Feb 212015
 

Counterpoint is defined as two or more simultaneous melodies that maintain their independence while still forming a harmonic relationship. A single instrument like classical guitar can perform counterpoint with three or four lines seeming like a single part. However, rock guitarists seldom do this for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

In Part One and Part Two, we examined intervals, how to write riffs with them, and different ways to melodically ornament them. The two main intervals were fifths and thirds, with each having neighbor and/or passing tones. Now we’ll go further to using mixed intervals and introduce two basic ideas in counterpoint: oblique motion and contrary motion.

Mixed Intervals

So far we’ve been using three implied chords: E minor, D major, and C major, in that order. The lower line has also been E, D, and C, and the main interval has either been thirds or fifths. What we’ll look at now is retaining that bass line, but changing what interval is above it. Take a look at Example 1.

Interval_Riffs_Counterpoint_Ex1
Example 1

Using three different intervals, a third, fourth, and fifth, we have this riff as performed in Example 2:

Interval_Riffs_Counterpoint_Ex2

The upper part remains on G while the lower line descends. As this happens, the G forms an E minor third with the E below it, and when the passage ends, a fifth with the C below it. G is a common tone for E minor and C major (it is in both the first and last chords).

In between at measures 5-6, while the lower note is D, G seems like a non-chord tone. After all, the notes of D major are D, F#, and A. There’s no G, but we’re playing it anyway. There are two interpretations.

One: G is a non-chord tone that works with D because G is in the chord before and after it. This makes the temporary dissonance of G not being in the chord smoother.

Two: The chord has changed from D major to being G major in second inversion (i.e., the fifth, D, is the lowest note). G major is spelled G, B, and D. Any time you’re playing a perfect fourth, the higher note is the root, as if it’s a root-fifth-octave voicing without the lower root (Example 3).

Interval_Riffs_Counterpoint_Ex3
Example 3

Simple Counterpoint

In previous articles, when using thirds or fifths, we were always doing parallel motion, which means the two notes were a third apart on the first chord and remained that way as the notes moved to other chords (Example 4). Fifths were always a fifth apart.

Interval_Riffs_Counterpoint_Ex4
Example 4

Now, one line moves and the other one doesn’t, which is called oblique motion. It might seem that less note movement would be less interesting, but both oblique and contrary motion create a sense of depth and space within the guitar part. The stationary note causes the following changes in this case:

  1. There are two independent parts.
  2. Three different intervals and sounds are used: a third, fourth, and fifth
  3. The chord changed from D major to G major, which also gives the bassist two options: playing D or G. If you listen carefully to the mp3s, you will hear the bass move from D up to G and then walk down to the C chord

A good use of oblique motion is to perform a V-I progression, since the fifth note of a key is in both chords. In E minor, that note is B. The V chord of B major is B, D#, F# and I chord of E minor is E, G, B). You can hold down the B while alternating the E with a D# (Example 5).

Interval_Riffs_Counterpoint_Ex5
Example 5

Contrary Motion

When two lines move in opposite directions, it’s called contrary motion. This technique is useful for switching between a third and fifth in particular.

Interval_Riffs_Counterpoint_Ex6
Example 6

A fifth can collapse inward to a third if the lower note moves up a step and the higher note falls a step. In doing this, C and G become D and F# respectively, so a fifth becomes a third and the chord changes from C to D. The reverse works just as well, so a third can expand outward to become a fifth (Ex. 6).

Another application in E minor or major is for the V – I progression, B major to E, as in Example 7. Here, the low B drops to the open E while the D# rises to another E, so a third becomes an octave. We can also add another B on top and leave it there for both chords (Ex. 7b). This sounds richer.

Interval_Riffs_Counterpoint_Ex7
Example 7

Putting It All Together

If we combine the ideas in this article with the ornamentation ideas of the last article, we arrive at a riff like that in Example 8. This uses mixed intervals, upper and lower neighbor tones, and parallel, oblique and contrary motion. Notice the last beat of measure 8, where C5 collapses to D3, which then rises in parallel to Em3. Hear the mp3, where the bass guitar line outlining the G chord.

Interval_Riffs_Counterpoint_Ex8
Example 8

Coda

Counterpoint is a simple way to add depth to your parts for a more spacious, richer guitar riffs, especially when combined with mixed intervals. In subsequent articles, we’ll go through the song “Motif Operandi” from my album, The Firebard, riff by riff to see these applications and variation techniques in practice.

