The Doom Generation: The Art of Playing Heavy
But let’s not forget the importance of the first few chord shapes every guitarist learns, namely those good ol’ open chords, A, D, G and E. Never dismiss these “cowboy chords” because the open-string and low-position notes that comprise them exude a full, resonant tonal quality that’s essential to heavy rock. The fact that the vast majority of AC/DC’s repertoire is made up exclusively of these shapes is proof positive. In fact, when Van Halen covered “You Really Got Me,” Eddie utilized an open A power chord when playing the main riff to add extra balls, as shown in FIGURE 9. Part of the secret behind the aforementioned “Rumble,” too, is open chords; in this case, E, A, D and B7. The roots of heavy music can be traced back to the blues. Many of the greatest heavy riffs are based around the two blues staples: the minor pentatonic scale (FIGURE 10) and the blues scale (FIGURE 11). Classic examples that immediately spring to mind are the intro riffs to Cream’s “Born Under a Bad Sign,” from The Very Best of Cream (G minor pentatonic: G Bb C D F); Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” from Paranoid (E minor pentatonic: E G A B D); Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” from Metallica (E minor blues: E G A Bb B D); and Pantera’s crushing “Cowboys from Hell” from Cowboys from Hell (E minor blues). FIGURE 12 shows the intro riff to “Cowboys from Hell.” Just about every note of heavy rock is written in minor keys. Why? Because major keys sound just too damned happy. Heavy music is tinged with a brooding darkness courtesy of the inherent quality of minor keys. In order to add extra heaviness to a riff or chord, many guitarists, especially those with metallic tendencies, frequently employ a technique known as palm-muting (P.M.). To palm-mute a chord or note correctly, lightly rest the heel of your picking hand’s palm on the strings just in front of where they go over the bridge. Doing this creates a chunky, percussive sound whenever the muted strings are picked. Don’t mute too far in front of the bridge, or you’ll end up with a dull, percussive thud that isn’t recognizable as a specific note. Also, if you’ve got a floating vibrato bridge (where you can pull the bar up as well as push it down), be careful not to lean on the bridge too hard or you’ll push it down and, to quote Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, “it’ll sound like shit because your strings will go sharp.”
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