How To Steal A Riff

I am going to discuss a common occurance in Music, and teach you how to do this. I am talking about "Stealing" Riffs. Now, don't call the police on me. This method I will teach you is a very frequent method of making your own riffs, and it is likely that a lot of your favorite musicians have done this in the past.

logo
Ultimate Guitar
0
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 coopercoe@hotmail.com Until next time!

56 comments sorted by best / new / date

    illyria
    Darkkon wrote: so much for originality.
    in this day and age it's nearly impossible to be original. virtually everything has been done at least once. nearly every riff i come up with sounds fmiliar to me, like i stole it from a song and its not original
    Regression
    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.
    I want to stab you for thinking The Phantom of the Opera is an opera. For anyone out there reading this lesson, please don't do any of what it says. If the whole world did that, we'd still be stuck with renaissance or baroque music.
    Pukkie_Verheyen
    It's impossible to be completely original. All art is influenced by other art. Besides, a lot of great singer-songwriters steal melodies and riffs; Bob Dylan did it. Daniel Johnston did it. Woody Guthrie did it.
    LolCatGuitar
    illyria wrote: Darkkon wrote: so much for originality. in this day and age it's nearly impossible to be original. virtually everything has been done at least once. nearly every riff i come up with sounds fmiliar to me, like i stole it from a song and its not original
    Yeah, and then artists to be original had to go to the darkest depths of music hell, to make something so revolting only little girls would listen to it... Hip Hop
    godisasniper
    TomusAM wrote: Rock In Rio wrote: Good article, I think coldplay has written it Fixed.
    I want to hug you.
    Antoine-Øleg
    VMNTXdave100 wrote: this was actually a pretty cool article it just told me how to do the things i already do normally, just better
    Say no more.
    Guitarlicker
    I don't think anyone should purposely look for a riff to steal. Bieng inspired is a whole different story.
    Megadeaf
    I wrote this awesome riff a while ago. I felt really proud of myself, so i decided to listen to some Dream Theater I'd never listen too. Literally the first song i put on had EXACTLY the same riff note for note that i wrote. And i had never heard that song before.
    guitarsonist
    This is the worst 'Lesson' I've ever read. As if it's not bad enought that people do it already, you're TEACHING people how to do it?
    Dumpster510
    the fact that you call it 'stealing' makes this article fail from the get-go. borrowing ideas = normal, fine thing to do, can be done creatively stealing = taking something without asking with no intention to give back the fact that you're advocating 'stealing' as a means of creativity speaks volumes about you.
    Regression
    mrddrm wrote: Regression : Those "stolen" rhythm sections were most likely samples. Chances are the artist payed royalties to use part of those songs in theres. There would have been a law suit if they hadn't, believe me. And there's only 12 notes in equal temperament. Want to write something original? Try 19-TET, or atonal music. Before people say it sounds bad, remember that it is different to what you're used to, I personally think you can learn to appreciate it. You're right when you say there are things that will repeat when using 12 notes, but you can still make substantially different pieces regardless. I have no problem with things being generic and unoriginal by the way, I just have a problem with people claiming it's impossible to write something original because "its all been done". POSTED: 08/09/2010 - 12:55 pm / quote | I was going to say what you said, so I don't feel the need to write a lengthy reply. But I will say this... Regression : 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. I want to stab you for thinking The Phantom of the Opera is an opera. For anyone out there reading this lesson, please don't do any of what it says. If the whole world did that, we'd still be stuck with renaissance or baroque music. You're an idiot. We're still using the same motifs and the same progressions and the same everything from those times. The only thing different is that we use a different tuning system now. Equaled Temperament Tuning, so that where once keys actually sounded different, they're all the same sound now for the ability to transpose. That and "style" and to a point, timbre.
    We're not all using the same progressions, a majority of people are. Different motifs are possible, different rhythms. Look at jazz harmony. Classical musicians would have a fit if they saw some of the harmony that is acceptable today. Go listen to any of the jazz greats and tell me that we're using the same harmony and motifs as were used back in the baroque era.
