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Home > Metal > Metal Rhythm

Heavy Metal Rhythm Guitar

If you've been through the other heavy metal guitar lessons on this site, you should be armed with several metal rhythm techniques that you can use when needed.

This lesson will be about drawing many of those elements together, but focusing more on how the rhythm guitarist can work with and enhance the backing drums.

This is not just about keeping time with the drummer, as we've been doing in the other lessons, rather enhancing the rhythm that the drummer lays down.

Just to let you know, there'll be no tabs in this lesson! No, it's not just me being too lazy to upload them (although I am unbelievably lazy, let there be no doubt about it), I just think the focus of this lesson is to train your ear to picking up rhythmic changes in metal and developing your own ideas.

I'll provide drum tracks so you can experiment, That's better than a copy-cat tab any day, right?

Playing through changing metal rhythms

It's very rare for heavy metal to stay with one constant rhythm for an entire piece. This means you, as a guitarist, must be prepared to chop and change with it.

These changes can be subtle, like in the example we're about to listen to. This track goes through three main rhythms, and although the drumming speeds up, the guitar adapts with only a slight change in the palm muting rhythm.

Take a listen here

Notice on that final part, where the drums speed up for the 2nd time, the palm muting becomes more prominent as a percussive element in the piece. This is all about timing your muted and non-muted picking/strumming, which was introduced in the beginner palm mute lesson.

So when the drummer goes into double time, don't always think in terms of speeding up with them (as you may be tempted to do), but rather ask yourself if it's more effective to build on your existing rhythm, e.g. how much of the riff becomes palm muted.

Try your own ideas over the drum track below. Try subtle changes to your rhythm playing to complement the drum changes.

Download the drum track here (right click and "save as")

Finding the groove in heavy metal rhythm

Some metal is built around a groove. Pantera and Exhorder a perfect example, and bands like Machine Head later fused this into their own style (the instrumental "chorus" of Davidian is a prime example). I recommend listening to these three great bands for a taste of groove in metal.

The main concept behind this type of playing is the swing of the rhythm. It has a lazy, bouncing momentum (no, this is not strict terminology!). Listen to this next track for a typical example of what I mean...

Take a listen here

So the drums moved at quite a slow pace there, but you'll notice how the bass drum provided that casual, strolling rhythm in between the snare drum which was enhanced by the palm muted guitar. There's also use of the single string phrasings common in this type of metal.

Even though the drums kept at a constant, lumbering pace, you'll notice the guitar changed its pace throughout. For example, the first 4 seconds are played slow with the drums, but the phrase after that uses a quicker, sharper palm muted attack, dancing around the unchanged drum rhythm.

So don't always feel locked in to every beat of the drums - as long as the overall tempo between the instruments are matched, injecting the occasional sub-rhythm can help make the music more dynamic and... groovy.

Also notice how those final two snares are enhanced with two final power chord stabs (or "slaps" if you want to tone down the violent references!). Again, this constant shifting between locked in and loose rhythm is something you as a guitarist can really play up. Rock (or more accurately, rock and roll) tends to be locked in 100% of the time, whereas metal is much less constrained.

Try your own rhythms over the backing drums here

Negotiating faster metal rhythms

As I mentioned before, a lot of the metal techniques used in these example tracks (e.g. palm muting) are covered separately in their own lessons.

This next track is fairly typical of modern thrash or grindcore, if a little more simplistic. Listen carefully to the track below and get a feel for how the guitar complements the backing drums, especially when it's timed with the snare drum.

Take a listen here

And here's the drum track, to help us focus on the percussion.

So quite a chaotic little piece there with three main sections. The opening riff highlights the timing of the snare drum. The snare drum is what you will be naturally drawn towards in that opening riff, as it interrupts what would have been a pretty straight beat.

First, try just palm muting a single string or powerchord and timing it to the snare in that opening section. Once you've engrained that rhythm in your mind, you can start to play around it, but still keeping those rhythmic "marker points" highlighted by the snare firmly in place. This is what gives metal its attack.

After that intro blast, there's a short break where, in the example above, I simply attack in time with each kick of the bass drum or slap of the snare. Palm muting really packs the punch for this kind of sparse rhythm.

Following on, we break into a thrash riff which uses tremolo picking along with that familiar blast beat, which should be straightforward rhythm-wise if you've been through the other lessons on this site!

The final section is similar to the first, but more direct and to-the-point, with the kick bass providing those triplet bursts which is complimented effectively by using the palm muted triplets on guitar. In this closing riff, the snare drum is timed with the non-muted "stabs", so just like with the opening rhythm, try and identify those snare drum marker points. The sharper you are in time with them, the better!

Here's the drum track again

Keep experimenting with rhythm

I hope you enjoyed the music and playing along to the drum tracks on this page (download them so you can access them quickly on your computer). Keep listening to a diverse range of heavy metal, old and new, as each genre has its own signature rhythms and you can fuse them together to create progressive and dynamic metal of your own.

There are no new ideas when it comes to metal, just new interpretations!

Have fun experimenting.

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