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Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar: Top 5 Clichés

Updated: Apr 30

Let's talk about Heavy Metal, and I don't mean cadmium...

 

Heavy metal guitar playing is synonymous with a high gain distorted tone, intensity, aggression, and unique techniques that define the genre. However, within the vast landscape of heavy metal music, certain clichés have emerged over time. In this article, we'll explore the top five heavy metal clichés and how to master them.

 

The 5 Cliches cover in this article are:

 

 

1. Palm Muting With Power Chords


Palm muting and power chords are the backbone of heavy metal rhythm playing.


Palm muting involves lightly resting the edge of your picking hand on the strings near the bridge while playing, resulting in a percussive and muted sound.


Power chords, typically played on the lower strings, are formed by placing your index finger on the root note and your ring finger or pinky on the note two frets higher, creating a thick and powerful sound.


To master this cliché, focus on maintaining a tight and consistent palm muting technique while delivering powerful and precise power chord progressions.

 

Example 1

Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 1 | Grokit Guitar
Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 1 | Grokit Guitar

Many metal players like James Hetfield will down pick everything. But you can achieve the same results with strict alternate picking, and it's much less strain on your wrist.

 

When switching between Palm muted notes and power chords, you're aiming for a rhythmic 'bouncing' so when you play the non palm muted notes, your picking hand jumps and comes back to palm muting in a fluid motion.


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2. Tremolo Picking


Tremolo picking is a rapid alternate picking technique commonly used in black metal to create intense and aggressive sounds.


It involves repeatedly picking a single note or series of notes in quick succession, at high speeds.


To excel at tremolo picking, start slowly and gradually increase your speed while maintaining control and accuracy.


Focus on keeping your picking hand relaxed and your movements economical to achieve maximum speed and precision.

 

Example 2 – Black Metal Riff 

Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 2 | Grokit Guitar
Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 2 | Grokit Guitar

 In black metal, the riff is typically not palm muted.


The notes are usually mid range / not too low and may be harmonised in 3rds. In the harmonised version, all notes were raised a minor 3rd (3 semitones) Example 2a Harmonised 3rds With Black Metall Riff

Next we take a look at how to apply the tremolo technique to a solo in example 3.

 

Example 2b – Tremelo Picking Solo

 

Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 3 | Grokit Guitar
Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 3 | Grokit Guitar

You might feel your pick getting stuck on the strings.


To avoid this, try turning the pick at an angle so that you're 'slicing' the string.


Do this correctly, and you'll feel the pick sliding off the string, not getting stuck.

 

 

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3. Pentatonic Soloing


The pentatonic scale is a staple in heavy metal soloing, known for its versatility and easy of playing on the instrument.


To break away from cliché, experiment with different extensions (Blue note or b5 / b9 / major 6 or dorian) , incorporate slides, bends, and vibrato, blend it with other scales to create your own unique sound.

 

Example 3 – 8 Bar Solo


Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 4 | Grokit Guitar
Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 4 | Grokit Guitar

 

Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar: Top 5 Clichés - Join Beta Banner 2 | Grokit Guitar

4. Phrygian Dominant Scale


The Phrygian dominant scale is a popular choice among heavy metal guitarists for its dark and exotic sound.


It is characterized by its flattened second and major third intervals, giving it a distinctively intense and aggressive vibe.


To master this scale, familiarize yourself with its unique intervallic structure and experiment with incorporating it into your solos and riffing.


Use it to add tension and drama to your playing while exploring its harmonic possibilities.

 

Example 4 – 8 bar Solo

Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 5 | Grokit Guitar
Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 5 | Grokit Guitar

 

In a metal context, you can play almost anything in your solo as long as you're confident and know why you're using the notes you're using.


I find, if I land on a b5 during a blues solo, when done deliberately it sounds great, but accidentality and it'll sound like a mistake.


Let everything you play, be played with intention.

  

Phrygian Dominant is the 5th Mode of the Harmonic minor scale / tonality.


You can think of E Phrygian Dominant (this example) as A Harmonic Minor – They're the same scale starting from different notes.


A great thing about this key is that it has a diminished arpeggio built into it.


If you start on the b9 / b2 degree of the scale if you're playing Phrygian dominant (or the major 7 if you're playing harmonic minor) you can quickly fly around the fret board due to the symmetrical nature of the scale.


It can be a little mindless though.

 

Example 4a – Mindless Diminished Runs

 

Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 6 | Grokit Guitar
Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 6 | Grokit Guitar

 

You can add some rests & sustains to make the licks more interesting and musical. (remember, we're making music, we're not robots)

 

Example 4b – Tasteful Diminished Licks With Phrygian Dominant Licks 

Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 7 | Grokit Guitar
Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 7 | Grokit Guitar

Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar: Top 5 Clichés - Join Beta Banner 3 | Grokit Guitar

5. Atonality


Atonality involves breaking away from traditional harmonic structures and exploring dissonance and unconventional chord progressions.


While heavy metal often relies on tonal centres and power chords, incorporating elements of atonality can add depth and complexity to your compositions.


Experiment with dissonant intervals, non-traditional chord voicings, and unconventional scales to push the boundaries of your playing and create a truly unique heavy metal sound.

 

Example 5 - Atonal Riff

Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 8 | Grokit Guitar
Mastering Heavy Metal Guitar - Picture 8 | Grokit Guitar


Conclusion:


While clichés are inherent in any genre, they also serve as a foundation for innovation and creativity.


By mastering these five heavy metal clichés: palm muting & power chords

tremolo picking, pentatonic soloing

Phrygian dominant scale

and atonality


you can develop your own distinct style and make a lasting impact in the world of heavy metal guitar playing.


So pick up your guitar, unleash your creativity but don't hurt yourself please! See you in the next article!

 

 


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