When writing riffs, one of the greatest challenges is to create parts that are not just melodically and rhythmically effective but also memorable and powerful. The best metal riffs—like “Crazy Train,” for example—contain all of the qualities necessary for a great riff: hard-driving power, strong melody and, most importantly, a “star quality” that makes the riff instantly recognizable. This is true for both fast and slow riffs, because a really great riff doesn’t have to be impressive exclusively in a technical sense. This month, I’d like to present a couple of riffs that I believe exemplify these qualities.
Welcome to String Theory, a new column dedicated to imparting guitar-centric music theory concepts in a practical, useful way that you can readily apply to composing and improvising. Rather than show you a bunch of dry, abstract textbook examples of how chords are built from and live within various scales, I will try to keep things interesting and inspiring by presenting etudes.
Last time, we kicked off this series of Brewtality columns by going over some basic, but essential, stuff and learning how to play the A minor pentatonic scale (A C D E G) all over the neck. We did this by learning the five fretboard patterns shown in FIGURE 1.
In this classic entry from his "Brewtality" column, Zakk Wylde shows you some essential minor-pentatonic runs. To kick things off, let’s start with some basics by looking at the minor-pentatonic scale and how it covers the whole neck. To keep things simple, we’ll stay in the key of A minor for now.
The title of this month’s column refers to the standard minor pentatonic “box” patterns that so many guitar players rely upon when soloing. While they are valuable, they can be restricting if they represent the primary way in which one utilizes these scale patterns on the fretboard. When playing in the standard box pattern, we generally play two notes per string. What I will do in this column is demonstrate a way to break free of the two-notes-per-string approach by combining it with three-notes-per-string patterns using sweep picking.
As the Black Label Society's leader (and Ozzy's guitarist for more years than anyone else), Zakk Wylde has become infamous for his brew-tal riffage and lethal lead style. Remarkably, though, he also has a soul-stirring softer side.
Learning how to play jazz guitar means learning a number of ways to play maj7 chords and the related extensions, maj6, maj9 and maj7#11, associated with these chords. While these extended chords contain four, five and sometimes six notes, that doesn’t mean you have to learn big, hard-to-play fingerings that are difficult to grab and hard to insert into a playing situation.
A blues phrase is made up of three ingredients: what you play (the notes), when you play (rhythm) and how you play (your touch and sound). When players focus mainly on the what—scale patterns, arpeggios, picking technique and so on—the result tends to be a solo with lots of notes in constant motion, but if you change your focus to the when and how, you can deliver a breathtaking solo while barely moving your fretting hand.