** As featured in issue 33 **
Welcome to the second to last instalment of my look at Extended Range Guitar guitar playing and techniques. We have looked at the many facets of 8-string guitar playing from getting a good tone, technique on the extra strings, ways of visualising the fret board, concepts for metal songwriting and creative guitar riff writing. Today we are going to cover a topic that is very important, and that is rhythm manipulation. When the pitch of an instrument goes so low and percussive, the natural route to go with riff writing is one of a rhythmic importance with simple melodic content. Even though I have taught complex metal guitar riffs that live around the lower range of the 8-string guitar, they have been modified to sound as clear as possible by using certain low notes at rhythmically important places in the bar. In this guitar lesson I have come up with a melodically simple low end riff that uses a very simple method to create a cool syncopated feel. The riff is very inspired by the band Meshuggah in terms of how the groove develops with the 4/4 drum feel, however I decided to lighten it up by using a Lydian #2 tonality!
Harmonically this riff is very simple, the riff ascends and descends around a G# Lydian#2 scale. The Lydian#2 scale is the 6th mode of the Harmonic Minor scale and the intervals are as follows:
1 #2 3 #4 5 6 7
As we can see a #2 is a minor 3rd away from the root, so we could think of the scale as a Lydian with a minor 3rd. This creates a really interesting sound that has the dream like quality of Lydian but with a slightly sinister twist as the #2 (or minor 3rd) gives us a nice minor 2nd gap to play with. This scale isn’t that common in Metal music, but it is my goal to make use of this awesome tonality, you should too! Lydian#2 is used in Indian Classical music and Flamenco music which are very closely tied together in terms of common tonalities used.
My initial thoughts when I was coming up with this riff was to hold each note for the length of five 8th notes. And that is exactly what I did, and then I just created a phrase that I felt worked and repeated well. However when we analyse this something interesting happens. Theoretically, to keep the spacing between the notes this way and start back on beat 1 again we need to complete five bars before we can ‘repeat’ the same phrase. Here is a diagram I put together to demonstrate how this works. The numbers represent counting each bar in 8th notes, there are five bars here and the first beat of bar 6 where the phrase would repeat again. The green arrows represent where each note in the riff starts.
As we can see this leads us to accent in a particular way, the first accent is on the beat, and then the second accent is on the off beat. This pattern repeats four times within the five bars before starting again on beat one of bar six. This leaves us with two cool things that can help at least inspire a riff that doesn’t repeat in blocks of four. The whole phrase lasts five bars, and we have lots of syncopation on different bits of each bar creating a really cool groove. On top of that I have programmed the drums initially to have the cymbals counting quarter notes with a snare on the 3rd beat of each bar. This of course causes even more syncopation as we now have an accent from the snare playing off the accents from the guitars. On bar three of our five bar phrase obviously the snare meets up with the guitar on beat three. On the 3rd repeat of our five bar phrase I changed the cymbals to play on beats 1 and 3 instead of beats 1, 2, 3, and 4. This creates even more space and the syncopation is even more noticeable, to me it feels like the riff is ‘falling’ out of time at that point, yet it comes back into action on the 4th and final repeat of the five bar phrase when the cymbals return to quarter notes.
With the oh so important rhythmic analysis out the way I just wanted to talk about the backing and layers I decided to put on this track. As far as arrangement is concerned I decided to fill out a lot of the space, as the main syncopated riff is taking the stage for this example, I felt it needed something behind it, some drama. I programmed some strings and I put some ambient crunch guitars playing an eerie octave constant 8th notes pattern. This filled out a lot of space, but I also put another guitar in the background which is using constant 8th notes, however if you listen closely the 8th notes on this percussive background guitar are accented in groups of five 8th notes. I am using the low F# and E string, using an octave of the note G#, and I am using some double thumb technique (inspired by Tosin Abasi from Animals as Leaders) The sequence goes like this:
Hammer on with the first finger on to the low F# 2nd fret, down stroke with the thumb, up stroke with the thumb followed by two notes plucked with the first and second fingers on the right hand on the octave of G# on the 4th fret E string. I could analyse that sequence as this:
Hammer, Down Thumb, Up Thumb, Pluck 1, Pluck 2.
The sequence naturally creates a group of five with a nice accent on the first note of each five with the hammer-on.
There we have it! Some rhythmic analysis goes very far, however when coming up with grooves and rhythms it’s important to do what feels and sounds best. Like I said when I came up with this riff, I just thought about holding each note for five, but when we took a deeper look into why we found all sorts of cool patterns and sequences. If you are writing a song, always take a moment to look into why something works, or why something might sound the way it does. Not only will you learn something, you will be inspired to go further with ideas that you find within your initial ideas. Ideas within ideas? Now that’s something to think about! Until next time, practice and write well!