As guitar players, it’s very tempting to take the safe option when we’re writing riffs or solos – a powerchord here, a pentatonic run there… it’s easy. Annie Clark does not care for the safe option, and she he has spent her career showcasing myriad ways to make the guitar feel challenging, fresh and exciting.
One string riffs
St Vincent’s songs often feature riffs that are spread out across one string in a way that requires quite dynamic fretting-hand movement, and also gives a connected feel, such as this E natural minor riff, which takes in most of the low E string.
Synthy, stab riffs
A key hallmark of Clark’s more recent work is her tendency to use effects and angular riffs to make her guitar sound almost like it isn’t a guitar at all. This example combines fuzz with an octave effect to create a stabbing, synth like guitar riff. There is a little intentional dissonance added in the last bar with the ♭5 note (The 4th fret on the A), another St Vincent hallmark.
If you want to emulate St Vincent, you have to be prepared to get a little weird in your riffs, as this busy example demonstrates. Notice the interesting chord stabs at the end, which use an octave with an additional sixth on the top. It’s this sort of leftfield thinking that makes St Vincent’s guitar work so compelling.
Playing strings behind the bridge/nut
This might seem like a simple octave riff on the surface, but it contains a unique quirk. Every two bars, the open strings on the tab are played either behind the bridge or behind the nut. This gives a harsh, jarring sound that, when paired with fuzz, is very unconventional and un-guitarlike.
About the Author
Leigh Fuge is a guitar teacher and professional musician from Swansea in the UK. He has taught hundreds of students face to face and via the MGR Music platform. He has over 10 years’ experience working in the industry as a touring musician, session guitarist and teacher.
For more lessons from your favourite guitar players, click here.