I've specifically named this lesson "metal guitar
scales", but of
course you can play any damn scale you want, whether it be pentatonic,
major, minor, whatever! What I'll do is go through some of the more
specialized scales used in heavy metal - scales that really complement
the dark and aggressive power chord movements.
The scales featured in this lesson are by no means the extent of
your options - I'm not trying to pigeon hole, but it's true
that harsh/dissonant scales tend to best fit the ominous and intense
this style of
Remember, you can (and should) combine several scales in your solo for
Use this D5 power chord track
to practice playing through these scales. There's no beat, so you can
set your metronome to any tempo with which you feel comfortable. Using
the scale diagrams on this page, simply position the 1
note on the E string at the 10th
fret (in standard tuning)...
popular metal guitar scales
These are your "bread and butter" metal
guitar scales, and can be used in most circumstances.
The scale patterns shown below are
meaning you can slide the patterns up and down the
fretboard to change the key you're playing in (you can learn to expand
out of these boxes in
the individual scale lessons).
Position the root note (1)
of these scales on the same root as the chord or key you're playing
over. For example, if the riff was built around an A power chord (A5),
you would position the root of these scales on... A.
Minor Pentatonic with b5
Many metal guitarists have stuck almost
exclusively with this staple combo for decades. Adding the flat 5th (b5)
pentatonic gives it that bluesy, slightly dissonant quality. Tony
Iommi, Dimebag Darrell and Zakk Wylde are three notable metal
guitarists who have made great use of this scale (although there are
Natural Minor Scale / Aeolian
minor scale also falls as
the 6th mode
of the major scale, Aeolian. You can see this scale as minor pentatonic
with an added major 2nd (2)
and minor 6th (b6).
The natural minor scale works
over many minor key progressions and is a loyal companion for the above
minor pentatonic/blues scale.
Harmonic Minor Scale
minor scale is almost the
same as natural minor, but with a major 7th (7) instead of a
minor 7th (b7).
As metal commonly uses
power chords which are neither major nor minor, using this scale will
give it the flavour of a "minMaj7" chord (e.g. AmM7), which has a
It's a nice alternative
to natural minor as a metal guitar scale, when you want to spice things
up a little.
Again, use a metronome
to build up speed and confidence with jumping around this scale.
Another staple minor scale that uses a major 6th (6) instead of natural
minor's minor 6th (b6) which changes its mood. Less harsh, more airy
and "mysterious" making its place more in progressive, melodic metal.
Again, like the other minor scales, Dorian tends to be interchanged and
merged with minor pentatonic/blues.
More "Experimental" Metal Scales
Bored of the pentatonic and minor scales? Try the below alternatives...
This one's a major
scale (due to the major 3rd, or 3).
Its sound is
characterised by the augmented 4th (#4),
also known as the tritone
(an interval once aptly nicknamed "the
devil in music"!),
which gives it a dark, ethereal sort of quality. Lydian
definitely one of my favourites for slow paced and down tuned
metal - try holding that #4 for a sweet dissonant sound.
try also lowering the 7th (to a b7)
for a slight variation knowing as Lydian dominant.
Phrygian dominant scale
(also the 5th mode of harmonic minor) is a staple
scale of flamenco and other traditional styles, but metal has made
of it for its tense,
Double Harmonic Scale
The double harmonic scale (sometimes
called the Byzantine scale) is like phrygian
twin brother. The only difference between the two is double harmonic
of a minor 7th (b7).
This creates an unusual chromatic
interval sequence between the 7th, root and minor 2nd that gives it a
very unique sound.
It takes a while to learn how to negotiate this one, but give it
the time and attention it deserves and you'll be glad you added it to
Tense, dark, and definitely fun to play.
Sometimes called the Hungarian Gypsy scale. Harmonic minor with a
raised 4th (#4).
Great for writing those crazy, chaotic riffs.
scale that uses the augmented 4th tension to create an ominous
atmosphere. Great for metal.
When playing scales over a riff you
have to experiment and
find which tones of the scale you're playing are best played at certain
points of the riff. E.g. You may be able to hold one of the scale's
notes over one chord, but when the chord changes, you might find it no
longer "fits", so you need to change the note there and then.
These are often called target notes - the
notes we use when a chord changes. This is covered in more depth in
the scales and theory section.
Traditionally used as a diminished scale, so it has all the tense,
unresolved qualities we need for metal...
A note on combining scales
Guitarists soon forget that scales are
merely a group of related intervals/notes. If you like the sound of a
particular movement (e.g. 5 - b6 - 7 - 1) try mixing it with interval
groups from other scales. This sounds quite complicated, but once you
have a few scales under your fingers, it's just a case of playing between them,
building phrases that overlap
two or more scales.
When you do this, you'll start to think
less in terms of individual scales, rather in terms of individual note selection.
Metal is a unique genre in that it is flexible enough to use dissonant,
jarring movements and mix major and minor tonality quite freely. In
fact, dissonance and ambiguity can often be just the sound
you need to create the fitting atmosphere of tension and chaos in your
The main thing is that you spend time
some of your own solos. Learn to respect chord changes and how they
affect what notes you play.
phrases within the scale is a good way to lead in to
effective color tones (e.g. the #4).
And don't forget to mix these fuller scales with pentatonic licks on
the same root.
It all boils down to time, practice