Basic Heavy Metal Guitar Techniques
If you’re a fan of heavy metal, then it can be pretty frustrating making your way through the large amounts of tuitional material that make up many music shop bookshelves: fingerstyle, chord inversions and jazz theory are all very well, but what if you want to slay? Finding a lesson on how to write metal riffs so fearsome they’d make Satan start begging for his mother don’t tend to come up very often.
Well, the good news is that heavy metal (like any genre of music) has it’s own techniques and tricks, and we’re going to share them with you. Because we’re lovely.
Palm-muting. The big daddy of heavy metal guitar, you’ll hear palm muting all over any metal record you care to name. To perform palm muting, rest the side of your picking hand across the strings to dampen the sound, and pick as you would normally. It’s this technique that is used to generate the ‘chugging’ sound that is so common on records such as Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’. James Hetfield is the undisputed king of this technique, so learn a few ‘Tallica songs and you’ll be sorted.
Tremelo Picking. In much the same way as a tremelo arm generates a flurry of notes, tremelo picking involves playing the same note over and over at high speeds to create a jarring, violent effect. If you’ve ever listened to Slayer, you’ll have heard tremelo picking at it’s finest. The key to building speed is to keep your wrist relaxed, and play along with a metronome, ensuring you keep the pace even. It’s important to never tighten your arm up, as that can lead to risk of injury.
Harmony Leads. Introduced to metal by the legends in Iron Maiden, this involves two guitarists playing lead guitar breaks at the same tempo, but with the second guitarist playing higher (or lower) notes up the scale. Other bands that are huge on this technique include Mastodon, Trivium and Thin Lizzy. ‘The Evil That Men Do’ by Iron Maiden is a great example of this.
String-skipping. The final technique involves skipping between palm muted notes on the lower, heavier strings and ringing notes on the A & D strings. This can take a lot of work to perfect, but it’s a technique that you’ll see all over most modern metal bands with everyone from Trivium to Arch Enemy unleashing it regularly.
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