Lady Gaga and Creating Riffs: How to Write Riffs for the Charthits of Today

The music fashion moves in cycles. What is popular today will be forgotten tomorrow. Protestsongs were in the 1960s the order of the day, todays songs deal with a totally different subjectmatter. Guitarsolos were a must have for most songs of the 1970s. In the 1980s most of those solos were replaced by synthesizer-and drumsounds. When you wanted heavy Rock riffs in your populair songs you had to wait sometime until 1986/87 when Gun’s ‘n’ Roses brought back the Les Paul, and with it the Classic Rock guitar sound and attitude of the 1970s. Move up a few  years and States Eastwards from California to Seatlle to meet Nirvana and Grunge. Heavy [or maybe I should say “Dirty”] guitarsounds were back in the chartmusic of the early 1990s and they seemed to stay there for a while. Of course the musical landscape had changed a lot in the 1990s too: More and more subgenres away from the charts. If you wanted Metal and Country guitar, you could hear it the whole day. This is no different today. I really want to focus on daytime radio, which plays chartsongs for the masses.
Today’s music is loaded with pretty ladies who are singing hitsongs made by producers. Most of these producers are very good at creating impressive sounds with the use of digitial reocording tools, but they seemed to have somehow forgotten about the sounds of the guitar and the emotional impact a guitar can have on the listener.
Seems to be the perfect landscape for ambitious guitar players from all around the globe to get serious with their riffs and sounds, and to give them a place in the chartsongs of today.
For today’s blog I will take you through a few hitsongs which chart today. I will give you some ideas how to spice up these songs with guitarsounds, things like: “Where to put a riff or solos in this song”, I will talk about sounds and other issues etc. I will not give you any notes to play, my hope is that are good enough to do this yourself. My imput will merely be inspiration and advise. A bit like “Some afterwords from the producer”. Enjoy

Okay, the Ladies’s song again. Have a good listen, listen to the sounds which are in there at the moment. Some of them could act as a guitar. To add your riff to the mix you need to anticipate that something has to be taken out of the exhisting mix, this for the sound not to get too cluttered. In fact this song is very dense in sound, sounds pop in and out, the dynamics go up and down. That is one of the reasons why the song works the way it does.
Create a riff after her first few words during the intro [from 0.19 onwards], base your riff on the material of the chords of the keys. This riff will be your main riff. Use this riff also for the chorus, make it as big and bold as you can, as it is the hook of the song, the one where people will say: “Hey I love this song, I want to hear this sucker” Keep playing the riff, play along with the heavy drumsound, make your guitarsound sit in with the drumgroove, this will anker the sound very well. Stop playing Main Riff from 0.27 onwards, no guitar here, just as the original! Now create a fairly similar riff [riff Two] for the next part. Riff Two should have a much lighter sound. Bring in riff Two from 0.43 onwards. Keep playing this one until the break before the chorus, bring back your Main Riff during chorus. You have now created two Riffs which work dynamically very well with the song. All you need to do is alternate from Main Riff to Riff Two. Once you can play the song well [timing, breaks etc.] you can change the sounds you are using, or maybe create a different Riff which acts as your Main Riff. I would suggest you to play only one riff as Main Riff, this will make it easier for the listener to connect with. When you are playing songs you need to be aware of the listener. Keep the ideas you play as clear and concise as you can. It does not matter what style of music you play, this rule applies all across the board: The best songs are the ones  where the listener connects with straight away, and people connect with clear  musical ideas.

                      ~~~Additinal Ideas: Alternative Sounds~~~

Use Different Sounds for your Main Riff to add extra spice, bring in these sounds during the chorus from time to time,  as the chorus is fairly long you do have time to bring in different sounds. Sounds can also work as a hook, just as a riff can. Keep in mind to keep the sounds clear, do not let your sound get too cluttered by too many effects. I think a bit of Flange could add some extra drama from time to time in the chorus. Set your Flanger at a dirty setting, not a nice full sound, no, get it really extreme. Think of Lady Gaga, it need to be bold and weird, just how she would like it to be, but at the same time make it work and make it FUN!!

Over to the next song which will be very different in sound and approach:

Now this song does contain a little bit of  electric guitar, from 2.39 onwards, but it is fairly weak and we can improve on it! There is an acoustic right from the start of the song
It is an art when you are rearranging a song not to destroy the orginal ideas, and to keep the song the way it is but at the same time to enhance the song by adding new sounds to the song.  For this one we are going to add guitar in this song next to the piano. Let us take out the acoustic guitar at the beginning and replace it by a clean humbuck guitar, something like a Les Paul. We will be playing chords with little embelishing riffs in between the chords. We will be playing those notes in between Adelle’s vocals, we will need to keep things sparse, as there is not much space. The vocals are busy during the whole first part of the song, so careful as we do not want to add to much guitar there. Now during the Pre-Chrorus we will play a little chord idea after the first piano stabb [from 0.42 onwards] again it should be fairly understated as we are not yet in the chorus, we are still building to the climax. An arpeggiated chord idea should do, one where the piano is played first and our guitar idea comes right out of the piano. It now sounds as there is interaction between the two instruments!
For the Chorus we can play a Riff which is bigger in sound, we will bring this in from 0.59 onwards. This riff can go right over the pianochords, so the piano and bass are the only instruments which play harmony and the vocals and guitar provide the melodic content of the song. In this way we have a good balance between the sounds which create the harmony and melody for the song. Like with the Lady Gaga song, for this one we can alternate between what we play for the verse and the chorus, straightforward really but effective at the same time.
From 2.32 we will stop playing only to come back with a solo from 2.39 onwards. This solo will replace the orginal idea on the song. Our solo should be clear  and short, the sound should be similar as the one we have already been using, the guitar needs to go up a little in volume an the solo needs to interact with the vocals, like a question and answer idea. We will play the solo until 2.50, which is the same as the orginal. Now during the next chorus we will add a solos as well, this time with a slight bit of distortion, this solo should be dramatic and a bit longer, also different from the first one. It should stay close to the vocalmelody, but we should ride on this solo as it is a dramatic climax, it is the one which ends the song, we do have more time to develop the ideas of the solo, no need to rush with our ideas. 

When you create riffs or melodies it is a good habit to hear what you actually play. As I write this, I have no guitar near me, I listen to the songs and can hear the ideas as I would play them on a guitar. It takes time to develop these skills but you can discipline yourself to get into this habit. A common habit of beginners is to play all the time, to look for the notes they want to hear. Hearing before you play is really an art you need to develop, but this is also related to your personality: Some people speak and you can hear them saying something, while others make a sound, more or less respond to what they hear but they do speak out a clear message.
With hard work you can develop your composing skills to create great melodies for your songs and riffs. This will be the subjectmatter for futureblogs. I will create more blogs on how to compose your solos and melodies.

Playing guitar is all about setting goals for yourself, you may be involved in making chartsongs but at the same time you may play sologuitar in a Jazzstyle or something which is more Latin based. There is so much guitarmusic out there, it helps to know what has been made before to get an idea of the history of the guitar and the things you could be doing.
I would like to leave you with this song, just to give you an idea there is so much more than the pop music of the charts of today.

My next blog will be about how to keep yourself motivated and to become a more creative as a musician and guitar player. Have a great time and hope to see you soon.