Buy Rocksmith Remastered

Rocksmith Remastered

Now Available

Buy Now

Also Available on MAC

[2019-07-08] Break it Down: "Aerials" by System of a Down

Break it Down: 'Aerials' by System of a Down

07/10/2019 12:00 PM

Written by Greg Barr

In 2002 System of a Down released their Grammy-nominated album, Toxicity. The third single from the album, “Aerials” enjoyed massive popularity, hitting #1 on multiple Billboard charts.

The main riff of the song is in C minor, which complements the drop C tuning of the guitar. Although many flavors of minor exist, including harmonic and melodic, “Aerials” uses natural minor, one of the most common varieties in western music. Relative to the major scale, the natural minor scale is constructed using the following formula:


1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7


So, relative to the C major scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, B) our C natural minor scale becomes:


C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb


Getting back to the main riff, if we take the notes from the low C string and order them from low to high we get:


Fret: 0 - 2 - 3 – 5 – 7 - 8 - 10 - 12



Pitch: C - D – Eb- F - G – Ab- Bb - C


Note that the 10 and 12 fret notes are played the second time through the main intro riff.

So, now that we understand what notes we’re working with, how can we order them to create a strong melody? The main riff of “Aerials” is a great example of a simple yet extremely memorable melody.

If we break the melody down into three-note chunks, an interesting pattern emerges. The first grouping introduces a descending Eb – D – C motif, falling from the 3rd note of the scale to the root (later sung to the lyric “Ae-ri-als”). The same pattern is then repeated one scale degree higher, F – Eb – D, falling from the 4th note of the scale to the 2nd (with the lyric “in the sky”). This is an example of a sequence—the immediate restatement of a melodic motif at a higher or lower pitch. Sequences are a common method for elaborating and extending a musical idea.

The next grouping breaks the pattern with an ascending line, Eb – F – G, rising from the 3rd note of the scale to the 5th (“when you lose”). If we were continuing the sequence, we’d expect these notes to be reversed, but breaking the pattern in this way builds tension and creates an upward trajectory toward the melody’s climax on Ab, the 6th note of the scale (“small”).

Now the rhythm changes a bit, picking up a bit more speed as the melody descends back down the scale Ab – G – F, falling from the 6th to the 4th degree of the scale (“mind you”). This is an exact transposition of the original motif up a fourth. The downward scalar motion then continues, finally reaching the last three notes Eb – D – C (“free your life”), a verbatim restatement of the beginning of the melody, creating a perfect bookend.

Notice how this is all the result of repetition with variation, with a musical idea that is allowed to grow and change very organically. The basic idea is changed a little, then changed a little more, then a lot, then brought back into line, and finally restated in its original form, all while outlining a pleasing overall contour—all valuable lessons to take with us when we start to assemble our own melodies.

On the surface, a simple melody like this might seem to be rambling aimlessly through a scale, and that’s how many of us start off using scales too. But it isn’t just about playing notes that are in the right scale. When a melody really works, we find intent and purpose behind each note. A strong melody, no matter how short or simple, tells a story. It has a development, an introduction, a climax, and a denouement. Give that idea some thought next time it’s your turn to take a solo.

Greg Barr has retired as a notetracker, but is still an independent guitar teacher, singer-songwriter, and the owner of Pinebox Studios in California.

"Serj Tarkanian at the Spirit of Burgas Festival" by Vladimir Petkov is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

[2020-05-27] Osbug & Screechy Stream

Community Guest: Osbug & Screechy - Developer Twitch Stream Today

The coop tag team of Osbug & Screechy are shredding their way onto this week’s dev stream!

05/28/202012:00 PM

Read more

[2020-05-27] Stone Roses

Playlist Primer: The Stone Roses

Check out three essential cuts from the ancestors of Britpop's debut indie classic that paved the way for more mainstream acts in the 1990s.

05/27/202012:00 PM

Read more

[2020-05-21] Developer Twitch Stream Today

Community Guest: Casey Blandford - Developer Twitch Stream Today

Take some time to join us for another Rocksmith weekly stream with our guest, Casey Blandford!

05/21/202012:00 PM

Read more