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Sam Bell - Extended Range Guitar Part 12: ‘Axis’ Riff

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 30 **

Sam Bell here, welcome back to my guitar lesson columns about Extended Range Guitar. In this guitar tutorial we are going to take a look at a guitar riff that uses a mixture of chords, riffing, syncopated timing and inversions. This guitar riff is taken from my band Mask of Judas’s 2013 single ‘Axis’. It was one of the first ‘Metal’ guitar riffs I had written, I did not have much Metal guitar vocabulary back then but I borrowed stylistic traits from other influences in order to come up with this riff. Let's take a look at some of the key components that helped me write this riff and some of the theory behind it. Don’t forget you can download a tab for this example within this column.

The Rhythm:

The main rhythmic motif behind this riff is based on strumming groups of 5 however we leave the 5th strum out for a rest and repeat the grouping. It could also be thought of as 4 with a rest in between. If we mapped out one repetition of the rhythmic motif we would get this:

4, 4, 4, 4, and 7.

This phrase fills 2 bars and the accents of each grouping land in different places within the bars. The 7 is thrown in at the end to round of the phrase, however if you want to try your own ideas why not take it to an extreme or shorten the phrase and repeat it in a strange place over a 4/4 drum beat!

The Harmony:

The chord progression is based around the key of F# Minor. However we are starting on a D chord that takes the bottom 4 strings of a classic E bar chord shape placed on the B, E, A and D strings. The chord progression outlined by the main rhythmic motif of the riff is as follows for the majority of the first half of the riff. This is interrupted with a turn around phrase that brings us around to the ending of the section. 

D, C#m, D.

B5, Bsus2(9), B7, A/C#, D5, Dsus2(9)
D, C#m, D, F#m, E. Amaj9.

One particular moment within the chord sequence that I remember being quite happy with is the B5, Bsus2(9), B7, A/C#, D5, Dsus2(9) phrase which still follows our rhythmic motif from above. This came from a melody at first on the G string when I was playing around with ideas trying to think of where the riff would go next, I knew that I liked the melody but it was lacking the chord based feel of the first part, and I didn’t want to go to single string lines just yet in the riff as I wanted it to build to the lower part that we shall see in the next bit of the riff. So I decided to take the melody on the G string and try and fit some chords around it, as soon as I stuck a B5 chord on top of the first melody note I could instantly hear where I wanted the chords underneath the melody to go, from here I worked out how to combine the chords and melody into one part and hey presto! Sometimes ideas like this happen without any thought and you can just hear the idea in full in your head. Its times like these you need to go with the idea and let it flow. However I highly recommend doing this with all melody ideas you come up with, explore the possibilities of mixing parts together in order to create a more coherent full part for your riff.

Low turn around riff and ending:

After we have the initial pass of the chord progression we have a low single note phrase that uses the low open B string and notes that are still in the diatonic key of F# Minor/A Major. In this key the 2nd degree is B and the mode that is laid out from this point is B Dorian. I wanted the riff highlight some of the notes that give Dorian its feel, I didn’t use the 6th for some reason, but I did make a point of hitting the 9th. As with the riff before I came up with this part by following my ear, but it did so happen to focus in on particular areas of the chord progression harmonically.

After we have executed our turn around phrase I return to the first part of our chord progression before ascending up B5, E5, F#5 and ending on Cmaj9. I chose the first 3 power chords as the root notes outlined a B major arpeggio, I added the power chords as they were in key, sounded good and beefed up the riff. The section ends on Cmajor9 which is not diatonic to A Major /F# Minor I wanted there to be a twist at the end of this section that would lead into the next riff nicely and this chord choice at the end did precisely that.

So that brings me to the end of this column of extended range guitar, I hope our look at this riff has been inspiring and has given you some ideas for your own riff writing. I feel the best ideas come from within; it's best not to force theory too much into things: theory is useful for knowing how things relate, communicating ideas, and finding certain sounds quickly. However do not let it be the basis behind your writing. Always follow what you hear in your head and what you feel sounds good. Use your ears and explore! Be creative; listen to lots of different styles of music and try as many options and variations as you can for your ideas you never know what you might stumble upon. Until next time, good luck! I shall see you in the next installment of Extended Range Guitar!

If you are interested in learning more about 7 string guitar, songwriting, theory and techniques then please check out my first DVD with LickLibrary ‘7 String Secrets’

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