How To Create Music Using One Guitar Riff

The 7 Step Guitar Riff Workout Part 2

How To Generate Hours Of Music With One Single Guitar Riff

by Simon Candy

In part 1 of this lesson I took you through the first 3 steps of my 7 step guitar riff workout lesson.

Today we will complete the workout with the final 4 steps required to truly take the riffs you learn and have them become part of your guitar playing where you can draw upon them time and time again to create incredible music. As you started to learn in part 1 of this lesson, there is much more than meets the eye regarding getting riffs into your guitar playing from which to then create and improvise your own music.

It requires a workout of sorts to achieve this, hence the 7 Step Guitar Riff Workout!

Here is a summary of the steps covered so far in our workout:

1. Learn The Riff

Obvious yes, however many stop here expecting the job is done.

2. Applying Riffs To Different Musical Contexts

There are many ways to apply one riff on guitar, giving different results each time. Great players learn fewer riffs with more ways to apply each, effectively multiplying the riffs they know.

3. Scale Connection

Connect the riffs you learn to the scales they come from to create entry points in and out of the riff.

Let’s now continue the workout to more easily enable you to create incredible sounding music using riffs on your guitar.

4. Move Riffs Around To Different Positions On The Fretboard

A great way to open up the fretboard to understand and visualise it on a whole new level is to take a riff and learn to play it in multiple positions.

Why bother doing this?

Many reasons.

As already stated, being able to visualise and play a riff all over the neck of your guitar will deepen your understanding of the relationships the fretboard holds. Playing riffs in multiple positions will have you naturally phrase the riff differently a lot of the time because the notes of the riff will fall under your fingers differently in some positions compared to others. You will also have more opportunities to use the riff in your playing as there will be a version of it around wherever you are on the fretboard.

Let’s apply this approach to our riff.

Example 1

We will start by moving our riff to the higher octave within pattern 1 pentatonic scale, the original scale we created the riff in:


Guitar Riff Workout Position 1

Notice that moving the riff causes the notes to fall under our fingers differently.

When adding slides, hammer on’s, pull off’s (which we will be doing shortly), this will provide different phrasing possibilities which has everything to do with how musical and interesting your riffs sound.

Example 2

In this example I am moving the riff back to the original octave, however this time within pattern 5 pentatonic scale:


Guitar Riff Workout Position 2

Example 3

Next let’s move our riff to the top of pentatonic scale pattern 2:


Guitar Riff Workout Position 3


By moving the riff to the top of pattern 2 we are presented with a third possibility regarding how the notes fall under our fingers.

Example 4

Here I will move our riff to the lower octave of pentatonic pattern 2:


Guitar Riff Workout Position 4


Notice that in this position the riff falls under your fingers as it did in examples 1 and 2.

Example 5

Now let’s move the riff to the lower octave of pattern 3:


Guitar Riff Workout Position 5


Notice with pattern 3 the riff falls under our fingers the same as it did in the original position within pattern 1, before we started moving it around the fretboard.

Example 6

Here is our riff venturing into pattern 4 of the pentatonic scale:

Guitar Riff Workout Position 6

This pattern throws up yet another possibility regarding how the notes of our riff fall under the fingers.

Example 7

When placed in the lower octave of pattern 4 the riff once again falls under the fingers as it did in examples 1, 2, and 4:

Guitar Riff Workout Position 7


Example 8

Finally, let’s move our riff into pattern 5 of the pentatonic scale:

Guitar Riff Workout Position 8


Simply learning the riff in each position above and then switching between them at regular intervals will do wonders for your ability to be shifting between the different pentatonic scales and actually working in each shape rather than on each shape.

So many more things could be included here with this step, but I must stop or else we will never get through the workout! :)

5. Pitch The Riff

A great way to develop your ear and the ability to play what you hear in your head on the guitar is to use your voice to pitch the notes of the riff as you play them. In general this is a great thing to do with anything you play on guitar. You don’t have to do it every single time you play something, however regularly doing this will help connect your voice to the guitar.

It is not about singing per se. Believe me, I cannot sing to save my life :) However it is about developing the ability to play melodically on the guitar. You are essentially installing the riff into your ear so it can be more easily recalled when needed by pitching along with it as you play. In the beginning your fingers are revealing the notes/riff to your voice, so your fingers are essentially guiding your voice, leading the way.

In time and with some practice this process switches. Your voice will start to guide your fingers producing more melodic/musical choices in your playing. When I am improvising and finding I am not coming up with much that I like, I use my voice. Instantly I start to play more melodically and naturally.

Music comes from within. Using your voice is great way to get out what you are hearing/feeling onto the guitar. This point alone is quite a big topic. So I’ll stop here, other than to say, be sure to use your voice to pitch along with the riffs you learn on guitar. Just be patient as it may take a little getting use to, but with a little practice you’ll start to resonate more and more with the riffs you play on guitar.

6. Create Variations Of Riff

Taking the riffs you learn on guitar and creating variations of them is a great way to develop your improvisational skills. When soloing on guitar the riffs you play should relate to one another. They should tell a story. Playing one random riff after another, even in the same key, is called noodling and won’t sound like a cohesive/congruent solo.

Great solos have a lot of repetition with variation of riffs to create a theme from which to solo around. Just like a story or a movie, there needs to be a storyline, and then development of that story line leading to a climax.

While this article is not about creating a solo, creating variations of the riffs you play will help you naturally construct your solos and improvisations in such a way.

