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Metal Picking Riffs

By Rob Thorpe

Heavy Metal riffs frequently require fast and accurate alternate picking. In this lesson we’re going to look at some riffs that focus on the picking hand to help you get this aspect of your playing into shape.

Guitar players all find their own individual hand positions that are comfortable, but the best results always comes when moving from the wrist, rather than the thumb and finger joints. Keep the wrist rocking back and forth with a relaxed motion and remain at a speed that is easy for you without causing any tension.

To achieve the characteristic ‘chug’ of metal rhythm guitar keep the heel of the picking hand just touching the bass strings as they go over the bridge. This is known as palm muting. The effect should be to dampen the note but not kill it completely.

Ex 1

This first metal picking riff is the foundation of everything that follows so it’s worth spending some time getting comfortable playing it at a moderate tempo of between 100 and 120bpm. Return to this exercise as you progress through the rest of the examples and you’ll feel how your control improves.

The purpose of the exercise is to rhythmically ‘lock in’ and be aware of how each note subdivides the beat into four equal divisions. Start slowly, and accent the first of each four-note group to help stay in time as you begin to raise the metronome speed.

Ex 1

 Ex 2

The ‘gallop’ rhythm has been played by many bands but is often associated with Iron Maiden who used it as the basis for several of their most famous songs.

Single string picking works just like strumming, so maintain the 1/16th note down/up pattern of exercise 3d to help your timing, and ‘ghost’ over the string when a note is not required. As the second pick of each four-note group is missed out, the picking pattern will be ‘Down-Down-Up’ on each beat.

Ex 2

Ex 3

Example 3 uses what’s known as the reverse gallop pattern. Try to maintain down-strokes for the 1/8th notes on beats three and four. Down-strokes provide a more powerful tone, and the consistent picking hand motion helps with timing.

Ex 3



Be sure to check out my brand new book entitled Heavy Metal Rhythm Guitar which explores the techniques and theory to help you start writing your own metal riffs and features over a 120 audio examples with tab and notation!



Author - Rob Thorpe

(Imagine this is in third person if you like, but we both know it’s me…) Hi, I’m Rob Thorpe, a musician and teacher based in Manchester, England, and split my time equally (or try) between composing, performing, writing and teaching. I teach regularly at BIMM Manchester delivering guitar and theory lectures the undergraduate and diploma students. My main…

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