Licks, Riffs, and Fills


Having looked at some basics of scales and melody, we look at some melodic (and seemingly melodic) ideas. What we are not discussing here is soloing or composing instrumentals.

One way of looking at music is to say it can be broken down into 3 components: melody, harmony, and rhythm.

Rhythm deals with time alone. Harmony deals with the sonic space of a particular moment in time.Melody is concerned with a succession of tones (both time and space).

If we consider scales to be the palette with which we choose which notes to include and exclude from the tonal spectrum, so as to create melodies, than we understand that the list of potential notes is not music (any more than most people would consider the color red to be art).

So then the focus changes from learning about our tools (scales) to using our tools to create with. Our goal is to make melodies with the scales at our disposal.

Melodies can mean different things to different people, and our scales are flexible enough to entertain and enliven many different styles of melodic thought, from the grandiose to the small, from the ornamental to the plain. Thematic to chaotic.

We will be using licks, riffs, etc. to grow from the unexpressive mechanics of scales twords creative expression of melody.

There is a zen saying that says,
"enter by form, exit from form"
What can we take from this?
When you start something new, start with the basics, get the mechanics down. Once you've internalized the basics, move on to creative expression (move out of the box).
To move to artistry we may imitate the forms of others, but we must eventually move on beyond this as well to creativity through and beyond defined conventions, and simply do what's natural. Forget the information, flow with the moment. Stop thinking, trust your intuition.

Ok. Some quick definitions to get us started:

Scale - a set of ascending and descending pitches.

mode - for our purposes: a scale with an established relative relationship to another scale. (others: a scale produced by shifting the tonal center to a different degree in the original scale; series of sounds with a definite relation to a permanent tonic).

lick -

riff - (pop/jazz) a short ostinato, generally two to four bars, that is repeated until it becomes almost hypnotic.

fill - a short musical phrase added to an "empty space" in the music.

ostinato - a short pattern repeated through a passage of music.

(to be returned to in another lesson)-
motif - basic melodic passage from which larger phrases or sections of a piece are created.

figure - a short musical phrase.

double-stops - Two notes played at the same time using two different strings, not only if both strings are stopped by the finger, but also if one or both of the strings is open.

counter melody - counterpoint accompianment to a melody.

Licks
Let's begin by working through some common (cliche) licks.

Consider,
C Pent. Major (G-shape)

|-O-|---|---|-R-|
|-O-|---|---|-O-|
|-R-|---|-O-|---|
|-O-|---|-O-|---|
|-O-|---|-O-|---|
|---|---|---|-R-|
  5

We look at a portion of this moveable pattern.


|-O-|---|---|-R-|
|-O-|---|---|-O-|
|-R-|---|-O-|---|
|---|---|---|---|
|---|---|---|---|
|---|---|---|---|
  5

Use the first finger for notes on the 5th fret, ring finger for 7th fret, and pinky for 8th fret.

We'll look at some licks that involve bending the 2nd (3rd string, 7th fret). Consult lesson from June 21 if you haven't done any bending before.

1.) We'll bend the 2 up to the 3 ( a whole step) and then hit the 5, hold it down, and release the bend, pulling off to the 1. Tabbed out we have:

|-------------------|
|---b----8----b-p---|
|--7-(9)---(9)-7-5--|
|-------------------|
|-------------------|
|-------------------|

2.) Same thing but barre the 1st and 2nd strings with the pinky (you can barre before you play the lick, likewise, I would plant the index throughout)

|--------8----------|
|---b----8----b-p---|
|--7-(9)---(9)-7-5--|
|-------------------|
|-------------------|
|-------------------|

3.) Consider the same notes (as #1) but instead of bending, we will slide (using the 3rd finger) from the 7th to the 9th fret, hit the 5(using the 2nd finger), slide back down to the 2, and pull off to the 1.

|-------------------|
|--------8------p---|
|--7-/9-----9\-7-5--|
|-------------------|
|-------------------|
|-------------------|

4.) We consider the same tones (C-pent.maj.=C,D,E,G,A) as being A-pent.min. (A-pent.min.=A,C,D,E,G)

C Pent. Major (G-shape)

|-O-|---|---|-R-|
|-O-|---|---|-O-|
|-R-|---|-O-|---|
|-O-|---|-O-|---|
|-O-|---|-O-|---|
|-O-|---|---|-R-|
  5

A Pent. Minor (E-shape)

|-R-|---|---|-O-|
|-O-|---|---|-O-|
|-O-|---|-O-|---|
|-O-|---|-R-|---|
|-O-|---|-O-|---|
|-R-|---|---|-O-|
  5

using this pattern

|-R-|---|---|---|
|-O-|---|---|---|
|-O-|---|-O-|---|
|---|---|-R-|---|
|---|---|---|---|
|---|---|---|---|
  5

|--------5------------|
|---b----5----b-p-----|
|--7-(9)---(9)-7-5----|
|------------------7--|
|---------------------|
|---------------------|

I suggest barring the 1st and 2nd strings with the 1st finger while bending with the 3rd finger.

* Blues, rock, country musics are common musics that use licks.

One last lick example before moving onto some examples of riffs.

