The Hills Are Alive(ish)

This entry was posted by on Friday, 8 July, 2011 at

I usually feel guilty every time that I write a post about music, because I imagine that it is not why folks come here. “Ugh. Another post about guitars? I’m not reading that.” Yet today I am of the mood that they should be happy that I am posting anything at all, jerks! (timoth is good with the people.)

I have been having some internet difficulties again lately, which naturally means picking up the guitar a little more often. These days I have been focusing more on instrumentals, because a while ago I had an idea for a Purple Robe project that would consist of a series of short (one to two minutes) guitar instrumentals in wildly different styles to try to create different moods. Why? I do not know… is there a good reason “why” behind anything the Purple Robe has ever done? Basically just to see if I can, I guess.

To give you an idea of what I mean, I came up with one piece that I think is kind of “piratey”, and another that, though I am not really sure how to describe the style, sort of reminds me of a summer breeze. There is also a “Chinese” flavored one that has been kicking around for a couple of years, and a couple of other snippets as well. None of these are anything close to full songs of course. And just because *I* think that they sound like a particular genre that I know nothing about, does not make it so.

I am not sure why I even bother to mention this, because I think we all know that I am never actually going to finish it. In fact, with my tendency toward total secrecy when working on a project, merely bringing it up pretty much guarantees that I will not finish it. Why all this mucking about in genres of which I know nothing anyway? You know who does that? People far more talented than I, and it still results in the poopiest music of their careers.

Then I somehow got to thinking that one problem with my body of songs is that none of them have a really “killer riff”. I do not like to think of my self as merely a “chord strummer”, in the sense that you often see someone in at a coffee house, open mic or church simply strumming basic open chords as accompaniment for the vocal. (Although some of my songs actually are exactly that.) Still, for whatever reason, I do not really like to move my fretting hand a lot when playing guitar, so my style does boil down to mostly picking or strumming chords, even if it is not the most common or obvious form for a given chord.

Technically speaking, a “riff” is any repeated musical passage, so even a simple chord progression qualifies. But what we are talking about here are KILLER riffs. I am thinking of “Rebel Rebel”, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, “Iron Man”, “Oh Pretty Woman”, “Boys Don’t Cry”… I could go on and on, but hopefully for at least one of those songs, the mere mention of it created a distinct musical passage in your mind. A killer riff gives a song identity*.

A killer riff should be short, often only one or two bars, although it can be longer as even some of my examples above are. It should contain notes of a scale and not just a chord. (Until very recently I thought that a scale and a key were basically the same thing, and even now knowing that they are not, I am still a little fuzzy on the distinction and the purpose of each, but even so.) A riff is different from a melody, although they can be melodic. It should be a “hook” rather than repeating through most of the song, which I think makes it more of a “rhythm” than a “riff”, though that is a somewhat ambiguous and possibly artificial distinction.

So what to do I have? “Wasting” has a neat little guitar thing, although it is really just two alternating chords with a little flourish in the middle. “Art of Letting Go” has a riff that I feel gives the song identity, but it does not have notes that you could hum or scat sing or whatever like the above examples. “SoPoard” has a nice repeating phrase, although it is quite long and slow. I think my riffiest of riffs is from a song called “The Wait” which no one has ever heard. [I should totally finish that one, you would like it I think. Well, maybe not if you have not liked any of the other ones. Nevermind.] Yet even that one underlies most of the song, which was against one of my conditions.

So, it is as I said: no killer riffs.



*The leader of a band that I used to be in was always talking about giving songs “identity”, by which he usually meant taking a perfectly good groove and changing it around so that it messed with people’s expectations (including the rest of the band) and quite frankly, now sucked. That is not what I mean here.

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