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Arts & Entertainment

Riff Rock Writing: Verses and Multitracking

Tom Morello

Lesson time 12:03 min

Get inspired by Tom’s riff-writing process and apply his simple studio recording techniques to begin creating a song of your own.

Tom Morello
Teaches Electric Guitar
In 26 lessons, Grammy-winning musician Tom Morello will teach you the guitar techniques, rhythms, and riffs that define his signature style.


I've never been much of a gearhead, not at all. In fact, I find it difficult to change a battery. So I-- capturing and recording ideas was done throughout my entire career on a Radio Shack cassette player. When they stopped selling those anywhere in the world, I had to find the RadioShack cassette player app for my computer. So it's very, very simple. You press one button on it. I don't think that technology should ever be a barrier to creativity. I'm just not tech minded. And I want to be able to come up with a song and record it right away in the simplest analog way, so that I can hear it later on today, or the next day, or bring it in-- bring it into band rehearsal. So that's how-- whether it was in an apartment in Hollywood, or whether it's at the studio now, I always have that very simple form of immediately being able to record something. You don't need Pro Tools to record your idea. You don't need a $2,500 a day studio to record an idea. All you need is anyway to just put it down right now so you remember it. While I do have Pro Tools, in this studio, where we heard the multitracking of the songs, I've been multitracking on songs, on a Fostex four-track, in the mid-80s. The best way to hear a song idea come to life is to play it with other musicians, though. I mean, that's where my riffs have always found the greatest life, playing especially with Tim and Brad to find a chemistry between musicians that creates something that's beyond the original riff, by other players' personalities and their input and ideas to flesh something out to life. I will continue to admit I'm not particularly technically savvy. And whenever I'm doing overdubbing on Pro Tools, let me tell you, there is an engineer who is pressing the buttons. The only button they allow me anywhere near in a studio is the volume knob. That's the only one that ever let me touch. [MUSIC PLAYING] I've always written my riffs on acoustic guitar, often nylon string acoustic guitar, often this nylon string acoustic guitar. The reason being is when I was living in an apartment in Hollywood, you couldn't exactly have a roaring Marshall stack at 2:30 AM when sometimes inspiration strikes. So my girlfriend's guitar-- now my wife's guitar-- was my go-to. And it'd always be sitting right next to the bed. So whenever I was inspired I would pick it up and write a riff. And over time I got to have a pretty good ear for what on a nylon string acoustic riff in the middle of the night would sound like when played with a roaring rock band at Reading Festival in front of a huge crowd or on a big Brendan O'Brien produced record. So now I'm going to show you that process from start to scratch. We will not have the Reading Festival crowd in the studio today. But you'll get an idea of how something that begins very humbly on acoustic guitar can become a big rock song. So if you could just-- let's give me a-- a click track to, say, 80 beats per minute. It'd be helpful. [BEEP...

Strike a Chord

Tom Morello is a two-time Grammy winner and one of Rolling Stone’s "greatest guitarists of all time." In his first online guitar class, the co-founder of Rage Against the Machine will teach you the riffs, rhythms, and solos that launched his career and sent his music to the top of the charts. Tom will share his approach to making music that challenges the status quo and teach you how to create your own musical style.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I loved this class. Tom gave so much! It was so well and thoughtfully organized, and comprehensive. Thank you, Tom Morello!

Absolutely wonderful, extremely inspiring, you will come out of this course a transformed person, a better one. Thanks MasterClass and Tom.-

Excellent. I took this course because I wanted to be a rocker when I was young. Too bad there was not a course like that then. After hearing Tom I felt eager to try the music again. It is truly inspiring. I think I'm going to take it again

love how masterclass instructor just tell it like it is with no bs



I loved how he would say hit it and there would be an anticlimactic metronome....

Gurunam A.

This is so fun to see how to break down a rock song. I'm a super beginner but this is making me feel like playing rock music is possible for me seeing how all the pieces fit together!

Kenneth S.

Ok, this lesson is back on track, from the previous Lesson 16, I like the recording ideas a lot. A Fostex 4-track... not only do I know what it was, I and a few friends owned them in the early 80's!

Joe R.

Lol At least I now know why when I play Bombtrack it sounds so wimpy compared to his. Great stuff!


This one is definitely an Audioslave jam, I can almost hear Chris Cornell trying some verses over this, R.I.P.

John R.

It needs to be said, this guy's communication skill is just incredible. A natural ability to break down complex concepts into very functional instruction.