Simon Revill - Metal Rhythm Guitar Starter Guide

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Introduction .................................................................................... 3 1. Before You Start ......................................................................... 4 2. Essential Metal Chords ............................................................. 9 3. Metal Rhythm Basics ............................................................... 70 4. Palm Muting .............................................................................. 88 5. Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs ................................................... 109 6. The Five Most Important Metal Rhythms ............................ 147 7. Two-Note Metal Chords ......................................................... 188 8. Conclusion .............................................................................. 205


Introduction If you’ve searched for online tutorials or other guides on metal rhythm guitar before, you’ll be familiar with the frustrating lack of information out there. What information is out there is scattered across the Internet and you’re never sure how reliable it is. My heavy metal journey started at the age of 12, with bands like Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth having a huge influence on me as a guitarist. When I first heard albums like Master of Puppets by Metallica and Reign in Blood by Slayer, I was instantly hooked. With 20 years of playing rock and metal guitar, I’ve spent much of that time developing my knowledge and technique through countless hours of study and research. This has inspired me to create a comprehensive guide for like-minded guitarists that will pull together the knowledge I have gained and present it in an easy-tofollow structure. Metal Rhythm Guitar – Starter Guide is exactly that. It will give you everything you need to inspire you, and help you develop as a metal rhythm guitar player. If you’re just starting out in metal, all the information you need is here. If you’ve already got the basics covered but want to improve your technique or try out some new concepts you may have missed, this guide is just what you need. Whatever sub-genre of metal you’re into, this guide will cover all of the essential information you need to know.

SPECIAL OFFER: 50% OFF Your First Private Online Guitar Lesson As a subscriber to my newsletter, I’d like to offer you 50% off your first Skype lesson with me. If you’re interested, I’d love to hear from you. Use the link below to send me a message and book your first Skype lesson. Enter ‘First Lesson’ in the subject line to claim this offer:


1. Before You Start

What You Will Need Electric Guitar Lead Amp Plectrum / Pick (a hard one) Metronome Positive mindset Click here for a free metronome app for your smartphone / tablet:

iPhone/iPad Android

Alternatively, you can use this useful and free online metronome to help you get each exercise up to speed:

Some parts of this guide will be challenging to you. Keeping a positive frame of mind and a consistent, daily practice routine will help you the most when you come across challenges. It’s easy to get frustrated sometimes, so don’t be afraid to take breaks here and there and come back on a fresh day.


Guitar Settings A good metal guitar tone starts with your pickup. For an aggressive, biting tone you’ll want to use your bridge pickup at all times.

You can use the neck pickup when you are soloing. Don’t forget to make sure your guitar volume is always turned up to the maximum. Further control of volume should be done from your amp.

The tuning of your guitar should be standard tuning. That is, from low to high: EADGBE. We will cover other tunings later on, but for now, that’s all you need.


Amp Settings Use these guidelines and pictures to set up your guitar sound. I’m using IK Multimedia’s Amplitube 4 with the Mesa Boogie amp collection. This is a virtual amp that’s running on my computer and I’ll be using it for all of the examples in this guide. These settings will also apply in exactly the same way if you’re using a hardware amp. Gain – Don’t turn up the gain to 11! You’ll want a high level of gain for metal, but not so much that you completely lose your tone.

50% of a good metal guitar sound comes from your fingers and how hard you choose to hit the strings with your pick. More gain won’t make it sound any better. Apply a moderate level of gain past the halfway point and experiment until you are happy with it. Having said that, I do use a bit of distortion from Amplitube’s OverScream pedal (emulation of the popular Ibanez Tube Screamer pedal) in the FX chain.


Adding some drive to the signal before it goes into the amp can be a good thing sometimes. Just don’t go crazy with it. Don’t forget – be sure to practice the exercises on a clean setting, too. This will help you identify any mistakes you might be making. EQ – Keep the EQ setting pretty much flat like I have here. You may want to roll off some of the mids as I have, but you still want to hear the mid range, so make sure not to roll off too much.

Use your ears and adjust to taste. Reverb & Delay FX – This is important. Don’t be tempted to use any reverb, delays or any other effect here.

Using any kind of reverb or delay effect is not a good idea when playing metal rhythm guitar as it can take away the power from your playing. Remember – this is a powerful and aggressive style of playing and you want the guitar sound to be ‘in your face’, not far away in a huge hall! Of course, there are times when effects are used, but 99% of the time they aren’t needed. There’s also a chance of the effect covering up your mistakes or bad technique and you’ll want to be very critical of that at all times. 7

My suggestion is to stay away from FX at the moment and save it for your guitar solos. Volume – I’ll leave this setting to you. Spare a thought for your neighbors, though…

How much of that wall-shaking heavy metal guitar can they really take?!


2. Essential Metal Chords

Power Chords on the E String To start things off, you’ll take a look at the most common ingredient in metal rhythm guitar playing – power chords. Power chords are absolutely essential in heavy metal, and as a rhythm player you must be able to play them confidently, all over the guitar neck. Power chords are made up of just two notes – the root note and a perfect fifth above it. Thankfully, playing power chords is quite easy and I’m going to give you some pro tips to make sure you’re doing it the right way from the beginning. Starting with the power chords that are on the low E string, the first essential chord you must know is the E5 chord. The two notes in this chord are the open E string (the root note) and the B note (the fifth) on the second fret of the A string:

As you can see, I’m using my first finger on the second fret of the A string.


Notice how my finger is quite straight. It isn’t as bent as it would normally be with a basic open chord like C Major here:

With a regular chord like C Major, you bend your fingers like this to let the open strings ring out along with the fretted notes. Compare the regular C Major chord with the E5 power chord by looking at both of them from the side view:


As you can see, with the E5 power chord it is important to lightly rest the first finger across the other strings. This is to stop the other strings ringing if you accidentally hit them. The only place you must apply hard pressure is the A string on the second fret. With the E5 power chord, your thumb should be in line with the third fret. This is to make sure you have a good grip on the neck. Try it out for yourself:

You’ll know that you’ve done it right if you deliberately hit the E, A, D and G strings and only hear the bottom two strings, E and A. Spend some time experimenting with this and getting it right. It’s very important that this chord sounds right, with no other unwanted strings. Next, you’ll look at the other essential power chord shape on the low E string. This is the F#5 power chord:


To get to the F#5 power chord shape from the E5 chord, the movement is done in two simple steps. The first step is to move the first finger straight up to the low E string on the second fret:

Once you have this ready, take a look at your pinky (little) finger, as shown in the image above. You should see that it’s already in line with the fourth fret. The second step is to place this finger on the fourth fret of the A string. If you can’t reach it, you may have your thumb too high so be sure to check it’s at the back of the neck. Make sure your fingers are quite straight and resting lightly on the unwanted strings underneath.


Check your thumb is behind the third fret as you did with the E5 chord. If your thumb went to the side, don’t worry, that can happen at first. Just shift it back to a straight position:

Now you can play the chord. Test the chord by playing the bottom four strings (E, A, D and G) and check that only the E and A strings are ringing.


You may find that the little finger is harder to control here. If it is, don’t worry too much right now. With some practice it’ll get stronger and easier. As long as you just aim to hit the two strings, you’ll be okay.

Why I use the pinky finger: If you have already played power chords before you may look at the diagrams and be surprised to see that I use the pinky finger on the A or D string. I prefer to use the pinky, as I find it lines up with the fret better. Because of this, I find I can move around the neck more easily and with greater speed. All of the power chord diagrams in this guide will be labeled with the pinky finger. If you feel more comfortable using the ring finger instead, that’s fine. Experiment with both fingers and use what is best for your hands and your playing.

Here are the two chord diagrams you’ll need for your first exercise:

To play the following exercise, you’ll need to keep your thumb pointing straight up and at the back of the neck.


To keep movement to a minimum, you can keep the thumb still throughout this particular exercise. Only the fingers need to move:

Play along. You’ll need to keep each chord ringing for four beats:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 1

Once you have this exercise playing in time with the beat, add a second strum to each chord.


Now each chord will ring for two beats:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 2

The power chord shape that’s used for F#5 is very common in metal. The good news is that it’s a moveable shape. You can move this shape to any fret on the neck and you’ll still have a power chord. If you take a look at the next chord shape for G5, you’ll see that it’s the same shape but one fret higher than F#5:


To play the G5 chord shape, make sure you have the F#5 ready on the neck. Keep your hand ‘frozen’ still, release the pressure from your fingers slightly, and shift your fingers to the third and fifth frets by moving your arm to the right. Remember that your thumb should always be at the back of the neck and in between the two frets where your fingers are placed. When you get to the G5 power chord, your thumb should now be behind the fourth fret. This will enable you to get a solid grip on the neck and apply equal pressure to it with your fingers.

In the next exercise, you’ll move between the F#5 and G5 power chords. In the last two bars you’ll only hold each chord for two beats at a time. Try to make the movements quickly and efficiently. The best way to do this is to keep your hand and finger movements to a minimum.


Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 3

Be aware that you’ll be using these kinds of chords a lot in metal rhythm guitar playing. Work through the exercises until they’re sounding clean and in time with the beat. Now you’ve worked through that, the next step is to combine these power chords together into one exercise:


Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 4

As I explained earlier, you can move the second power chord shape up and down the neck so long as you stay on the E string. As you move up the neck to the higher frets you’ll notice that the frets get smaller, so take care with your finger positions. The main point is to keep the fingers as close to the frets as you can without touching them.


Here’s the F#5 power chord on the second fret, and the D5 power chord on the tenth fret:

Notice how much smaller the frets are at the tenth fret! Be careful not to let your little finger slip onto a higher fret when moving up the neck. In the next exercise I’ve included four more power chords – A5, B5, C5 and D5. They’re all located on the low E string. Be careful when you get to the D5 chord on the tenth fret. You may find it harder to keep your thumb at the back of the neck. If you do, one solution is to push the guitar neck out in front of you. This will give your left arm a little more space to move. Also watch out for the A5 and G5 chords in the final bar. You’ll be jumping down five frets at first, and don’t forget they only last for two beats each.


Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 5

Again, take your time with these exercises. Repeat them over and over until your movements are natural and in time.

Power Chords on the A String In the last section you focused on playing power chords with root notes on the low E string. You can play the same chords rooted on the A string in exactly the same way.


The first power chord you’ll learn is A5. This power chord is much like the E5 chord you learned in the last section:

As well as looking just like the E5 chord, it sounds exactly the same as the A5 you played before on the E string at the fifth fret in Exercise 5. This shape is just another way to play the same chord. As you learn more songs, you’ll see how useful it is to have this chord in two places. To build this chord on the neck, you should follow the same procedure as you did with the E5 chord earlier. The only difference is that this chord is one string lower than the E5.


Remember to move your thumb to the back of the neck and behind the third fret:

Play the A and D strings together and you’ll hear the A5 chord. Use the first finger to mute the unwanted strings below. It’s a good idea to practice switching between the E5 and A5 power chords. To do this effectively, all you have to do is move your first finger down one string when going from E5 to A5. This is a small and easy movement. The other consideration to make is the ringing open E string from the E5 chord. You don’t want this to ring when you play the A5. Now, there are a few ways you can tackle this. The easiest way is to break the rules a little with your thumb.


As you move over to the A5 from the E5, slide your thumb up over the top of the neck slightly, like this:

With a little practice you’ll find that the fleshy part of your thumb will touch the E string and this will stop it from ringing any longer. The downside of this method is that you have to move your thumb back behind the neck again when you go to another chord. This is another job you have to do while you’re playing. If you can avoid it, it will be better in the long run.


Alternatively, another way to dampen the open E string is to use the picking hand instead. This way, the thumb can stay at the back of the neck, giving your fingers a stronger grip on the neck. Look at the following images. The image on the left shows the picking hand before it strikes the A5 chord. The image on the right shows the picking hand as it strikes the A string for the chord.


Notice how the flesh of the palm comes into contact with the E string. This technique will dampen the string:

As you can see, I’ve gone into quite a lot of detail here. This is because I want to make sure you get this chord change right. After many years of playing metal I can tell you that changing power chords cleanly and smoothly is very important as a rhythm player. Listen to amazing rhythm guitar players like Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) and Dino Cazares (Fear Factory), and you’ll hear that they’re always aiming for a precision performance. As a style, metal music relies on all the musicians in a band synchronizing together like parts in a machine. This means that your timing and accuracy should be the highest priority while playing. Unlike jazz and blues styles, where being slightly off the beat can sometimes be a good thing, the opposite is true in metal.


Whatever method you choose to dampen open strings while playing, make sure you’re comfortable and that it sounds good. Practice changing between the E5 and A5 power chords, trying both methods of dampening the E string when going to A5:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 6

Now you’ll combine the A5 with some of the power chords you learned on the E string from the last section.


For the next exercise, every chord will last for two beats. Take care in the last bar when jumping from the third fret to the second fret:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 7

The next set of exercises introduces more power chords you can play that are rooted on the A string.


You’ll start with the B5 power chord on the second fret. Going from A5 to B5 will be exactly like going from E5 to F#5 on the E string:


Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 8

Here are two more new chords for you to play that are also rooted on the A string – the C5 and D5. As with the A5 chord, the D5 sounds exactly the same as the D5 on the tenth fret of the E string (see Exercise 5). Conveniently, it’s now closer to the other chords you’ve been playing, as it’s located on the fifth fret:


As you play the next exercise, take care when jumping up two frets from the C5 to the D5. Make sure to keep your fingers ‘frozen’ in position by tensing them a little as you move up and down the neck between chords:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 9


Another power chord you should attempt to play is an E5. You have already played an E5, but this one is an octave higher, rooted on the seventh fret of the A string:

Now that you’ve added another version of E5 to your power chord collection, the next exercise combines all of the power chords you’ve looked at so far. The primary aim of this exercise is to get you moving between the chords rooted on the E and A strings. Rhythmically, this one is a little different. The chords come in sets of three. The first two are two beats long, and the third is always four beats long.


