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The Allmighty Riff: Suggestions for Stimulating Musical Creativity

Every great rock song has a great riff, be it a single-note melody or a chordal-based sequence, and that’s probably what makes it a great song. Like a great frontman, a really good rock riff should have a hypnotic, star quality. A great riff can take you over; you might find yourself playing it repeatedly for ten minutes. There’s something about it that makes you want to indulge in it.

Billy Corgan live

[Billy Corgan - The Smashing Pumpkins] “Siva,” from our first album, Gish, had one of those riffs that let me know immediately that I had a song, even though I had yet to work out all the parts. That riff sounded like my band-it had instant identity-and it got my blood going right away. There was something about it that was so distinctive that it made a lot of other songs I’d written seem wimpy and weak by comparison. Since then, I’ve always tried to find that weird marriage of a great riff and a song that fits with the riff. The “Siva” riff crystallized everything I was trying to do with the band. It had power and immediacy, and the song seemed to write itself around the riff.

When I wrote “Siva,” I was working in a record shop, and I used to bring an acoustic guitar in with me to work. When no one was in the store, I’d just sit behind the counter and play. So, this was a riff that I wrote on acoustic, keeping in mind that I would transfer it to loud, heavily distorted guitar later. It was buzzin’ in my head!

The Smashing Pumpkins – Siva

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