    Regression
    madguitrist wrote: For anyone out there reading this lesson, please don't do any of what it says. If the whole world did that, we'd still be stuck with renaissance or baroque music. since you brought up the classical era i thought i might mention the mozart, the genius he was used, these techniques when he made his music, such as taking tricks that other people used and using them and also taking a riff and changeing it, but he called it theme and variation.
    Don't mean to be pedantic, but I bought up the baroque and renaissance era, not the classical.
    slayerfrk
    illyria wrote: Darkkon wrote: so much for originality. in this day and age it's nearly impossible to be original. virtually everything has been done at least once. nearly every riff i come up with sounds fmiliar to me, like i stole it from a song and its not original
    you just suck at making original riffs?
    Trvekiller
    it's old technique... classical composers often used that "hack and slash" thing, with for example folk songs... chopins funeral march is from Beethovens Third symphony... and so on :-D
    Ultrahuntr
    I scrolled through the comments and the majority of you are bashing this article, and bashing the people that agree with him. When it gets down to it, almost ALL professional musicians do this at some point. And if you guys actually paid attention to what he said, he mentioned that the one you should do the most is changing the riff, not outright stealing it. The point of that isn't to change to or three notes, it's to come up with something original from the riff. You're probably gonna say something like "Well if you just change a riff and keep it, it's still stealing." That's not entirely true. The point is for you to dissect the riff. To find out what key it's in and what scales and modes are used. To get down to the theory of it, and make something totally your own. On a seperate note.
    Regression wrote: Don't mean to be pedantic, but I bought up the baroque and renaissance era, not the classical.
    Hmm... Well looky here. "Classical music is the art music produced in, or rooted in, the traditions of Western liturgical and secular music, encompassing a broad period from roughly the 9th century to present times." Oh noes. Looks like you were wrong. And, even though mrddrm had no right to call you an idiot, parts of his argument are right. We do use a lot of the same key signatures and what not as musicians of the Classical Era did. And when it comes down to people saying there's "nothing original" left to be made, that's only partly true. Seeing as music has been around for... Well as long as man has been alive, it's probably a safe bet to say that at some point, almost all keys and progressions have been used at some point. There's still tons of great music to be made, but it's going to be EXTREMELY rare that you find one totally original song. Getting back to the main point of it though, you can't just hash the article because of it's bluntness. People do this every day. It's not just taking something and changing it to be only far enough from a song that they won't say it's plagiarism, it's just taking something familiar, and molding it into your own. That's what music is. There are only so many notes to be played, so many chords to strum, and so many scales and modes to make melodies with. The point is to take them, and, with those tools, make something beautiful. Every musician in the world has to use these same tools. So just because he's explaining how to "share the tools", doesn't mean he's just looking to get away with copying songs, he's just making known to the people that choose to read this article what the rest of the world has being doing for thousands of years. Anyway, I'm out. Peace. p.s. -If you weren't interested in what this article had to say, you wouldn't have read it. p.s.s. -Phantom of the Opera IS an opera, and it's freakin' awesome. Deal with it.
    5lX5TRlNG5
    I was listening to crazy train whenyou mentioned it at the beggining....Great article
    xNinniox
    Good article. This is how music is eventual done and every musician should experiment. Think about how jazz and swing came about got so successful. Each musician just borrowed from another!
    Regression
    I don't know why but half of my comment didn't show. Just throwing it in now, sorry for so many posts in a row... In classical music they'd give full credit to the original composer if it was a variation on a theme. There's definitely nothing wrong with learning tricks to composing from other musicians, I just feel taking a composition and changing around the parts until you feel it won't be recognised as plagiarism is taking it too far. I suppose it would be valid as an excercise, but never for a piece you intend on using commercially in any way. (that includes any type of performance) Others may disagree, just my opinion.