This will give you a bit more time to move between the strings:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 10

The following exercise is the same as the last, but with the chords reversed.


Use this one to practice descending the neck with the power chords:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 11

If you’ve completed all of the exercises, you should now feel comfortable with playing these power chords all over the neck. These exercises are at a slow speed of 60 beats per minute for a reason. This is so that you can really work on your technique and timing when playing the chords. As always, go back over them a few more times to make sure the timing is good and that your fingers are in the right position. In the next section, you’ll see how you can spice up your power chord playing with some cool slide techniques.


Sliding Power Chords If you’ve worked your way through the last few sections, I’m sure you’re feeling a lot better about power chords. Now it’s time to take your power chord playing to the next level. You’ll do this by adding slides to them. You may have tried using slides before on single notes, but it’s also possible to perform slides on power chords. In fact, you can slide up to six notes on the guitar at the same time, so long as the chord shape remains the same. When playing metal, most of the time you’ll only be sliding across a maximum of three strings at any particular moment.

The cool thing about slides is that you only have to strum the strings once to play two different chords.


So to start, take a look at how slides are notated in guitar tab:

The key to reading this notation correctly is to look at the diagonal lines that appear between the two power chords on the tab. In the first example on the left, the lines are going upward to the right. This tells you to slide up to a higher fret. The second example on the right shows the diagonal lines going downward to the left, meaning you need to slide down to a lower fret. After figuring out the direction, you just need to look at the starting and ending frets and you’re ready to play. Now that you’re more comfortable with the power chords, the following examples will get you sliding between them. Apply a strong, firm pressure with both fingers on the neck as you perform the slide between the frets. Avoid bending the strings as you slide. If this happens, you’re ‘pulling’ the strings down toward the floor. The solution is to focus on applying pressure directly onto the neck as you slide up or down.


This is very important, and will keep the notes of the chord consistently in tune.

I’ve made the tempo faster here, which will encourage you to slide with a little more speed and pressure on the strings. Remember that you only need to strike the strings once. This strum will always be on the first chord on the left. The first slide will be between F#5 and G5 on the low E string. I’ve also included downward slides, so watch out for them, too:


Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 12

Your next step is to slide between chords that are two frets apart. I’ve written the following example to demonstrate this.


Take care when jumping back from the fifth fret to the second fret to get to the open-string E5 and A5 power chords:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 13

Make sure you go over the last few exercises until they are sounding right and in time with the beat.


The next example involves sliding in one direction and then immediately in the opposite direction. Because of these slides, at various points in the exercise you’ll play four power chords with only two strums:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 14

If you can handle these exercises, now you can try combining the one-fret slides with two-fret slides.


Pay attention to the fret numbers here as well as the slide directions:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 15

Finally, apart from going over these examples a few more times, I’d recommend you try another experiment that doesn’t require tab or a backing track. Make a power chord anywhere on the neck and practice sliding from this power chord to any other fret on the same set of strings. It could be four, five or even twelve frets, higher or lower – it’s up to you. The key here is to experiment on your own and get to know how it feels sliding up and down the guitar neck. As a general tip, you should apply this method of experimentation with any new guitar technique you come across. Next, I’ll show you how to find any power chord that you could ever need on the guitar neck.


How To Find Any Power Chord One of the most important aspects of playing metal rhythm guitar is your ability to locate and play power chords. Power chords don’t just provide the harmony for metal songs; they’re used in riffs, too. Knowing where they all are at any moment will give you a big advantage as a metal rhythm guitar player. Not only this, but knowing where they are on the neck will boost your chord knowledge in general, speeding up learning other songs in different styles. Chord diagrams are great, but what if I told you there was a way to find any power chord without chord books, diagrams or tablature? What if I also told you that it was easy to learn? Sounds good, right? Let’s get started. The first thing to learn is that power chords have a root note. The root note of a B5 chord is a B note. The root note of a C#5 is a C#, and so on. You can also think of the root note as the note that the chord is named after. In the power chord shapes you’ve looked at so far, the root notes are always on the lowest string of the chord. To illustrate this I’ve given you two examples here. There’s a G5 on the low E string and a D5 on the A string.


The root notes are highlighted as a red dot:

Now you know where the root notes are found on the power chords, the next step is to know where the root notes are on the neck. This is the key to finding any power chord you want. You may be thinking that knowing the name of every note that lies on the E and A strings is a difficult task with up to twenty-four frets! In reality, it is incredibly easy. I’ve shown all of my guitar students this method before and not one of them has struggled with it yet. Do you know the names of all of the notes in music? If you do, you’re already halfway there. If you don’t, here’s a quick and easy way to learn them. I’m going to use a little bit of music theory here. If you don’t have any theory knowledge, don’t worry because I will explain it to you in a very simple way. In music there are twelve notes. There are seven regular notes that are named C, D, E, F and so on. Then there are the five sharp/flat notes like F#, Db and A#.


Once you get to the note G, the musical alphabet starts again and goes back to the note A. Forget all about the sharp/flat notes for a minute. They are easy, but you’ll work on the regular notes first. Here’s a diagram showing all seven of these notes starting from E, which is the lowest note on guitar:

All of the notes are two frets apart from each other except two pairs of notes. These other two pairs are one fret apart and are shown here with the curved lines underneath them:

So, from this diagram you can see that there is only one fret between E and F and there is also only one fret between B and C. E and F B and C Remember these two pairs are one fret apart, and the rest is easy. Write it down, stick it on the wall – do whatever you can to remind yourself of this on a daily basis.


All the other notes are two frets apart, shown here with the triangle-shaped lines above them:

Why did I start with the E note? This is the lowest note on the guitar; more specifically, it is the lowest note on the low E string. You can find every regular note on the E string by yourself now. Just remember this rule:

There is only one fret between E and F, and between B and C. All the other notes are two frets apart.

Look at this diagram of the guitar neck and you will see exactly the same pattern:

The pattern continues in the same way all the way up the string until you run out of frets. The following exercise shows how you can practice this each day to learn where the notes lie on the neck.


Only use the first finger for this exercise. It can become confusing if you start using other fingers:

1. You don’t need the fretboard diagram, just look at your guitar for this. 2. Start thinking of the open-string area behind the nut as ‘fret zero’. This is the note E. 3. There is only one fret between E and F. Go up one fret to play the note F. 4. The following notes G, A and B are all two frets apart. Play these notes and stop when you get to B. 5. There is only one fret between B and C. Go up one fret to play the note C. 6. The following notes D and E are two frets apart. Play these notes and stop when you get to E. 7. Repeat steps 3–6 until you get to the highest fret on the low E string.

Do this a few times and you won’t even need to read that sequence. Very quickly, you’ll get to know it automatically. What’s great about this exercise is that you only need to look at the guitar while you’re doing it and you’re increasing your knowledge of the fretboard. The exact same process can be used for learning the notes on the low A string:

The only difference with practicing these notes is that you’ll start on the note A. Remember that ‘fret zero’ is now the open A note. 46

As there are two frets between A and B, you’ll find that the note B is on the second fret. Practice learning the notes on these two strings over the next few days in this way and you’ll find that it’s quite easy. Now, back to the power chords. As I showed you earlier, the root note of the power chord is on the lowest string for the chord. Let’s say you want an A5 power chord for a song you’re learning. Work your way up the E string until you get to the note A. Now you have the root note, all you have to do is build the power chord shape on top of it:

The same process is done for power chords with root notes on the A string. If you wanted an F5 power chord, for example, you’d work your way up to the F note on that string and then build the chord shape:

In time, and with a bit of practice, you’ll know where all the power chords are instantly, on both strings. Play along with the audio demo in the next exercise. At first, you’ll only play the power chords on the E string. Instead of giving you tab, I’ve just set out a sixteen-bar sequence of power chords. Your task is to find and play each power chord once per bar. 47

The first exercise is quite easy, if you’ve already taken some time to learn the root notes. I’ve made the exercise deliberately slow so that you have time to look ahead for the next chord and play it in time.

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 16

If you found that difficult to follow, spend some more time learning the root notes on the E string and then try again.


The next exercise is more challenging, as you’ll be jumping around a bit more than before:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 17

If you can easily find and play these power chords, well done! Now you’ve boosted your knowledge of the neck dramatically. It gets even better now because you can do exactly the same thing for power chords on the A string. If you need to remind yourself of the notes on the A string, that’s fine; do that over and over until you’re comfortable with them.


Play along with the next exercise, only using power chords on the A string:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 18


As before, you can now try the next exercise where you’ll have to jump around the A string a bit more to find the chords:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 19

I can’t stress this enough – play through these exercises until you’re confident with them. Everybody learns at different rates and this is not a competition. Taking your time to absorb this information is the smart thing to do.

Sharps and Flats If everything has gone as planned, you’ll now be able to find any of the regular notes on the E and A strings and turn them into power chords. If that’s the case, then great, keep reading. If not, go back until you are happy and then come back here when you are ready. Earlier, I said you’d work with the regular notes first. So what about the other notes? 51

These notes are the sharps and flats. An example of a sharp note would be an F#. The ‘#’ symbol means sharp. An example of a flat note would be an Ab. The ‘b’ symbol means flat. I know what you might be thinking at this point:

‘So now I have learned all of the regular notes on the neck, you’re saying I have to learn ANOTHER bunch of notes?!’

Well, yes … and no. Thankfully, this is very easy, so you don’t have to worry about it at all. Think about what you’ve learned already. You’ve already learned where all the regular notes are. This is the important part and you’ve already done it. A sharp symbol (#) just means to take the regular note and move it up one fret. A flat symbol (b) just means to take the regular note and move it down one fret. Finding the sharp and flat notes means you only have to go up or down one fret from a regular note. Even better news – there are no sharps or flats between E and F or B and C. You already knew this anyway because there’s only one fret between these pairs of notes. Take a look at the diagram from earlier. I’ve now added the sharp notes to the previous diagram:

The first exercise you’ll play illustrates how all the regular notes fit with the sharp notes.


If you see a G#5, for example, this means you need to find a regular G5 and play one fret higher. All you have to do is play through the exercise using the power chords and you’ll see how the sharp notes fit between the regular notes. I recommend that you say the note names out loud as you play (just the note, not the full chord name). This will help you learn the sequence of regular and sharp notes:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 20

Now that you’ve played through the sharp notes, you can also go through the flat notes.


The diagram below is the same as before, but this time it contains the flats in place of the sharps:

This diagram might confuse you because now you’re seeing a different set of notes. That’s okay and is perfectly normal. Don’t worry about it, because very soon you’ll see how the sharps and flats can actually have the same meaning. You’ll get to that in just a minute. For now, just look at the diagram and you’ll see that the flat notes are one fret lower than the regular notes. You can take the same approach with the flat notes as you did the sharps. This time you’ll start at the twelfth fret and work your way down the neck.


As before, say the names of the notes out loud as you play:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 21

Remember earlier I said that the sharps and flats can mean the same thing? If you take a look at the diagram below, you’ll see what I mean:


Whether a note is a sharp or a flat depends on which way you look at it, as they can mean the same thing. An F# is exactly the same note as a Gb. That’s why I put the flats underneath the sharps on the diagram, to show you that they’re the same note. To prove it, do this exercise: Play an F5 power chord on the low E string. Playing a power chord one fret higher will give you an F#5. Now go up one more fret to a G5 power chord. Playing a power chord one fret lower will give you a Gb5. So now you see how an F#5 and a Gb5 are both exactly the same chord, you can find any power chord you want on the guitar! The final two exercises in this section will get you finding power chords all over the neck. Play these power chords on the low E string. Again, the tempo is slow to give you time to prepare for each chord:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 22


The final exercise is the same, but this time play the power chords on the A string:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 23

You don’t need a chord book, tablature, notation or anything else. All you need is knowledge of the regular notes to find any power chord. From now on, any song that contains power chords will be easier for you to learn, no matter what style of music it is. Because of the importance of power chords in metal rhythm guitar, you’ll thank yourself for working through this section.

More Power Chord Voicings The two main power chord shapes you’ve played so far are the ones that are used 90% of the time in metal. However, these aren’t the only ones you should know. There are a few more essential shapes that I’ll cover here. 57

The first one you’ll look at is almost identical to the second shape you made earlier. Here is the regular G5 power chord from before, and then on the right is a slightly different version.

This version of G5 has another root note (G) on the D string with the pinky finger. This extra note makes the chord sound bigger. Because the pinky finger is no longer on the A string as before, the ring finger is there to take its place. This chord shape is very common. You will find it turns up all the time in many of your favorite rock and metal tracks. When building this shape on the neck, you’ll find that the pinky finger will sit underneath your ring finger to allow it onto the same fret.


The same shape is used with power chords on the A string, too:

You can also apply the same concept to the two open-string power chords E5 and A5:


As a rhythm guitar player, I find that this power chord voicing can be really useful in three main situations. Often when you’re playing a song, you’ll need to play one long, sustained power chord that will ring for a bar or longer. You can use this shape to get a big sound that rings over other instruments or guitar parts. Here’s an example. Pay close attention to Guitar 1:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 24

Another time this shape comes in handy is when playing short, accented power chord stabs.


