Whenever I set out to learn a new song by a band I like, I always do a Google search to see if the original guitarist has done a lesson on the song/riff/solo, etc.
Although there are many amazing guitar teachers online who can show you how to play any given song, I find that learning from the O.G. guitarist helps you tune into the more subtle qualities that make a guitar riff sound unique and authentic.
Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Gojira, an extremely brutal French metal band. Motivated by the band’s intensity, I set out to learn some Gojira songs, particularly, the title track off their 2012 album, L’Enfant Sauvage.
With luck on my side, I found a quick guitar lesson straight from the source – Gojira’s guitarist Joe Duplantier.
Even if you haven’t listened to Gojira or metal isn’t really your thing, it’s worth taking a few minutes to watch Joe talk about the riffs in this song. The lesson brings forward a lot of points and considerations that any guitarist can apply to their own playing.
What I find so special about the opening riff is its deceptive simplicity. If you look at the video and guitar TAB below, you’ll notice that it’s simply a sequence of sixteenth notes played entirely on the open sixth string. Nothing too complicated about that.
But the real magic of the riff lies in how it’s played. The combination of the pick attack, the palm-muted notes, the UN-palm-muted notes, and the tempo actually make this riff quite challenging to pull off.
Also, notice the emphasized, unmuted note that’s attacked with a heavy upstroke (1:10). The force of the upstroke slightly bends the open string up less than a semitone, which makes the riff sound more interesting. This subtlety is something that can’t really be expressed in the guitar TAB, so it’s great to have the writer of the riff demonstrate and explain it.
I tried learning the rest of the song and realized how demanding it is to play as intensely and accurately as Gojira does, especially in terms of the stamina that’s needed to keep up with the recording. This riff definitely showcases a more athletic side to guitar playing, but it’s great to learn riffs like this to get/stay in shape.
A few more points about this lesson:
- Notice how he’s using a Fender Telecaster with single-coil pickups, a guitar that’s not exactly synonymous with metal. And yet he still manages to sound super heavy. This goes to show that in many cases, it’s not the gear that dictates the tone, rather, the it’s player.
- In terms of technique, take a second to observe his tight palm muting — in order to get the necessary power and attack, Joe drives movement from his wrist AND forearm to add more strength. This arm + wrist combination might take some getting used to if you’re not well-versed in palm-muting, but it’s worth developing to help improve your control and picking strength.
- Precision! In the opening riff, you want to alternate pick the open sixth string ONLY. Joe even mentions that when Gojira plays this song live, they have a tendency to get carried away and play adjacent strings, which muddies up the riff. The idea here is to be precise and controlled. Practice slowly if needed.
Going off this lesson, I have a few challenges for you this week:
- Try learning a riff that you’ve always liked but may have written off as being too easy or simple. Sometimes simple things can actually be difficult to pull of once you pay attention to the details.
- Try writing a riff using only one string. Play around with accents, articulation, dynamics, and anything else that can make something simple become remarkable.
Try these out and let me know if you find any surprises along the way. And if you’d like me to make more quick lessons like this, leave a comment and let me know!