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Sam Bell - Extended Range Guitar Part 16: String Skipping Riffs

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 34 **

Sam concludes his epic 7 & 8 string guitar lesson series....

Welcome to my final instalment in this lesson series looking at Extended Range Guitar playing & techniques. I really hope you have enjoyed the journey so far and that some of these guitar lessons and insights have inspired you in your own extended range guitar journey into creativity, technique and metal songwriting. In this final guitar tutorial, I want to share a guitar riff with you that will be featured on my band Mask of Judas’s brand new album. As I write this column, our drummer is in fact recording the album drums to the guitar riff that I am about to share with you! As with previous columns, be sure to check out the accurate guitar tab for this lesson which is available in PDF or Guitar Pro format. In this write up I'll be taking you through my song writing approach and some of the unique concepts that helped me create this riff.

The Harmony

This riff for the most part is based around Bb Major. The chord sequence is as follows for the first part:

Cm7, Dm7, Ebmaj7 x2
Gm7, F7, Ebmaj7 x2

The sequence then repeats through once again except the Ebmajor7 lasts only for 2 bars instead of 4. We then have the ‘ending’ of this riff which takes a slightly fusion inspired tangent. The chords move around mostly in minor 3rds and minor 2nds.

Gmaj7, Gbmaj7, Gbm7, Am7, Cm7, Dbmajor7.

So as we can see, all these changes in this transfer riff aren’t typical harmony, they are all unrelated to any diatonic key. What makes the changes is the movement in the bass notes and how the bass/drums accent the chord changes. Originally before I ‘heard the chord sequence in my head’ I only heard the movement of how the chords would move in the route notes, it was more of a single string melody before it was fleshed out into the 4 note minor and major 7th chords. The movement of the chords then inspired what chord types I wanted to use, I was quite inspired by some old arcade game music from games such as Streets of Rage, Sonic and Tekken! A lot of that music had similar stark sounding changes that really jump around to create tension, so the chord choices were inspired by aiming for that kind of sound.

Technique and Patterns

The working title for this tune is ‘string skip’ due to the technique that I used to write the riff, I am sure our singer will find a more inspiring title for the song, but until then it works as a handy segue into talking about some of the patterns and techniques I used for this riff.

Each of the chord changes in the progression is played using some string skipping patterns on the low B and A string. Each pattern highlights the root, 3rd, 7th and octave of each chord. Be sure to keep an eye on your picking hand as the string skips can lead to some noisy mistakes such as open strings ringing out or missed notes. I start each pattern on a down stroke and use alternate picking with a slightly upward pick slant so the string crossing changes are smoother and fall into the natural direction of the pick strokes. I also utilize a slight palm mute on the lower string notes in order to create a bit more separation between the notes. I keep my picking hand as relaxed as possible whilst making sure I am rhythmically in the pocket. 

The patterns start to expand across more strings towards the ending of the riff using a mixture of alternate picking and hammer-on and pull-off techniques. Be sure to check the tab and video for fingering details. These left hand string skipping patterns are really useful not only in riff writing but also as a unique and alternative way to play arpeggios in solo/lead melody playing.

The Rhythm

The whole riff is based on constant 8th note triplets, however I played around with when each chord change happens by changing around how much of each string skipping arpeggio I play. A good example of this is in the first measure of Cm7, Dm7 and Ebmaj7. The chord changes come in some unique places in the bar, creating a really cool syncopated groove that the bass and drums accent to create a solid foundation behind what I am playing.

This diagram below is a basic rhythmic analysis of how the accents in this riff work at the start. The green lines show where the chord changes occur in the constant 8th note triplet rhythm. As we can see on the 2nd bar that we are staying on Ebmaj7, but we are accenting the route note and the bass and drums accent this change whilst following their own kick drum pattern.

Using this method of accenting odd notes using repetitive patterns is something that I have seen in a lot of the newer Metal music such as Animals as Leaders, Meshuggah, Sikth and many more. It’s a great way of inspiring other grooves within the same riff, much like I did here with the main guitar part vs the bass/drums.

In Summary

So there we have it for this issues riff and this series of columns looking at extended range guitar technique and riff writing. I really hope you have found something inspiring in these columns. I would like to thank Andy James and Gary Cooper for giving the awesome opportunity to be a part of this magazine sharing my ideas. Thank you!


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