This week, while I was at my lesson with the very talented Annie Clements, I expressed my one true concern with riffing over a song: How do you know what works? When riffing over a chord, chord tones generally sound the best while riffing, but what about the 2 and the 6? What if you want to use them? Well, have no fear! Because Annie was able to come up with a great exercise that really helps with this question.
What we did was take a 12-bar blues progression* in E and played an E major scale over it (even through the changes). What this does is let you hear what tones of the major scale sound good over various chords. this exercise won’t come up with the riff for you, but it can definitely help you figure out your options and where you can go. Also, you don’t have to use a 12-bar blues progression. What I’ve been doing, is playing the scales over songs that I play with my band. Not only does this help with my riffing in general, but it’s helping me come up with riffs for my band.
What I’ve also been doing is playing the scales as quarters notes and then as eighth notes. Also, I’m not re-attacking the octave or the root when I get there. That way I’m always on a different tone throughout the chord changes.
I find this to be a great, fun, and effective exercise. Try it and let me know what you think!
*If you don’t know what a 12-bar blues progressions is, it’s: 4 measures on the 1 chord, then 2 measures on the 4 chord, followed by another 2 measures on the 1 chord, then 1 measure on the five, one measure on the 4, and finishes with 2 measures of 1. Then, it just repeats for however long the song is. Here is a great video of a 12-bar blues progression (in E Major). (Keep in mind that a 12-bar blues has many variations. This is just the most common and the most basic)