    TheDissident
    I mean I understand what he's saying, Dani California's solo is just Frusciante messing around with Purple Haze. You shouldn't make a habit of it but sometimes its just a cool little tribute to do
    brandon2784
    theogonia777 wrote: Zeppelin Addict wrote: its going to happen though there are only 12 notes so repetition is going to occur at some point over the hundreds of years of music we can account for. actually, if you came up with a five note riff with the 7 notes of a diatonic scale, that makes 7^5, or 16807 different combinations of notes. most of these would sound rather boring though, so only maybe 10% of those combinations would be useful for composing. but many riffs are longer than five notes, and if you use more than just single notes, there are an unimaginably large number of potential riffs. it is extremly unlikely that you would come up with the same thing as someone else completely coincidentally, in most cases music sounding similar is a result of intentionally trying to sound similar, and there is really nothing wrong with imitation, so long as it isn't identical to the original. i strongly dislike the use of the term "stealing" in this article, as it isn't really stealing at all, just imitation. doing something similar does is in no way the same as completely ripping off something else.
    might i add the various techniques such as palm muting ect.
    aCloudConnected
    seemeel wrote: So who will be first to rag on rock and roll legend Jimmy Page for his supposed riff stealing?
    He has. Randy Rhoads did too. Diary of A Madman is exactly the same as Leo Brouwer's Etude VI.
    VMNTXdave100
    this was actually a pretty cool article it just told me how to do the things i already do normally, just better
    DesertEagle
    I understand there's no such thing as originality anymore i mean every chord has been played every scale has been used every drum pattern is done and done again but I think you should strive for originality and inspiration, this article seems to stunt that concept. Creation is fun and beneficial robbery isn't so much so...
    Regression
    illyria wrote: Darkkon wrote: so much for originality. in this day and age it's nearly impossible to be original. virtually everything has been done at least once. nearly every riff i come up with sounds fmiliar to me, like i stole it from a song and its not original
    If nothing sounds original to you then keep on composing. Original music certainly exists. It comes out quite a lot. It just seems most people would rather rehash the same old material. I have no problem with music which isn't that original, but I hate when people try say it's impossible to write original music now.
    beatreebor
    i dont agree with this, hacking and slashing is acceptable, but actually using a well known riff like crazy train? and playing it the whole way thorugh the song?
    hippie_guy
    nice article Today's psychology states that there is no such thing as originality, so don't argue about it
    dragozan
    Just a quick note. I am in no way sayinf that this is the way to become a better songwriter. If you read it, it says that these are exercises to slowly boost your own originality. Im not saying make all your songs using this, im saying look to your inspirations for ideas, and have a mess with their riffs for ideas. And I DID stress that stealing a ocmplete riff shouldn't be used on a constant rate, I was just merely showing some examples on what other artists have done
    dragozan
    Regression wrote: 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. I want to stab you for thinking The Phantom of the Opera is an opera.
    I apologise for my nievity. I've only heard nightwish's cover of the song, so i wasn't aware of the orginal song's genre
    seemeel
    So who will be first to rag on rock and roll legend Jimmy Page for his supposed riff stealing?
    TomusAM
    Rock In Rio wrote: Good article, I think coldplay has written it
    Fixed.
    Regression
    dragozan wrote: Regression wrote: 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. I want to stab you for thinking The Phantom of the Opera is an opera. I apologise for my nievity. I've only heard nightwish's cover of the song, so i wasn't aware of the orginal song's genre
    You should consider watching it then. It's one of the greatest musicals ever written. You'll understand why Nightwish would want to cover a song from it.
    seemeel wrote: So who will be first to rag on rock and roll legend Jimmy Page for his supposed riff stealing?
    Supposed? He did steal riffs. He has even admitted to it himself.
    Zeppelin Addict
    Regression wrote: dragozan wrote: Regression wrote: 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. I want to stab you for thinking The Phantom of the Opera is an opera. I apologise for my nievity. I've only heard nightwish's cover of the song, so i wasn't aware of the orginal song's genre You should consider watching it then. It's one of the greatest musicals ever written. You'll understand why Nightwish would want to cover a song from it. seemeel wrote: So who will be first to rag on rock and roll legend Jimmy Page for his supposed riff stealing? Supposed? He did steal riffs. He has even admitted to it himself.