Interval Riffs, Part 1: Basics

Many guitarists use chords for rhythm guitar without considering another option: intervals. While a chord is three (or more) notes, an interval is only two. This might seem a trivial difference, but using just part of a chord lets you play intervals for specific reasons, and using only two fingers creates other more advanced possibilities. […]

0 comments

Interval Riffs, Part 2: Ornamentation

In a previous article, Interval Riff Basics, we looked at and heard examples of using only two notes, or intervals, for rhythm guitar parts. The two main intervals are fifth and thirds, with the latter adding more variety and color to your riffs. Now we’ll look at ornamenting these two basic sounds with melody fragments. […]

0 comments

Interval Riffs, Part 3: Simple Counterpoint

Counterpoint is defined as two or more simultaneous melodies that maintain their independence while still forming a harmonic relationship. A single instrument like classical guitar can perform counterpoint with three or four lines seeming like a single part. However, rock guitarists seldom do this for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean it can’t […]

0 comments

Structural Chord Progressions

A good way to make songs more powerful and structurally sound is to use chord progressions not only within sections, but also across them. This creates a harmonic relationship between sections and adds to the sense of forward motion, tension and resolution, and overall strength. A change of section can feel more logical and expected, […]

0 comments

Writing Guitar Licks

I always prefer to write a new guitar lick instead of using a standard one, but since anyone can throw in a bunch of notes that don’t sound good, how do you write something fast, impressive (they must always be that, of course), and musical? Through experience, I’ve developed an approach. To do this, you’ll […]

0 comments
Feb 212015
 

In a previous article, Interval Riff Basics, we looked at and heard examples of using only two notes, or intervals, for rhythm guitar parts. The two main intervals are fifth and thirds, with the latter adding more variety and color to your riffs. Now we’ll look at ornamenting these two basic sounds with melody fragments. Doing so also introduces other intervals, including seconds, fourths and sixths, but each will be subservient to our core intervals of the third and fifth… at least for now.

Ornamenting Thirds

There are two types of notes in music: chord tones and non-chord tones. Our ornamentation will be done with non-chord tones, specifically the one called a “neighbor tone”. A neighbor tone is next to a current chord tone, and is approached and left in opposite directions. For example, if holding an E minor third (the notes E and G), and the upper note, G, drop down to F#, and then back up to G, the F# is a neighbor tone. See Example 1a.

Interval_Riffs_Ornamentation_Ex1

In this case, the F# is a lower neighbor. There is also an upper neighbor, which would be A. See Example 1b. Listen to this example of thirds ornamented with lower neighbor tones. Within the example are major thirds, a minor third, and major seconds, as shown in Example 2.

Interval_Riffs_Ornamentation_Ex2

Notice how there is a constant eighth-note pulse on the 5th string throughout this example, and that an interval of one kind or another is only sounded at certain accents, when both notes are sounded. At that moment, the muting from the right hand is lifted so the chord can be heard. This brief moment is one reason the relatively dissonant interval of a major second (E and F#) works. If you were to sound the major second and let it ring longer, it sounds much more dissonant.

Example 3 and its accompanying mp3 use both lower and upper neighbors to create a more active line. Of special note is the last measure, where an F# was used because it is in the key. With the C below it, it creates an augmented fourth, which usually sounds like it should resolve upward by step to the fifth, which is the case here. The F# is also a passing tone, not a neighbor tone, and such a motion is discussed below.

Interval_Riffs_Ornamentation_Ex3

Ornamenting Fifths

Just like thirds, fifths have both a lower and upper neighbor. The lower neighbor is usually a perfect fourth, while the upper one can be either a minor or major sixth, depending on where you are in the key. See Example 4.

Interval_Riffs_Ornamentation_Ex4

In most of Example 5, the perfect fourth is used, but listen again for the augmented fourth (the F#) above the C, as expected by the key of E minor. It is possible to use the perfect fourth above C and introduce an F natural.

Interval_Riffs_Ornamentation_Ex5

Connecting Thirds and Fifths

To connect a third with a fifth above the same root, such as E, another kind of non-chord tone is used: the passing tone; in this case, a fourth. A passing tone is approached and left in the same direction. For example, with E on the bottom continuously, G can pass through A on its way to B, moving from the interval of a minor third, through a fourth, to a fifth. The opposite direction works equally well. See Example 6.

Interval_Riffs_Ornamentation_Ex6

Of course, it’s not necessary to connect the third and fifth at all. You can simply alternate.

This final mp3 illustrates a riff connecting thirds and fifths as in Example 7.

Interval_Riffs_Ornamentation_Ex7

Coda

Adding ornamentation is a good way to introduce melody to your rhythm guitar parts, but we’ve only scratched the surface of what can be done. In a future article, we’ll explore counterpoint and see how to write two different lines for one guitarist to play alone.

In Part Three, we introduce counterpoint.

