Canadian-born Joni Mitchell originally intended to be a fine artist and considered herself a hobbyist musician in the early Sixties, occasionally playing paid gigs to support her painting studies. That all changed by the mid Sixties, when personal issues inspired her to channel her thoughts into music that would soon be covered by folk artists like Tom Rush and Judy Collins.
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.
In my last column, I discussed my penchant for employing odd meters in much of the music I write for Animals as Leaders, using the song “Cylindrical Sea” as an example. While “Cylindrical Sea” moves back and forth freely between 7/8, 5/8 and 6/8 time signatures, the idea was not simply to write a tune for the sake of complexity.
"For that one, Neil just started playing it and we all joined in. I think right before we began, he said something like, 'You know, when we go to the verse it goes to these changes…' and he showed us. Nobody really knew when that was gonna happen, but we just followed along. And there might have been some rough spots. I might have dropped my guitar down a couple times. [laughs] But other than that, that was it. That’s the first take. For years I’ve been telling people that when we get together and jam, it’s just like that. But it was never recorded. "
Internal tensions, while always present, began to undermine the Pumpkins not long after Mellon Collie’s release. Neither the original quartet of Corgan, guitarist James Iha, bassist D’arcy Wretzky and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin nor subsequent lineups ever achieved the same level of guitar-drenched grandeur, although Corgan and the most recent Pumpkins ensemble go a long way in that direction on their current tour, for Oceania, their latest album.
It might well have been the end of the Who had Townshend not conceived a grand plan to write a full-blown rock opera. “We were feeling quite out of touch and out of place,” he explains, “thinking, God, we’re not selling singles anymore and neither do we fit into this new psychedelic era. We’re not an experimental band like the Pink Floyd. We’re not a guitar-based blues band like Cream. We don’t have the kind of extreme genius of Hendrix. What do we do? And I started to look at composition as a big issue.”
After years of development, digital modeling technology can finally deliver tones, dynamics and feel that are almost identical to the characteristics of classic tube amps. Ironically, Roland has just introduced a modeling amp that doesn’t offer any copycat emulations at all. It’s a ballsy move, but Roland knows full well that its new GA Series amps can stand on their own merits instead of having to rely on “sounds-like” marketing.
Lately, it seems like the stomp-box world has focused on building a better delay pedal, with dozens of contenders offering powerful new effects. While a few traditionalists have steadfastly clung to the analog realm, the most significant progress has taken place in the digital-modeling world with delay units that offer accurate reproductions of tape, analog and digital delay effects, and much more.