How To Steal A Riff

author: dragozan date: 08/09/2010 category: songwriting
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Hey guys, It's me again. This is my first contribution under the "Lessons" category, although a lot of my articles can be classified as lessons anyway. I thought that this article comes too much under the lessons category to ignore, so it's here anyway. Now, onto business. Introduction For the entirety of music's life, there has been a technique used by classical to metal composers alike. This is the art of "Stealing". I use quote marks here not just so I don't get the boys in blue over here to take me to Alcatras or anything like that, I use them because it is an accepted method of songwriting, and its not really Stealing anyway. Confused? Read On! Note: Like a lot of my articles, I touch on topics that are very obvious and done by everyone. I only make articles on them simply because I am amazed by how many people forget to use these techniques. Have you Ever? Okay, here's the situation. Have you ever listened to two songs, maybe not even in the same genre, and heard a section of music which sounds very, if not, exactly similar to another song? This could be a coincidence, but it could also be that the songwriter has heard a piece of music he/she really likes, and has adapted it into their song. Let's look at an example. Look up the song "Undead" by Hollywood Undead. Listen to that first section of music. Familiar? You're listening to the opening of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train". Another example? Listen to "The Devil hides Behind her Smile". Hear that introduction? That's Nightwish's cover of "The Phantom of the opera". I haven't heard the opera original, so don't stab me on that one. Direct Replication, or Solid Stealing These are examples of what I call "Direct Replication"; when a piece of music is copied identically over to another song. You could say this is solidly stealing a riff for your own use. I must warn you guys now, this should be as far as you should go when it comes to stealing music (Like, don't go for stealing whole songs. It won't just be easy to see you've stolen, but there's no fun in it). This method of "Stealing" is useful to get a piece of music to sound familiar and therefore likable. It's also good to use if you want a certain feel to your song, but don't know any other way of acheiving this feeling. This method is good to use a few times, but don't get into a habit of using this in every song. You'll never progress otherwise, and will be completely dependant on other artist's work. Hacking and Slashing The next method of "Stealing" I'm going to talk about is what I affectionately call "Hacking and Slashing". This is by far my favorite method, and you can get some really awesome results. And you know what the best part is? You should end up with your very own original riff. Basically, to Hack and Slash, we need a riff. Go ahead and choose any you want, from your favorite song, artist, whatever, just something you like. Now, the bit that's completely up to you. From this riff, you must now take bits out, change em for different bits, add bits etc until you have something new. Here are a few examples you can do to the riff: *Figure out a key for the riff, and add/replace notes with other notes in this key *Repeat certain phrases of the riff *Change the rhythm of the riff *Add extra runs to the riff, like a power chord/palm mute bar, or something speedy, rhythmic, whatever. Once you've had a mess-around, you should have a new riff. And since it originated from another riff, it'll have a similar feel, and hence the desired sound. I greatly reccomend this method, as it slowly builds your capabilities as musicians, and empowers your ability to make up riffs from scratch. And Finally, Stealing Ideas Whilst this method comes close to the previous method, I felt obliged to write a caption for it too. Stealing the IDEA of a riff is different from stealing the actual COMPOSITION of the riff. To steal an idea, you have to closely look at a riff you like, and ask yourself, "Why does this riff sound so good? What could I use from this riff?" Normally, the riff's secrets will lie within it's rhythm, its complexity (or simplicity for that matter), its not or chordal progression or something else. Bascially, take one of those elements, one of those IDEAS, and try and mess around with it by changing everything else. Sky's the limit on this one! So there you have it, a few methods of getting a riff written for a song. Oh, and one more tip. Don't be afraid to use these methods! the ammount of times these methods are done is unbelievable in music. You may suffer from a feeling of insecurity, thinking that since you needed a starter riff, that you feel it isn't your work. Ignore this. If you can't make new riffs out of existing ones, you're both restricting your options for songwriting and preventing yourself from improving on making your own riffs from scratch. Oh, and here's how frequent you should use each of these techniques: Direct Replication: very rarely. Someone's bound to notice eventually Hack And Slash: Regularly. Doing this will give practice to independant songwriting, and give pleasing results. Stealing Ideas: Once you have mastered Hacking and slashing, try this method very regularly. You're essentially making them up from scratch like this, as the mthod you may replicate would have been used so many itmes over anyway. Hope this Helped. As usual, I am always free to help put anyone. Either send me a message, post a comment below, or E-mail me at Until next time!
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