Arts & Entertainment, Music


Tom Morello

Lesson time 20:57 min

Powerful, hard-driving riffs are the heart and soul of Tom’s musical legacy. Learn his tips for experimenting with tuning, slides, chukkas, and more, to unleash heavy, rocking riffs of your own.

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Topics include: Follow Your Instrument’s Tone • Chords and Riffs: Try Returning to the “One” • Write in F# or E for Maximum Rock Power • Change the Tuning to Add Dynamism • Add Holes, Slides, or Double Picking • Experiment With Syncopation • Add Chukkas or Pauses, and Combine • Add Licks and Fills • Invert Your Favorite Riffs


For me, it's that mid-tempo, heavy riff rock, which really scratches the itch in my soul. Often the tone you're playing with can lead to a successful riff. I'll tell you this story. We were-- Rage Against Machine was practicing for a South American tour, and all of our had already gone to South America. So we were playing on rental gear, playing on somebody else's gear. We were running through our set and it sounded awful. And it didn't-- it just sounded bad. And you know, we were sort of looking at each other like, are we so dependent on the amplifiers and the guitars that we play that we can't sort of recreate that with other instruments? And it dawned on me that that wasn't the case. It's like if we had had other instruments, we would have written other music that sounded good on those instruments. And so that is one of things that always led me in my guitar playing is if you pick up an electric guitar or a bass or an acoustic guitar, it leads your riff writing in different directions. And that's something to embrace. So right now, we're going to go through those things and play. Just going to turn this on, going to concoct a riff out of thin air on the electric guitar and try one on those other instruments, as well. All right, so, let's see. Let's try one in F sharp, which is one of the most rocking of all keys, and see what we got here. [ELECTRIC GUITAR RIFF] That's a-- Something like that, a sort of off the cuff riff that occurred to me. It was the tone of this guitar that kind of led the way on that riff. Let's try another instrument. [ROCK MUSIC] So now, let's stick to the key of F sharp and see where the tone of an acoustic guitar leads us just off the cuff. [ACOUSTIC GUITAR RIFF] There is an important relationship between riffs and chords. And there's really a diversion to opinions on the topic. There's the James Brown school of thought and then there's the more harmonic, melodic school of thought. James Brown said that every instrument is a drum. And he's emphasized the one in all of his music meaning that each bar of the music comes back to the root note, the one. So on that riff that I was just playing there, this is the F sharp, which is the one. [ACOUSTIC GUITAR RIFF] We're always back to that F sharp. And it is a repetitious, funky, rhythm that becomes hard to escape. 90% of my riff writing subscribes to the James Brown theory. Now, there are many other great riffs in the world that have chord progression. For example, if we take this same F sharp rhythm and move the chords around you get a completely different feel. [ACOUSTIC GUITAR RIFF] There's the movement in the chords that lends itself to more sort of harmonic or melodic interplay, but you perhaps lose some of the tribal thump of the note returning to the one every time. The good news is you need not choose. And in your songwriting, like in mine-- for example, the Audioslave catalog was ...

About the Instructor

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.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Tom Morello

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

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