Here’s an example. Again, listen carefully to Guitar 1:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 25

The larger-than-life power chords play perfectly in sync with the drums, giving a huge, rhythmic sound. Finally, I suggest that you use this power chord voicing whenever you feel your rhythm part needs more emphasis. This could be during a riff, or just for general power chord rhythm playing. Sometimes these shapes can sound very effective behind a guitar solo. I would encourage you to experiment with these shapes in different situations to find what works best for whatever song you’re working on.

The ‘Mini-Barre’ Power Chord The other crucial power chord shape you should know is the one that is performed using a ‘mini-barre’. In case you didn’t already know, a barre chord is any chord where the first finger lies across two or more strings on the same fret. 61

A curved line is used in chord diagrams to represent the ‘barre’ technique, as in this example G Major chord shape:

The first finger takes care of the notes on the E, B and top E strings. You do this by laying the finger flat across all the strings on the third fret. I’m not going to go into greater detail about barre chords here, but if you look at the next diagram you’ll see how the same technique is used:


Here’s a photo to show you how your first finger should look when playing this power chord shape:

The important thing to remember here is that the root note is on the D string. The note highlighted in red in the previous diagram shows this. This is another moveable shape, so as long as you know the root note, you can play it anywhere on the neck.


Play the next exercise, which uses this power chord shape:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 26

Just like the other power chord shapes, you can slide between frets with this one. The next exercise will get you sliding up and down the neck. Be sure to keep a strong, firm pressure on the neck with your first finger. This is especially important when you slide. The extra effort required will be worth it:


Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 27

Beefing Up Your Power Chords If you’re playing power chords that have roots on the A string, there’s a cool trick you can use to give them an ultra-heavy sound.


It’s surprisingly easy to do, and to illustrate this I’ll use a C5 power chord on the third fret as an example.

Now take a look at the ‘beefed-up’ version:

Can you spot the difference?


Now there’s a lower bass note added to the power chord. It’s this lower bass note that gives the chord a heavier sound.

In the power chord C5 there are two notes – a C (the root) and a G (the fifth). The extra note in the new diagram is another G, but one octave lower:


It’s very easy to turn your regular power chords on the A string into these heavy versions. As you can see from the above diagram, you just need to add the note that sits directly above the root note on the E string. Use a barre technique to fret the first two notes and then the pinky finger for the other note. I’ve provided a photo here so you can see what it looks like:

Play the next exercise, which mixes up some regular power chords with these ultra-heavy, beefed-up versions.


I’ve put some slides in there too, which will give you an extra challenge:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 28

This section concludes the exercises on power chords. If you’ve worked your way this far, well done! I can tell you from my years of experience playing metal that spending time on these fundamentals will massively benefit your playing. After mastering these exercises, you’re now ready to move on to every other aspect of metal rhythm guitar playing.


3. Metal Rhythm Basics

Right-Hand Rests When you think about metal rhythm guitar players, there are a number of things that come to mind. Here are just some of them:

Heavy riffs Crazy fast rhythm playing Palm muting Detuned guitars Power chords Pinch harmonics Dual harmonies Long hair

Apart from the last one on the list, which was a joke of course, all of these things are related to playing guitar and making sounds. Something that is often overlooked by rhythm guitarists (and, let’s be honest, most guitarists in general) is the use of rests. A rest in music is a certain amount of time where no sound is made by a particular instrument. On the guitar, you don’t just stop playing like you would on a piano. You have to physically stop the strings from ringing with your hands. This is especially true with metal, as the guitar tone is heavily distorted. With this distortion, any accidental ringing strings, at the wrong time, can sound absolutely terrible. You may not have considered this yet, but as a rhythm guitarist your silence on the instrument is just as important as the sounds you make.


Performing rests in music enhances the rhythmic aspect of your playing, as well as letting the other instruments be heard. If you read guitar tab, but not standard notation, it’s important to know that rests aren’t usually notated in the tab staff. If you’re reading sheet music, what you need to look for are symbols like this in the notation staff above the tab:

Measured in beats, these symbols tell you how long you need to rest for a particular period in the bar. In this guide, you don’t need to look at the notation staff. You’ll find that I have included the rests in the tab as well, so you don’t miss anything.


So, for the rest of this section of the guide, you’ll see tab that looks like this:

Before you get into the technique side of things, I’ll prove to you just how important rests are with an example. Listen to the following riff. You don’t have to play along at this point if you don’t want to, just listen instead:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 29


Now listen to the next example. This is the same riff as before, but I’ve added a few rests here and there, which you can see in the tab:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 30

What a difference those rests make! The first thing you’ll notice is that the music is a lot more interesting as a direct result of the rests. As well as adding more groove to your riffs, leaving space in the music like this allows other instruments to be heard. You can hear in the above example how the drums and bass guitar stand out nicely between the notes from the guitar.


If you’re looking to make a riff or rhythm part more interesting, try adding some rests; it’s a good strategy. The rests presented here are performed with the right hand. You can also rest with the left hand, but we’ll get to that later on. To perform a rest, start by playing the low E string and letting it ring. Then use the side of your right hand (the fleshy part) to stop the string dead. Touching the strings momentarily won’t always be enough to stop the string ringing completely. You should hold the side of your hand against the strings firmly until you hear no more sound from the guitar. It’s a good idea to place the side of your hand across all of the strings on your guitar, making sure any other strings are muted:

You can do this with a clean setting on the amp, but I’d also recommend doing it with distortion. The distortion will let you know whether or not your rest is effective. The sound from the guitar has to be silenced completely. 74

After a few tries, you’ll get the hang of it. The following exercises will get you applying it in a musical way. The first exercise I want you to do is very simple, but it’s important to get it exactly right. The rests will be four beats long, so make sure your guitar is silent while the drum fills play in between:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 31

Practice this one until your rests are completely in time with the beat. Once you have this down, you’ll be ready to do a rest for less time in the bar, like two-beat, one-beat and half-beat rests.


Play along with the next example. I’ve included two-beat rests in this one. Don’t forget to look out for the rests in the tab:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 32

The next step is to cut the rests down to one beat in length. You’ll do this in the next exercise. Remember, these exercises are pretty simple, but I’ve made them that way so you can focus on the technique.


Watch out for the string change when you play the power chords on the A string. Make sure your right hand stops the A and D strings from ringing.

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 33

If you’ve worked through the last three exercises thoroughly and you’re happy with your technique and timing, you’re ready to move on. Finally, play along with this exercise, which contains even shorter rests that are only half a beat long. Because the rests are shorter, and you have to get to the next chord quicker than before, it can be easy to sound sloppy here. Remember to still firmly apply your hand to the strings to get total silence between the chords:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 34


You’ll do more rests with your right hand later, but the exercises you’ve just done are great to start out with. Next you’ll look at rests that are performed with your left hand.

Left-Hand Rests Rests performed with the left hand are a little different, but it’s still an essential metal rhythm technique. There are two ways to rest with the left hand. The first method is useful when playing open string notes or power chords that contain open strings. Taking open string power chords as an example, build a basic E5 power chord on the neck:


Play this chord and then stop the strings from ringing by immediately straightening your left-hand fingers and laying them across the strings. The fleshy part of your fingers should be in contact with the strings but not pressing down hard on the neck as you would normally:

You may notice that when you do this, the chord stops ringing but there’s some short noise afterwards. If this happens, it’s nothing to worry about. The noise is caused by your fingers touching the strings as you dampen them. Left-hand rests aren’t quite as effective as right-hand rests and can be a little noisy at times, depending on where you are on the neck. You may be thinking that there’s no point in using a left-hand rest if it isn’t as good as a right-hand rest. That’s a fair point, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that at this stage. However, with experience you’ll realize there are certain scenarios where a lefthand rest can be more advantageous than a right-hand rest.


I’ll discuss this more as we continue. For now, use the left hand to rest in the next example, using the E5 and A5 chords:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 35

The second way to rest with the left hand is more useful when you’re higher up the neck and not using any open strings. I call it the pressure release method. The idea is to take your fingers off the neck but not off the strings. You can try this out with a basic G5 power chord.


Here’s the G5 power chord being played while it’s ringing as normal. The photo on the right shows me applying a left-hand rest:

As you already know, you must apply pressure to the neck in order for the notes to sound. For the left-hand rest to work properly, all you have to do is release that pressure. The fingers should still be attached to the strings. Study the photos. In the picture on the right, you can see my fingers are still touching the strings but there is no contact with the neck. At this point, the technique is the same as the one I showed you earlier. The lefthand fingers are dampening the strings and stopping them from ringing. If you’re trying this for the first time, you may find that your fingers have come off the strings and because of this, the strings are still ringing. This is quite normal, as you’re not used to the technique yet. Remember, you’re only removing the pressure from the neck. Make your movements smaller and keep trying the G5 power chord until you’re happy it’s working. You’ll get it after a few attempts. 81

If you’re happy with the left-hand rest, it’s time for you to put it into practice with the next example, using various power chords on the neck. Each rest is one beat long between the chords. I’ve also thrown in some one-bar rests as well as a slower tempo to give you time to change strings:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 36

Both of these rest techniques are useful when playing metal guitar. The question is, which one do you use and when? Using the underside of your fingers can be very useful when you have long sustained notes or chords that have rests of one beat or more in between. The ‘pressure release’ method is more effective when you’re playing faster parts.


When you play faster parts, more attention needs to be given to your left hand. You may not have time to use the right hand in between picking or strumming. Since you’re already concentrating on this hand, it can sometimes be easier to rest with it as well.

Pro Tip: Over the years I have become aware that I often instinctively use right- and lefthand rests at the same time. It’s not always the most appropriate thing to do, but in general, it’s a good idea. Two hands can be better than one! If you use both hands to rest, your playing will sound cleaner and well defined. Synchronizing both hands can take a bit of practice, but you’ll get there. Play through the last two examples (35 & 36) and see if you can use a left-hand rest and right-hand rest at the same time.

Eighth-Note Rhythms So far, you’ve learned all about power chords and how important they are in metal rhythm guitar. You’ve played them all over the neck and learned how to slide between them, cleanly and accurately.


You’ve also learned how to use rests to control the sound of your guitar at any given moment. These may seem like very basic concepts, but the truth is that they’re fundamental to playing metal rhythm guitar. From now on you’ll learn lots of new things and you won’t be worried about using rests or power chords. The good news is that you’ve done the bulk of the hard work and you’re ready to move on to the fun stuff! To get started, you’ll now take a look at another very important subject in metal – eighth-note rhythms. When playing eighth-note rhythms, you can play two notes or chords per beat. In the examples you’ve played so far (apart from Exercise 34), I deliberately only used chords that were one beat or more in length. The reason I did this was so that you could focus on your technique, rather than playing shorter notes. Now your technique is ready, you can get on to playing shorter notes and chords.

An eighth-note is half a beat long. With four beats in a bar, you can get eight notes or chords in a bar. Normally you’d count the beat out loud like this: “1, 2, 3, 4 …” etc.


However, when you’re playing music that has an eighth-note rhythm it is better to count like this: “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and…” etc. A better way to write it would be like this: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +… etc. Using the word ‘and’ or the ‘+’ symbol helps you to keep track of the halfway point between each beat, which is perfect for eighth-note rhythms. For this section’s exercises, I’ve written the beat between the music and the tab so you can count along as you play. You may feel you don’t need to count out loud, but I would strongly encourage you to do so. It will help to keep your playing in time. To practice this, try counting out loud while listening to the audio demo in the next exercise. After this, play along with the exercise using down picking and count out loud:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 37


Now you’ll add some right-hand rests to this riff to make it more interesting. In Exercise 38 I’ve put rests on beats 2 and 3 in bars 1–3 and 5–7. You only need to perform the rest on beat 2; just keep the right hand in contact with the strings throughout beat 3 as well:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 38

The next exercise is the same chord progression but a little more challenging. As well as a faster tempo of 120 bpm, there’s a shorter, half-beat rest to deal with on beat 2 of the bar. I’ve also included two-beat rests as well, along with more half-beat rests in bars 4 and 8.


Make sure that you’ve achieved total silence when using the rests:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 39

As a metal rhythm guitarist, you’ll play eighth-note rhythms a lot. You’ve covered the basics in the last few examples, but there’s more to learn. To explore this subject further, you first need to learn about another absolutely essential metal technique – palm muting. You’ll do that in the next section.


4. Palm Muting

Palm Muting & Down Picking One technique that is fundamental to metal guitar, and that you should thoroughly master, is palm muting. If you haven’t heard of this technique, the basic idea is to lay the fleshy side of the picking hand across the strings next to the bridge of the guitar. Keeping the hand in contact with the strings in this position while you’re picking gives the notes a short, muted sound. In metal music, you’ll often hear players describe this as ‘chugging’. It’s a very common sound in the genre and you’ll definitely have heard this before. The technique, combined with distortion from the amp, produces an aggressive, biting tone. A perfect example of palm muting is the distorted guitar in the intro to ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica. James Hetfield, guitarist and vocalist for the band, is playing the low E string in an eighth-note rhythm with palm muting applied to the strings:

Palm muting is a technique used across all styles of music, from Punk to Funk and even Acoustic and Classical. It’s not limited to heavy metal, so it’s likely you’re already aware of it from the songs you’ve heard or learned before. 88

However, in metal there’s a right way and a wrong way to palm mute. If the technique is not executed correctly, it can sound very weak and undefined. A weak and undefined guitar is definitely not something you want in metal! Here’s an example of palm muting (indicated by ‘P.M.’ above the tab) that is poorly executed. You don’t need to play the following two exercises, just listen instead:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 40

Did you notice how the palm-muted notes sound scratchy and thin? There’s not enough tone of the E string note in the sound.


