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How do you write a riff?

Discussion in 'Tab & Music Forum' started by TangerineDog, Aug 5, 2018.

  1. TangerineDog

    TangerineDog Senior Stratmaster

    Sep 5, 2015
    The EU
    I've realized that I'm quite lame at finding new melodies lately, and some catchy riff hasn't been thought up for ages in this room...

    So how do you go about finding a riff?
  2. Dadocaster

    Dadocaster Dr. Stratster Strat-Talk Supporter

    I am not really riff based, but the last one was when my son and his prog metal buddies played for 2 hours, then left to eat at Chik-fil-a. Started noodling and by the time they got back I had roughed out a song.
    carolinaeasy and Nadnitram like this.
  3. Silverstrat69

    Silverstrat69 Strat-Talker

    Jun 11, 2018
  4. JustABluesGuy

    JustABluesGuy Senior Stratmaster

    Sep 3, 2016
    Houston, TX
    I’ve never really thought about it to tell you the truth. Riffs just come to me, often depending on the melody. Sometimes I just stumble on them without any melody. I simply need to recognize the cool riffs when I stumble on them, and develop them from there.

    I’ve often thought that my ideal playing situation would be as a third guitarist, riffing away somewhere “in between” rhythm and lead.
  5. TheDuck

    TheDuck Most Honored Senior Member

    Jan 12, 2016
    Lil' Rhody
    Go outside your comfort zone.

    Attempt to play things that are either well beyond your skill level, and / or things that wouldnt normally interest you.

    Sometimes the seemingly absurd can lead to ideas you never knew you had. :thumb:
    velvet_man and Chont like this.
  6. simoncroft

    simoncroft Dr. Stratster Strat-Talk Supporter

    May 30, 2013
    SE England
    A lot of great riffs feature pretty obvious note choices; it's the timing that makes them great. Try locking in with some particularly groove-some drum loops for inspiration.

    Or, to build on @TheDuck's post, how about going for a Mode you wouldn't normally use?

    To distill that idea to its most simple explanation, what I'm saying is use a scale you know, but use a different note within the scale as the root. For instance, it's hard to create a great riff using C Major as your scale. Using D as the root (Dorian mode) using exactly the same notes gives you some of the more obvious rock choices, while using B as the root (Locrian mode) will give you something far more exotic. Start on A (Aeolian mode, or Natural Minor) and you're more into epic AOR territory.
  7. Grux

    Grux Strat-Talker

    May 17, 2018
    Clarksville, TN
    I tend to just start playing a pattern, usually something more blues rockish right after I pick the guitar up kinda like a warm up. I never intend to write anything I just play, sometimes it's cool sometimes it ain't lol.

    What I really like to do is find a movable voicing to play up and down the neck. I've written some killer intros that way....just by experimentation.
    velvet_man and StratSounds like this.
  8. StratSounds

    StratSounds Senior Stratmaster

    Sep 10, 2016
    Rocky Mountain Way
    New riffs for me usually morph out of some lick I already have in the quiver, but some particular mood or mindset during some random improvisational lead session causes me to seek a variance, usually nothing that major, but definitely different.

    Every now and then I'll have a "whoa" moment and get excited. I experienced it yesterday. Of course then it's like, what did I just do and can I find it again next time or has it just vanished into the ether? Not necessarily a technical thing, just a new way of playing something, different from what I've done before. I usually just try to enjoy it in the moment. It's definitely the exception and not the norm, but I think everything is hanging out in the grey matter somewhere and just comes out through the fingers whenever it decides to. Interesting stuff for sure.
    velvet_man likes this.
  9. Thrup'ny Bit

    Thrup'ny Bit Grand Master Curmudgeon Strat-Talk Supporter

    May 21, 2010
    Steal the bass line...
    simoncroft, rolandson and Mr C like this.
  10. Cerb

