10 Drone Guitar Riffs Derived From a Single Idea

Drone guitar technique refers to the sustained use of a note or a chord throughout most or all of a piece of music.

In today’s lesson, I will give you a template to use to create as many riffs as you want using the guitar droning technique.

Our drone note will be the open A string, and against it, we’ll be playing the notes of the A natural minor scale on the G string.

The following is the template from which we’ll derive all the drone guitar riffs in this lesson.

The sixteenth notes in the bass are always the note A, while the quarter notes on the G string are the notes of the scale of the A natural minor played in reverse.

Tabs created with Guitar Pro

Next, we’re going to apply melodic and rhythmic variations to this template to create 10 different drone guitar riffs.

In our riffs, we can use how many of the given notes we want, repeat them, sequence them, apply different guitar techniques, and play around with the rhythm.

Riff 1

The first guitar riff uses a variety of techniques, the most important of which is palm muting on the drone note. This will be used in all the examples in this drone guitar lesson.

The other techniques that are being used are pull-offs and hammer-ons on the notes of the G string and vibrato on the last note.

Riff 2

The next riff uses almost the same notes as the previous, but a completely different rhythm.

Though there is also some variation in the order of the notes in these two riffs, notice how much the rhythm can change the music.

It is quite common that guitarists starting to make music focus too much on the notes and the techniques while ignoring the rhythmic options.

Riff 3

In this riff I use the drone notes more sparingly to create more melody with the rest of the notes.

Note: On the fifth note in the first bar there’s a small dot on the note. This is known as the staccato technique, which means the note should be cut shortly and not allowed to complete its full duration. The reason I’m using staccato in this particular situation is that it helps accent the following note.

Riff 4

The following riff contains similar rhythmic and melodic elements to the previous one but starts from the other side of the guitar fretboard.

Riff 5

In this riff, I create variation by using the melody notes more sparingly and making heavy use of the drone note.

Riff 6

The Heavy Metal gallop is a rhythmic pattern that’s very commonly used by Metal bands like Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, though it’s not used exclusively in this genre of music.

In the next example, this rhythmic pattern is used on the notes of the drone.

Riff 7

String bending technique is another option we can use to create variation in our drone guitar riffs.

Riff 8

In the next example I use triplets as a rhythmic pattern, which means the beat is divided into groups of three instead of two.

Another way this riff is different from the others we’ve created so far is that it starts from the root note A on the G string, rather than the drone on the low A string.

Riff 9

The next riff makes use of another common guitar technique, the slide. Slides are very effective for our purposes since all the melody notes are on the same string.

Riff 10

The last riff makes use of one of my favorite guitar techniques, the trill.

The notes that have a tr symbol above them should be played in rapid alteration with the note of the next fret through a series of hammer-ons and pull-offs.

Conclusion: Create your own drone guitar riffs

The main purpose of this lesson is not to teach you a bunch of guitar riffs but to show you how many different things you can create from just one idea using droning technique.

The next step is to get creative and come up with your own guitar riffs.

There are two ways you can go about this:

  1. Use the given template and experiment with different note sequences, rhythms and guitar techniques.
  2. Create your own templates. Choose any open string (the drone note can be in the bass, in the middle or in the upper register, but it should ideally be on an open string so that your left hand is free to play the rest of the notes.

Then play across that string the notes of either the respective natural minor scale as in the example, a different scale (ex. major scale, harmonic minor scale) or even a mode.  

As always, keep increasing your knowledge of music theory and applying it to have more options when composing, improving your guitar technique to execute better the ideas you come up with, as well as developing your creativity.

Like a muscle, creativity is not something you’re either born with or without, but something that can be developed with training.

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