How to Write Progressive Metal - Part 4: Turning Riffs Into Songs

author: KevinGoetz date: 07/15/2013 category: songwriting
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How to Write Progressive Metal - Part 4: Turning Riffs Into Songs
Hey, guys! Kevin Goetz back again with another free lesson. This one's dedicated to the next step in our series, in which we begin contemplating how to take those bada-s riffs we learned how to build last time and string them together into something that will retain the listener's attention. This is that key point I've been saying we have to cross before we can begin working toward those prog tropes you guys have so adamantly been requesting, such as odd time signatures and polymeters. We're almost there! I just want to cover a couple more concepts first to help you resist the temptation to abuse those tropes. If you absolutely NEED a polymeter lesson this very minute, though, I suppose you could have a look at this series' companion video playlist on YouTube, which is updated three times more frequently. Some of what I'm about to detail may come across as basic to some of you, but that basic overview is going to bridge into the advanced concepts later down the list, so read on and bear with me =)

Step #1: Understanding the "Typical" Structure

This is the part a lot of you will already know. The typical song structure everyone thinks of is typically some form of intro, followed by the ever-popular verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure, then perhaps an interlude and a final chorus. Sterile, stale, and boring beyond belief, right? Yeah, totally. No denial about it, this structure sucks. So, let's look at how we can exploit it to keep its good points while removing the bad.

Step #2-A: Breaking the "Typical" Structure With Additions

This is perhaps the most intuitively utilized method used by budding metal songwriters, as it's quite prone to discovery by Reverse Engineering. It's as simple as adding a series of sections, referred to for the sake of simplicity as "bridges" in this article, in between the sections found in the "typical" structure. They designate these bridges, again for the sake of simplicity, by the mental terminology "bridge 1," "bridge 2," etc. Bridge 1 is, at the very least, a noticeably different guitar riff from bridge 2, if not a different section entirely, which in my opinion is preferable. Vocals could also be included in this addition process, resulting in something commonly referred to as a "pre-chorus." So, this could end up going, "intro, bridge 1, verse 1, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge 2, verse 2, bridge 3, chorus, bridge 4, solo, chorus."

Step #2-B: Breaking the "Typical" Structure With Substitutions

This is another way to disrupt the feeling of the "typical" structure. This ends up sounding more subtle than the "additions" method, and also results in less lengthy songs; rather than having a bunch of impressive bridges spread throughout the track, we keep the same number of sections as would be found in the "typical" structure, but make replacements. The most obvious way this is done is a song in which, rather than place the second verse at its logical point after the first chorus, that point is instead filled with an entirely different section, with intensity comparable to that of the first verse, but with a different arrangement; perhaps you could keep the drums the same but change the guitars, bass and vocal melody, as a brief example. So that ends up looking like, "intro, verse, chorus, verse-like equivalent section, chorus, solo, chorus." You could also change the order of some of these sections - certain songs start on a chorus, for instance. Finally, consider combining both of the above methods for some really interesting, unpredictable arrangements.

Step #3: Determining the Identity of Song Sections

This next section deals mainly with the concept of intensity being the determining factor of whether your sections should be a verse, pre-chorus, chorus, or bridge, and I'll also touch briefly on starting points - which instruments and which song sections work as the place to begin writing your songs. However, I feel that the concept of intensity is more accurately conveyed visually and audibly, rather than through text, so I've opted to link this article's companion video as the explanation for this next step. Remember also that the video series is updated three times a week, as opposed to the once-weekly article updates, if you want to get a sense for what's coming up here in the future.
Until next time, see ya.
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