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Metal Rhythm Guitar Part 2

This is part two of my guide through the facets of playing great metal rhythm guitar. In part one we focussed on the importance of getting your palm muting right as well as introducing alternate and down picked rhythms.

This week I would like to share some really useful picking drills that are applicable to tackling every era of metal. Starting with thrash metal pioneers such as Slayer and Metallica, their fast intricate patterns were refined by early 90’s bands, paving the way for its place in modern metal rhythm guitar’s wide vocabulary.

A great way of measuring the quality of your metal rhythm guitar playing is to record the riff, preferably with a drum loop or sequencer, and then double track it. (record an identical part over the top) If your timing is great you should hardly be able to hear the two parts separately but the overall sound is be much more powerful and have a thicker tone. Almost all rock and metal bands double or even triple track their rhythm parts in the studio for this reason.

Metal Rhythm Guitar Example 1

First is a series of simple repeating drills. To get the most benefit in terms of strength and stamina, aim to repeat each cell for three minutes, shake off any tension, and then continue with the next drill for three minutes and so on for all the variations. Practicing with a metronome is crucial to getting the benefit out of these. Precision is the aim so be as critical of your playing as possible to avoid engraining inaccuracy.

12 - Metal Rhythm Guitar Part 2 Ex 1

Metal Rhythm Guitar Example 2

Accenting certain notes in a passage builds control and also an aural awareness of the subdivisions of a beat (how the beat is split into smaller note values). In this set of drills the picking hand is moving in a constant alternate motion, but the notes marked with the arrows above them should be picked harder to make them stand out.

When practicing any lick or scale, it can be beneficial to accent the note on the beat as in the first drill, to help keep the timing accurate.

Careful with examples 2c and 2d. These feature a triplet feel which can be quite disorienting once a syncopated rhythm is applied. Listen to ‘Laid to Rest’ by Lamb of God for great examples of syncopated triplet rhythmic riffs.

I’ve played these drills with a clean note to make the pick attack that much easier to hear but a responsive distorted tone should still articulate them well.

12 - Metal Rhythm Guitar Part 2 Ex 2

Metal Rhythm Guitar Example 3

Time to make music! Now pitches have been applied to the rhythms so that the fretting hand must synchronize to execute them accurately. Don’t be surprised if you have to slow the speed down from where you could easily play the rhythms alone to get the hands to sync up. Focus on the down beat and that should help the hands to keep in time.

12 - Metal Rhythm Guitar Part 2 Ex 3

Next week we will be looking at the use of harmonics in metal rhythm guitar riffs! If you have any questions or comments please post them below!

Recommended listening for precise metal rhythm picking using these concepts include Slayer (Reign in Blood), Death (Human), Fear Factory (Demanufacture) and Pantera (Vulgar Display of Power).

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Author - Rob Thorpe

Hi, I’m Rob Thorpe, a musician and teacher based in Manchester, England, and divide my time between composing, performing, writing and teaching. I teach regularly at BIMM Manchester delivering guitar and theory lectures to the undergraduate and diploma students as well as a taking on a small number of private students. My main creative project is Polar Institute,…

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The great thing about the exercises is that there are enough of them…by that I mean than they lead you into more complex skills a step at a time. An analogy is when one is trying to learn a new piece, the idea is to break it down into smaller sections and then put the sections together. Alexander is a wizard at presenting meaningful bits that can be mastered and then built into something more complex.

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