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Sam Bell - Extended Range Guitar Part 13: Writing Extended Range Guitar Riffs

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 31 **

Welcome to my latest instalment of the extended range guitar lesson column. In this metal guitar lesson we are going to explore a low end 8-string guitar riff that utilises the bottom four strings and minimal notes but also manages to highlight an implied chord sequence.

Before I had the riff idea I initially had just the rhythm which is based around a triplet timing. I really liked the way the rhythm was simple enough to repeat but really catchy, it just needed one more thing, Harmony. I am not personally into the sound of just chugging away on one note unless the song really calls for it, so I needed to get a chord progression happening to base my riff around.

The chord sequence that I chose is as follows:

Ab Gsus4 Cm Bb7

The chord progression has two different endings the first one is:

Ab Gsus4 Cm Bmaj7

And the second one is:

Ab Gsus4 Cm Eb7

Once I chose this chord progression, I decided to follow the route notes of each chord using the rhythm that I had come up with previously. I noticed that I accented beat 3 of each bar, this is where the snare hit would usually reside. This gave me inspiration to take the route note rhythm version of this riff and expand it.

I see the riff as made up of two parts. The first part are the low notes defining the harmonic movement of the riff and the second part is the static C note that occurs on the A string 3rd fret. This note changes at one point to highlight a substantial change harmony, however this is an artistic decision that went with where I could hear the riff going harmonically. The C note in conjunction with the moving route notes highlighted certain tones from each chord. Ab to C is a major 3rd, highlighting to very important notes from an Ab triad. The G to C movement implies a perfect 4th which highlights our Gsus4 chord. C to C is just an octave, which highlights the route note of our Cm chord in the sequence. Bb to C is a major 2nd interval which gives us a 9th sound over our Bb7 chord. On the 2nd and 4th passes of the chord progression we have a slightly different ending chord each time. The first one Bmaj7 is where our C pedal note descends to Bb, giving us a Major 7th interval. The second one is Eb7, however the notes in the riff highlight Eb and C which gives us a major 6th interval. This gives us an Eb13 sound which I feel is a nice way of ending the riff. When using dominant 7th chords you are given lots of opportunity to modulate the riff outside of its original key centre without it sounding too obvious whilst retaining a melodic resolution. 

Whilst there is a lot of theory there, it wasn’t something I was actively thinking about whilst coming up with the riff. If I were to summarise the basic steps I went through to come up with the basic riff it would have been to find a rhythm and groove first. I would jam on this groove over a programmed drum backing in Cubase. Whilst this is happening I would have started throwing other notes in to the groove, eventually my ear would catch something that I liked and subconsciously my theory knowledge helped me find what I heard in my head materialise quicker. I then started playing around with different interval jumps when I heard the natural accents in the groove that I had come up with. After a bit of thought and experimentation I had come up with the bones of the riff.

Following on from there I fleshed the idea out with choosing the right places to play the notes on the 8-string. With so many notes available on the 8-string you really have a lot of room to get creative with the different timbres of each available note, different Cs on different strings may sound the same pitch wise, the size of the string and where it is placed on the fingerboard can make a huge difference to the overall tone, attack and shape of the note. This is something to really be aware of on 8-string, it’s one of the main reasons people can get discouraged at first because they are just finding notes and sticking with them even though they might not be satisfied with the tone and the way it feels to play. Be sure to take a look around the fretboard of your 8-string before you decide to set the riff in stone!

The next thing I did as a songwriter and arranger was to flesh out the track arrangement itself, I decided to put some synth strings in the background to expand the idea and settle it into more of a chorus/hook style section of a song. Ironically as I type this, this riff doesn’t belong in any of my songs...yet, however I feel even if you are just writing one riff, it is always good to take it as far as you can, this is good for your musicianship, and your riff bank!

Hopefully this column has proved more of a creative insight into how I come up with riffs on my 8-string. See if any of the methods mentioned above help you with your writing on the 8-string. It’s important to remember that the same thing might not work for everyone, so as always, have fun experimenting! Until next time, have fun writing extended range riffs!

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