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Heavy Metal Guitar Chords

When doing keyword research for this site, a popular search term I discovered was "metal guitar chords". Because of the nature of metal music, guitarists most commonly use dyads as opposed to chords.

Dyads are two notes played together, whereas chords consist of three or more notes. Dyads (such as power chords) tend to be favoured by heavy metal guitarists as they provide more definition and clarity under high gain/distortion.

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However, we will look at some ways in which you can use fuller sounding chords that sound good under distortion. Musicians often refer to dyads as chords anyway, especially when used in a rhythm (non-lead) context.

Metal guitar chords as power chord alternatives

The power chord is the most commonly used dyad form in metal without a doubt. It involves the root and 5th intervals and is considered neutral because it lacks the 3rd of major and minor triads or any real tension. This interval is known as a perfect 5th...

E string root 5th power chord form

A common variation on this is to flatten the 5th, giving us a more dissonant diminished 5th interval...

Root flat 5th diminished metal guitar chord

Or sharpen the 5th, giving us an augmented 5th interval...

Root #5 augmental metal chord

Remember, just like the regular power chord shape, these can also be used on A string and D string roots. Simple!

Then we have the major and minor metal guitar chords, still only using two strings, so we omit the 5th...

Major dyad

Root 3rd major diad

Minor dyad

Root b3 minor diad

So, just by moving that upper string around the root, we can create chords that will allow us to give our metal more melodic intricacy. A simple example (I'm sure you can come up with something better than this!)...

metal guitar chords tab exercise
Click to hear

And don't forget to try using open strings with these dyad forms. For example...

metal chords tab exercise using diad forms with open strings
Click to hear

Try also experimenting with different dyad positions in drop tuning, as you can apply wider intervals due to the dropped 6th string.

This video looks at how you can use some of these diad forms in the context of metal songwriting...

link to video on metal songwriting

3 and 4 string metal guitar chords

If your guitar has good quality pickups (i.e. not too muddy, good separation of chord tones), it should be able to ring out more than two strings under high gain/distortion without sounding like mush.

Obviously it would be silly to limit the chords you can play to just "metal chords", but here are some chord forms that I've commonly come across in metal music. Remember, most of these shapes can be formed from both a low E root note and an A string root note, just like the regular powerchord shape...

6th chord (no 3rd)

root, 5th, 6th chord

9th chord (no 3rd)

root, 5th, 9th chord

Major 7th chord (no 3rd)

major 7th metal chord

Minor 7th chord (no 3rd)

dominant 7th metal chord

Suspended 4th chord

suspended 4th metal chord rooted on E string

suspended 4th metal chord rooted on A string

Suspended 2nd chord

suspended 2nd chord rooted on E string

suspended 2nd chord rooted on A string

Keep cutting chords down for metal

The only thing that makes these "metal guitar chords" is that we've cut down the fuller barre/movable forms to 2, 3 and 4 string chords more appropriate when using high gain and distortion.

Try creating your own 3 and 4 string chords. The great thing about metal is that there is less emphasis on what sounds "right or wrong" than with other styles.

Want Video Metal Lessons?

Learn how Jamplay can help you master all the essential heavy metal techniques, right through to an advanced level, by using multiple camera angles and the very best teachers/players of the style.

Take the next step here

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