How to Write a Guitar Riff like San Holo “worthy” 

In this Hack Music Theory lesson, you’ll learn how to write a BIG guitar riff (even if you don’t play guitar) like San Holo in “worthy”. But first... Tea!

Hello! I’m Kate Harmony, this is Ray Harmony, and welcome to the new Hack Music Theory show, where every Friday we hack the theory of a big new release, and you learn how to use that theory creatively in your own music.

String instruments (like the guitar) have the amazing ability to play the same pitch on different strings, each of which has a slightly different sound. The most common use of this technique is to play a specific pitch as an open string first, and then as a fretted note afterwards (or vice versa). Using this technique in your riffs will give them sonic depth, as the same pitch will have two slightly different sounds. And by the way, if you’re not a guitarist, a fretted note is when you press down on a string somewhere on the fretboard to play a note, and an open string is when you play a string without pressing it down anywhere. In the “worthy” drop, San Holo uses a combination of fretted notes and the two highest-pitched open strings: E and B. By playing the notes E and B as both open strings and fretted notes, he gives his riff a big wide-open resonance that simply cannot be achieved by using only fretted notes.

Writing a guitar riff like this is super easy, and you can literally do it in three simple steps. Step 1: Choose a scale. San Holo chose E major for his riff, so we used that for ours as well. Step 2: Create an interesting pattern between the open E string and the open B string. This is gonna form the backbone of your guitar riff. It doesn’t sound like much yet, but that’ll all change with Step 3: Connect your open string notes with fretted notes. And you’re done!

And just a few other things to consider when writing a guitar riff like this. Firstly, remember that open strings keep on ringing, so extend the MIDI of each open string note right until it reaches the next open string note on that same pitch. Secondly, throw in a few rhythmic variations to keep your listeners’ attention, like we did by sprinkling a 16th note motif throughout the riff. And lastly, remember that using open strings in your guitar riffs will almost certainly result in perfect 4th and perfect 5th intervals in your melody. These intervals are rather bland, so be sure to break ‘em up to keep your riff colourful. For example, from E down to B is the melodic movement of a perfect 4th, so we broke it up by sticking a D♯ in between. And now we’ve got two interesting intervals instead of one boring interval.

Remember, we intentionally wrote our example to be very similar to the original song, but we did that for the sake of this lesson. So, instead of copying San Holo, please explore how you can use this hack creatively with your own musical personality, so it sounds like you! Also, if you wanna learn how to write great songs (and finish them!), then check out our cutting-edge online apprenticeship course, where you’ll join over 400 of our apprentices (from over 40 countries), who are all learning our secret art of song-whispering! Alright, that’s it! We really hope you found this video helpful, and if you did, subscribe and hit the bell to get notifications. Thanks for joining the Hack Music Theory revolution. We’ll see you next New Music Friday!

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


1: Read our free book (below) & watch our YouTube videos
2: Read our "Part 1" book & "Songwriting & Producing" PDF
3: Learn our Secret Art of Song-Whispering, and effortlessly finish your music!

Hack Music Theory is the pioneering notation-free method for making great music. Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony, and his protégé (and 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), 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 Hack Music Theory method! While these Hack Music Theory YouTube lessons teach music theory for producers and DAW users, they are designed to accommodate all music makers (songwriters, guitarists, etc.) and all genres, from Electronic Music to R&B, Pop to Hip-Hop, Reggae to Rock, EDM/Dance to Metal (and yes, we djefinitely Djent!).