There are two basic ways to create a variation of your riff:

1. Melodic 
2. Rhythmic 

Let’s take a look at each.

Melodic Riff Variation

Creating a melodic variation of a riff is to simply alter the pitch of the notes of the riff in some way. You don’t want to change too much or else you’ll end up with a completely different riff. It still needs to relate to the original riff as it is a variation of it.

Let’s have a look at some example melodic variations of our riff.

Example 1

Guitar Riff Workout Melodic Variation 1


Example 2

Guitar Riff Workout Melodic Variation 2

Example 3

Guitar Riff Workout Melodic Variation 3


Notice with each variation above I have kept the same rhythm as well as the same notes. All I have done is change the order of the notes. In doing so each melodic variation relates back to the original riff. I could’ve added a note or two, and it would still be ok, I just chose not to do this.

Rhythmic Riff Variation

A rhythmic variation is all about changing the value/length of some or all of the notes of the riff, without changing the pitch.

Rhythmic Variation 1

In this first example I have increased the length of the riff overall by giving some notes longer durations:


Guitar Riff Workout Rhythmic Variation 1

Rhythmic Variation 2

Here I have added a triplet for a cool rhythmic variation of our riff:


Guitar Riff Workout Rhythmic Variation 2

Rhythmic Variation 3

The variation in this third example is perhaps a little more subtle:


Guitar Riff Workout Rhythmic Variation 3

At first it may appear nothing has changed as I am using all 8th notes as the original riff did. However I am starting the riff on a different part of the bar. The original riff started on the first beat of the bar. In this example it begins on the off beat of two. Moving a riff around the bar like this creates a very cool rhythmic variation.

Phrasing Variations

While we are talking about variations, another great way to vary your riff is to look at different ways you can play the notes. Switching your focus from what notes to play to how should I play each note will change your guitar playing!

How you approach playing a note is often referred to as phrasing that note. I have purposely left out any real phrasing with our riff to this point in time.

Below are some different ways you could go about phrasing the riff to make it sound a lot more musical and far more expressive. These first two examples use a combination of slides, hammer on’s, and pull off’s, collectively known as legato playing, to bring more expression to our riff:

Example 1

Guitar Riff Workout Phrasing Variation 1


Example 2

Guitar Riff Workout Phrasing Variation 2


The result over all is a much smoother sounding riff.

Notice in the second example I finish the riff by sliding up to the 12th fret of the 5th string. I am actually finishing on the same note as I did in the first example, only on the string below for a cool effect.

In the next two examples I use some double stops and open strings:

Example 3

Guitar Riff Workout Phrasing Variation 3


Example 4

Guitar Riff Workout Phrasing Variation 4

In example 3 the double stops bring a whole new texture to our riff which creates a nice contrast in sound against the single notes.

Example 4 sees the addition of open strings. The sound of open strings resonating against fretted notes outside of the open position of the guitar is a whole different ball game in itself.

Here you get a glimpse into the wonderful world of open string guitar riffs for your solo playing

7. Integrate Riff With Other Riffs

Perhaps the most important step in our guitar riff workout, and a step missed by many players, is in connecting the riff you are learning into your guitar playing. Just because you can do something great in isolation, does not mean you can do it when it counts, within the context of soloing (ie. amongst other things you can do on guitar).

You need to be able to naturally connect into your riffs in real time when soloing/improvising on guitar.

There are many levels to doing this, however let’s look at connecting in and out of our riff whilst playing other riffs on guitar. This is similar to step 3 in part 1 of the guitar riff workout lesson where we were connecting our riff to the scale it came from.

To provide you with an example of what I am talking about here, I need to introduce to you a number of different riffs that we will be using for this.

Here they are:

Integration Riff 1

Guitar Riff Workout Integration Riff 1

Integration Riff 2

Guitar Riff Workout Integration Riff 2

Integration Riff 3

Guitar Riff Workout Integration Riff 3


Each of the riffs above are what we will use to connect our riff to. These represent riffs you would already know. So when doing this yourself, you should already know riffs 1, 2, and 3.

You are not trying to learn new riffs here, but rather connect one riff with 3 others that are already part of your playing.

With that said, the following is an example of how this would play out:

Guitar Riff Workout Integration Example


The idea in the example above is to connect in and out of the riff with the other 3 riffs. It’s like you are introducing the new riff to the other riffs you already know. Soon enough they will get to know each other really well and get along just fine, meaning you will be able to easily connect into the riff as you solo on your guitar.

I hope that makes sense to you as this is such a crucial step. There is no point learning a new riff if you cannot connect to it in real time when soloing on your guitar.

When you listen to the example above you will notice there is no gap between each riff as I play it. Once I finish one riff I immediately start playing the next one. Musically this sounds awkward at best. However we are not trying to be musical here at all. This is a training drill to easily and effortlessly connect your riff into your guitar playing. Giving yourself no time to do so helps train the brain to quickly make the connection.

So there you have it, the 7 step guitar riff workout that is sure to take any riff you like and not only cement it into your guitar playing for good, but make you a much better musician too.

Here is a summary of the workout for you:

1. Learning The Riff

2. Applying The Riff To Different Musical Contexts

3. Connecting The Riff To Its Scale Of Origin

4. Moving The Riff To Other Positions On Guitar

5. Pitching The Riff To Internalise It

6. Creating Variations Of The Riff

7. Integrating The Riff With Other Riffs And Elements Of Your Guitar Playing


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