5.)


|------b-p-----|
|--(11)-9------|
|--(11)-9-7----|
|--(11)-9---9--|
|--------------|
|--------------|

(this simulates (V-IV-I)

RIFFS

A riff is a short ostinato, generally two to four bars, that is repeated until it becomes almost hypnotic.

Since riffs are largely a rhythmic device more than a melodic one, we will begin by considering just one note.

Ex. We will start by choosing a rhythm. For this exampleI'll use the following rhythm:

/ // / // / //// / 

1.)Play with D-note on 5th string, 5th fret.

|----------------------|
|----------------------|
|----------------------|
|----------------------|
|--5-55-5-55-5-5555-5--|
|----------------------|

Not too exciting, but in the right context...

2.) Now try playing the same rhythm using an interval.
a.)I'll use the octave to start beginning on same D.

|----------------------|
|----------------------|
|----77---77---7777----|
|----------------------|
|--5----5----5------5--|
|----------------------|

b.) Using M3 (above root)

|----------------------|
|----------------------|
|----------------------|
|----44---44---4444----|
|--5----5----5------5--|
|----------------------|

c.) P5 above

|----------------------|
|----------------------|
|----------------------|
|----77---77---7777----|
|--5----5----5------5--|
|----------------------|

d.) M2 below slightly different use of notes.

|----------------------|
|----------------------|
|----------------------|
|----------------------|
|--5-35-5-35-5-3535-5--|
|----------------------|

8.) Using the same rhythm, but using notes from the pentatonic minor scale (1,b3,4,5,b7)

|---|---|---|---|
|---|---|---|---|
|-O-|---|-R-|---|
|-O-|---|-O-|---|
|-R-|---|---|-O-|
|---|---|---|---|
  5

|----------------------|
|----------------------|
|----75---75---75---5--|
|----------------57----|
|--5----5----5---------|
|----------------------|

4.) Using the double stops based on D5 and D pent.minor.

|----------------------|
|----------------------|
|--7-75-7-75-7-7557-5--|
|--7-75-7-75-7-7557-5--|
|--5----5----5------5--|
|----------------------|

and so on and so forth...

In review, to create a riff:
1.) Choose a rhythm.
2.) Choose your palette of notes to use (single notes, scales, random, etc.)
3.) Place them in order of play.

If you want to play a riff in a certain style, you should spend time studying that style. Find the riffs that appeal to you and analyze them. Ask:
- what rhythm is being used.
- what notes are being used.
- What else is going on.

* Given a choice, a tasty rhythm is better than a thematic melody or complex harmony.

FILLS

Bass Fill

|---------|
|---------|
|---------|
|---h-----|
|------5--|
|--5-7----|

Fills are generally used to fill empty spaces created by another melodic/rhythmic source (there is a hole somewhere to fill).

Fill excerise: Call and response

Call and response is a type of melodic development where an initial melodic statement (the call) is responded to by a following melodic statement (the response).

"Hello Goodbye" by the Beatles demonstrates call and response within the same instrument/singer but that need not be the case. You could have a duet or a leader and a chorus/choir, etc. if you think of military cadences "I don't know but i've been told..." they are often call and response.

As an exercise, here is a set of melodic statements (all calls), fill in the blank bars with responses. Then repeat, and try to find a different response, etc.

|---------|----------|---------|---------|
|---------|----------|---------|---------|
|-------4-|----------|---------|---------|
|---5-7---|----------|---4-5-7-|---------|
|-5-------|----------|-5-------|---------|
|---------|----------|---------|---------|


|---------|----------|---------|---------|
|---------|----------|---------|---------|
|---------|----------|---7-5-4-|---------|
|---4-5-7-|----------|---------|---------|
|-5-------|----------|-5-------|---------|
|---------|----------|---------|---------|

Fill Exercise: Empty Space

Get out those dusty Albums. Put them on. Pick a song. Figure out the key and scale(s) being used. Find the (melodically) empty spaces, and fill them. Fill them with anything and everything, but only in the empty spaces. Keep a seperation between your own playing, and the melody already recorded.

Self-observation is key in making this work. At first, you may feel desirous, even obliged to play random things with no connection to the song or melodic/harmonic/rhythmic structures. Given a discerning ear though, over time, you may feel that a fill works best within the context of the song it is in.

You may also decide that not every hole needs to be filled, that silence can also be employed.

You may also want to experiment with starting the fill during the time of the other melody.

Counterpoint will be covered in a later lesson.

Improvisation exercise:
Jam with a buddy, agree on some parameters (key, types of scale used, etc.) and start a musical dialogue.

You might start with parroting - one person plays a melody, and then the other copies it note for note, after a while change who goes first.

Or you might try call and response.

And you might try playing longer sections where one person is comping while the other is soloing, then switch the soloist and accompianment roles.

Again the point of this lesson was not to discuss how to solo or compose a melody, etc. but rather to look at some commonly used melodic ideas, and let you run from there. A future lesson will cover the basics of counter-point, as well as future lessons on double-stops and triple stops, a lesson on development of a motif, as well as lessons covering common licks and riffs on particular styles.

Next lesson is on Relative Tuning.

Peace,
Christopher Roberts
snglstringtheory@aol.com


How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/guitar/8theory3.html

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Last updated June 13, 2002
Copyright 2002. All rights reserved.