THIS Is How You Write Better GUITAR RIFFS

Tommaso Zillio

FREE Music Theory Map
Map of Music Theory
Download the FREE Map of Music Theory that will tell you what is the next topic you need to study

Captcha code:
By submitting your info, you agree to send it to Guitar Mastery Solutions, Inc. who will process and use it according to their privacy policy.

write guitar riffs theory

Do you want to write great guitar riffs?

Before you say anything: the answer to this question is always ‘yes’. Any other answer is unacceptable.

Even if you don’t play guitar, you probably wish that you wrote Smoke on the Water. I mean, it’s so simple. You could have written that.

But you didn’t. Ritchie Blackmore did.

And with every hour of every day that passes, more and more great riffs are removed from the pool of possibilities because Ritchie #@!&ing Blackmore keeps writing them.

So, I’m here to give you the keys to the proverbial ‘riff castle’ so that you can finally be the one that makes someone else think “Why didn’t I come up with that?”

Now, it goes without saying that there are a lot of important things when it comes to writing great riffs.

For instance, one super important "detail"is to make sure that the rhythm of how the notes are played within the riff is interesting on its own.

Clap the rhythm of Seven Nation Army, and even your grandma’s dog is going to recognize it.

Clap the rhythm of Iron Man, and random strangers on the street will raise their hands in the sign of the horns.

Great rhythms make great riffs!

But wait… once you have a great rhythm, what’s next? How do you choose the right notes to play with that rhythm?

Well, there are obviously limitless options for this part, but there is one interval that you should use as much as you can. Listen to any great riff, and this interval will be in there. Probably.

“What interval is that?” You ask, with a sparkle of child-like excitement in your eyes. (*)

Simple. Watch the video linked below and I’ll show you what you should be using in every riff you write, as well as a few other tips on how to choose the right notes for your riffs.

(*) No, it's not the d@mn tritone. If "tritone" was the first thing you thought, you have been watching too much pop-entertainment-music-theory on YouTube (made by wannabe influencer music teachers who have not taught an actual student in their life but are oh-so-photogenic). You need a cure of real music theory - the stuff you can actually make music with - so watch the video linked in this email and then watch other 5 videos on my channel... and then tell me if you don't feel different already.

Or better... just realize that one of the most important things to know if you want to write great riffs is scales and modes all over you fretboard. If you feel like you want to expand your knowledge of scales and modes, check out my Master of the Modes guitar course.

Video Transcription

Hello internet, so nice to see you. If you are a rock or a metal player and you are writing riffs, you are probably realizing at this point that studying all this thing about chord and harmony and other things that they teach you in classical music theory or in jazz music theory. It's really not helping you that much. I mean, let's, let's face it, okay, that's one area where traditional music theory doesn't seem to work.

Because riffs are not usually based on chords, or chord progression. They can be, but they're usually not. So if you use the tools that you learn in any music theory, harmony book to understand Metallica, Megadeth, any kind of thrash metal, any kind of modern metal band, or any kind of technical death metal band, for instance, you're not going to find much there, it feels like all this theory is useless.

And indeed all this theory is useless. There is other theory that doesn't speak about chords, or other things, but talks about proofs if you want, that would be much, much, much more useful. So a student of mine asked me, What can music theory do? For me? When I'm writing a riff? How can music theory help me in writing soul crushing riffs on my electric guitar? And this is the answer I gave him.

Speaker 2 1:22
I have a pretty broad question. And perhaps you can you can nail something from that. So the question is, how to write good riffs?

Tommaso Zillio 1:32
Okay. Great. I've requested Well, if I have a complete answer, I like to communicate in 10 minutes, I've been millionaire, okay. I mean, if you go to music school, most of the music you've right there, it's melody over chords. They teach a lot about chord progressions, melodies, you go to jazz school, it's melody over chords, different kinds, of course, if you want, but pretty much it's the same structure, when we talk about metal, rock, etc. It's riffs and riffs are not chords. And often there is no chord that actually really fit the riff.

Okay. And it's typically at the end seen the transcript, you know, chord, okay. So it's a completely different way of thinking, and the normal music theory or read than traditional and jazz music theory they teach. For riffs, I will think modally. So I would think of a mode. What does it mean? I have a few notes. However you choose them from a scale, random, whatever you want. One of those notes, is my root note.

Could be any of those notes as long as they make it clear is the root. Okay, traditionally, it's the low e, okay. But I mean, it could be the low a, or any note that makes makes sense to you in that moment. And so okay, you only want to refer back to that note, you're not thinking about harmonizing this like do like other musicians will do your thing instead, what kind of melodies you can play with that because at the end, there is a melody, okay?

Again, nothing after additional sense. Not with with the starting and the climax, and then the cadence at the end. We don't have cadences here, okay. We have some gesture, it may look like cadences. But at this point, we have too many choices. Because I mean, we can pick anything, I can pick four nodes, randomly chosen, I can pick five notes randomly chosen, I could pick more or less than two, okay.

And then I can do whatever I want with the rhythm to. Okay, at this point, I think indication on how it works from a music theory point of view, it's pretty much just hey, those intervals from the root sound this way, but it's hard to be more precise than that, I mean, the tritone sounds a specific way.

The fifth a specific way, the flat six sounds a specific way. The intervals are one indication, think of what intervals you like and use those another indication is Most Great riffs have some half steps somewhere not all of them, but by and large, the one I like and I know you like I have of staff which these these probably these make sure you put some half steps somewhere, okay, and play them when I say the house at least that means in the sense of not yet considering there are two notes that are just a fret apart.

And when you play them, you put them one after the other. By the way, I cannot hear there is a half step there. Move the half step around my side essentially just decide where I put them to get the feeling I want but I need some tension in the riff. That's another way riffs work differently than chords. In chords.

We start like choosing other notes consonant with each other. They're major minor, I'm desperate consonant because at the same time on the riff, I play them sequence sequentially. So I do want as much tension there because otherwise that that doesn't go anywhere.

That will work better for instance, okay, that is a riff, okay? Why because I have semitone. Right? semitones are half steps, okay, since it's one note at a time, and this cannot don't have the harmonic tension of two different lists. At the same time, you want to put as much distance as you can between the notes.

So jumping the tribe down, totally legit jam using all the apps that you can find that allows you then you start and you concentrate on putting those in the right place, the right places where you like it, essentially, okay, then there's not there's not a prescription there, you have to try and see, but I will concentrate on this.

The intervals that work for you diminished augmented minor six, sell this kind of thing, and you have to try them and see which one you like, and the half steps in the right position and make sure to play those notes, one after each other. That's what I will start great stuff from there. Sky's the limit. Yeah. Okay, that nobody ever can write down the Ultimate Guide to Writing riffs because it's just too big a word, too, but there's an indication that you can use Okay, thank you. Fantastic. Thank you.

FREE Music Theory Map
Map of Music Theory
Download the FREE Map of Music Theory that will tell you what is the next topic you need to study

Captcha code:
By submitting your info, you agree to send it to Guitar Mastery Solutions, Inc. who will process and use it according to their privacy policy.
© 2011-2024 Guitar Mastery Solutions, Inc.