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Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath. Black Sabbath are recognised as one of the earliest Metal bands.

Metal is a genre of music that stemmed from rock in the late 70's. Today, there are many sub-genres of heavy metal that share similarities and differences. Guitars in heavy metal are almost always distorted and are often downtuned.

Techniques edit

These are some techniques that are mostly unique to metal or hard rock.

Power Chords edit

A major element of heavy metal is the use of power chords. Standard tuning of a guitar is (from the thickest string to the thinnest) E,A,D,G,b,e Power chords in this tuning can be performed as follows:

  e|----------------| A power chord consists of a root note, its higher octave, and the lower note's fifth.
  D|2-5-7---2-5-7---| <-----Octave
  A|2-5-7---2-5-7---| <-----Fifth
  E|0-3-5---0-3-5---| <-----Root

Not always, however, does a power chord have to have an octave. It may be simply the root and fifth.

Drop D and Drop Tunings edit

In dropped tunings, such as dropped D (D,A,D,G,b,e), power chords are more easily played by lowering the bottom (thickest) string two semi-tones. In dropped D, this note is a D. The same riff, transposed and played in dropped D follows:

  D|2-5-7---2-5-7---| <-----Octave
  A|2-5-7---2-5-7---| <-----Fifth
  D|2-5-7---2-5-7---| <-----Root

Playing in this tuning makes it possible to use only one finger to fret all three strings, allowing faster and more complex riffing.

Palm Muting edit

Also, in metal, palm muting plays a large role, although it is also used in other genres. Palm muting is placing the side of your palm, while playing, close to or on the bridge, and lightly muting the strings. This, combined with heavy distortion, creates a thick, "chug" sound. Just one example of this occurs in DevilDriver's "I Dreamed I Died."

  X's are placed on the line underneath notes which are to be muted.
                    xx x x                           xx x x 

Pinch Harmonics edit

Used in lots of kinds of metal, but more in death metal or extreme metal, pinch harmonics create a "screaming" or "squealing" sound. They are sometimes referred to as "Squealies," and mostly are played on the higher strings of the guitar. To perform a pinch harmonic usually requires the use of a plectrum, or pick. The technique involves holding the pick between the thumb and index, lower on the thumb than normal. By doing this, the bottom of the thumb is closer to the strings, and when a note is hit, the thumb should barely touch the vibrating string.

  D|3-2-3-2-3-2-3*--| Often, pinch harmonics are shown by placing an asterisk next to the note that is a harmonic.

Exercises edit

Here are some tabs that will help you train and condition your fingers.

Power Chords edit

Here's a basic power chord sequence, no palm muting.


Here's a similar riff, a little harder.

  D|0-3-2-1-0-1-2-3-0-3-2-1-0-3-6-3-0-5-3-6-0-3-5-6-0-5-3-6-0-10-12-13| <-\
  A|0-3-2-1-0-1-2-3-0-3-2-1-0-3-6-3-0-5-3-6-0-3-5-6-0-5-3-6-0-10-12-13| <-Understand this is "10", "12", 13"
  D|0-3-2-1-0-1-2-3-0-3-2-1-0-3-6-3-0-5-3-6-0-3-5-6-0-5-3-6-0-10-12-13| <-/

An even tougher riff, using palm muting.

    xx      xx      xx      xx      xx      xx      x       x

A riff that requires clever use of fingers:

     xx          xx

Fast Riffing edit

  e|--------------------------------| Remember to start slowly and build up speed once you understand the riff.
    x x   x x   x x   x x   x     

  D|0-0-0-3/6-0-0-0-----0-1/3-0-1---| Note: You may find it easier to slide from 3 to 6 with your middle finger
  A|0-0-0-3/6-0-0-0-----0-1/3-0-1---| rather than your index.
    x x x     x x x     x        ^^^
                                 Hold note

This riff does not only involve power chords:

    x x   x   x   x x x x x   x x 
    x x   x   x   x x x x x   x x

Pinch Harmonics edit

Metal Styles edit

This section should explain some differences between many genres of metal and provide example riffs in the style of each.

Progressive Metal edit

Progressive metal tends to use long, dramatic song structures as well as unusual time signatures. Typically progressive metal draws influence from both metal and progressive rock. There is no defining progressive metal sound, and many progressive metal bands also fit within other genres. Some examples include Neurosis, Fates Warning, Dream Theater and Opeth.

