in about a page and a half! why couldnt you have done this earlier!!!!! save me the F*n hastle of learning it myself. good one man youve really summed up metal guitar and your english is pretty good i wouldnt worry about it XD
His English is better than your English.
What the hell are you talking about i am english?!! whats wrong with using slang or even writing quickly cause, as i see it, this is a goddamn guitar forum where nobody should give a sh*t about whether your gramatically incorrect or not! who dives a damn
You'dbe suprised to see how many people actually care about being grammatically incorrect. At least in good places, not maybe in the shitholes of internet.
well unless your someone who cares about spelling or grammar then i dont actually give a shit about people who are so obsesively compulsive that they cant read anything with out correcting everyones grammar
Probably the same people who get all pissed off when someone comments on their grammar. Relax. I wasn't being serious.
I think the 'death metal' one is the fast part of 'Pull the Plug' by Death... Tune down a step for it.
Good job on the lesson, I liked it. I like how he used the examples of riffs to give context to the techniques he was talking about. In fact for someone who is 16/17 and with English as their second language it was a great lesson and **** anyone here bashing the guy's english or the genre
Good work mate, especially for your first lesson. Keep up the good work!
amir razmara wrote: I was at a restaurant one day at lunch time were they had a buffet, as I was standing in front of this buffet looking at all the food a guy who worked there came up to me and said do you want to look at the menu to see what we have in out buffet!!!? naturally I said No, the point is you don't need a guide to show you the obvious. This being said,the material you hear in metal music is like a big buffet. There are many elements there you can pick from. I think the person who wrote the above is just saying the obvious. Most people, specially the guys who come to this site already know what a scale is and how you can slide from one note to another so all together he gives very boring information. And he calls it "Writing Riffs In Metal" I tell you what...if you think the above information gave you what it takes to write a metal riff stop now take 10 minutes and write one.....oh your back!!! 10 minutes over so did you write one? you see what I'm talking about? even if you did write something it probably was based on your own knowledge and the experience you gained so far by listing to music over and over. Conclusion: can someone explain to you how to write a metal riff? yes, but you have to find them. My best advise: "ALWAYS FOLLOW THE MASTERS".
If you were too short to see the buffet, would the menu have been helpful? If you take into consideration this was meant for beginners, and beginners DO come here, it is quite useful. So stop assuming you are the supreme being and take note of others' understanding, you arrogant, belittling prick.
pentatonic= every black label society solo
one of my guitar students wants to learn metal, not a massive metal fan myself. this is a great basic insight to metal which im sure he'll find useful. maybe a few more techniques would be useful but hey...good work! Jordy
How to right GOOD metal riffs, that sound original: LEARN A GOOD FOUNDATION OF THE OLDER TRUE GENRES THAT MAKE UP METAL. IE: BLUES, JAZZ, ROCK, OLDIES.
A better idea would be to learn good composition and basic theory.
agreed. Even basic theory would help a lot in giving a grasp of most things musical as it ties everything together. Such as playing in key and that sorta stuff.
Of course this is downvoted, HEVAY METAL BRUH
Bad Kharmel wrote: Vypor wrote: I know theres alot of metal written in standard, but really I think the majority of it is written in Drop tunings. most nu metal and metalcore are usually in drop tunings, but thrash, heavy, doom, power, speed, death, and black metal are usually in variations of standard, ie E standard, D standard, C standard etc.
A lot of thrash, doom, heavy, power, speed, death and black metal bands use drop tunings as well.
amir razmara wrote: I was at a restaurant one day at lunch time were they had a buffet, as I was standing in front of this buffet looking at all the food a guy who worked there came up to me and said do you want to look at the menu to see what we have in out buffet!!!? naturally I said No, the point is you don't need a guide to show you the obvious. This being said,the material you hear in metal music is like a big buffet. There are many elements there you can pick from. I think the person who wrote the above is just saying the obvious. Most people, specially the guys who come to this site already know what a scale is and how you can slide from one note to another so all together he gives very boring information. And he calls it "Writing Riffs In Metal" I tell you what...if you think the above information gave you what it takes to write a metal riff stop now take 10 minutes and write one.....oh your back!!! 10 minutes over so did you write one? you see what I'm talking about? even if you did write something it probably was based on your own knowledge and the experience you gained so far by listing to music over and over. Conclusion: can someone explain to you how to write a metal riff? yes, but you have to find them. My best advise: "ALWAYS FOLLOW THE MASTERS".