In the next example, the correct technique has been applied to the strings, and the palm muting sounds much better as a result:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 41

The better sound is due to a strong palm mute and aggressive down picking from the picking hand. Downward picking is essential. Because you’re going with gravity rather than against it, you can get a more aggressive sound. Up strokes can also be used, but you’ll focus on that later.


Now that you know what a good example of palm muting sounds like, you’re ready to try it out for yourself.

The Karate Chop Method When I’m explaining the palm-muting technique to my students, I like to call it the karate chop. We’ve all seen the karate chop. A martial artist strikes their bare hand down onto a plank of wood, splitting it in half. I recommend, of course, that you don’t do this with the guitar, but the physical approach is similar with palm muting!

To position your picking hand for a palm mute, follow these steps: 1. Make sure you’re holding your pick between your thumb and index finger. 2. Stretch out your middle, ring and pinky fingers until they’re straight. 3. Hold your arm out in front of you like you’re about to shake someone’s hand. 4. Bring the arm down and place the fleshy underside of your hand firmly onto the strings, right next to the bridge. This is the ‘karate chop’. 5. Curl the middle, ring and pinky fingers back into a loose fist. 6. Remain in strong contact with the strings as you did in step 4, and bring the pick across to sit on top of the low E string.

If you’ve followed these steps, you’re now ready to test the palm mute. Pick the low E string as you normally would. You should now hear the effect of the palm mute. If it doesn’t sound right, you’re probably not close enough to the bridge. Shift your hand to the right (if you’re right-handed) until you can feel the bridge touching your skin. 91

It’s worth bearing in mind that everyone’s hands are different in size and shape. For this reason, you’ll have to experiment with where your hand is to get the optimum sound for your playing. The best way to find your correct position is to pick the string constantly without stopping, and shift your hand left and right until the palm mute sounds good. The best sound is when you can clearly hear the effect of the mute, but also the note from the string. Ultimately, the nearer your hand is to the bridge, the better it will sound.

Exercises Play along with the next example to practice getting the sound right and in time with the music.


I’ve made the following examples available at three different speeds so that you can train yourself to get faster, once you have the technique down.

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 42

Assuming you have a good palm mute going, try the next example. You’ll now play different notes on the E string, all with palm mutes. You can tell all of the notes are palm muted, as the dashed line after the ‘P.M.’ symbol is spread above all of the notes:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 43

You can also palm mute using power chords. When playing the next exercise, attack the strings with a little more energy.


This extra effort is needed to make sure you’re always hitting the two strings from the chord, not just one:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 44

In many musical situations, you’ll need to be able to combine palm muting with notes and chords from different strings.


Play along with the next exercise to practice this:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 45

The next thing to get used to is combining palm-muted notes and chords with regular, non-muted ones. I’ve made the next exercise pretty simple to help you get used to taking the picking hand on and off the strings at various points. In metal, you need to be able to switch from muted notes to regular notes very frequently and at will. Pull the picking hand away slightly from the strings when you need a regular note and put it back on for the palm mutes.


It’s easy once you get the hang of it, so give it a try:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 46


The next exercise is the same concept, only this time you’ll be taking the palm mute off more frequently to create an interesting rhythm:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 47

Now that you’ve got used to using the palm mute, you can take this concept one step further. Many metal riffs combine muted notes with regular single notes, and this is what you’ll look at next.

Combining Palm Muting with Regular Notes So far you’ve played with power chords, rests and palm mutes, but you haven’t really focused on single notes yet. In a lot of metal riffs, single notes are common and often alternated with lowerpitched, palm-muted notes from the bass strings. 97

Now your palm mutes are working, it’s time to add in the single notes to form some exciting riffs! When playing along with the next example, use your third finger to fret the E note at the seventh fret.

Important: Take the pressure off the regular notes as soon as you start playing the palmmuted ones. You don’t want these notes to keep ringing after you’ve played them. Just squeeze the notes when you need them, then let go.

The E note is played without a palm mute, but the low E string notes are played with one:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 48

Make sure that the single E note on the seventh fret is ringing clearly and that there’s no palm muting applied to it.


In the next riff, use your first finger to play the note D on the fifth fret:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 49

Spend some time working on this riff to get clear separation between the palmmuted notes and the regular single notes. Now it’s time to switch things up a bit with the rhythm. I’m going to move the new D note on the fifth fret so that it comes in a bit earlier than before. This is going to help you get used to playing some notes on the offbeat. In this case, it’s on the ‘and’ of beat two:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 50


In the next exercise, you’ll add a G5 power chord to the last beat of bar 2. Again, this is not palm muted:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 51

Finally, you’ll add a slide to the G5 to go up to the A5 power chord on the fifth fret. This is a pretty heavy-sounding riff! If you like, you can use your third finger on the power chords instead of the pinky.


When you get to the A5, your third finger will be ready for the first note of the riff on the repeat:

Remember: Take the pressure off the regular notes as soon as you start playing the palmmuted ones – it’s easy to forget in the beginning!

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 52

Once you get used to the technique, it’s quite easy to palm mute the open E string at will. This is because you don’t have to think about any frets on that string and instead, you can concentrate on the other notes you need to play. This musical device is called a pedal tone and is used widely in metal riffs and songs. In Exercise 52, the pedal tone was the open E string note. Many riffs use just an open E string pedal tone between other notes and chords. This is especially true when the key of the song is E Minor. However, this is not always the case. If every song were in E Minor, music would get pretty boring! It is quite common for songs to change key at certain points, and when it does, you’ll need to change the pedal tone. This can be an open string note or a fretted note, depending on the key.


In the next example, I’ve changed the key from E Minor to F# Minor, which is another common key in metal. Consequently, the pedal tone is now an F# note on the second fret. The other notes and chords are played without palm mutes. To prepare your fingers for this riff, start by getting an F#5 power chord ready before you play:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 53

Another heavy riff! The final riff in this section uses an open A string as the pedal tone because the key is A Minor. The difference with this riff is that the regular notes are on the same string as the palm-muted ones.


You’ll need your first finger for the C note on the third fret, and your third finger for the D note on the fifth fret:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 54

Before we move on to some important rhythms in metal, I’d like to show you another example of muting. You’ll do that in the next section.

Left-Hand Muting Another kind of mute is the left-hand mute, which can also be called fret-hand muting. This is not the same as palm muting, and produces a different sound. This kind of mute produces a sound with no pitch. It just adds a scratchy, percussive effect to your playing.


In notation, this kind of mute is represented by an ‘X’ on the tab as well as in the notation staff. It’s quite easy to spot once you’ve seen it. I’ve highlighted the left-hand mutes in red in the next example. Again, you don’t have to play along with this now. Just listen out for the mutes:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 55


To perform the rest, the technique is pretty simple. You need to place all of your left-hand fingers lightly on the strings like this:

As for the right hand, things stay the same. When you hit the strings, you’ll just hear a ‘clunk’ sound from the guitar, and this is what you want. You can, and should, experiment with where your fingers are on the neck. It doesn’t really matter where they are, but personally, I find the sound is better when you’re close to the first and second frets. Don’t press on the strings too hard or you may hear a fretted note. Keep the pressure just enough to mute the strings to get that ‘clunk’ sound. Play along with the next exercise to get used to playing the mute in time. I’ve included quarter-notes and eighth-notes.


Again, I’ve provided the audio at three different speeds to help you practice this:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 56

As you get to the higher tempo of 150 bpm, you’ll need to maintain the energy in your right hand to keep up with the track. If you can’t manage it now, just work on the slower speed until you’re ready. Once you get the hang of that, it’s time for you to work the left-hand mutes into a real musical example.


The next riff has mutes in the second bar. Don’t forget to use right-hand rests – check the notation staff for when they occur:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 57

Muting the strings between power chords is the next thing to try once you’re comfortable with this.


In the next riff, I’ve put mutes between the power chords and added some cool slides:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 58

Now that you’ve dealt with the fundamental principles of muting, you’re ready to move on to the next stage. As you go through this guide, you’re steadily building up your repertoire of techniques for metal rhythm guitar. In the next section, you’ll see how adding simple hammer-on and pull-off techniques to your riffs will spice up your playing.


5. Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs

Hammer-Ons So far, you’ve studied a variety of skills to compliment your metal rhythm playing, including slides, rests and muting techniques. Another essential feature of metal guitar playing is the use of hammer-ons and pull-offs. Hammer-ons and pull-offs can be heard regularly in the playing of metal giants such as Kerry King and Dave Mustaine. Similar to the slides you looked at earlier, the hammer-on and pull-off techniques allow you to play more than one note with a single pick stroke. Both the slide and hammer-on/pull-off techniques fall under the category of legato techniques. Legato is an Italian word that means smoothly. In essence, using these techniques will allow your notes to sound very fluid as you travel between them. If you imagine the rapid-fire notes that you hear in metal riffs, you may think that they’re all picked with the plectrum. In reality, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes an aggressive sound is needed, and using the pick is the perfect choice to achieve this. At other times, a fast and fluid sound is more appropriate, and this is where the hammer-ons and pull-offs come in. So many famous riffs in metal have utilized these techniques, including:

Iron Maiden – ‘The Trooper’ – Intro Riff – 00:00–00:13 Pantera – ‘Cowboys from Hell’ – Main Riff – 00:15–00:33 Slayer – ‘Angel of Death’ – Breakdown Riff – 01:38–02:06 Megadeth – ‘Holy Wars … The Punishment Due’ – Second Intro Riff – 00:11–00:24 Metallica – ‘Wherever I May Roam’ – Main Riff – 00:48–01:11

The first thing you’ll study is the hammer-on technique.


In guitar notation, the hammer-on looks similar to a slide. The only difference is that there is no diagonal line between the notes:

If you haven’t tried the hammer-on or pull-off before, then you’re in good hands. I will show you how to do it correctly and get a good sound.

Hammer-Ons from an Open String Like a slide, this technique only requires you to pick the first note. The hammeron will generate the next note without any need for another pick stroke. To begin, start out playing an open E string – the first string:


I want you to use this one because it’s the thinnest string and there are no strings underneath that could get in the way. The next note will be the second fret of that string, but you won’t be picking it. This is where the hammer-on comes in. While the open string is ringing, position your second finger so that it’s hovering over the string, about an inch or two above it.


Now that you’re in position, ‘hammer’ down onto the string at the second fret with a considerable amount of force.

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 59

If you can hear the new note, congratulations! You’ve just completed your very first hammer-on. If you didn’t hear anything and it just stopped the open E string from ringing, that’s perfectly normal so don’t worry. Without the necessary force, you end up just gently pressing the string. All this does is to stop the open E string from ringing. It’s likely that you’re not ‘hammering’ the string hard enough. You literally have to smack the string with your finger onto the neck. Keep trying, and after a few attempts you’ll be able to hear the new note. Once you get the hang of this, your finger may become a little sore; if so, take a break and come back to it later. Once you’re ready, the next step is to try this on all of the other strings using the following exercise.

Pro Tip: Don’t rush in with the hammer-on at first. This will help you get the timing right. Let the open string ring for a second or so, then perform the hammer-on. With a little patience and practice, you should be able to make the open string note and the hammer-on note last for the same amount of time.


In this exercise, each note should be an eighth note in length. Use the metronome at 60 bpm when practicing on your own:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 60

Although this isn’t very musical, it’s a really good exercise to do each day until you get used to the technique. You may find that your finger accidentally hits a different string than you intended when starting out. If this happens, keep going. Your fingers are just learning where to go. You can also do the same exercise using your third finger. This time you’ll be doing the hammer-ons at the third fret:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 61


You may find this finger is a bit weaker than your second finger. Keep practicing these exercises for a few days to build up your finger strength. You’ll soon get the hang of it.

Hammer-Ons from a Fretted String The cool thing about the last exercise was that you didn’t really have to think about the first note on each string. After all, this note was an open string and didn’t require any fingers to play it. Instead, you focused on the hammering action. You also need to be able to perform hammer-ons from a regular fretted note. In metal, this is very common. You’ll start out by fretting the A note on the fifth fret of the open E string:

Pro Tip: This is an important point. Keep your first finger on the fretboard at all times. When you perform a hammer-on from a fretted note, this finger must stay in place until you’ve completed the hammer-on. If you take this finger off before you’ve done the hammer-on, you may introduce an unwanted open-string note. In the future, you’ll see that developing this excellent habit will help you with performing string bends in solos, too.


With the first finger locked onto the fifth fret, use your second finger to hammer-on to the sixth fret:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 62

You probably didn’t find that too difficult, as the second finger is usually quite strong. Try the next exercise, where you’ll be using your third finger on the seventh fret. Again, keep the first finger locked down at the fifth fret:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 63

When hammering-on from a fretted note like this, you’ll find it easier if you keep a strong grip on the neck with your thumb.


Play along with the next exercise. It’s the same idea as Exercise 60, but this time I’ve included your second and third fingers:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 64

Take your time with these exercises. If they’re not sounding as smooth as they are in the audio examples I’ve provided, don’t worry. There’s no shame in spending a few days working on your technique to get it right. Keep working on it until you’re happy with the sound. Now that you’ve dealt with the technique, it’s time to move on to the fun stuff.

