Devin Townsend: How to Write the Perfect Guitar Riff


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UG News editor since early 2013. King Crimson fan. I handle the news around here.

Devin Townsend talked writing the perfect guitar riff, explaining to Music Radar:

“It’s the equivalent of having a child; they tell you that you should encourage them to find something that they love to do and see if they can make money at it because then they will have a good life.

“It’s the same thing with writing music. Find something that you love and then find notes on your instrument that remind you of that. That is a good place to start.

“How I approach writing a riff depends on what I have at my disposal. I spend a lot of time with a guitar in my hands in one way or another, whether it’s plugged into an amp, an acoustic or a bass.

“I don’t think there is one method that I have found that results in a tried-and-tested way of writing music. The only thing I would suggest is to maintain the faith that your subconscious mind is very adept at collecting the information that you gather.

“I think a lot of times you think that you have to work in a certain way or you’re going to lose it. You might think that you need to be in a certain environment otherwise the ideas and riffs will not appear.

“In my experience, when the time comes for me to commit the music to a recording, it will have all been stockpiling. The more I relax into the fact that those ideas will always be there, the less that writer’s block becomes a liability.

“A song might start with a guitar, a vocal, a keyboard, a bass or a piece of wood. I like to think that if an idea is emotionally important enough to you then it will find a way to articulate itself.

“I stockpile ideas, and there is no rhyme or reason about how they turn into songs. A lot of times, the stockpiling of riffs like migrating one to another doesn’t really happen with me. I am more vision-orientated and that is very fortunate.

“From the gestation of a song I will have a very clear vision of how I want it to articulate itself emotionally. It is fairly rare that I have things and think, ‘Oh, that would work great there.’ It’s more a matter of just developing each idea individually.”

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