- by Kevin Deal
Now that the premier heavy metal band, Metallica, is back in the eyes and ears of the public, you can expect a resurgence in bands performing this type of music again!
But, even if James Hetfield and company were on hiatus, the Heavy Metal music scene was never really gone. In fact, there are probably more heavy metal bands out there waiting to be discovered. And with more people getting interested in heavy music, maybe it’s time you learn how to play heavy metal guitar too! Because who knows, you could be the next stellar act to get signed.
But let’s begin with the basics. Here are a few tips to help you with how to play heavy metal guitar. We’re going to pepper this article with a lot of heavy metal lingo too so you can be familiar with it.
Tools of the trade
A Metronome – before you go buy anything else, get a metronome. Heavy Metal is all about speed and precision and the only way you can become a good heavy metal guitarist is to have the ability to play the music consistently at any time signature. A metronome will help you develop your timing and you need to have this as part of your basic tools of the trade.
An electric guitar – if you want to play heavy metal music, you need an electric guitar. There’s no way around it (although there are some bands out there who’ve managed to play heavy metal with acoustic guitars but that’s a story for another day).
An amplifier with lots of gain – one thing that clearly defines heavy metal is a highly distorted sound achieved through pushing the gain levels of your amp to the maximum.
A distortion pedal – this is the most basic pedal you’ll need to achieve the heavy metal sound. In lieu of a high gain amp, a distortion pedal can help you achieve the sound you’re looking for. This will also free up your amplifier to switch between clean and distorted sounds as some heavy metal songs have clean and distorted passages in them.
You will need to have a basic knowledge of how to play the guitar. This means you’ll need to have the ability to play guitar chords from A to G and all the flats and sharps in between. You’ll also need to have the ability to play the basic scales especially the Pentatonic Scale and the Chromatic Scale.
Understanding the Fifths
One of the most important things about playing heavy metal guitar is having the ability to play the chords in the fifth position. This basically means taking the root note and the 5th note and playing them simultaneously eschewing all other strings just to play the 2 strings involved. When playing this type of chord through an overdriven amp, it will sound huge! It also allows you to play chords in quick succession as you only need two fingers to play it in the natural position.
Refine your picking technique
Your picking technique is going to be crucial when you play heavy metal music. There is no room for wasted movement when it comes to heavy metal as precision and speed is demanded at all times.
This type of picking allows your wrist to take on a natural up and down movement allowing for efficiency when plucking the strings.
If you’ve listened to heavy metal music enough you’re bound to hear this type of picking style a lot. This involves using your palm in conjunction with your pick to produce a chugging sound. This happens when you pick the strings and immediately deaden the sound with the fleshy side of your palm.
Developing Muscle Memory
One of the things that make heavy metal music so exciting is the usage of speed when playing the music. So, you’ll have to increase your speed and accuracy when picking notes or playing chords. This can only happen if you put in lots of hours practicing scales and chord changes.
To do this, you need to play scales, especially the Pentatonic and Chromatic scales, constantly to get your hand used to transferring from one note to the next in quick succession. And the only way you can do this is to play these scales slowly at first. This will help you develop muscle memory as you progress through these scales.
And there you have it, that’s how to play heavy metal guitar, now go practice and make sure you make a lot of noise!