That's a pretty big put-down for the guy who wrote "Writing Riffs In Metal". I think he did a good job and your comment was a waste of my time to read it and a waste of your time to write it. You don't have to make a speech about how bad/good he did. Sounds like you are trying to one-up him, when really, it's not important. Btw, "you're back" not "your back".
great lesson. ure english was fine as long as the message comes across who gives a shit?? just one point, while you quite accurately pointed out with tunings etc. the majority of metal bands nowadays play in drop tunnings where the sixth string (E for example) is tuned down to the same note as the fourth string (D in the same example) which allows you to use half bar chords as well as opening up millions of different possibilities which i think is worth mentioning Bullet For My Vallentine for example (DROP C/ D STANDARD) use very poplular chords such as 000230 or 111341 While i think this should have been mentioned it is a great lesson and even helps players, like myself, who have been playing within this genre for at least 7 years.
Thank you all for the subscriptions.... Yes grammar was a bit off xD Anyway I'm glad you liked the lesson, and mayebe I'm going to write some more intermediate/ advanced lessons in the future.
This guy is seventeen and English is'nt even his mother tongue. Good work.
It's a nice lesson, if you don't thik that, try doing one by yourselves
henrihell wrote: Nice article, some things missing though, for example, the classic gallop: E|000-000-000-000-| Also harmonics could have been good to at least tell about, so that they would know that it's a special technique to make those high squeels. You could have written out what tunings the examples are in, at least "a new level seems to be in Drop D, while the others are hard to tell, and the ending in "for whom the bell tolls" is a bit wrong.
What he said!
henrihell wrote: and the ending in "for whom the bell tolls" is a bit wrong.
That's not the ending. That's the part after the intro before the lead line in triplets comes in. It may be a little off, but that is most certainly not the outro. This about sums it up, but I think it would be helpful to include things like diminished and half diminished chords, arpeggios, and basic harmonic theory (as in harmonizing to the third).
I know theres alot of metal written in standard, but really I think the majority of it is written in Drop tunings.
You really need to stop assuming shit. Like 50% of Metal is written in either a standard tuning (like D standard or E standard or B standard [which is usually considered the standard tuning of 7strings]) or an alternate tuning.
Yeah No Shit
Most metal is in either Drop-D or Drop-C. At least, Most of what I listen to is. Godsmack is almost exclusively Drop-C, as is Escape the Fate. I do like hearing acoustic metal played in D-Standard though.
I can't name that many bands that write in Drop-D or C actually and my entire computer is filled with metal. - Children of Bodom - 'Are you dead yet' album is mostly/all in Drop-C And I'm out of bands...
I think bands that use drop tunings would be more metalcore. With drop tunings it makes hard to use the 6th string in scales.
Not necessarily, Skerbey, you could probably write a fairly tame power metal song in a dropped tuning, lamb of god uses it all the time but I'll let someone else argue over what subgenre they fall into, and many deathcore bands also drop tune. And you can always adjust your scales when you drop tune, dialing it in while warming up is always good.
Not being English isn't an excuse to not use a spell-checker.
Give the guy a goddamn break. who gives a sh*t. its a guitar forum where everyone wants to learn not a f*cking english language essay
*****TECHNIQUES*****
He said that English isn't his native language, give him a break ***** it is a good lesson!
This was a great lesson! Just because he misspelled one or two words does not take away from the overall value of the lesson. Hell, English is my native language and I still misspell words all the time.
Go home, Hippykiller, you're drunk! ...or high, for that matter...or both.
I understand nothing of this o__o been playing guitar for seven years...
What the crap, dude? I've been playing for 1 year and I understood all of it...
of course, heavy metal is my native language...
ive been playing for 4 years and I could understand it when i'd only been playing for a month!
sewoo55 wrote: A lot of thrash, doom, heavy, power, speed, death and black metal bands use drop tunings as well.
