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Sam Bell - Extended Range Guitar Part 9: Harmonically Interesting Low End Riffs

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 27 **

In this issue's 8 string metal guitar lesson we are going to take a look at how we can use chord progressions to inspire harmonically interesting low end guitar riffs. A lot of early metal guitar music is based around chugging on low notes, but in recent years bands such as Animals as Leaders, Periphery, and many more have started moving the “heavy” notes around in order to create some harmonically interesting movement. Not only does this make for more interesting riffs to listen to, but it expands the all the possibilities of moving the metal guitar genre into new uncharted territory. 

We are going to be taking a deeper look at one of my tunes that will be featured on the new Mask of Judas album, the tune is called Icicle and I have already taken some riffs from the song in previous columns, this time we are looking at the outro riff. For this riff I am tuned to drop E which means the low F# string is tuned a tone lower in order to create a tuning on the low strings that is not dissimilar to drop D on a 6 string guitar. We can get power chords by simply barring the first finger across the lower 3 strings.

This riff follows a basic chord progression that you can hear in the clean guitar part on the video. The basic progression goes as follows:

Em, Cmaj7, D#dim.

I embellish the chord progression by playing these 7th chords over the low E bass note. This is something a lot of early progressive bands did in order to really expand the tonality of a “static” chord groove.

Bm7, Gmaj7, Em7, Cmaj7, D#dim, F#dim, Adim.

The Notes and Theory:

Taking this chord progression I decided to come up with a bass line that moved around the chords which would later also be doubled on the 8 string guitar. The first portion of the riff moves around an Em9 tonality. Due to the low string being tuned to drop E we get a nice, earthy low first note to our bass line before sliding from the octave of E on the B string to the 9th interval on the B string 7th fret. I took this phrase and repeated it 3 times each time emphasising different parts of the line creating a rolling syncopated effect. The riff then moves to highlight the Cmaj7 in the chord progression by moving up to the 7th and 8th frets on the low drop E string, the riff follows the same rhythm as the first part, except this time moving between the maj7 and the root of the riff using string skipping between both E strings. This technique of moving the octaves around in a riff using the Drop E tuning can inspire many cool harmonically interesting riff based ideas. The riff then moves to highlight the Diminished sequence by taking the same octave idea we found in the Cmaj7 portion and sequencing it up and then back down the neck.

Execution:

Perhaps the second most important part of creating a riff aside from the harmony and melody is taking into account how you actually play the notes, what articulations you give them, how do you pick them, mute, how wide should the vibrato be etc.

In this riff, putting a rhythmic wide vibrato on the notes that I “pause” on gave the riff some attitude, when played relaxed in a live setting this riff really gets people grooving due to the laid back hypnotic nature of the repeating rhythm. Whilst the notes are moving around the rhythm sets the theme and people can latch onto the hook of the riff before they can really hear what’s going on harmonically. Bands like Tesseract and Monuments do this all of the time, it's especially apparent in the music of bands like Karnivool and Tool.

In the world of technical progressive music I feel it is very important to try and give the listener something to hang onto, whilst it may sound obvious a lot of “technical” bands often ditch this idea in favour of making riffs that seem endless and often blur into one another without any distinction. I feel that there is a lot of scope in Metal music for technical riffs that are also ear worms that get stuck in people's heads! So next time you write a technical riff, try to find something within it that makes the riff a feature, it could be the rhythm, a repeating note, an articulation, maybe it's taking away something, leaving a pause, repeating a riff in an odd place before giving the listener the full idea, the list could go on!

I hope this issue's look at extended range guitar has inspired you to look at riff writing in a slightly different way. Be sure to take this idea and apply it to any chord progression. You don’t have to play an 8 string guitar in order to use this concept, this will work on any instrument. If you are stuck for inspiration why not take a chord progression from one of your favourite songs and try and make it into a progressive tech metal sensation! Until next time, be sure to check the downloadable tab and video. Have fun with the riff and I'll see you next time!


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