    Cerb Most Honored Senior Member

    Jan 22, 2016
  11. Brian H

    Brian H Senior Stratmaster

    Feb 7, 2016
    I agree.....and skip strings..and bend....and dont be afraid to make mistakes. and record yourself so you can remember the cool parts
    velvet_man, Mansonienne, Grux and 3 others like this.
  12. Stratoskater

    Stratoskater Most Honored Senior Member

    Feb 8, 2011
    Running with Scissors
    I agree with what @simoncroft said about locking in to the groove. The best riffs I have written are because of the groove they have and not the notes I play.
    JustABluesGuy likes this.
  13. RussV

    RussV Senior Stratmaster

    Dec 8, 2008
    One option is to take a short melodic phrase and repeat it but with a small change. That's how 'Smoke on the Water' works, it can be split into 2 halves with the first 3 notes the same. One of the ultimate guitar riffs.

    It's the same for the melodic hook to Jeff Beck's Freeway Jam.
  14. JustABluesGuy

    JustABluesGuy Senior Stratmaster

    Sep 3, 2016
    Houston, TX
    Recording to capture cool accidents, and thinking rhythmically are very important, as has been mentioned.
  15. guitartwonk

    guitartwonk Strat-O-Master

    Essentially, the problem is that trying to be creative is the opposite of being creative, just like trying to empty your mind only fills it with thoughts of "empty your damn mind!"

    These are just a few ways you can trick your brain into being creative:

    Say you're listening to a riff in someone else's tune, and in your head you always expect it to go somewhere other than where it actually goes, well then, write the riff where it does go where you want it to. I'm pretty sure the Cult did this based on Rolling Stones and ACDC tunes more than once.

    Alternatively, listen to songs in a completely different genre from the one you're trying to write in. Take the chord progression from one of these songs, then apply it to your genre. I once borrowed a progression from Neil Young & Crazy Horse and punked it up, only to get told it sounded like the Screaming Blue Messiahs, who I hadn't even heard of at that point (I have now and I really like them!).

    Or take an existing riff from someone else, and reverse the chord progression - as far as anyone knows, it's your riff. I did this based on a UK Subs tune. Only years later did I realise what I'd ended up with was Commando by the Ramones. Turns out I'm not the only one trying this little trick!

    Or take the rhythm from one song and try to apply it to the chord progression from another. Since there are no new chord progressions under the sun anyway, what you just did is write a whole new riff!

    CyFan4036, rgbedard and JustABluesGuy like this.
  16. carver

    carver The East Coast Strangler Strat-Talk Supporter

    most riffs are based around very common note choices.

    lets take E C D B as an example.

    Sure you can go out and play those chords, or you can play them using power chords. or you can play 9ths, 7ths, whatever you want. then you can slide riffs between the note changes to blend the chord changes. there is just so much that can be done.

    The best riffs I have come up with, I have come up with when I wasnt trying to write. I was more or less just playing and came across some cool progressions. then those progressions grow. other times I see everything so clearly that I can write them in my head, then get home and finish it off.

    I think the important thing is, is to allow your self to experiment. if your memory isnt the best. record you jam sessions and listen back to them with a fresh mind, you may be shocked at what you find.
    JustABluesGuy likes this.
  17. amstratnut

    amstratnut Peace thru Music. Strat-Talk Supporter

    Dec 1, 2009
    My house.
    Dont overthink a riff.

    There are a kabillion riffs waiting to be heard. So what if its a little similar to another? Grab another.
    velvet_man likes this.
  18. guitarface

    guitarface Senior Stratmaster

    Nov 11, 2012
    New York
    I just noodle around til it sounds good and then I wait to realize it's a Rolling Stones song.
  19. TangerineDog

    TangerineDog Senior Stratmaster

    Sep 5, 2015
    The EU
    Last time I thought I had something original, it was Beiber...
    Mansonienne likes this.
  20. JustABluesGuy

    JustABluesGuy Senior Stratmaster

    Sep 3, 2016
    Houston, TX