To hear and see some interval riffs in an actual song of mine, watch this video of my song “Crunch Time”. The riffs are in the upper left guitar part onscreen.

Interval Riffs, Part 1: Basics

Many guitarists use chords for rhythm guitar without considering another option: intervals. While a chord is three (or more) notes, an interval is only two. This might seem a trivial difference, but using just part of a chord lets you play intervals for specific reasons, and using only two fingers creates other more advanced possibilities. […]

0 comments

Interval Riffs, Part 2: Ornamentation

In a previous article, Interval Riff Basics, we looked at and heard examples of using only two notes, or intervals, for rhythm guitar parts. The two main intervals are fifth and thirds, with the latter adding more variety and color to your riffs. Now we’ll look at ornamenting these two basic sounds with melody fragments. […]

0 comments

Interval Riffs, Part 3: Simple Counterpoint

Counterpoint is defined as two or more simultaneous melodies that maintain their independence while still forming a harmonic relationship. A single instrument like classical guitar can perform counterpoint with three or four lines seeming like a single part. However, rock guitarists seldom do this for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean it can’t […]

0 comments

Structural Chord Progressions

A good way to make songs more powerful and structurally sound is to use chord progressions not only within sections, but also across them. This creates a harmonic relationship between sections and adds to the sense of forward motion, tension and resolution, and overall strength. A change of section can feel more logical and expected, […]

0 comments

Writing Guitar Licks

I always prefer to write a new guitar lick instead of using a standard one, but since anyone can throw in a bunch of notes that don’t sound good, how do you write something fast, impressive (they must always be that, of course), and musical? Through experience, I’ve developed an approach. To do this, you’ll […]

0 comments
Feb 212015
 

Many guitarists use chords for rhythm guitar without considering another option: intervals. While a chord is three (or more) notes, an interval is only two. This might seem a trivial difference, but using just part of a chord lets you play intervals for specific reasons, and using only two fingers creates other more advanced possibilities. Let’s take a look at chords and see the two main intervals at our disposal.

Chords

It may seem that with only two pitches, the sound would be thinner than a chord, but hard rock and metal players have been going with two notes for decades. A healthy distortion more than makes up for it.

The full barre chord is already avoided mostly because many players feel the higher notes don’t sound good with distortion. Significantly, one of the higher pitches omitted is the chord’s third. In theory, all chords have at least a root, third, and fifth. Simply put, the third is what makes a chord major or minor, so without it, you have a somewhat empty voicing, which is why it sounds more stable and more powerful (not less) with distortion.

Consider the case of the octave, which is the same note at a higher or lower pitch. All octaves are “perfect”, and along with the unison, are as stable as an interval can be. Similarly, the fifth is also perfect (usually) and also very stable. When distortion is added, this stability is exaggerated. This is why the “power chord” of root-fifth-octave is a “can’t miss” voicing that always sounds strong.

In the same way, the sound of a third is also exaggerated, but it is a less stable interval, a fact that becomes increasingly apparent if the interval is held alone for several seconds. The interval will “shake” just like when you’re tuning the guitar, a dissonant effect that is tolerated by some listeners more than others. It is less noticeable in the midst of a larger chord, but with the third removed, stability is easier.

Intervals

If a rhythm guitarist is not going to play chords or single notes, there are several intervals to choose from (this list is presented in the order of increasing dissonance and decreasing stability):

  •   perfect octave or perfect unison
  •   perfect fifth, perfect fourth
  •   major third and major sixth
  •   minor third and minor sixth
  •   major second and minor seventh
  •   major seventh, diminished fifth, minor second

Our purpose is to use parts of a chord instead of the entire thing, so our two main choices are fifths and thirds. The other intervals will still be used when we get to ornamentation, but let’s have a look and listen to our core intervals.

Fifths

For most guitar players, the fifth needs no introduction. It’s what you get when you only play the two lowest notes of a barre chord (Example 1).

Interval_Riffs_Basics_Example1
Example 1

As shown in the example, some also play the octave, which adds some brightness and stability but otherwise has no effect. This is one reason many people don’t play it, especially in heavier or darker music. Another reason to omit the octave is that, instead of using your pinky for that note, your pinky can hold down the fifth, which is a more comfortable hand position for many.

One advantage is that in standard tuning, the same hand position can be moved around the guitar neck without much thought. All a player has to do is know which notes are in the key, put the index finger there, and retain the same hand “shape”. This has one unintended side effect, however. There is always one diminished fifth, not perfect fifth, in a key, but players tend to ignore this as if a fifth is a fifth is a fifth. In E minor, for example, the F# voicing should include a C natural, but most players use C#, introducing a raised sixth scale degree to the music (Example 2). This is fine, but be aware that this might affect lead guitar work.

