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Lesson Series

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Sam Bell - Extended Range Guitar Part 8: Odd Time Signatures & Rhythms

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 26 **

Hello Extended Range Guitar enthusiasts! Welcome to the eighth instalment of my extended range metal guitar lesson column, as this is the eighth tutorial it would only be right for me to bring out my trusty 8-string guitar and share with you some concepts that helped me come up with today’s guitar riff. This riff features in my song ‘Icicle’ which will be on the future Mask of Judas album.

Tuning and Positional Playing: Today’s riff is very inspired by the king of 8-string himself Tosin Abasi and his use of odd timings, repetition and the range of the 8-string guitar. The riff we are breaking down today is in drop E tuning, which means we drop the low F# string down a tone to E. This means we can get power chords across the lower three strings of the guitar within one fret, much like we do when we play a 6-string in drop D or a 7-string in drop A. The 8-string guitar is popular for its low range, however it also has huge potential for positional playing, meaning we can get a wide range of notes within any position that we couldn’t get on a 6 or 7-string guitar.

We shall see in today’s riff how we can use the range to utilise two ‘parts’ within a riff to create unique sounding full arrangements. Download the TAB! Before I go on to explain the riff, please be sure to check out the video and download the Guitar Pro/PDF tab provided. Whilst I do explain the notes in full detail in the video and in this write-up, I think with certain types of riffs it’s good to be able to see what is going on in order to get a deeper understanding of the mechanics of the part.

Theory: The song that this riff comes from is all based around E Minor, using notes from the Natural Minor Scale (E, F#, G, A, B, C, D). The chord progression the riff we are looking at today is based around: Em, C and Bm However, in this particular riff, I made the choice of highlighting notes from the E Phrygian mode (E, F, G, A, B, C, D) before returning to C and Bm, so technically the chord progression would look like this: Em7b9, C and Bm. When writing the riff I did not think about this, I had a basic chord progression and groove that I wanted to highlight, and I went about using that as a foundation for the riff itself.

However, if anyone is reading who would like a technical explanation of maybe why I chose the Phrygian is that it’s a little darker sounding than E Natural Minor, and naturally due to the b9th in the Phrygian mode we can create a little more tension.

The riff then makes a switch towards the end to Am, mainly highlighting an Am7 sound. The Riff! I based this riff around the chord progression as I explained, but I also ended up basing it around a particular sequence that uses tapping. I start by tapping the note B on the 14th fret A string and pull off to the note E on the same string 7th fret, I then do the same on the G string before descending back to the A string. So we have a wide interval lick that highlights the root and the 5th of our Em tonality. I prefer to use two finger tapping for this riff as I can keep my pick near the low strings for the open and fretted chord stabs that happen after each tapping motif (see tab!).

This is the foundational sequence for this riff. The tapping hand then takes the same sequence up a fret on the 3rd pass of the tapping lick highlighting the C note from the E Phrygian mode, however the chord stab is replaced with a C power chord on the low 3 strings at the 8th fret.

The tapping lick then goes back to using the B notes in the right hand before rounding off the first repetition of the riff with a C to B power chord movement on the lower three strings. The riff then repeats a second time however if you listen closely to the drums you will find the first time the drums are replicating everything the riff is doing, with the chord stabs and strong notes in the tapping lick accented by the snare drum. On the repeat the time feel goes back to a fairly straight time but with the riff accented by the kick drum. This is a great way of making odd timings feel natural and a great way of injecting some groove into your music!

The riff then takes a turn for the Am chord, this is a repetitive tapping riff that highlights notes from the A Dorian Mode, which is still in our parent key of E Natural Minor. This lick starts with a tap slide at the 15th fret down to the 14th fret on the A string before pulling off to the 7th fret pull off to the 3rd fret on the A before playing 7th fret pull off to 3rd fret on the E. For this portion of the tapping riff I use hammer-ons from nowhere, which means I am ‘tapping’ on the notes with the left hand when I descend to the E string. The tapping riff phrase rounds off with a power chord on the lower three strings at the 5th fret before repeating several times and finishing with a A5 to B5 power chord movement.

Practicing and Songwriting: Now we have broken down the riff into its key parts it’s important to practice it correctly, making sure extra string noise is kept to a minimum by keeping the fretting hand flat so the index finger keeps the higher strings in check whilst the palm of the picking hand lightly mutes the lower strings, especially when tapping. Be sure to start slowly and work your way up. With a lot of progressive style technical music it can seem daunting at first however with a little bit of patience and studying the part you can break apart the riff like we did today and learn the riff with a lot of ease. A lot of odd meter music can sound strange at first but fundamentally most of it, at least in progressive Metal, is based around basic repeating patterns.

The challenge in the songwriting is to make it groove! This is where understanding drum grooves and feels can change the whole mood of a riff. Keep this in mind when you are writing your next song!

Conclusion: That brings me to the end of this issue’s Extended Range column, I hope you’ve enjoyed learning the riff, or at least taking a deeper look into riff construction and ERG technique. It’s always cool to start with a good basis for a riff by finding a chord progression or a groove that you want to accent and then you can ‘build’ your technical riff on top of it. This way it will sound melodic, catchy and it will have a lot more purpose in the song you are working on.

Until next time, happy shredding!

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