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[COLUMN] SHRED OR DEAD – Monthly Heavy Metal Guitar Lesson

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Hello and welcome to the inaugural Shred or Dead column for Heavy Mag. Here we will be learning all about Heavy Metal guitar and how to turn you into a Virtuoso Shred Lord. Over the coming months, we’ll take a look at all the many areas of heavy metal playing including lead techniques, rhythm guitar, the unique styles of the many different sub-genres of heavy metal, how to optimise your practice and how to accelerate your progress on the guitar by identifying weak areas in your playing.

To start us off we will be looking at timing and rhythm guitar playing, a crucial area of playing for any guitarist regardless of genre.

Ex 1) is a power chord riff in E Harmonic Minor which is an excellent study for rhythm guitar because we will be working on both our palm muting technique and focussing on changing the chords in time. To start, you should set the metronome at 60BMP. As you play, listen out for the following: 1. Is there any excess string noise caused by a weak palm muting technique? 2. Do I overshoot the chord change or get a big swiping sound when I change from chord to chord? 3. Am I landing the change on the beat? 4. are the open strings in between chords rushed and uneven? If you can Identify any problems, you need to write down what they are and work towards fixing them. If there are no problems at 60BMP, then you can either speed up the metronome to make the exercise challenge your picking and palm muting or slow the metronome to 40, 30 or even 20 BMP to work on your timing.

Ex 2) Heavy Metal is a genre that has a strong emphasis on rhythm guitar making tight playing crucial. To be a great metal guitarist you need to know your rhythms and be able to articulate easily and fluently. The following 4 bars of music contain some of the most common rhythm subdivisions which are must-knows for all metal players. These examples are to be played on an open string with palm muting however if you find them all easy, I challenge you to come up with your riffs using these ideas.

Ex 3) James Hatfield (of Metallica fame) is often credited as being one of the best rhythm guitarists in the world and has the right hand to prove it. He is known for his relentless, aggressive down picked rhythm chops which countless guitarists try and fail to emulate. A lot of people assume that to get better, tighter more aggressive down picking that you have to keep on practising down picks. On the contrary, the exact opposite is true, most guitarists have great down picking skills, it is the upward motion that returns the pick to the other side of the string that slows guitarists down or causes them to fatigue/cramp up after only a short period. So how do we fix it? The answer is Upstrokes! Ex 3 is a Metallica-inspired riff which I want you to play using only upstrokes. Start as slow as you need to play the whole riff from start to finish using only upstrokes. Continue to do this over the next few weeks building up the speed and endurance until you can play it comfortably. After a few weeks try it with down strokes, the ease at which you can now play it will amaze you.

That’s all for this month and thank you for reading the first instalment of ‘Shred or Dead’. Next month we’ll take a look at some easy tricks to improve your lead playing.


About the Author

Michael Gumley is an internationally touring musician and in-demand guitar teacher. He is the lead guitarist for progressive black metal band Hybrid Nightmares and is the head teacher of Melbourne Guitar Academy. His style is a blend of effortless shred and tasteful phrasing that is both aggressively  intense and full of feel. Michael plays Ormsby Guitars & Blackstar Amps and makes it his personal mission to help transform his students into the guitar players the dream of becoming. To book a lesson with Michael visit www.MelbourneGuitarAcademy.com

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