Metal Guitar Lesson - Blast Beats & Fast Picking
In the introductory death
metal guitar lesson,
we looked at the basics of
building a riff, using percussive palm muting and other techniques at
This part is all about more technical speed elements and
complementing "blast beats" commonly found in death metal.
is schizophrenic, as you know
- it can plod through an achingly slow riff and then flick a switch
alternate picking mayhem.
I have to admit, death metal
guitar isn't an
easy to teach
(even if I was face to face with you) because I have to trust you have
at least some sense of rhythm and timing here! The
fact remains the same though - start slow, and gradually build up speed
with a metronome
or, even better, use the
drum tracks I provide in this lesson!
We'll be looking at 2 core
elements in this death metal guitar lesson:
with moderate blast beats.
picking and more complex palm muted "blast picking".
we begin part 2, you need to be confident with everything
covered in part 1 - mainly
palm muting and alternate picking. If you don't know them, you probably
don't stand a chance with this lesson, so head back to Part
1 where you'll find the
Like in part 1, we're going be
playing in drop C.
A lot of death metal guitar is played in drop (or standard) B
or even lower, but you really need to have at least .52 gauge low E
string to make
drop B work smoothly, so I thought we'd compromise for those of us with
standard gauge strings. You can tune up on the
drop tuning page (opens in separate window).
Death metal guitar - playing over blast beats
beats are a drumming technique used in most extreme metal genres
including thrash, death metal, black metal and grindcore (which drew
influence from hardcore punk).
There are two main blast beat tempos, both of which you can hear in this clip.
it's up to you what you play over a blast beat, but we'll come
specifically to tremolo picking over the faster beats later on. For
now, let's work on the moderate beats using standard picking techniques.
First, take a listen to the 2 blast beats
below, each a different tempo. You can download them for backing
tracks if you like. Loop them in your computer's media player:
When listening to faster beats, it's easy to lose your sense
of timing. Focus on the bass
drum, as this is the constant, 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
count you need ingrained in your mind.
For example, you could accent the bass drum in the beat by playing a
kind of palm muted durge - click to hear
Notice how I inject phrases around
that bass drum targeted palm muting. It's up to you what you use for
this, but the techniques in part 1, such as single string
phrases or sliding phrases, can be used around this palm muted base.
You could also work along side both
beats in the blast beat - This means, for the guitarist, a pick stroke
on every hit of the bass and snare drum. To accomplish this at higher
speeds (e.g. blast beat tempo 2 above), you'll need to use alternate picking.
it's up to you whether you palm mute those pick strokes or leave them
open. Both have a different effect. My advice? Mix it up!
The drummer will often use double-bass, which might sound something like this.
If you spend time working on the regular blast beats from earlier, the
addition of double-bass shouldn't put you out of time, as it's only
extra bass beats being added to the original tempo. Keep that 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
count in your head throughout.
picking in death metal guitar
This technique was born out of
speed/thrash metal, and both
genres push it right to the limits of speed and endurance. It's mostly
used alongside the drummer's blast beats and these elements together
create a frantic, chaotic yet controlled atmosphere.
So, just to recap - we're
using alternate picking, down-up-down-up-etc.
high speed. The "secret" to pulling this off at break-neck speeds is to
Don't tense up your picking wrist or hand, just learn to gradually
speed up those down-up strokes whilst keeping in rhythm.
than done, I admit, but there's no other way to explain it. The metronome
is your friend.
the edge of your hand (the same part of your hand you
would usually palm mute with) on the bridge of your
guitar - just find
a spot near the upper corner, towards you. With your hand rested there
you can pivot over this point, almost like you've gone crazy and nailed
your hand there (not advised).
Make sure the pointed end of your plectrum is only just showing past
This allows you to just scrape
over the surface of the
string without obstruction.
Some guitarists like to angle the
plectrum slightly so they're cutting across the string with the side of
the pick. Again, this is to remove as much obstruction in the picking
sweep as possible.
The picking sweep
itself, either side of
the string, should
be as small as possible.
The timing will come and, if
you use a metronome to gradually build up
speed, you'll be surprised how fast you can reach your playing goals
with death metal guitar.
Let's try a couple of tremolo
picking exercises using the lower frets of the guitar.
We'll start with a rather
simple riff using just the bottom two strings. The
tricky part is changing note (fret/string) whilst maintaining the same
constant alternate picking timing. Increase your speed slowly (I recommend increments of 10 BPM) and all it
takes is time and persistence!
Now let's try using the bottom
4 strings in a
riff - this means you have to switch across more strings at the same
alternate picking in rhythm, but it allows you to create more dynamic
riffs, mixing high and low tones across the fretboard.
You can also use fast
alternate picking over dyads
(two notes/strings played together) such as power chords. This creates more melodic riffs
sacrificing the brutality of this rhythm technique.
When alternate picking over
two strings at
the same time, a common death metal guitar technique, you
obviously have to widen your picking movements. You
also need to block out the unwanted strings by resting one of the
fretting fingers over the unwanted strings and effectively muting them.
Try the exercise below, it
includes the use of
major and minor diads. I've placed red markers
on the tab to help you
keep time (count: 1
2 3 4 - so it's one count every 4 pick strokes)...
Remember: you can use the same technique
with palm muted strings so you get a thicker "machine gun" effect. Mix
muted and unmuted riffs to make your death metal guitar more
Another technique that really
complements the violent rhythms is using palm
mute "blasts" (which we touched on in part 1), often in groupings of 3 alternate
picking strokes (known as triplets) amidst a regular down picked, palm
idea is to try different combinations of these blast picking rhythms,
as they can become rather cliche. Another typical down-up-down picking
rhythm is to go all out and repeat the triplet sequence as follows:
Hopefully, from both death metal guitar lessons,
you now have the
solid foundations to build on and fuse together these core techniques
to create your own
The great thing about metal is the musical freedom
you have to experiment. As long as you maintain that raw aggression and
good level of rhythmic accuracy using the techniques we've looked at,
you'll be able to write dynamic and engaging death metal guitar.
Please let others know, cheers...