Death Metal edit

Death metal evolved out of thrash metal. Death metal tends to use a lot of dramatic tempo and key changes as well as atonal chromatic riffing. The genre is famous for its distinct vocal style; called the "death grunt" which is a low, growling form of singing that often make lyrics very hard to make out. Some examples include Origin, Necrophagist, Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, Deicide, Behemoth and Death. Another variant of Death Metal is melodic Death Metal. Some examples include Amon Amarth, In Flames, The Black Dahlia Murder and Dethklok.


Doom Metal edit

Doom metal focuses on very slow tempos and atmospheric riffs, with the purpose of creating an eerie and depressive sound. This is probably the metal subgenre with less palm muting and "chug" riffs. Some examples include Candlemass, Cathedral, Funeral, Paradise Lost and Solitude Aeternus.

Black Metal edit

Black metal is death metal's faster, grimmer sounding cousin. Instead of focusing on being as heavy as possible black metal tends to focus on atmospheric riffs. Some black metal uses keyboards to add a symphonic sound. Some examples of black metal include: Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Emperor, Gorgoroth, Cradle Of Filth and Celtic Frost.

Grindcore edit

Mitch Harris of Napalm Death at Hammerfest 2010

Grindcore is not (by common misconception) a form of metal. It is a punk sub-genre before all else, although it has had a great influence on the more extreme sub-genres of metal, most notably Brutal Death Metal It is characterized by blisteringly fast and abrasive riffs and downtuned guitars, usually detuned to Drop-C. The band that pioneered this sub-genre of punk was Napalm Death with their album "Scum".

Speed Metal edit

Speed metal, as the name indicates, focuses greatly on speed. Speed metal is generally considered the precursor to thrash metal (as seen with the first Megadeth and Metallica albums), focusing more on NWOBHM-style riffs at an increased than general thickness of guitar tone. Still, speed metal is an ill-defined genre and is usually paired with power metal. Despite insistence from some metal fans, DragonForce and acts that focus on shredding are not speed metal.

Thrash Metal edit

Thrash metal started as a hybrid of speed metal and thrash, an offshoot of hardcore punk. Thrash metal tends to employ fast, gallop picked rhythms and complex, technical parts. Some examples of thrash metal are Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Metallica, early Sepultura and Metal Church. Some examples of thrash/thrashcore/crossover thrash are Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, Stormtroopers of Death, Municipal Waste and Charles Bronson.

Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield of Metallica at The O2 Arena, London, England

Alternative/Groove Metal edit

Groove metal/post-thrash evolved out of thrash metal. Groove metal bands tend to include slow, chunky riffs alongside more thrash oriented riffs. Groove metal was rather successful during the mid-90s and spawned nu-metal. Some examples of groove metal are Pantera, DevilDriver, later Sepultura and Lamb of God.

Metalcore edit

Metalcore is hardcore punk with metal influences. Metalcore evolved in New York. As New York Hardcore bands added beatdown parts and gradually added more and more metal influences the common 'tough guy' sound became more and more heavy. Some metalcore bands are Shai Hulud, Botch, Killswitch Engage and Throwdown.

Getting Started: Different Types of Guitars | Anatomy of a Guitar | Buying a Guitar | Buying an Amplifier | Tuning the Guitar | Tablature | Lead Guitar and Rhythm Guitar
For Beginners: The Basics | Intervals and Power Chords | Open Chords | Muting and Raking | Learning Songs | Song Library
Lead Guitar: Picking and Plucking | Scales | Arpeggios and Sweep Picking | Slides | Hammer-ons, Pull-offs, and Trills | Bending and Vibrato | Harmonics | Vibrato Bar Techniques | Tapping
Rhythm Guitar: Chords | Barre Chords | Chord Progressions | Alternate Picking | Tremolo Picking | Rhythm
Playing Styles: Folk Guitar | Blues | Slide Guitar | Rock Guitar | Country and Western | Metal | Jazz | Classical Guitar | Flamenco
General Guitar Theory: Tone and Volume | Singing and Playing | Writing Songs | Playing With Others | Recording Music |Tuning Your Ear | How to Continue Learning
Equipment: Guitar Accessories | Effects Pedals | E-Bow | Cables | Bass Guitar | Harmonica and Guitar Combo
Maintenance: Guitar Maintenance and Storage | Adjusting the Guitar | Stringing the Guitar
Appendices: Dictionary | Alternate Tunings | Chord Reference | Blanks