Practical Magic: Tips on Heavy Metal Songwriting

Hey, readers. Thanks again for the continued support for my blogs. I find that writing and sharing my own perspective on music knowledge lots of fun!

I enjoy playing guitar in a vast array of styles, but those who know me best know that my true love is melodic metal. Today I offer the metal heads a different type of blog than I often write and see in regards to applying theory in your playing.

I dedicate this blog post entirely to metal and rock songwriting tips. This article is solely for you rock and metal players out there who have never written a full song or for those who want to try a different approach to songwriting.


Many metal bands don’t realize that melody is a hugely important aspect of a song; in my opinion the most important! Long ago, when I was a little 12-year-old headbanger, I would write a bunch of riffs (hopefully in the same key) and attempt to superimpose some type of verse or chorus melody on top. I found in my own personal experience that the melodies I wrote were never as memorable as the riffs, and the songs didn’t possess enough movement to keep me excited.

A great way to start writing a song is create the vocal melodies first and then write the riffs around that. Try writing a verse and chorus melody with some semblance of words until you get a melodic and rhythmically interesting gem.

A keyboardist I used to play with gave me some great advice in regards to melodic construction, “A strong melody should stand on its own and should immediately be recognized played in single notes unaccompanied.” If the melody sticks in your head after a few days, then you are off to a great start. If not simply discard it and try again.

Think of some jingles on TV or some of the greatest songs of all time; they all have catchy, memorable melodies. All of the most brutal interesting riffs and drum beats in the world are worthless to the non-musician without a powerful melody. Does your melody have hooky, sinewy, singable vibe to it or does it fall flat? Experimentation and experience will aid in tweaking would-be masterpieces, so try to be as objective as possible.

What would the listener expect and be pleasantly surprised by? A strong verse and chorus will give you an enviable start.


The metal genre is known more for its intense guitar wizardry and its savage war-cry percussion than for its cleverly crafted melodies, but when both align it is a marvelous sound indeed! Now that you’ve spawned a bulletproof melody, how do you write a killer riff to back it up? One word ... CONTRAST! If your melody is based off of long-held mid-range notes, try a razor-sharp, syncopated, heavy-as-hell rhythm like “End of Heartache” by Killswitch Engage. This will surely keep females in your audience and also give the dudes an excuse to wreak havoc in the mosh pit!

Try writing your intro and other riffs now after you have already tackled the main bits of the song. You may find this method of working inside out quite helpful. Remember there are endless ways to go about writing music this is only one suggestion. HAVE FUN!

Shawn McGovern is a Musicians Institute graduate and a highly sought-out guitar instructor in the New England area. He is the president and director of curriculum for the Rhode Island Music Workshop, a contemporary music school that offers individual and ensemble training. Shawn also plays guitar and sings lead vocals in his band For Solace. For more information on Shawn, check out or

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