Interval_Riffs_Basics_Example2
Example 2

You’ve probably heard this before, but for comparison, listen to this simple riff using all fifths.

 

The second mp3 is identical except it includes the octave as well. It should sound slightly brighter.

Thirds

Thirds played alone are not very common, which is odd because thirds are the building block of chords, and one would expect to see them frequently. We can only guess the reason is the aforementioned effect of distortion, but the more likely reason is that no one purposely omitted the third when avoiding a barre chord’s higher notes, so they haven’t purposely played it alone either.

A big advantage to thirds is that they are richer intervals, with more tone color. They are moodier, more dramatic, and thicker. In this mp3, the intervals are E minor 3rd, D major 3rd, and C major 3rd, as shown in Example 3.

Interval_Riffs_Basics_Example3
Example 3

Thirds come in two varieties: major thirds and minor thirds. This is more diverse than playing a perfect fifth everywhere, but is also one deterrent to using them. To play and/or write an entire riff in thirds, you must know which one you’re supposed to play as you move through a key and change your hand shape accordingly. If a full chord would be minor, then you want to play a minor 3rd at each of those points. The same is true of major thirds. In E minor, the first, second, fourth, and fifth intervals would be minor, and the third, sixth, and seventh intervals are major: E minor, F# minor, G major, A minor, B minor, C major, D major.

The tonality of major or minor is immediately apparent, which can be useful for making a noticeable key change, such as from E major to E minor. If you were to do this with fifths in the rhythm, the change wouldn’t be noticed at first. In addition, if you want to play an unexpected sound, such as using an E major chord where an E minor one is expected, using a third easily accomplishes this.

Like the fifth, thirds can also be played with the octave included (Example 4). Unlike the fifth, a third has more than just added brightness this way, for the character is changed somewhat. This shape is unusually difficult to move around the guitar.

Interval_Riffs_Basics_Example4
Example 4

As mentioned earlier, the third is less stable than a fifth and sounds less desirable the longer it is held. One trick for using it successfully is to play it briefly. While this might seem too limiting, consider that many metal players have a palm-muting style like the audio examples. Notice how the interval is momentarily sounded in between muted 8th-notes, meaning it never has the chance to deteriorate. On the repeat, the interval is held open longer to provide a clearer example of the sound.

As a final note, thirds become muddier and less useful lower on the guitar, but this can be overcome with the above technique.

Alternating Intervals

Switching between thirds and fifths can help provide variety within a riff and between two music sections. One simple trick is to take the same chord succession and do it twice: once using fifths and once with thirds. Another is to write two sections of music where the first interval is different. This helps creates separation between musical ideas.

Much more elaborate things can be done with intervals, as will be demonstrated in future articles, but to give you some idea, listen to these all-interval riffs from “Motif  Operandi” off The Firebard.

Coda

Though chords and fifths are frequently used, the addition of thirds to your repertoire will give you other options, which is always a good thing. We’ve only touched the surface of interval riffs, but this simple technique can be the foundation for an empire of ideas. Stay tuned for more…and be sure to read Interval Riff Ornamentation.

Interval Riffs, Part 1: Basics

Many guitarists use chords for rhythm guitar without considering another option: intervals. While a chord is three (or more) notes, an interval is only two. This might seem a trivial difference, but using just part of a chord lets you play intervals for specific reasons, and using only two fingers creates other more advanced possibilities. […]

0 comments

Interval Riffs, Part 2: Ornamentation

In a previous article, Interval Riff Basics, we looked at and heard examples of using only two notes, or intervals, for rhythm guitar parts. The two main intervals are fifth and thirds, with the latter adding more variety and color to your riffs. Now we’ll look at ornamenting these two basic sounds with melody fragments. […]

0 comments

Interval Riffs, Part 3: Simple Counterpoint

Counterpoint is defined as two or more simultaneous melodies that maintain their independence while still forming a harmonic relationship. A single instrument like classical guitar can perform counterpoint with three or four lines seeming like a single part. However, rock guitarists seldom do this for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean it can’t […]

0 comments

Structural Chord Progressions

A good way to make songs more powerful and structurally sound is to use chord progressions not only within sections, but also across them. This creates a harmonic relationship between sections and adds to the sense of forward motion, tension and resolution, and overall strength. A change of section can feel more logical and expected, […]

0 comments

Writing Guitar Licks

I always prefer to write a new guitar lick instead of using a standard one, but since anyone can throw in a bunch of notes that don’t sound good, how do you write something fast, impressive (they must always be that, of course), and musical? Through experience, I’ve developed an approach. To do this, you’ll […]

0 comments
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