How To Play Metal Guitar – An Essential Guide

Heavy Metal is an incredibly vast genre of music. Let’s explore how to play Metal guitar in this detailed guide!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • How to play power chords
  • How to palm mute
  • Why good technique is so important
  • Why it’s important to learn how to solo
  • The importance of music theory

Want To Learn How To Play Metal Guitar?

So you want to learn to shred with the likes or Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and The Dillinger Escape Plan?

Well, praise the dark lords! Welcome!

  • Metal may sound like one of the darkest (and loudest) genres of music, but it’s actually quite a complex mix of technique, theory and tone.
  • Many of us who learn how to play Metal guitar will find ourselves sifting through countless genres of exploration, forming new sounds with the support of distortion.

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As Metal music has evolved through the years, it has taken influence from every corner of music.

From Jazz and Classical to Samba and even Chamber music, the influences within metal music know virtually no bounds. 

So, what do we need to know in order to learn how to play Metal guitar?

  • First off – we need practice, and lots of it. 
  • Learn to pace yourself when it comes to learning guitar, and don’t force yourself to play faster than you’re comfortable with while you’re learning.

Remember: Music is all about pace and comfort level. You don’t make progress by pushing yourself beyond your means.

Now, let’s get into the fine details of how to play Metal guitar!

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First Things First: Learn To Dial In Your Amp Settings

You’ve got an amp, right?

Okay, good – because you’re going to need it.

Distortion is a must, but we need to learn how to dial in our tone before we can play effectively.

Pro Tip: Your guitar tone makes all the difference in the world when it comes to how well you can articulate your notes.

A Metal guitar tone that is saturated with bass will sound muddy and unclear, and a tone with too much treble will make your ears hurt.

Let’s learn how to strike a balance!

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Start out with all knobs on your amp at 12 o’clock. Your distortion should be on already.

From there, dial in what feels good. 

  • Try not to let your bass setting dip below 10 o’clock as you will need to fill out some low end. 
  • On the other end, don’t crank your treble either. You want everything to sit comfortably in the middle to generate a tone that is clear and punchy.
  • Your mids can sit however you like them, just make sure to not scoop them out of the mix completely (unless you play in a Pantera cover band).

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Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

How To Play Metal Guitar: Start With Power Chords

Ever wonder how every metal guitarist gets that thick and chunky rhythm guitar sound?

They use power chords!

Power chords are a simple and effective way to play any type of chord with the same hand shape, anywhere on the fretboard!

Unlike major and minor chords, power chords have a little less definition because they user fewer notes.

Major and minor chords use three notes, where power chords use two. Power chords also use two root notes with a 5th in the middle.

Check out these power chords below:

A Power Chord

G Power Chord

C Power Chord

D Power Chord

(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)

Pro Tip: If you want to learn how to play Metal guitar effectively, start by learning how to chug with palm muting.

  • Palm muting is an amazing technique for metal guitarists because it adds more thickness to our sound.
  • You can palm mute by placing the side of your picking hand across the bridge of your guitar.
  • Make a power chord shape with your fretting hand and hit the strings with your pick while resting on the bridge, and you will notice a more dampened tone to your power chords.

Now start digging in with your pick, and play in straight 8th notes using downstrokes 

(1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &).

If you’re feeling clever, you can throw in a triplet to really add some groove (1 & 2 & Trip-L-Et 4 &).

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How To Play Metal Guitar: Learn To Drop-Tune

Drop-tuning is a key factor of Metal music for many guitarists.

If you already know the essentials of tuning your guitar, this one should be easy for you to handle.

If you’re a little rusty, check out our article on tuning your guitar over here.

  • Drop D is a common tuning used in the Metal genre. 
  • If you’re already playing power chords, Drop D tuning will make them even easier.
  • Drop D simply means we drop the low E string’s tuning from E to D.

This would make our new tuning set up as follows:

D A D G B E

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Pro Tip: Power chords in Drop D tuning can be played by barring our index finger across the D, A and D strings. 

  • Due to the drop in tuning, the low E string is moved forward 2 frets in its position. 
  • This means that rather than using three fingers to play power chords, we now only need one! Pretty cool right?
  • Now throw in some palm muting and you’re set to learn how to play Metal guitar!

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How To Play Metal Guitar: Learn Your Effects / Build A Board

A pedalboard can take you far in terms of the sounds that are accessible to you.

Everyone knows that pedals and gear are some of the most fun parts of being a guitarist (or musician in general, for that matter).

  • Learning how to build a pedalboard that suits your needs as a Metal guitarist is a big part of the learning process for how to play Metal guitar.
  • Distortion isn’t the only thing we need when learning this genre. Delays, reverbs and compressors play a big part in shaping great guitar tone.

If you’re unfamiliar with the different types of guitar pedals that are available, click here for a run down from your friends at the National Guitar Academy!

How-to-play-metal-guitar

How To Play Metal Guitar: Practice Your Technique

Technique is everything. 

Whether you’re playing rhythm guitar or lead, having good technique means that you will sound better one-hundred percent of the time.

  • Learning a variety of techniques like hammer-ons, pull-offs and tapping means that you will be able to constantly expand your repertoire.
  • It also means that you’ll always be adding more and more firepower to your guitar-playing arsenal.
  • On top of individual techniques, we should work on sharpening our overall skill set using a metronome.

