How to Write Better Djent Riffs 

What makes a great djent riff? Two things: the right notes, with the right polymeter. So in this video you’ll learn all that, plus you’ll learn how to make your riffs stand out by adding a second melody into the same riff. But first… tea!


Hello revolutionary music makers, we are Kate Harmony and Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony), and welcome to Hack Music Theory. We help you make great music that stands out, so you can move and grow your audience! If that sounds useful to you, then subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit that bell to get notified every Thursday, when we publish our new video. Alright, let’s jump in...

Prog metal legends PERIPHERY just dropped their new single “Garden in the Bones”, and it’s brilliant! This song is overflowing with stunning melodies, mesmerizing riffs, captivating polymeters, epic grooves, and the most massive chorus! “Garden in the Bones” launches directly into the first verse, which contains a slower polymetric riff with lots of rests. But, instead of playing it on one note (like so many djent riffs), or using super dissonant intervals (like so many other djent riffs), Periphery play a refreshingly consonant group of notes, which would be right at home in any popular music genre. Then, as if that’s not enough, when the second verse comes around, it’s not just a copy and paste of the first verse. No, it’s a continuation; the next chapter of an unfolding story. They achieve this by adding notes to the original riff, in place of the rests. This creates a 2-in-1 riff consisting of the original riff as the bass voice, and the new notes as a melody on top. 

Alright, now you’re gonna learn how to use this theory to make your own version. So, start by setting up one bar of 15/4, with your grid set to 1/8 notes, and your tempo set to 135 BPM. Periphery use F♯ Dorian for their verses, so we’ll use it too.

First things first, F♯ Dorian consists of the notes: F♯ G♯ A B C♯ D♯ E, so you can use any of those notes in your riff. Now, start on the root note (F♯), then skip two 1/8 notes, and then play a note. Next, skip another two 1/8 notes, and then play two notes. Then do that again: skip two 1/8 notes, and then play two notes. And lastly, skip another two 1/8 notes, and then play one last note. When you’re choosing your notes, keep it simple (and keep it low), and think of them as an implied chord progression. Also, use a B somewhere, but more on that later. Right, now you have your 15/8 riff, so repeat it once to complete the bar of 15/4. Finally, add the root note (F♯) on beat 9. This is such a clever trick of Periphery’s, cos what that one extra note does, is ingeniously disguise the odd 15/8 time signature. You see, the root note is the home of your scale, so it’s the strongest note. And by playing the strongest note on beat 9, it pulls the ear back to that 1/4 note pulse (cos in 4/4, beat 9 is actually beat 1 of bar 3). Also, the drummer is playing 1/4 notes on his china cymbal, so that pulse is really powerful. And that pulse, along with the root note on beat 9, tricks the listener into feeling this as 4/4, right until the end of the riff where it’s finally revealed that there’s a 1/4 note missing (cos in four bars of 4/4 there are sixteen 1/4 notes, but here there are only fifteen). This polymeter makes the riff sound far simpler (and therefore more accessible) than it actually is. That’s very clever! So to sum up. The polymeter is occurring between the guitar and the drums. The guitar is playing two bars of 15/8 over the drums that are playing three bars of 4/4 and one bar of 3/4. This all adds up to one cycle of the polymeter, which is equal to one bar of 15/4.

Right, this is where things get extra tasty. You’re now gonna use the first verse riff as a bass voice, and you’re gonna add a new voice on top of it in place of all the rests. This creates a riff that can still be played on one guitar, but now it sounds like there’s two guitars playing, cos there are two melodies (one low, and one high). Okay, so remember in Step 1 we mentioned that you should think of the notes in your bass voice as an implied chord progression? Well now it’s time to flesh out that harmony. For example, Periphery’s second verse riff implies some dreamy add9 harmonies, so if you want that vibe as well, then be sure to play a 2 over a couple chords (e.g. over the implied F♯m, the 2 is G♯). And as you’re writing the high melody in your riff, be sure to play a D♯ over the B in your bass voice. Playing D♯ over B creates the unique Dorian sound, so without that D♯, you won’t get the sad-but-hopeful Dorian mood that we all love. And that’s why in Step 1, we said play a B. And by the way, if you wanna know everything you need to know about Dorian and the other modes, then download our Songwriting & Producing PDF.

Okay, so now that you’ve got your first and second verses down, how do you write the other sections? And then, how do you transition between all the sections (especially when they’re in different keys)? And then, how do you structure and arrange your song? Well, these are issues that all songwriters and producers struggle with in the beginning, and that’s exactly why we made our online apprenticeship course. So, if you wanna overcome these obstacles once and for all, then our course is definitely for you!

Kate & Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony)
Music Teachers & Producers in Vancouver BC, Canada


Level 1 - Read our free book (below) & watch our YouTube videos
Level 2 - Read our "Part 1" book & "Songwriting & Producing" PDF
Level 3 - Practice making music using our lessons (PDF+MIDI+WAV)
Level 4 - Learn our secret art of song-whispering & finish your music

Hack Music Theory is a pioneering DAW method for making great music that stands out, so you can move and grow your audience! Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony, and his protégé wife Kate Harmony, from their studio in Vancouver BC, Canada. Ray is the author of critically-acclaimed book series "Hack Music Theory", and has made music with Serj Tankian (System of a Down), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad), Ihsahn (Emperor), Kool Keith (Ultramagnetic MCs), Madchild (Swollen Members), and many more! Kate has the highest grade distinction in Popular Music Theory from the London College of Music, and is the only person on the planet who's been trained by Ray to teach his method. On that note, the "Hack Music Theory" YouTube channel teaches relevant and instantly-usable music theory for producers, DAW users, and all other music makers (songwriters, singers, guitarists, bassists, drummers, etc.) in all genres, from EDM to R&B, pop to hip-hop, reggae to rock, electronic to metal (and yes, we djefinitely djent!).

© 2019 Revolution Harmony
Revolution Harmony is Ray Harmony & Kate Harmony
All content (script & music) in video by Revolution Harmony