palm muting has given styles such as thrash
metal its trademark rhythmic aggression. This lesson will show you the
techniques used by a whole generation of speed/thrash metal bands that
used fast palm mute guitar
as the driving force behind their music.
This lesson is about using the palm muting technique over fast, complex
rhythms. So take your time, as it's a
playing technique that requires reasonable levels of concentration and
endurance. There'll be drum tracks and practical exercises to help you.
So let's take a look!
The foundations of fast palm mute guitar
Assuming you already know the essential
palm mute technique (so
you'll know it's not really your palm which does the
work here!) we
need to look at picking techniques to build up that
driving rhythm and speed.
Basic picking technique
First, there's the basic palm muted
stroke which gets you that percussive, muted sound:
(Click the diagrams in
this lesson to hear)
You'll find that with practice you can build up a good speed with just
your downstrokes. Use a metronome to help gradually build
up speed with this.
Now, a lot of guitarists make
the big mistake of
listening to, say, a fast thrash track and assuming all the palm muting
is done using
down picks only. Well, you might be able to down pick on the faster
riffs for a
few seconds, then your wrist will seize up and start to ache, slow
down and become sloppy. It won't be able to handle the endurance at
some of the higher speeds.
To get around this, we can
simply add an up stroke
to the pattern, which makes use of the upward motion of your pick as
you bring it back up for the next down pick. This will allow you to
execute fast palm mute guitar for longer (and
eventually as long as you need).
So instead of picking
down-down-down-down, we're picking down-up-down-up. This is known as
Choosing the right pick
Play around and find which
pick position is
best for you. I find if I hold the pick
too close to the point, my thumb can get in the way when coming back
up for the up stroke. Also think about pick thickness - some
people prefer hard picks
(e.g. .8mm and above), I prefer softer picks (around .6mm) for less
obstruction, as softer picks can flex over the string more easily.
Remember to keep your pick hand rooted to the spot, muted across at
least the bottom 3 strings, and use your wrist as a pivot
point to drive the action.
This is a form of alternate
picking used with palm
muting. Keep playing around until you get the sound you want.
When we add the upstroke in,
it's a lot cleaner to just hit one string
- preferably the bass note of its relative chord/powerchord - it's this
bass note that really gives the driving rhythm some melodic definition
(the bass player will help with this too).
Some guitarists like to use wide
and aggressive pick sweeps, and this does deliver a
percussive attack to palm muted riffs. I personally try to keep the
pick sweeps as tight as
possible (without sacrificing the firm pick
strokes) because it's generally good practice to be as efficient
as possible with the physical side of things. This will improve your
OK, I think we've covered the
foundations of fast palm mute guitar here, so when you're ready, let's
move onto building accuracy, a crucial element of
speed rhythm guitar in metal.
Fast palm muting - accuracy & timing
The more extreme sub-genres of heavy metal can use very technical drum
rhythms, so the guitarist has to be prepared to chop 'n' change at the
crash of a symbol. This most commonly involves mixing fast palm muted
with regular bursts of non-muted strumming to complement the drums.
It's all in the wrist - the
key to accurate palm
mute rhythm guitar is discipline with your picking wrist! You need to
apply and release tension appropriately - but try to relax
overall and let the natural flow of the rhythm dictate your picking
movements. Practice and persistence will get you there. It's as much
it is physical.
Also, make sure you listen to
a variety of metal
that uses this technique (I assume you like this style of music
anyway), and listen with headphones
for more clarity - when you listen, picture yourself playing along,
move your wrist in sync. This is when air guitar actually becomes
Using the alternate picking,
palm mute technique
from above, try the exercises below - first listen to the slow example,
then the quicker example.
At first, some guitarists find
alternate picking more
difficult on the higher strings (e.g. powerchords with the root on the
A string) because you have a string below and
above you to avoid accidentally picking. The space for your pick
sweep has been reduced, and therefore requires more accuracy. You
can do two things:
narrow down your picking sweeps to make your down-up movements as small as possible
- this is what I do.
block out the string below by touching it (effectively
muting it) with one of your fret hand fingers. This, you have to admit,
is the lazier
option, but if it works, it works!
OK, now let's try an exercise
over a simple drum
track. The double bass technique is used a lot in heavy metal drumming
and, as a guitarist, you can complement this by timing the attack of
your palm muting with the timing of the bass drum - this sounds awesome
if done accurately...
Now, sometimes, especially
when playing a riff across
more than one string, it makes sense to just use down picking (as
opposed to alternate picking),
otherwise we will lose the direction we need in our picking to help
execute the riff accurately and cleanly. Example...
So, all down picks in that riff. There's no doubt that the momentum
created from pure down picking gives your riffs more physical attack.
So if the tempo is slow enough to only down pick, do it!
using only down picks
I find, unlike with alternate picking, it helps to hold the pick
as far towards the "nib" as possible so you get the full support of
your thumb behind the
pick. This will help keep the picking firm, adding to the
percussive attack of the muted sound.
The reason I mentioned not
to hold the pick at the point for alternate picking
is because your thumb might obstruct the upstrokes if it's
too far down.
Maybe now we should move onto
more technical fast palm mute guitar rhythms... you are still awake
More technical fast palm mute riffs
As mentioned before, it's the
mix of fast palm muted
riffs and rhythmic bursts of chord/powerchord that gives heavy metal
guitar its unique and energetic dynamics (that, along with high
gain/distortion of course). We can, of course, be as technical as we
like with this (it's all down to what you think
Try the exercises below, first
listening to the slow version, then the
quicker version, and finally the drum track which you can play over if
you like. With both exercises, try and think about your pick position
from the diagrams earlier on, and also when to release your "palm" from
the strings to allow those non-muted bursts.
You have to be quick with
this, because as soon as the palm muting starts again, your hand needs
to be back on the strings, ready in place.