The constant ticking of the metronome is what keeps us in time, and it’s an invaluable tool in the studio for getting the perfect take if you find yourself in a band with an album to record. 

Metal-guitar-lessons

Pro Tip: If you don’t have a metronome handy in your setup, you can find one here.

  • You can practice your eighth-note palm muting exercise from above using this tool, and it will help to tighten up your picking hand substantially. 
  • Count out loud when you play to ensure that your & strokes fall in the right spot between beats! 

Bonus Pro Tip: Many musicians believe that practicing to a metronome is unnecessary, but the fact of the matter is that this tool is often the difference between concise or sloppy guitar playing. Heavy Metal is a complex style of music, and learning how to play Metal guitar involves some complex guitar playing.

Take advantage of the metronome in the link above and begin hearing the difference in your playing over time. 

If you want a scale to start playing to a metronome with, check out the chromatic scale example below!

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How To Play Metal Guitar: Learn To Solo!

Now that we’ve got you thinking about playing with a metronome, it’s time to tackle a scale or two.

Unless you exclusively play rhythm guitar, learning how to play Metal guitar means learning how to shred.

  • We don’t want to just play aimlessly, however – we want to play guitar solos that sound awesome!
  • Learning a variety of guitar scales can make a huge difference in our understanding of music.

Due to the fact that Heavy Metal is a darker genre of music, many songs are played in minor keys.

Why don’t we take a run through the D minor scale below in two octaves:

metal-guitar-lesson

Scales show us what songs are made of.

Every killer guitar riff you’ve ever heard comes from some kind of guitar scale, no matter how weird and unorthodox it might sound to your ears.

If you want to hear some unique and unorthodox guitar playing that sounds amazing, check out David Maxim Micic’s song ‘687 Days’ here.

  • Although his playing style sits on the lighter side of the Metal genre, David Micic’s playing is unsurpassed in uniqueness. 
  • Every time you listen to his music, you will no doubt hear something that you didn’t hear the last time.

easiest-way-to-play-metal-guitar

Learn the 12 EASIEST beginner chords with our famous FREE guide

  Stop struggling. Start making music.

  Learn 12 beginner-friendly versions of every chord.

  This is our most popular guide and it will improve your chord ability quickly.

How To Play Metal Guitar: Learn Some Theory!

Learning to play musical scales with fluidity is one of the keys to learning how to play Metal guitar, but understanding how they work is just as important.

Musical theory helps us break down all of the cool guitar lines that we play and organize them into concepts, aiding our knowledge of not just the genre of Metal, but music as a whole.

  • Music theory is a language, and it can be easily learned with some practice, note-taking and dedication.
  • Although music theory isn’t necessary for becoming an incredible guitarist, it certainly can help us identify some useful concepts and break them down to be more understandable.

metal-guitar-for-beginners

Music theory is a huge point of consistency in a world that is home to so many different genres and musical approaches.

It can be a bit intimidating to approach music theory at first, but we believe that it’s important to get some practical knowledge behind you as a musician.

Remember: It never hurts to know more about something you love doing. The more you learn, the more proficient you become at your instrument.

  • When we understand music at its core, it becomes a lot easier to write music as well as play it.
  • Check out our four-step system for guitar theory here.

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How To Play Metal Guitar: Take Full Advantage Of YouTube

YouTube is an invaluable resource for guitar players to learn from, featuring the talents of many incredible guitarists.

Learning how to play Metal guitar isn’t just about playing. It’s also about learning concepts and ideas from different musicians and applying them

We don’t just have to take advice from other Metal musicians, either! Many musicians of different genres all have YouTube channels where they offer a wide variety of different information on a whole spread of different topics.

Whether you’re interested in applying new concepts to the guitar, or just learning about the latest gear on the market; YouTube is a great resource for learning. 

metal-guitar

If you’re looking to find some of the best spots for guitar lessons on YouTube, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our own channel. Click here to check out National Guitar Academy on YouTube!

We love creating content for our readers both on our website and our channel, and we’re always trying to create new videos for you to learn from.

Here are some of our other favourite YouTube musicians creating top-quality music content:

Always be open to learning from new people – you never know what kind of great information you’ll pick up!

Speaking of inspiration and new information….

How To Play Metal Guitar: Listen To The Greats, Old & New

If there’s one sure-fire way to get inspired and learn more about your instrument, it’s listening.

Listening makes all the difference in the world. 

Whether we’re going to a concert to see our favourite band, or just spinning our favourite record at home (or even streaming, for that matter), we can always take something new away from a good listening session.

  • As you progress in your guitar journey, you will begin to hear the details in the music you listen to far more.
  • It becomes easier over time to identify what a guitarist is doing in a song, and how to replicate it.

National-Guitar-Academy

Here are just a few of the ways that you can get inspired to learn how to play Metal guitar from some incredible artists:

  • Check out Spotify and YouTube playlists for Metal
  • Go to a local show with a bill of bands you’ve never heard of
  • Go to a local jam at a bar (if you’re of age to do so)

Before you go, check out some writer’s picks of our favourite Metal bands! We’ve left out some of the obvious ones like Metallica and Megadeth so you might find something new and fresh that you like!

Where Do I Go From Here?

Start exploring the world of distorted guitars and blast beat drums! 

Practice and dedication is what it takes to learn how to play Metal guitar effectively, so make sure you put the time in!

Recommended Resources

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