    +1 music was always being covered, borrowed, stolen, shared back towards the first half of the 20th century.. entire songs were taken from lesser known artists and made famous by those in the spotlight.. look at old blues and jazz, a lot of material written by black artists was stolen and credited to white performers. its not as bad as it is now days anyways, entire rhythm sections are stolen from zep and bonzo and used for hip-hop and rap songs, ive heard sweet child of mine and crazy train used in rap songs, its ridiculous.. its going to happen though there are only 12 notes so repetition is going to occur at some point over the hundreds of years of music we can account for. what is important is putting your own spin on things so it is original in a way... i could probably come up with 50 different variations for riffs from sweet child of mine or crazy train if i really wanted to.. but id still rather write my own stuff..
    Leather Sleeves
    It's funny you use the term "hack and slash". That's usually used by people who study pop-culture as a term to describe the act of subverting messages in the media. If you were to use it in this context it would apply better to the parody of music where riff's are mimicked.
    Stud_Muffin
    Didnt Jimmy Page nick the riff for Stairway from an unknown band that he saw at a concert? I like the idea that we can all make something original, but the sad truth is that its really hard to do something completely original nowadays.
    Regression
    Zeppelin Addict wrote: Regression wrote: dragozan wrote: Regression wrote: 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. I want to stab you for thinking The Phantom of the Opera is an opera. I apologise for my nievity. I've only heard nightwish's cover of the song, so i wasn't aware of the orginal song's genre You should consider watching it then. It's one of the greatest musicals ever written. You'll understand why Nightwish would want to cover a song from it. seemeel wrote: So who will be first to rag on rock and roll legend Jimmy Page for his supposed riff stealing? Supposed? He did steal riffs. He has even admitted to it himself. +1 music was always being covered, borrowed, stolen, shared back towards the first half of the 20th century.. entire songs were taken from lesser known artists and made famous by those in the spotlight.. look at old blues and jazz, a lot of material written by black artists was stolen and credited to white performers. its not as bad as it is now days anyways, entire rhythm sections are stolen from zep and bonzo and used for hip-hop and rap songs, ive heard sweet child of mine and crazy train used in rap songs, its ridiculous.. its going to happen though there are only 12 notes so repetition is going to occur at some point over the hundreds of years of music we can account for. what is important is putting your own spin on things so it is original in a way... i could probably come up with 50 different variations for riffs from sweet child of mine or crazy train if i really wanted to.. but id still rather write my own stuff..
    Those "stolen" rhythm sections were most likely samples. Chances are the artist payed royalties to use part of those songs in theres. There would have been a law suit if they hadn't, believe me. And there's only 12 notes in equal temperament. Want to write something original? Try 19-TET, or atonal music. Before people say it sounds bad, remember that it is different to what you're used to, I personally think you can learn to appreciate it. You're right when you say there are things that will repeat when using 12 notes, but you can still make substantially different pieces regardless. I have no problem with things being generic and unoriginal by the way, I just have a problem with people claiming it's impossible to write something original because "its all been done".
    salgala2000
    Stud_Muffin wrote: Didnt Jimmy Page nick the riff for Stairway from an unknown band that he saw at a concert? I like the idea that we can all make something original, but the sad truth is that its really hard to do something completely original nowadays.
    Well I'm not sure but i was playing a peice from a classical book that says that all peices were published for the book and part of the song is very similar to the intro of stairway
    Carl6661
    I think the fact that todays young musicians all just sit in thier bedrooms and write using software is only making the lack of original music worse. I mean, software is great and all. But it's easier to be original when you're writing with a group, everyone bringing thier own influences into the melting pot, so to speak, etc. I do get bugged by generic music, especially when I see bands that are earning hundreds of thousands of pounds/dollars/whatever currency you work in. Yet I know everything they play is something anyone could write in 10 minutes. _
    Archetype00
    Stud_Muffin wrote: Didnt Jimmy Page nick the riff for Stairway from an unknown band that he saw at a concert?
    the intro was stolen from a band called Spirit... an act Led Zeppelin OPENED for an entire tour. so im sure the stealing was a little more than deliberate. still doesn't make spirits version better. if you can steal the way zeppelin did, then steal all you want.
    Doku
    If the whole world did that, we'd still be stuck with renaissance or baroque
    All I have to say to you is Vivaldi. Good day to you sir.