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Rhythm Guitar:
Progressive Metal Riff Building


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Back in the sixties and seventies progressive rock bands like King Crimson, Yes and Jethro Tull pushed rock through new artistic directions. In recent years progressive metal bands like Iron Maiden, Dream Theater and Opeth have built on the platform of this style taking it even further.

The concept with this style of music is that of blending the heavy metal overdrive sound of electric rock guitar with the structure of classical, jazz and world music. The main difference between rock and progressive metal is the complexity of prog. metal's arrangements. In standard radio friendly rock, the song structures are more like typical pop songs with verse, bridge chorus arrangements. This works well for the average radio station keeping with it's popularity approach for more friendly palatable music on the airwaves. One listen to any progressive metal tune awakens the listener to multiple sections of a piece often moving through different keys and time signatures. And, having long playtimes of 5-7 min. or longer. Certainly more creative and complex, however obviously not very radio friendly.


One of the most widely used progressive metal scales is called, Phrygian Dominant. The scale itself comes from the fifth step of the Harmonic Minor scale. It is unique in two ways.

- The Phrygian Dominant has a Major 3rd.

- Phrygian Dominat contains an Aug. 2nd.

When it comes to riff building the Phrygian Dominat can be difficult to work with. The arrangement of tones causes the mode to be awkward with the use of power chord tones. Other intervals such as minor thirds and diminished fifths can often work better to develop lines.

Study the riff provided in this lesson. Keep in mind, the riff is very busy and might not work well for soloing over.

So, a great exercise could be to work at creating a version of the riff with less melody movement to use for improvisation. This should also work well for getting you to apply the sounds of this scale in riff building. Take your time and I'm sure you'll come up with a number of cool ideas!


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Rhythm Chart
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Rhythm Chart
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Phrygian Dominant
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Phrygian Dominant
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