Bent Out of Shape: Improve Your Riffs with Rhythm Guitar Fills

The term "fill" is usually associated with drummers to describe a short break from a regular groove, or a "mini solo" that's usually used to signal the end of a phrase.

Guitar players also can use fills in the same way, and they can be used to enhance your rhythm playing. Adding fills when writing or recording will allow you to inject a little extra creativity and personality into your rhythm parts.

As I've said many times in my previous blog posts (See RELATED CONTENT under my photo to the left), the production of rock and metal has become very stale and uncreative in recent years. Now that everyone uses Pro Tools, I would imagine that 95 percent of all the music you hear from established metal bands uses the copy-and-paste method for rhythm guitars.

While this is a great time-saver, and something that allows you to be consistent, the downside is that you lose a lot of expression and dynamics in your playing. As a result, I've started to make sure I resist the temptation to copy and paste while recording and use the opportunity to incorporate guitar fills whenever I see fit.

To illustrate my point, I have a sample of music from a song I recently recorded. The song features a riff that is played many times. To make the music more interesting, I made sure I didn't play the riff the same way twice. I've edited the song so that you just hear this riff repeated with all its variations. Sometimes the riff is played during a verse, in which case I minimized my fills so they don't distract from the vocals. In other cases, the riff is used in a more prominent position, in which case I played a more extravagant fill.

The techniques used for the fills in this example are pick scrapes, slides, harmonics, whammy bar dives and trills. Most of these are unique to the guitar, meaning they couldn't be performed on any other instrument.

I prefer fills like these because I like the guitar to sound like a guitar. That may sound strange, but there are certain characteristics and techniques exclusive to the guitar that make it a very expressive instrument. My advice would be to experiment when writing and recording to see if you can add anything to your riffs that might make them sound more expressive and less mechanical.

I want to end with another example of a song that uses guitar fills to enhance the music. This is a song by the band Blue Murder, which features John Sykes using many different fills over the same riff. This also leads me to the subject of next week's blog post, which is in response to several requests I've received. I will try to demonstrate how to execute pick harmonics with wide vibrato in the style of John Sykes.

See you next week, Cheers!

Will Wallner is a guitarist from England now living in Los Angeles. He recently signed a solo deal with Polish record label Metal Mind Productions for the release of his debut album, which features influential musicians from hard rock and heavy metal. He also is the lead guitarist for White Wizzard (Earache Records) and in 2012 toured Japan, America and Canada. Follow Will on Facebook and Twitter.

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