Example Riffs The first riff is a basic metal riff. You’ll use your third finger for the hammer-on in the first bar.


Notice how the first two notes nicely break up the sound of the palm-muted notes. Again, I’ve provided the riff at three speeds to help you practice:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 65

You’ll now add another hammer-on to this riff, but this time it’s at the seventh and eighth frets. Use your second finger for this hammer-on:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 66

Let’s go back to the open strings for a minute. You’ll only need your first finger for these hammer-ons.


I’ve included a power-chord slide in the second bar to add interest:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 67

For the final example, I’m going to change the key to F# Minor and use openstring hammer-ons as well as fretted hammer-ons.


The result is a bluesy-sounding metal riff. You can use the fourth finger for the A note on the fifth fret in the first and third bars:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 68

Now you’ve had a go at the hammer-on, it’s time to look at the other important legato technique – the pull-off. As you will see in the upcoming sections, using hammer-ons and pull-offs together in your playing is a powerful technique.

Pull-Offs With the hammer-on, you can travel smoothly from one note to another on a higher fret. But what if you need to move from one fret to a lower fret in the same way?


This is where the pull-off technique comes in. Before you get into the mechanics of performing one, take a look at how a pull-off is notated:

As you can see, pull-offs are notated in almost exactly the same way as with hammer-ons. The key difference is in the fret numbers. With a hammer-on, the fret number on the right will always be a higher number because you’ll always end up on a higher fret. The pull-off is the opposite. The number on the right will always be a lower number, as you’ll always be traveling to a lower fret.

Pull-Offs to an Open String Once again, you’ll start by working with the open E string.


However, this time you’ll need to place your first or second finger on the second fret before you play anything. This will give you an F# note. But hold on a second, don’t play it just yet…

Before you play the string, you need to know the order of events that occur in a pull-off. Read through the steps below and then give it a try:

Performing a Pull-Off: 1. Make sure your first finger is firmly on the second fret of the E string. 2. Pick the E string. 3. Keep the pressure on the neck (this is important) and as you do, pull your finger downward toward the floor until it ‘snaps’ off the string.

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 69


If you followed those instructions correctly, you should have heard the note change to the open E. If you didn’t, it’s very likely that you did what I call ‘lifting off’. This happens when you lift your finger away from the string and into the air.

This won’t work because, for a pull-off to happen, your first finger has to pull downward toward the floor to ‘pluck’ the string. You must keep some considerable pressure on the string as you do this. The process is similar to fingerpicking the strings with the right hand. As the first finger pulls off, you can hear and feel the string ‘snap’ as it plucks the open string. If it didn’t work at first, keep trying and re-read through the steps if necessary. Again, if your finger becomes sore, take a break and try again later. Once you have it working, play through the next exercise to practice the pull-off on all six strings. At first, you may accidentally hit another string with your finger as you do the pull-offs on strings E–B. Don’t worry too much if this happens at first. 122

The key thing to remember is that after you feel the string ‘snap’ off your finger, lift the finger away from the neck slightly. This should stop the unwanted contact with any adjacent strings. Use your first finger for each string, and then try the exercise again with your second finger:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 70

Now try using your third finger on the third fret to do the same process in the next exercise:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 71

Like the hammer-on in Exercise 60, take your time and spend a couple of days getting used to these last few exercises, if necessary.


Pull-Offs to a Fretted String Just like with hammer-ons, you can also use the pull-off technique to travel smoothly to a fretted string. You’ve already worked through the mechanics of performing the technique, so you may find this section a little easier. When pulling-off to a fretted note, however, a little preparation is needed. Firstly, it is vital to place the destination note on the neck before anything else. This will quickly become an automatic habit once you get used to it. Let’s say you were pulling-off from fret five to fret three, like this:

The destination note (G) is on fret three because that’s where you’ll end up after doing the pull-off. So it makes sense that you’ll need to have this note ready before you do anything else with the guitar. When you first try this, I recommend you use your first and second fingers only, as these are pretty strong.


To start with, look at the diagram below. Prepare the note on the fifth fret with the first finger. Afterwards, place your second finger on the sixth fret:

Make sure you have a strong grip between your first finger and thumb on the back of the neck. To perform the next exercise, pick the E string and pull-off with your second finger as you did in the last section (Exercise 69). Just remember to keep your first finger firmly on the fifth fret:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 72

Try the next exercise, where I have repeated this pull-off on each string.


Remember to prepare your first finger on the fifth fret each time you change to a different string:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 73

Now try using your third finger to pull-off from the seventh fret. Again, use your first finger for the fifth fret:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 74

You now know how to read and play using pull-offs and hammer-ons. You can also tell the difference between the two. If you’re comfortable with these exercises, you are ready to try out some riffs that contain these techniques.


Example Riffs The first riff you’ll play is similar to the one you did in Exercise 65. You’ll start off with a hammer-on, and then the notes switch around to a pull-off in the second bar:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 75

Going back to the open strings, this next riff incorporates a pull-off from the first fret to the open A string, using your first finger. Using some notes from the E blues scale (E G A Bb B D E), the riff sounds like good old thrash metal with a touch of blues.


You can hear the blues scale used in the same way by players like Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society) and Dimebag Darrell (Pantera):

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 76

Next, you’ll play a riff that contains both hammer-ons and pull-offs. Study the numbers to find out whether it’s a hammer-on or a pull-off that you need to perform. For each of the hammer-ons or pull-offs, you will need to use your first and second fingers or, alternatively, first and third fingers.


This will depend on how many frets are between the notes. Instead of telling you, I’ll let you experiment:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 77

If you find that the open A string notes in bars 1–3 keep ringing while you’re doing the hammer-ons and pull-offs, there is a solution. When performing the hammer-ons and pull-offs, just use a bit more of the fleshy part of your fingers instead of the very tips. When you do this, the tips of your first, second and third fingers will be raised slightly. As you do the hammer-on or pull-off, the tips will gently touch the open A string and this will stop it from ringing. Now that you’ve thoroughly experimented with hammer-ons and pull-offs, it’s time for you to combine both techniques together. You’ll do this in the next section.


Combining Hammer-Ons & Pull-Offs It’s quite easy to combine hammer-ons and pull-offs, and the good news is that you still only have to pick the string once. Firstly, you’ll start with a hammer-on. Play the hammer-on shown below, and leave both fingers on the neck:

Because you’ve left your second finger on the sixth fret, you can now perform a pull-off with your second finger to return smoothly to the fifth fret. Remember, there’s no need to pick again because the string is already ringing from the initial hammer-on. The notation for this combination of hammer-on and pull-off looks like this:

Notice the curved line (called a slur) that appears in the tab and notation. This indicates that you must hammer-on and then pull-off immediately afterwards. A good exercise is to practice doing this in time with a drum beat. The next exercise will get you doing just that.


After you’ve done the hammer-on and pull-off, you’ll need to use a right-hand rest on beat three to silence the guitar. The following bar is the same:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 78

Play through the next exercise, where you’ll perform the hammer-on and pull-off on each string:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 79


Now try the same process, but this time use your third finger on the seventh fret:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 80

You can flip this technique around so that you start with a pull-off and finish with a hammer-on. In order for this to work, make sure you have both the fifth and seventh fret notes prepared in advance. Pick the string, pull-off and immediately hammer-on. Don’t forget to keep your first finger on the neck until you need to change to the adjacent string:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 81

Using open strings is probably the easiest way to combine hammer-ons and pulloffs.


Because of the open strings involved at the beginning and end of each string, your finger will only need to be concerned with the hammer-ons and pull-offs. For the next exercise, you only need to use your first finger. Try using your second finger on the repeat:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 82

Now flip these notes around, as you did in Exercise 81. Start with your first finger on the second fret, pull-off and then hammer-on to the second fret:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 83

Pretty cool sound, right? Now that you’ve done all of the hard work combining these techniques, it’s time to implement them into some riffs.


The first riff starts with a pick-up bar (aka anacrusis). This means that you’ll start playing before the other instruments enter the mix. There’s a little more to it than that, but for now, that’s all you need to know. When you hit the end repeat sign, you’ll go back to the second bar at the beginning where the start repeat sign is located.


When you hear the four clicks at the start, begin playing on click three, as you’ll hear in the audio example below:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 84

Now you’ll start each combination with a pull-off, followed by a hammer-on. As you do this, you will gradually descend the A string.


The first combination will need your first and second fingers, whilst others will require your first and third fingers:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 85

Extended Hammer-Ons & Pull-Offs Before you move on to the next few riffs, you should be aware that you can extend your hammer-ons and pull-offs. As you’ve already experienced, you only need to pick once to play three notes. You pick, then hammer-on, then pull-off. This process leaves you with the original note that you played as you picked the string. Importantly, the difference at this point is that the string is still ringing.


This means that you can hammer-on again. Then you could pull-off again, hammer-on again … and so on. In theory, you can continue this pattern for as long as you want, although your fingers will get tired after a while. Musically, it would be boring to just keep repeating this over and over for long periods of time. Nevertheless, you should learn how to do it. There are many times in metal riffs where you will need to do more than one hammer-on and pull-off. Listen to this next exercise and then play along. After the first two open E-string notes, you’ll start with hammer-on and then finish with another one at the end:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 86


Now try using your first and second fingers in a similar exercise at the second and third frets:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 87

Play through the next exercise, where you’ll keep it going for a whole bar. I’ve given you an empty bar afterwards so that you can recover before doing the repeat. Keep the hammer-ons and pull-offs going, making sure that the force of your fingers remains consistent throughout the exercise:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 88


This time, I’ve flipped the notes around so that you’ll start with pull-offs instead. In bar three, you’ll use your first and second fingers as before:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 89

By now, your fingers will probably be a bit tired and sore. If so, don’t forget – there’s no shame in taking a break once in a while.

Trills It would not surprise me if, in the last section, you experimented with the hammer-on and pull-off techniques. If you did, my guess would be that you experimented with how fast you could hammer-on and pull-off repeatedly. If you didn’t, that’s fine, but I suggest you stop for a minute and give it a go.


Once you get a hold of the technique, you’ll soon see that you can hammer-on and pull-off quite rapidly. This technique is called a trill. The trill is a standard technique in music and is nothing new. Classical musicians were doing this hundreds of years ago. The following piece of music was written in 1713 by Giuseppe Tartini, a composer from the Baroque era of classical music (1600–1760). Appropriately named ‘The Devil’s Trill Sonata’ for violin, it’s a piece that showcases the technique. Listen from 03:25 onwards and you’ll hear rapid flurries of notes (trills) performed at high speed:

Pretty impressive, right? This is just one of many examples that reveal the influence that classical music has had on heavy metal. Listen to players such as Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen and Jason Becker, and you’ll hear this influence clearly in the Neoclassical metal styles. Now, in classical music, there are all sorts of rules regarding the performance of a trill. I won’t go into this here, as it’s beyond the scope of this guide, but I want to show you the most common method used for metal guitar. The basic idea is that you hammer-on and pull-off rapidly for a set amount of time.


In the following example, I’m trilling on beats one and three, and resting for beats two and four:

There are two problems with notating the trills in this way. The first is that the above notation dictates that you should play exactly eight notes on a particular beat. However, trills don’t always contain an exact number of notes in rock and metal. Generally, you’re trying to cram as many notes as you can into a single beat or sub-division of a beat. The second problem is that it can make the notation look very messy and hard to read as you play.


In the diagram below, the image on the right shows how a trill would be notated in a typical guitar tab:

In the tab, the larger number is the note you pick, and the smaller number in brackets is the one you use to rapidly hammer-on and pull-off with. That’s a lot easier to read, and you’ll find this kind of notation in tabs of your favorite music that contains a trill. So, now that you know what a trill sounds like and how it’s notated, it’s time for you to practice it. Before you move on to the exercises, I want to remind you about the Metallica song ‘Wherever I May Roam’.


Listen to the main riff that occurs between 00:48 and 00:55 and you’ll hear a very fast trill:

If you listen to the whole song, you’ll hear even more trills in the Pre-Chorus (02:04–02:14) and the Interlude (03:41–03:56). Now it’s your turn to try this technique. Using the D string, trill between the fifth and seventh frets with your first and third fingers:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 90


Now trill between the second and third frets with your first and second fingers:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 91

Now you’ll put these extended hammer-ons/pull-offs and trills into context.


Play along with the next exercise. I’ve placed everything on the low E string to begin with, which should make things easier:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 92

The next riff incorporates a two-beat trill as well as some extended hammer-ons and pull-offs using the open A string.


You’ll use your first and second fingers for the trill and just your first finger for the hammer-ons and pull-offs:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 93

In the next chapter, you’ll learn about the five most important guitar rhythms in metal. But first, you need to make sure everything you’ve played so far is rock solid and that you’ve ironed out any problems. At this point I would recommend that you go back through each chapter of this guide so far and make sure you’re comfortable with every exercise.


6. The Five Most Important Metal Rhythms Rhythm 1 – Eighth Notes I want to start this chapter by briefly recapping on eighth-note rhythms. I mentioned in Chapter 3 that eighth-note rhythms are essential to metal guitar. Listen to any metal band from any point in history and you’ll hear them. It doesn’t matter what subgenre of metal you prefer, Thrash, Black, Djent, Death, Power, Speed, Metalcore… They all rely on eighth-note rhythms at some stage. It’s important to stress that if you haven’t fully understood eighth-note rhythms yet, you won’t be able to handle shorter rhythms, like sixteenth notes. Remember, if you have four beats in a bar, you can play quarter notes and count out loud like this:

“1, 2, 3, 4…” etc.

