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How to Compose Thrash Metal Solos

Question by Abhishek

Hello :)

I am following your lessons regularly and completed scales, chords, arpeggios. I can play them efficiently on my guitar.

I am very interested in thrash metal and listen to a lot of it. So my question is how do you compose solos in thrash metal?

I observed the thrash default style as, 1st comes the power chord progression then comes the simple lead (which I understood from your lessons that we can use both minor and major scale for neutral power chords) then comes the final solo with backing of rhythm/chord progression.

So if the root is A then can we play A major, minor arpeggios for the entire progression?? or we have to play the all arpeggios of the respective chords in the progression along with it?

And many Thrash musicians say that they use a lot of pentatonics in their solos. So can we compose the whole lengthy solo by using the technique you explained in soloing over chord changes lesson?

Can you please explain me the technique in composing those lengthy blistering thrash solos? And when to change the root in a song?


Firstly, no matter how much you like a particular style or genre of music, try not to limit your playing to the traditions and cliches of that particular style.

You don't HAVE to play anything. Tear down all your preconceptions about a given musical style for a moment.

For example, don't think in terms of "how do I compose a thrash metal solo?". Think more in terms of "how do I compose a solo over this piece of music?".

As we're thinking about these concepts at a fundamental level, you might as well take the genre/style element out of the equation for now, because ALL styles require an understanding of the basics.

Besides, solos in thrash metal are no different from solos in a lot of other hard rock and metal styles.

They still make use of scales like minor pentatonic (blues sometimes), natural and harmonic minor, phrygian etc.

The solos also tend to be played over a more static progression than perhaps the main riff (if the main riff wasn't itself very static!).

For example, the main riff might move around eight chords, whereas a simpler, two or three chord riff will be used for the solo. This is usually for the reason that it's difficult to play a meaningful solo over erratic chord changes.

But again, it's not helpful to think in terms of style, because soloing is partly about knowing what you're playing over - what you're harmonising with.

It's just that harmony is typically less important for metal! Melody on the other hand, takes centre stage.

The same "rules" (which can be broken!) apply when connecting a scale to a chord progression in metal.

For example, if the chord/powerchord progression moves through the degrees of the natural minor scale then natural minor and minor pentatonic would be the standard choice.

So your first task is being able to recognise when a progression is built around the degrees of a particular scale. This will give you a solid starting point to work from. Sometimes there may be the odd "outside" chord or note thrown in, which is fine, but often a progression will imply a tonal centre and therefore a particular scale.

For this, my chord scale and soloing over chord changes lessons (see the youtube channel) cover the fundamental principles. With metal, you'd mostly be applying these concepts to power chords and dyads (two-note chords).

In these lessons, I show you how to connect a root scale with a group of chords. The same applies to metal soloing, although there is far more acceptance of dissonance in those styles and I have noticed that metal guitarists will not pay as much attention to chord changes, in favour of playing one root scale throughout, even if it doesn't quite fit with the progression.

As you mentioned, powerchords are quite neutral, as they contain only a perfect 5th interval, so you are a lot freer to use any scale you wish and make it work.

Take Jeff Hannemann's (Slayer) solos - scale-wise they are all over the place and rarely have a tonal centre. But since he is trying to support a chaotic atmosphere with his solo, it works and few people question the "atonality" of it.

Here's what I would do...

1) Get to know as many scales as you can. This will give you more harmonic options for your solos.

2) Get to know a scale's natural chord progressions, based on its degrees. Play them in different keys and combinations. Look for my scale progressions lessons in the scales section.

3) Experiment. There is no harm in a bit of trial and error when it comes to finding the right scale/notes for a solo. As mentioned, metal is far more flexible in this respect, so just try different scales.

Try to keep your progressions simple during the solo.

For example, if I was playing a Phrygian Dominant based solo on the root of B, I might play the following underneath:

B5 / B5 / C5 / E5 ... (repeat)

4) Finally, solos obviously aren't all about what scales you choose. Make sure you spend time arming yourself with lead techniques such as bending, legato, slides, tapping etc. My lead section covers these, including some exercises for techniques such as string skipping, runs and pedal point, which are used a lot in metal.

I hope this helps to point you in the right direction.

Remember, never limit your thinking to "thrash metal" or even "heavy metal". Learn to see the connection between the chords or notes being played in the background and how your solo can complement the overall musical statement being made.

Know your options by learning scales, theory and lead technique, and give yourself the creative freedom to choose what you want to "say", without conforming to the traditional dynamics of a style.

Listen to some of Meshuggah's stuff for example. They fuse jazz harmony with thrash metal beautifully and seamlessly. It's only through experimentation that this unlikely marriage was able to occur!

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Thank You so much :)
By: Abhishek

Thank youuu sooo muchh for your valuable suggestions :D. Till now im thinking only in a single style and from now ill change it for sure and keep on experiment.

..inquiry widening..
By: Max

I am a beginner guitarist and I have been listening to thrash metal & hardcore for almost all my life. My hears tell me that for example Jeff Hannemann's solos, “often” sound like they have a similar or standard interval to the chord progression, I believe they are not really "chaotic" but they fall often in a specific interval that, yes, could sound atonal but is often the same interval that in my humble opinion is thought to be just slightly “dissonant” but not completely atonal because is at often “at the same interval” and the dissonance sounds always the same in many, many songs and riffs, not only from Slayers. I believe that Abhishek was asking not only about that scales to use but about those specific slightly “dissonant” intervals between the root note or the main tonality of the chord progression and the dissonant scale in use that, for me, is often at a specific interval. I would be curious to know if my hearing is wrong or not and if there is or not that custom interval and often, what is it.

Characteristics of Slayer solos
By: Anonymous

In regard to the type of solos that are typical (and argueably unique in Slayer's stuff, I have seen many misleading suggestions as to what scales Jeff and Kerry play. Many anti slayer guitarists will argue that it is just random crap played fast. Others say they use chromatic scales, while some claim they use phrygian/lochrian/natural minor.
While there is some element of truth to all these claims, they all miss one fact; there is no mistaking a Slayer solo, and while many guitarists claim they know the answer to the sound of Slayer's solos, they are at best only half right.
The secret to the Slayer solo sound is to play major scales over the minor key. Eg: A typical Slayer song in the Key of Eminor/Phrygian/lochrian/chromatic will more than likely have predominantly Emajor/lydian scales used in the solo.
That's why they sound so fucked up. If you don't believe this, just look at a typical Slayer solo in Tab pro, eg: Angel of Death

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