I have never seen, nor heard any bands like those use drop tunings, local or international. You can go on nzmetal forums and ask for yourself At first, I saw the title and was pretty skeptical. At a closer look, this article is pretty awesome for beginners, brings back memories of the days where I would play "Iron Man" for hours haha
well then YOU need to listen to more metal. and not just 'the classics', and if you claim you listen to boatloads of metal then i feel bad for your lack of variety in local and international music... Everyone else can find them lol
Cool story bro, needs more bacon
You must know three things in order to learn how to write basic metal riffs - Phrygian Mode, Natural Minor, and Harmonic Minor. In order to get more advanced, you have to add stuff in to spice it up. That's how I see it. Palm muting occurs naturally as does legato as does tremolo picking, as far as I see it. If you like metal and you know those three scales, you will learn how to write metal riffs.
Drop tune your guitar. Kill your mids with an axe/bottle of jack daniels. Go as fast as you can. Have little/no emotion in the playing. Congrats! You have invented What 70% of Metal players call music.
Play a few bar chords Play a few open chords Play box scales Make "soulful" facial expression Hide as much technique as you can (this works very well if you know little already) Congrats! You have invented what 95% of classic rock and mainstream blues fan call "music".
Oh, I forgot this part: play repetitive shit.
My go? Pick up guitar Try to play established bands music Fail Never play guitar again and then you achieve what 90% of people who try learning guitar do (that it isn't ever going to be easy, and that you have to really want to play)
Wait wait! I got one. Pick up a guitar Start playing Eat up as much theory Listen to as many different Artists/Genres as possible Congrats! No matter how impressive you are as long as you are honest you will be a guitar player, 100%.
I was at a restaurant one day at lunch time were they had a buffet, as I was standing in front of this buffet looking at all the food a guy who worked there came up to me and said do you want to look at the menu to see what we have in out buffet!!!? naturally I said No, the point is you don't need a guide to show you the obvious. This being said,the material you hear in metal music is like a big buffet. There are many elements there you can pick from. I think the person who wrote the above is just saying the obvious. Most people, specially the guys who come to this site already know what a scale is and how you can slide from one note to another so all together he gives very boring information. And he calls it "Writing Riffs In Metal" I tell you what...if you think the above information gave you what it takes to write a metal riff stop now take 10 minutes and write one.....oh your back!!! 10 minutes over so did you write one? you see what I'm talking about? even if you did write something it probably was based on your own knowledge and the experience you gained so far by listing to music over and over. Conclusion: can someone explain to you how to write a metal riff? yes, but you have to find them. My best advise: "ALWAYS FOLLOW THE MASTERS".
Gonna buy me a Ed Hardy Bikini, it display my bulge nicely.
Great lesson, I'm sure it will help beginners
Great lesson Dont listen to the elitists being dickbags theyre just bored and have nothing relevent to do hahah great tip from Kueller917 I agree try and move away from writing a riff in a specific genre coz otherwise the songs will tend to sound a little generic sometimes but yeah good tips man
This is a great lesson, It's a good thing I recognized every song
Agreed, but with pinch harmonics they're hard to explain (especially considering he doesn't speak English) and are easier to demonstrate in person
henrihell wrote: Nice article, some things missing though, for example, the classic gallop: E|000-000-000-000-| Also harmonics could have been good to at least tell about, so that they would know that it's a special technique to make those high squeels. You could have written out what tunings the examples are in, at least "a new level seems to be in Drop D, while the others are hard to tell, and the ending in "for whom the bell tolls" is a bit wrong.
beau05 wrote: sewoo55 wrote: A lot of thrash, doom, heavy, power, speed, death and black metal bands use drop tunings as well. I have never seen, nor heard any bands like those use drop tunings, local or international. You can go on nzmetal forums and ask for yourself At first, I saw the title and was pretty skeptical. At a closer look, this article is pretty awesome for beginners, brings back memories of the days where I would play "Iron Man" for hours haha
well, arsis uses d standard with a dropped c (drop c), in flames is like drop A# (on some of their albums). some songs on "Christ Illusion" were in drop c, and some other Slayer albums, i believe. while its not all that common for those genres to use drop tunings, it does happen.