Arts & Entertainment, Music

From Riff to Song


Lesson time 08:14 min

Learn to create music as a band with insights into how a Metallica song is built—from collecting guitar riffs and writing intros to using the jam to generate ideas and build tension in your songs

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Topics include: It All Starts With the Riff · Writing the Intro: Anticipate the Riff · Jam on the Riff · Give the Process Time


[ELECTRIC GUITAR PLAYING] - Songwriting is, in my mind, like a big puzzle of just pieces that have to fit together. In Metallica, we start with what we call a main riff. That main riff feeds the song-- [PLAYING GUITAR] --often sets the tempo, sets the key, and then the verses, the bridges, the choruses, the middle parts, the intros. All of that are usually derived out of the feel of those main riffs. [PLAYING GUITAR] - Whether they're from our own mind sitting at home or on tour, playing in rehearsal rooms or whatnot, or warm up rooms before a show, riffs get collected. - Back in the day, it used to be that whenever we were going to make a record, everybody would have their ideas, their riff tapes. And it's like, OK, we're going to start writing a bunch of songs. [MUSIC - "ONE"] When there's a main riff, everything else just works off that. How does a song start? We like to write intros that are a little bit of a journey in itself. Imagine you're going like on a waterslide or something. And you're going through all these twists and turns. And then when you get spit out at the bottom, you land on the main riff. - You want to create drama. And, you know, a perfect example I would say would be "Enter Sandman." It starts off with a picking part. [MUSIC - "ENTER SANDMAN"] And then that whole bang comes with chords. And you would expect the band to come in with the main riff. But no, we come in with chords. And there's a drum part, you know, toms. And the guitar part and the bass parts, like a low chug on the E. It's all just like just fairly routine stuff that really doesn't really sound like much. But what we're doing is we're setting the stage for what's coming. The main part of it comes. And when it does come, it's so much more impactful. Because we're building drama. We're building tension, you know, musically, harmonically, through tempos. And basically, you know, we're setting the scene for like the big reveal. You can have a really, really great riff. But if it's not presented and executed properly, it can fall flat on its face. Or you can just like-- you can take a riff and then play it so much that it loses its meaning. When we write a riff, the main riff is almost sacred. You don't want to play it too much. You want the listener to feel like they're always on the edge of hearing it. And when it does come, they're like, yeah. Then you want to pull it back. So that they're like, uh, uh, uh. And you know, it's that push and pull and the fact that, you know, the listener might not expect what's coming next. But when it comes next, it's exactly what they want to hear. They don't know it yet. But it's exactly what they want to hear. - That's that riff. - Just F sharp and then F-- - OK. - --ever other time. - You've got a great riff. What do you do after that? We'll go out, and we'll just jam on it. How does it feel? Try a few different feel...

About the Instructor

With 28 albums, 8 Grammy Awards, and a home in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Metallica have been creating iconic music together for over 40 years. Now, they’re teaching what it takes to build and sustain success as a group. Get an exclusive look into their process for songwriting, building an album, and performing, and how they took charge of their creative destiny so you can do the same.

Featured Masterclass Instructor


8x Grammy Award–winning rock band Metallica teaches you the keys to communicating, collaborating, and successfully creating as a group.

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