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Metal Rhythm Guitar Domination pt.2

Well, last time we spoke, the goal was to get you into shape for this month. This time I’m not screwing around anymore. Let’s get right to the point. This month we are going to utterly destroy your right hand and teach you some good ways to incorporate modes into your riffing. Grab your axe, a pick, and lets start tearing it up.

Step 1) Pain, Suffering, Torture

I’m hoping that you actually practiced what I suggest last month and got your rhythm chops up. Well, lets step it up a level then! Before we even THINK of applying fingers to the neck, lets make sure our picking hand is an inhuman machine! Nothing will get you more in gear than grabbing an open string and playing thrash rhythms galore! Remember that exercise from last month where you were supposed to set a metronome and improvise rhythms? Well, you better have done that because if not, your in a world of hurt. If you didn’t practice this, then go back and spend a few days doing it. LISTEN TO THIS AUDIO EXAMPLE to hear a few second example of what I’m talking about. I suggest doing stuff like that, only doing it for as long as you can possibly handle.

To get things started off, let’s take a riff with a straight feel and with one goal in mind, to drive. Playing riffs based on a straight 16th note feel has the tendency to really get people head bangin’ in that good old mosh pit. The riff I am going to use as an example is from a old solo track of mine called.  The riff is in B Aeolian minor (natural minor). The trick to the flawless execution of this riff lies in your picking hand. The left hand work is extremely easy, but the picking can be tricky. Getting the double stops to sound clean can be annoying. Aren’t you glad you practiced getting up your endurance to a metronome??? This one flies by pretty quick. If you remember from last month’s column how we talked about using down picking where ever possible? Notice the picking. It’s all starting to come together isn’t it?

Listen to it!

Moving on in the straight feel realm, another good song for this sort of playing is “Keeper” by Dark Shift. Playing through this song all the way requires a load of endurance (because we play it a lot faster live then on the mp3). Playing through this song at a wicked tempo will definitely test your picking arm. Enjoy the burn and think of it as working out. The first riff tabbed out is the intro riff. It has been a continual effort to make pentatonic scales useful and fun around here, so here is a great way to spice up your penta-wanking….apply some riffage!

Listen to it!

Here is the verse riff. This one really starts to hurt by the time you get into the 3rd verse. But, it is a lot of fun to play and is totally old school sounding! So, it is worth the trouble of learning for exercise purposes alone.

Listen to it!

Remember from last month how we were talking about Iced Earth? Well, I hope you checked them out, because this next riff is guaranteed to test your down picking. This riff is from a song called “Colors.” Try playing it along to the CD for a good time. If you can’t quite keep up, grab your metronome and set it slower. Work your way up. With in a few weeks you should be effortlessly jamming along to the disc. When playing this, please keep in mind that Iced Earth tunes down a 1/2 step. So, you might want to tune down if you play to the CD…. then again minor seconds can sound cool in a sick way I guess?? So you can play in standard if you like odd harmonies.

Now that you’ve got some good real life applications of endurance exercises, you should be in proper shape to become a good rhythm player. We are going to move on to playing with modes now.

Step 2) Modal Riffing

Using modes in your riffs is one of the easiest things you can do to spice up a song. If you don’t have a good grasp of modes, then its time for you to hit the theory books (there have also been some good columns on this site explaining how to use them and what they are. Look at the archives). I’m going to write this next section with implied knowledge that you already know how to use modes. With that said, lets move on.

Face it, everyone loves to use Aeolian minor when playing metal. Its a great working formula. Sometimes its cool to use raised 7ths as leading tones once in a while, because they pull so strongly back to the tonic, for a great resolution of tension. Gotta love that harmonic minor sound! But, other than that, most people never explore using modes, or even modes exotic scales in there riffs. Lets start simple. Say we want to do something in Phrygian minor in stead of Aeolian minor. So what’s the difference between these 2 modes if we are using E as our minor key tonic? Simple, Aeolian is (E F# G A B C D) and Phrygian is (E F G A B C D). That is a 1 note difference. Your thinking, 1 note…. so what! BUT! Flatting all of your F#’s in your E minor riffs will make the riffs sound a lot meaner. Try playing these 2 examples.

Hear the difference? Next time you play a riff in E Aeolian, change all F#’s to F’s and check out the sound! I think you’ll be surprised. Now, here is where I want you to experiment. I want you to think and do this on your own. Pick a mode and try to write a riff using only the notes in that mode. This will really start to let you hear the distinct differences between the different modes. Also, personally, I’ve found that when I’m in certain moods, I know exactly what modes to write in to convey those feelings in my writing. The more you play with this concept, the cooler the riffs you’ll come up with, and the more unique you’ll sound. Try exploring modes of melodic and harmonic minor also. Even try it on exotic scales. This is my challenge to you. You’ll learn a lot more from doing this, than if I were to tab out 500 exercises showing how to do this. Experiment, and most importantly have fun! I’ll see ya next month. Peace.

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