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 94

If you have four beats in the bar, but play eighth notes, you have divided each beat into two notes. So instead of four notes, you’ll now have eight.


To help keep track of the notes that fall between each beat, you can add the word ‘and’ between each count of the beat:

“1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and…” etc.

The ‘+’ symbol is used in the notation instead of the word ‘and’ to make it easier to read as you play:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 95

So far in this guide, you’ve already played many examples of riffs that use an eighth-note rhythm. Therefore, I’ve decided not to include any further exercises that are specifically based on eighth notes. The main point of the last few exercises was to remind you that you can divide a beat into two notes. In the next section, you will learn that it’s also possible to divide a beat into three notes.


Rhythm 2 – Eighth-Note Triplets In music, every rhythmic value can be divided into two notes. When learning rhythm guitar in general, it’s good to keep dividing the beats in half to get shorter and shorter notes or chords. You’ve already practiced this so far in the guide, so I think now is the perfect time to spice things up a bit. You can actually divide a beat into more than just two notes. How about three, or four or even seven notes? You’ll start by dividing one beat into three notes. This is called a triplet and it’s a very common rhythm, particularly in metal. Some people get very confused with this concept, so I’ll make it easy for you if you’re unsure in any way. Imagine slicing a pizza – this is a great analogy to use when trying to understand rhythmic divisions. Take eighth notes, for example. If you divide a quarter note into two you get two eighth notes. It’s the same with a pizza – you’ll get two slices:


You can also slice a pizza into three. The exact same thing can be done with a quarter note:

So now, when you see three eighth notes beamed together like this, you’ll know that you must play three notes in the time of one beat. This is called an eighth-note triplet. It will become easy to spot in future, as it has a little ‘3’ on top, reminding you that it’s a triplet.


The next thing to understand is how to count in triplets. As with the quarter notes and eighth notes, there’s a helpful way to count the beat. You can count it out loud, like this: “1 and uh, 2 and uh, 3 and uh, 4 and uh…” etc. There’s a better way to write this down. You swap the ‘and’ for a ‘+’ and the ‘uh’ with the letter ‘a’: 1 + a 2 + a 3 + a 4 + a… etc. You may feel a bit silly counting out loud like this, but the truth is it works. In my experience as a player and a teacher, there’s no better way to get a feel for a rhythm than counting it out loud. Now you’ll put this into action as you play along with the following exercises.

Exercises Use a palm mute for these exercises. I find that it helps you concentrate on the rhythm a little more while counting out loud. Important – I’ve slowed down the tempo of these examples a little. The reason is because you’re only down picking at this point. Beyond 120 bpm, you’ll be playing too fast to only use down picking. When you do go beyond 120 bpm, you will use a different picking pattern involving up strokes, which will make it easier.


You’ll get to that later on. For now, just stick to down picking:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 96

Now you’ll add some variations to this rhythm. Try resting on the ‘a’ of each beat. As you’re already palm muting, use the left hand to rest. See Chapter 3 if you need to recap on left-hand rests:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 97


The next exercise flips the rhythm around. This time you’ll be resting on every beat of the bar, but not on the ‘+’ or the ‘a’. Don’t forget – keep counting so that you don’t get lost. When you become more comfortable with counting at the slow tempo, you won’t necessarily need to count when playing at the faster tempo:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 98

Finally, the other variation is to place a rest on the ‘+’ of each beat. This will feel strange at first, but stick with it.


You’ll find it difficult to count out loud beyond 60 bpm. For the 100 bpm and 120 bpm versions, just try to feel the rhythm when playing along instead of counting:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 99

Again, take time practicing these initial exercises. Triplets can feel a little strange at first, but they’ll soon become more comfortable. Now you’ll put your triplet skills to the test with some riffs. I’ve included triplets in each exercise. See if you can identify them before you play along. For the first riff, I’ve included some power chords in a similar vein to ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ by Metallica:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 100


In Exercise 100, the triplets occur on beats one and three. In Exercise 101, you’ll switch it round so that the triplets occur on beats two and four:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 101

By this point, you should have a reasonable grasp of triplets. So, to carry on with this rhythm, you’ll now add in some left-hand rests to spice up the groove. As well as using palm-muted power chords, I’ve added in some bluesy single notes at the end of the riff:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 102


In this final riff, you’ll use palm mutes on the low E string but not on the A string. The rhythm is made up entirely of triplets. The brighter, non-muted notes on the A string work well in contrast to the dark, heavy notes on the E string. Stretch out your pinky finger for the notes on the fifth fret in bar two:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 103

In the next section, you’ll take a look at sixteenth notes. For this you’ll need to grab a couple of fresh picks.


Rhythm 3 – Sixteenth Notes So far in this guide, you’ve mostly used down picking. This is great for aggressive playing and exactly right for this style of music. However, you’ll often need to use up strokes too, especially when playing sixteenth-note rhythms. Sixteenth notes are half the length of eighth notes and very common rhythmic values in metal. You can tell an eighth note from a sixteenth note by looking at its tails or beams. Eighth notes have one, whilst sixteenth notes have two:


Using my trusty pizza diagrams, you can see how a regular quarter note (one beat) can be divided into two eighth notes or four sixteenth notes:

Now you have four notes per beat. With four beats in a bar, you will have a total of sixteen notes, hence the name. When you venture into these rhythms, everything becomes much more interesting and many more possibilities open up.


Here is a typical example of great sixteenth-note rhythm playing from Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel of Machine Head:

Another great example of sixteenth-note playing is from the intro to ‘In Due Time’ by Killswitch Engage:

When listening to these examples, a question may pop into your head:

‘How on earth can you play that fast?!’


I can tell you right now, without absolute certainty, it’s not that hard to do. With the right guidance and training, you’ll get there in no time. The secret to playing these fast notes accurately is twofold: perfecting your technique, and understanding the physical force of gravity. Before you start playing these sixteenth notes, you need to be aware of this technique and how it works.

Introducing Up Strokes and Alternate Picking Consider the movements of your picking hand when you play four notes in a bar, all with down picking:

Seems simple enough – four down strokes, right? Believe it or not, you’ve actually made a total of seven movements. After the first down stroke, you must move your hand back up to the top of the string before striking it again with another down stroke. Continuing after the two down strokes, you repeat this process two more times to play the remaining down strokes. To illustrate this, I’ve put the upward movements in brackets between the down picking notation in the following diagram. Add the four down strokes to the three upward movements in between and you have seven movements:


To make things a little more difficult, every upward movement you make goes against gravity. Therefore, these extra movements require more energy. Whilst at slower tempos this might be okay, at faster tempos you’ll definitely struggle. So how do you solve this problem? The answer is to cut down the number of movements you make from seven to just four. That’s a massive 43% reduction in energy, and if you are playing fast, you want to save as much of that energy as possible. Instead of wasting those upward movements, you turn them into up strokes. Switching between down and up strokes is called alternate picking. Play the following exercise. The first bar is played with down strokes only and the second bar uses alternate picking. This isn’t a hard exercise to play, but you’ll notice when you use alternate picking in bar two that you need much less energy from your right hand than in bar one:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 104


Next, you’ll put this alternate-picking method to use with sixteenth notes.

Introducing Sixteenth Notes As with all the other rhythms you’ve played so far, there’s a really helpful way to count out loud with sixteenth notes:

“1 ee and uh, 2 ee and uh, 3 ee and uh, 4 ee and uh…” etc.

Written in notation, it looks like this:

1 e + a 2 e + a 3 e + a 4 e + a… etc.

Now that you know why you need to use alternate picking, and how to count in the right way to keep you in time, you’re ready to start playing. Playing four notes per beat can be challenging at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy. The key to success is to practice at a slow speed first and then build up the speed over time. I will show you the perfect practice routine to help you iron out any problems. For the next exercise, I’ve included the down- and up-stroke symbols under the tab to help you. Again, use palm muting while playing, as this will help you hear whether or not your playing is in time.


As usual, you’ll gradually increase the tempo. Have a listen first, then play along. You only need to count out loud for the 70 bpm version:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 105

You will find it hard to play at 150 bpm at first. Remember, this exercise was designed to demonstrate a range of tempos. It’s important to realize at this stage that you must work your way up to that speed gradually, over a number of days.

Practice Routine Use the metronome I told you about at the beginning of this guide to help you get up to speed:

Practicing it like this is the smart way to do it. Trust me, I know from experience that the metronome is your best friend when it comes to timing. At some point, you’ll need to use the metronome to work on your timing. You may as well get started now – you won’t regret it.


Here’s a perfect daily practice routine to work on over the coming week:

1. Set the metronome speed to 60 bpm. Make sure the volume is a little louder than your guitar, as you need to hear it clearly. 2. Play sixteenth notes (as in Exercise 105) constantly for one minute. Use a countdown timer on your phone. When one minute is up, stop playing. 3. Repeat these steps for the following tempos: 70, 80, 90, 100, 110 and 120 bpm. Take a break of about 30 seconds between each tempo.

This practice routine will take you about ten minutes per day. After just seven days, you’ll have racked up more than an hour of practice. Ten minutes doesn’t sound like much, but it quickly adds up. Spending more time on this can get very boring and that’s the last thing you want. If you have an hour to practice each day, ten minutes is nothing and you can use the remaining fifty minutes to work on other techniques. I can promise you that if you follow these instructions exactly, your timing and playing will improve massively, and not just the sixteenth notes. You can also apply the same practice routine to improve your quarter, eighth and eighth-note triplet rhythms, too.

Exercises Before you start these exercises, I’m going to assume that you’re comfortable with playing the sixteenth-note rhythm. If that wasn’t the case as you were reading the last section, I’m going to assume that you’ve now spent a few days getting comfortable with it. As I showed you earlier, a great thing to do with a new rhythm is to practice it in combination with some rests.


In the first exercise, I’ve put left-hand rests on beats two and four. Again, the use of palm mutes is helpful:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 106

Now you’ll play the same exercise, but this time with the rests on beats one and three:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 107

Now it’s time to make these rests even shorter, so I’ve put an eighth-note rest on the ‘+’ of each beat.


Left-hand rests will be especially useful for these exercises:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 108

Now you’ll play this the other way round so that the eighth-note rest occurs at the start of every beat. Be sure to count out loud at 70 bpm so that you don’t start picking until the ‘+’ of beat one:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 109

The next rhythm is a combination of the last two exercises. You’ll start playing immediately on beat one, but the next time you pick will be on the ‘+’ of beat two.


This pattern then repeats and produces an interesting rhythm:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 110

A perfect example of this kind of rhythm can be heard in a song by the band Killswitch Engage. The time signature is 5/4, but the sixteenth-note rhythm is similar in concept to Exercise 110:


Here’s the guitar rhythm from the intro section of ‘Life to Lifeless’:

Hopefully you can see and hear the similarity between this rhythm and Exercise 110. Next you’ll play some riffs that explore this rhythm in different ways.

Example Riffs Now it’s time for you to throw in some power chords. I’ve made this exercise a little longer to help you get used to moving around the fretboard. I haven’t included the counting guide between the tab and notation in these examples, as by this point you should be fairly comfortable with the rhythm.


Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 111

I’ve included some eighth-note rests to spice up the rhythm in the next exercise. Remember, you can always check the notation staff to find any of the rests you need to perform.


Pay close attention to the picking pattern:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 112

Now that you’ve seen how the sixteenth-note rhythm works, it’s time for you to expand upon this even further. In the next section, you’ll learn all about the infamous ‘gallop’ rhythms used in heavy metal guitar.

Rhythm 4 – The Gallop & Reverse Gallop Never heard of the gallop rhythm? Well, if you’re a metal fan, it’s very likely that you’ve heard it played before, but you just haven’t put a name to it yet.


Not to be confused with a triplet, a gallop rhythm is a three-note rhythm. It’s one eighth note followed by two sixteenth notes, like this:

The first note is half a beat long and is followed by two shorter notes. The picking pattern underneath is very important, but you’ll get to that shortly. This rhythm closely resembles the sound of a horse galloping as its hooves strike the ground, hence the name. If you find that hard to imagine, don’t worry. It’s time you heard one of my favorite examples of this rhythm from Iron Maiden. Listen to the guitar closely after the intro. You’ll hear the first palm-muted chord strum and then two, much shorter ones straight after:

It’s quite easy to hear in this example, because the song is at a steady tempo. The same rhythm happens in the song ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe. There are other songs that have this rhythm at a much faster tempo, such as Metallica’s ‘Battery’ or ‘Disposable Heroes’, for example.


The other gallop rhythm is produced by reversing this one. You start with the two sixteenth notes and finish with the eighth note, like this:

As you can see, the picking pattern has been reversed, too. In the last section you learned that up strokes are essential when playing sixteenth notes at faster tempos. The gallop rhythm is no exception, and you’ll find up strokes will become an essential component in your playing of these rhythms. An obvious song to mention that includes the reverse gallop is the song ‘Raining Blood’ by Slayer. Take a listen:

The notes from the guitar here are played very fast and come from the open low E string, where a palm mute is applied. Hopefully, you could hear how this rhythm was the reverse of the previous example from Iron Maiden. If you couldn’t hear the difference or recognize the gallop rhythms, don’t worry.


