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Songwriting and creative riffs for metal and rock related genres

Dan Shipway

Slim Shady
  • Nov 11, 2019
    Hi everyone, this is a topic I have spoken about in lots of posts but I am still really struggling with riff writing. I find that I'm not really a creative type of person and never really have any ideas floating around in my head for solos or riffs etc and i really want that to change.

    I look at riff writing really logically like there is some kind of formula to crack but I know that isn't true. Its just frustrating to sit down and put a drum track on but not be able to come up with interesting rhythms, chord structures or lead fills and in all honesty I don't know where to start.

    I always hear people "having ideas in their heads" and i feel like I cant be a songwriter because I just don't have that.

    I would love advice and maybe practice exercises if possible to help with being able to come up with interesting rhythmic patterns that lock in and around drum beats, creating chord progression and lead fills, really just how to break out of the mould of playing the same chords and notes in scale order as apposed to jumping around and playing complex chords.

    The styles I mainly wish to be able to write would probably be pop punk, early metalcore and more djenty stuff like monuments and periphery.


    Local Dive Bar Favorite
    Apr 16, 2022
    Trust me, you are not alone in this. It’s a thing that everyone struggles with and it is definitely frustrating to get over. My advice is to explore things you haven’t explored much. Play in e standard, try drop D. Play around with 9th’s and minor chords combined with your power chords (much easier to do in drop D). Metal and punk use about 4 or 5 rhythmic choices. Gallops, reverse gallops, sixteenths, and eighths. Throw them all together into one measure. Two gallops a reverse gallop and sixteenths or something like that. Other things you could do which get into metalcore is syncopated rhythms. You don’t have to have a note played on the click of a metronome. Remove that one note and still play that rhythm without it. Creating chord progressions doesn’t have to be very complicated. Heck, Avenged made Afterlife which is an incredibly amazing and iconic song even today, and it only uses a simple I - V - vi - IV progression. It is not what chords you use, it is what you do with it. Also please note that when you create a riff, it is probably not going to be exactly how you want or it could have some work done on it. Creating a song is like an ice sculpture. Starts out as a big block of ice and eventually turns into a beautiful piece of art.


    Local Dive Bar Favorite
    Apr 16, 2022
    Also a quick thing I need to add to what I said. Usually when writing a song you have to start it out “logically” before the inspiration strikes you. Sometimes though the inspiration hits you right when you pick up the guitar and those usually end up as your best songs but disclaimer they don’t happen very often. Hope this helps. Rock on 🤘 - Wise (kinda) student Al7eX

    Chris Johnston

    Music Theory Bragger
  • Nov 11, 2019
    North Ayrshire, Scotland
    Hey Dan,

    Riff writing (and writing in general) is such an interesting topic! Everyone will have their own approach but heres my two cents:

    It can be easy to get distracted by what a riff logically should be - sometimes this can lead to analysis paralysis and you either don't write or you over judge what you've written.

    The first piece of advice I can give for any type of writing is to treat it like 'play'. The idea is to get into a headspace where you're just trying things out, if they sound good - great 🤟 Record it etc and if not, no worries. Kinda like how when we were all children, we would create fearlessly - we wouldn't be worrying about the quality of our crayon drawing etc or judging our abilities based on what we created. We did it because we could and because it was a fun outlet.

    This first step allows you to get out of your own way and let ideas begin to naturally flow 👌

    A writing exercise I always do with my students is to stick on a backing drum track (YouTube has loads of great Metal ones) and just let them practice the above step - having a consistent rhythm behind you can really inspire your writing, like jamming with a live drummer etc

    The next step is quality control. Once a riff starts to surface, you can then - *gently* - begin to pass judgement on it. Its important to remember that it's only a riff you're judging and not your ability to write them. If you don't like it, you don't have to use it. But you've tried it out at least and you'll learn very quickly what you consider a 'bad' or 'weak' riff.

    The more you engage in this process, the quicker the process will become and the stronger your riffs will sound. It's all a matter of fearlessness, open mindedness, & taste 👌

    Hope this helps!
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