The next two exercises will help you, because you’ll have to play them. Sometimes this is the best way to learn, by trying things out. Again, use a palm mute and follow the picking pattern very carefully. First up is the regular gallop rhythm. The first down stroke comes on beat one, and the following two picks occur on the ‘+’ and the ‘a’ of beat one. This picking pattern repeats for every other beat in the bar. Count out loud as usual for the 70 bpm version:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 113

As usual, build yourself up gradually to get to the 150 bpm speed. You won’t get that speed overnight, and no one is expecting you to. Learn the other gallop rhythms in this chapter first, and then set up a similar practice routine to the one you did in the last section with sixteenth notes. Now you’ll play the reverse gallop. Here, the picking pattern is the other way round. You start with the down and up strokes on the ‘1’ and the ‘e’, before striking the longer down pick on the ‘+’ of each beat.


Again, counting out loud is the best way to absorb this rhythm. As the tempo gets faster, it should remind you of ‘Raining Blood’ by Slayer:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 114

As you can hear, these gallop rhythms are very energetic and aren’t just limited to single notes. You can use the gallop rhythm with power chords, too. In the next two exercises, try the gallop rhythm with all down strokes for the slower tempos and then the regular pattern for the faster tempos. If it is possible for you to use all down strokes, then this is preferable, as it will yield the best sound. At faster tempos, however, you’ll have to use up strokes.


Put a bit more effort into the picking with the power chords. After all, you’re hitting two strings with a palm mute, and this will require more strength:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 115

Now try playing this the other way round for the reverse gallop rhythm. The same two approaches can be applied to the picking pattern:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 116


Naturally, these rhythms can also be combined, like this:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 117

Now you’ll go back to the open E string with palm mutes. I’ve thrown in some power chords, too.


Take a close look at the gallop pattern. Can you see how I’ve changed it?

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 118

There are many variations of the gallop rhythm. Once you combine it with regular eighth and sixteenth notes, the possibilities are endless. That’s why as a metal guitar player you should work on these patterns until you can play them instinctively, at any speed. The practice routine for this is the same as for the sixteenth notes. Pick a gallop pattern and increase the speed gradually over a number of days or weeks. Not only will you find it easier to learn your favorite riffs, you’ll also find it easier to write better riffs of your own.


Here’s a useful tab to have as a reference while using the metronome:

This concludes the section on gallop rhythms. There’s something I want you to remember from now on:

A gallop rhythm is NOT an eighth-note triplet.

An eighth-note triplet is when you play three evenly spaced notes in the time of one beat. Go back to the section on eighth-note triplets if you need a reminder. I strongly recommend that you play the exercise on triplets again (Exercise 96), and then practice the gallop rhythm exercise (Exercise 113) straight after. Doing this will help you hear the difference between the two rhythms so you don’t get confused.


Rhythm 5 – Sixteenth-Note Triplets The fifth and final rhythm that you’ll study in this chapter is the sixteenth-note triplet. Earlier on in this guide, you learned that an eighth-note triplet is played in the time of a quarter note, or one beat. A sixteenth-note triplet works in the same way, but in the time of one eighth note, or half a beat:


Any kind of note can be divided into a triplet, not just quarter notes. In metal, the sixteenth-note triplet is an essential rhythm to learn. At faster tempos, and combined with the drummer’s bass drum, it produces a machine-gun effect. A perfect example of this can be heard in the song ‘One’ by Metallica:

In the riff from ‘One’, two sixteenth-note triplets are combined to create what we call a sextuplet. A sextuplet is when you play six notes in one beat, and you’ll take a look at this very soon. Firstly, you’ll concentrate on the sixteenth-note triplet. In the next exercise, you’ll play a regular eighth note on beat one with a down pick. Then, on the ‘+’ of beat one, you’ll start with an up stroke to play the sixteenthnote triplet. Regarding the counting, you’ll just count as you would with regular eighth notes:

“1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and…” etc.

Have a listen to the audio first before playing along, as this will help your ears make sense of the rhythm.


As usual, follow the picking pattern carefully:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 119

The next exercise is the same as the last one, except this time the triplet occurs on beat one. You’ll start with a down stroke, but then on the ‘+’ of beat one you’ll hit the string with an up stroke:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 120

Now that you’ve experienced playing a sixteenth-note triplet both on and off the beat, you’re ready to play a sextuplet.


Remember the song ‘One’ I mentioned earlier by Metallica? This song also features the sextuplet rhythm, which I’ve notated below.

Metallica – ‘One’ (04:36–04:40):

Think back to the sixteenth-note triplet for a second. In the time of half a beat, you played three notes. You then learned in Exercise 120 that you could play this triplet on the other half of the beat. So, now when you see the rhythm from ‘One’ by Metallica, you’ll realize that this rhythm is just combining both triplets from Exercises 119 and 120. This gives you a total of six notes in the time of one beat, which is why it’s called a sextuplet. Another thing to be aware of is the notation of such a rhythm. In most guitar tabs, you’ll find the sextuplet rhythm notated slightly differently. Instead of showing two little number threes on top with brackets, you’ll often just find a small number 6 above the entire thing. If I were to rewrite the Metallica rhythm example above, it would look like this:

Personally, I prefer this notation because it tells you exactly how many notes fit into the beat. I will use this notation for the rest of the examples in this chapter. Before you play this rhythm, I want to show you a great way to help you get it in time. Six notes in a beat can be a little challenging at first.


Along with counting, another cool method for learning a new rhythm is to choose a word that you can say out loud to the music. For this example, you have a six-note rhythm. You need a word that has six syllables in it to make the rhythm of your speech match your notes. Bear with me here. This may sound a little strange if you haven’t tried it before, but trust me, it works. You can use any word you like, as long as it has six syllables. I like the word ‘biodiversity’, but there are many more to choose from. The meaning of the word you choose is completely irrelevant. If it helps you get the rhythm right, that’s all that matters. Here are the six syllables of the word I’ve chosen:

BI – O – DI – VER – SI – TY

The main reason I like this word is because I can say it out loud pretty fast without much difficulty. Now it’s time for you to play the sextuplet rhythm. For the 60 bpm version of the next exercise, say each syllable of the word ‘biodiversity’ while picking each note of the sextuplet. It’s just regular alternate picking here. You can think of it as DOWN, UP, DOWN, followed by an UP, DOWN, UP if that helps:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 121


Did saying ‘biodiversity’ help you? I’ll bet that it did, but in case you didn’t need it, that’s okay too. If you didn’t like using this particular word, here are some random six-syllable words I found that you can try:


If English is not your native language, I’d encourage you to use a word from your own language. Make sure it has six syllables and you’ll be fine. As long as you can play the sextuplet in time, that’s all that matters at the end of the day.

Example Riffs I’ve included these sixteenth-note, triplet-based rhythmic figures in the following examples:


The first riff contains the sextuplet rhythm with some power chords in between. This kind of riff is common in thrash metal:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 122


Next is a riff containing another sixteenth-note triplet, combined with an eighth note. The triplet starts with an up stroke:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 123

The final riff features the same triplet as before, except this one occurs on the beat instead of on the offbeat.


It works really well with a synchronized beat from the drummer. Listen to how the triplet works with the drummer’s bass drum:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 124

My hope is that you now have a good understanding of the five most important rhythms used in metal guitar. Although power chords are essential, using only these isn’t always the right thing to do in some songs. Next, you’ll learn about some other two-note chords you’ll use in your playing.


7. Two-Note Metal Chords

Octave Chords In this final chapter, I want to show you some other chords that you’ll need while playing metal rhythm guitar. As you’ve discovered, power chords are only needed 90% of the time, but there are other chords you’ll need as well. To begin, you’ll take a look at octave chords. An octave chord is formed when a note is played at the same time as the same note at the same pitch, but an octave higher. For example, imagine playing the fifth fret of the low E string at the same time as playing the seventh fret of the D string. At the fifth fret you’re playing an A note, while at the seventh fret you’re playing another A note one octave higher. Strictly speaking, a chord is when you play three or more notes at the same time. The name used for a two-note chord is dyad. However, it’s easier to think of this as a chord. Power chords only have two notes, but we still call them chords, as it’s more familiar. Similar to power chords, octave chords are ambiguous and can be used in major or minor keys. They can be played alongside power chords to add interest, in conjunction with palm-muted bass notes or, more simply, on their own.


Listen to this song from Dream Theater; 99% of the intro is made up of octave chords, which produce an excitingly big and open sound:

Before you get to the exercises, take a look at this chord diagram. It shows the first octave chord I described earlier at the fifth fret. Use your first and pinky fingers to fret the notes. If you don’t feel comfortable with the pinky, then use your third finger instead. Don’t try to play it yet, just have the notes ready on the neck:


Before you play the chord, you’ll need to consider what’s going to happen to the A string between the E and D strings. Because you need to strike the E and D strings with your pick in the same strum, it’s inevitable that you’ll hit the A string too. Don’t worry – the solution is easy. You’ll mute this string automatically with your first finger. Make sure the tip of your first finger is on the E string as normal, then let the fleshy part of your finger rest lightly on top of the A string to mute it. Here’s a picture to help you get your fingers in the right position:

Now that you’ve set up your fingers, strike the E, A and D strings with your pick. If everything has gone to plan, the A string will be muted and the notes on the other two strings will be ringing clearly. If not, check that your first finger is muting the A string and try again. Make sure you’re hitting all three strings, but no others.


In terms of notation, I’ve seen octave chords written in a few different ways over the years. Because the string in between is muted, you might think it’d be sensible to place an ‘X’ on that line, like this:

I prefer to leave this ‘X’ out of the notation, as it can get very messy on the page and, ultimately, will be harder to read. Here’s how I would notate it:

Now when you see the empty space between the two notes in the tab, you know you’ll usually be dealing with an octave chord. 191

Octave chords are not limited to the E string. The next diagram shows you an octave chord on the A string, again at the fifth fret:

As this chord is rooted on the A string, you must take care not to hit the low E string while strumming. To stop this from happening, use the same tactic as you do when playing power chords on the A string, using the tip of your first finger to mute the low E string.


Finally, you can also play octave chords that are rooted on the D and G strings:

Unless you’re blessed with unusually large hands, you must use your pinky finger for the higher note in these chord shapes, as it sits one fret higher. Again, use the tip of your first finger to mute the adjacent bass string. Here’s a great exercise to practice these chord shapes. Your primary goal is to get them sounding clean without any noise coming from the other strings.


The right-hand rests on beat four of each bar will give you a chance to change strings without creating any unwanted noise:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 125

The next step is to practice shifting these shapes up and down the neck. In the following exercise, you’ll move across the neck on the same string.


I’ve added some slides in the second half, as this happens a lot with these shapes in metal guitar. Keep that middle string muted as you slide:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 126

Now that you have the fundamentals covered, it’s time for you to explore some riffs that use these octave chords.

Example Riffs In the first riff, I’ve used the octave chords alongside some palm-muted bass notes as I did in the previous exercise.


This time, however, the octave chords are mostly played on the offbeat. Don’t let the 2/4 time signature concern you here:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 127

Octave chords can be really effective when playing a melody on top of a chord progression or riff from another guitar part. When playing a melody with these chords, you’re automatically doubling it with notes that are an octave higher. This gives you a large, powerful sound. In the next exercise, I’ve recorded a chord progression with a melody consisting of octave chords.


As you play the octave chord part, notice how the simple rhythm of the melody works well with the chords from the other guitar:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 128

The other chord shapes on the D and G strings aren’t used nearly as much, but they’re definitely worth studying since you’ll come across them at some point. In the final riff, I’ve included these shapes to get you moving around the neck.


Take care when moving around and watch out for your pinky finger, making sure it lands on the correct fret. Double-check the tab when you need to:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 129

In the next section, you’ll play some other two-note chords that are common in metal rhythm guitar.


More Two-Note Chords Throughout this guide I have emphasized the importance of power chords and the role they play in metal rhythm guitar. Now that you’ve also played the octave chords, I want to show you some other useful two-note chords (dyads).

Diminished Fifth The first two-note chord you’ll look at is the diminished fifth. Heavily used in death metal styles, this is a very dark, evil-sounding chord:

Without getting heavily into music theory, the reason this chord sounds so dark is due to the interval between the notes. The interval between the two notes of a regular power chord is seven semitones (a perfect fifth), which sounds fantastic, especially with distortion applied. With this chord, however, the interval between the root note and the higher note is six semitones. With a difference of just one semitone (or one fret), the chord sounds completely different to a regular power chord.


You wouldn’t want to hear this chord all day long, as that would be torture, but used occasionally it can be very effective. Listen to the verse of ‘Awaken’ from Disturbed and you’ll hear how these chords give the music a very unsettling and haunting quality:

If you want to, you can beef up the sound of this chord by doubling the root note with your ring or pinky finger:

In the first exercise of this section you’ll play an E5 power chord followed by this diminished-fifth chord.


Your first finger will stay in position while you swap between your fourth and second fingers for the notes on the D string. Remember to release your finger pressure off the neck (but not off the strings) after playing each chord. This will stop them from ringing while you play the palm-muted notes:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 130

Major & Minor Chords for Metal After playing all of those power chords, it can be easy to assume that metal guitar playing doesn’t rely on regular major or minor chords. This is definitely not the case. It’s easy to forget that ‘metal’ is a term that describes a genre of music that has a wide variety of styles. A death metal band like Cannibal Corpse won’t use standard major or minor chords, as that doesn’t suit their style of music. A progressive metal band like Dream Theater will use them often, as their style of music demands it. The same is true for a symphonic metal band like Nightwish, for example. The trouble is, that when you play guitar with lots of distortion, basic major and minor chords don’t always (I’m not saying never) sound that great. 201

Power chords do the job well because even with high distortion applied, they sound powerful amongst the other instruments in the mix. Major or minor chords have three notes – a root note, a third and a fifth. The secret to getting them to sound good with a lot of distortion is to play the root and third and get rid of the fifth. For example, if you wanted to play a C Major chord it would have the following notes: C (root), E (third) and G (fifth). It will sound a lot better if you just play the C and E notes together. As for minor chords, if you wanted to play an E Minor chord, you would have these notes: E (root), G (third) and B (fifth). Again, just get rid of the B, and play the E and G notes. Here are the chord shapes you’ll need for major chords. I’ve used C Major as an example for these diagrams. The first one on the left has the root note on the E string, and the other has its root note on the A string. I’ve highlighted the root notes in red:


The following diagrams contain the shapes you’ll need for minor chords. Again, I’ve used C Minor as an example:

These shapes are quite easy to remember, as you can change the chord from major to minor just by moving the higher note down by one fret. Now it’s time for you to play these chords in context. Watch out for the chord symbols in the next exercise to help you get the right shape.


There’s no harm in double-checking the tab numbers either:

Click / Tap here to play the audio for Exercise 131

All you need to remember is the two shapes for major and minor, and to use them wherever the relevant root note is, like you do for power chords. It’s also worth mentioning that you can use these major and minor shapes when you have a root note on the D string.


8. Conclusion I hope that you’ve had as much fun reading and playing along with this guide as I had writing and recording it. My aim was to provide you with all of the basic skills needed for playing metal rhythm guitar. I hope you’re feeling a lot better about your playing now. If there was anything in the guide that you didn’t understand, or that you think wasn’t explained clearly enough, feel free to let me know. In the future, my plan is to release further editions of this guide with updated content, as well as any corrections that need to be made. Your contribution to this project is very important to me. You can always get in touch by visiting my contact page:

I look forward to hearing from you. Of course, this is only a starter guide so it’s not the end of the journey. I’d like to offer some advice on what you can do next to continue to develop your guitar playing.

Recommended Listening As I’ve already mentioned in the previous chapter, metal is a vast genre of music that includes many different styles and interpretations. I want to list some important metal records that you’d benefit immensely from listening to and, ultimately, learning how to play. I’ve listed some of the key albums from artists that inspired me to develop as a player. There’s many more I could have listed, but these are some of the best. Whatever subgenre you’re into – thrash, death, black metal or even pirate metal – the following albums are essential listening.



The first five albums from Metallica are legendary and still sound incredible more than thirty years later:

Kill ‘Em All (1983) Ride the Lightning (1984) Master of Puppets (1986) …And Justice for All (1988) Metallica (aka ‘The Black Album’) (1991)

I would say, and I think many others would agree, that James Hetfield provided a blueprint for heavy metal rhythm guitar on these records.



If you haven’t heard Reign in Blood by Slayer, you haven’t lived! Anything by Slayer is good, but this album is a classic slice of thrash metal. Apart from Reign in Blood, my favorite Slayer albums are Seasons in the Abyss, Diabolus in Musica and Divine Intervention:

Reign in Blood (1986) Seasons in the Abyss (1990) Divine Intervention (1994) Diabolus in Musica (1998) God Hates Us All (2001) Repentless (2015)

You’ll instantly hear how Jeff Hanneman’s and Kerry King’s slightly different playing styles complement each other perfectly. Together they wrote some of the best heavy metal songs and riffs of all time. Since Jeff’s untimely death in 2013, the band is still going strong. One thing is for certain. There’s no way I would have written this guide if it weren’t for Slayer or Metallica. Here are some other albums that I would highly recommend checking out. These are some of my personal favorites. They’re in no particular order, but I can guarantee that they contain some incredible musicianship, guitar playing and songwriting:


Biomechanical – The Empires of the Worlds (2005) Symphony X – Iconoclast (2011) In Flames – Soundtrack to Your Escape (2004) Decapitated – Nihility (2002) Fear Factory – Digimortal (2001) Dream Theater – Images and Words (1992) Pantera – Cowboys from Hell (1990) Soilwork – Stabbing the Drama (2005) Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast (1982) Megadeth – Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? (1986) Trivium – Ascendancy (2005) Iron Maiden – The X Factor (1995) Lamb of God – Ashes of the Wake (2004) Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970) Cannibal Corpse – Kill (2006) Killswitch Engage – Alive or Just Breathing (2002) Disturbed – Believe (2002) Megadeth – Countdown to Extinction (1992) Ill Niño – Revolution Revolución (2001) Bullet for My Valentine – Scream, Aim, Fire (2008) Decapitated – The Negation (2004)


Advice on Guitar Tunings Guitar tuning is an important subject in metal. As you may already know, many bands use heavily detuned guitars. I want to offer some practical advice on this issue and how it can affect you and your practice routine. Naturally, at some point you’ll want to play along with the songs you’re currently learning and I’d definitely encourage you to do this. However, when you discover that a song you’re learning is in a different tuning, you may panic and wonder what to do about it. Your guitar, tuned to regular standard tuning, won’t be up to the job. Don’t worry though; there’s always a solution and I’ll show you what to do. Firstly, I want to outline three common tuning scenarios. Then I’ll show you how to deal with these situations.

1. Variations on Standard Tuning The first kind of alternative tuning to recognize is the simple deviation of standard tuning (E A D G B E). A typical example of this would be ‘Eb Standard’ tuning. Here, each guitar string is tuned down one semitone (equal to one fret on the guitar). In this tuning the strings are at the following pitches – Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb. Slayer use this tuning a lot, as do Guns ‘N Roses. Another example would be ‘B Standard’ tuning. This follows the same idea, but is more extreme. The strings are tuned down by five semitones, giving you B E A D F# B. Five Finger Death Punch use this tuning. Another variation of this is ‘D Standard’ tuning, used by Decapitated and Symphony X. You can detune the guitar in this way to any pitch you like as long as it stays in proportion to the pitches in standard tuning. Playing a guitar in this tuning is exactly the same as playing in standard tuning; the strings are just tuned lower than usual. All of your chords and scales can be played in exactly the same way, but it will sound a lot deeper and heavier, especially if you apply distortion. 209

The only thing you need to be aware of is that because of the altered tuning, the names of the chords and notes you play will shift down as well.

2. Drop-D Tunings A very common alternative tuning in many other genres as well as metal is what’s called Drop-D tuning. This tuning is exactly the same as standard tuning, with the exception of the sixth string (E) being tuned down by one tone (two semitones, or two frets). Consequently, Drop-D tuning gives you D A D G B E. There are two main advantages here. Firstly, your guitar now has one string that can produce lower-pitched notes than before, which is perfect for metal. Secondly, because of this shift in tuning of the E string, power chords can now be played with one finger instead of the usual two or three. This is a very common playing style and doesn’t take long to get used to. Power chords will now live two frets higher than they used to and you’ll gain a D5 from the open D and A strings, as well as an Eb5 on fret one. Once you have detuned your guitar to Drop-D, you can detune the whole guitar even further. Examples would be Drop-C tuning (C G C F A D) used by Killswitch Engage, or Drop-Bb (Bb F Bb Eb G C) used by In Flames.

3. Seven Strings or More… A number of metal bands use seven-string guitars. These have an extended range of notes and a larger fretboard as a result. These guitars have the usual six regular strings tuned to standard tuning, with an extra string above the low E tuned to a low B. You can play everything you already know on a six-string guitar in exactly the same way as you would on a seven-string guitar; you’ll just have an extra low string available. For metal, this can be very useful, as you’ll have an extra set of notes and power chords that you can access because of the additional string. Don’t be put off by that extra string. I’d encourage you to go and play a sevenstring guitar when you next visit a guitar store, just for the experience. 210

Generally, most bands use detuned six-string guitars, but there are some bands that use seven-string models. It helps to be aware of this when you’re learning songs, as the band you’re listening to may be using a seven-string rather than a heavily detuned six-string guitar. In some styles of metal like Djent, for example, an eight-, nine- or even ten-string guitar can be used. These guitars have the same tuning setup as a six-string guitar, but just like the seven-string guitars, they have even more lower strings than usual. Variations of standard tuning as well as ‘Drop’ tunings can also be used with these guitars.

How to Practice Songs with Different Tunings Your first thought may be that you should detune your guitar appropriately and then play along. You could do this and it may work for you, but only to a certain extent. The problem with detuning heavily is that your regular gauge .009 strings can end up flapping around the neck because they are too loose. The other problem is that your guitar’s intonation and neck won’t be set up correctly for the new tuning. This can cause major problems with your guitar’s overall tuning across the neck and make your playing sound terrible. A much better solution is to take your guitar to a professional guitar technician who will set it up correctly for the tuning you need. They’ll fit the appropriate gauge strings, as well as make sure your guitar is in tune across the neck. After this relatively inexpensive service, your guitar will feel and play just as well as it did when it was tuned to standard tuning. I suggest you keep your best guitar in standard tuning. It’s always good to have a nice guitar in standard tuning anyway, so you can play other kinds of music. If you haven’t experimented with detuning before, I highly recommend you use a cheap guitar at first. Perhaps you have an old one lying around. With experience, you’ll know when it’s the right time to detune your more expensive guitar!


If you end up starting or joining a band that wants to use a specific tuning, then that may be a good time to consider a more permanent setup. Fortunately, there’s some great technology around these days. You may not necessarily even need to detune your guitar. I use a great piece of software called ‘Capo’, which enables me to slow down a recording, as well as change its pitch independently from the tempo. I mainly use it to help me with my guitar transcription work, but you can use it for practicing riffs and songs too. Here’s a typical scenario. You want to play along with Slayer’s ‘Angel of Death’ when you suddenly realize the song is in Eb standard tuning. This tuning is Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb. It’s one semitone (one fret) lower than standard tuning. You can open up the song in this software and raise the pitch by one semitone to compensate for your guitar being in standard tuning. Now the song sounds like it was recorded in standard tuning and you can play along with it as normal. When doing this you may notice that the vocals can sometimes resemble a chipmunk, especially when raising the pitch by many semitones. This can be amusing at first, but at the end of the day you’re a guitar player and that’s all you need to focus on while practicing. As long as you’ve learned the song and achieved what you intended to, that’s all that really matters. When you eventually get around to using a properly set-up and detuned guitar, you’ll have already learned the song and it will sound great. An added bonus with this kind of software is that you can also slow down audio files. This can be a really effective way to learn your favorite riffs and songs. At the moment, Capo is only available on Apple Mac computers. If you have a computer running Windows, you can use another piece of software called ‘Transcribe!’ that does exactly the same thing. Check out these links for more information:

Capo (Mac) Transcribe! (Windows) 212

Is My Guitar/Amp/Equipment Good Enough? At some stage you may wonder if your equipment is good enough to play the kind of music that you’re interested in. While listening to your favorite band, it’s easy to assume that there’s no way you can make your guitar sound like that, despite your best efforts. However, you shouldn’t be too concerned with this while you’re learning and I’d like to briefly explain why, based on my past experience. When I first went to music school at 18, I met many students who owned lots of cool guitars and other equipment. I didn’t have these things at the time, as I’d never had the means to acquire them. Consequently, I was more concerned with my playing. The only electric guitar I had at the time was a beat-up old Yamaha Pacifica I’d had for six years and played to death. I still have it to this day. Anyway, the thing I noticed was that many of the students who had all the cool gear clearly hadn’t put as much effort into their playing. Instead, their effort had been put into researching and buying the best pickups, guitars, amps and effects pedals. I firmly believe that the key to a good guitar tone is in your fingers. That’s not to say that this cool gear isn’t useful, but I’d recommend increasing your knowledge and playing ability first. Give me a cheap guitar and in a few minutes I can work out how to get a reasonable sound out of it because I know my instrument. Ask a competent player of any musical instrument and they’ll tell you the same. When you work on your ability first, you’ll get a lot more out of expensive and higher-quality gear in the future.


What to Do Next If you’ve enjoyed this guide, remember that you’ll find more free lessons and articles on my website:

I’ve been teaching guitar full-time since 2009, and at this stage in my career I’m looking to help guitar players who share an interest in learning metal guitar.

SPECIAL OFFER: 50% OFF Your First Private Online Guitar Lesson As a subscriber to my newsletter, I’d like to offer you 50% off your first Skype lesson with me. If you’re interested, I’d love to hear from you. Use the link below to send me a message and book your first Skype lesson. Enter ‘First Lesson’ in the subject line to claim this offer:

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Credits All musical exercises were written, recorded and produced by Simon Revill. Some amazing equipment and software was used to make this guide. I’d like to thank the following companies and individuals whose innovative products and services made the process a lot easier:



Ibanez Premium RG970WQMZ-BIB

Apple Logic Pro X

Guitar Tech:

Toontrack EZDrummer & Superior Drummer

Andy Farrell

Toontrack Metal Machine EZX

Toontrack EZMix

Amplifier (Virtual/Plugin): IK Multimedia Amplitube 4

FabFilter Pro-Q2 Equalizer

IK Multimedia Amplitube MESA/Boogie Collection

FabFilter Pro-C2 Compressor

Waves Maxxbass Waves L1 Ultramaximizer

© 2016 Simon Revill Music


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