Metal for Life: Incorporating Different Picking Techniques for Specific Metal Riffs

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This month, I’d like to address an essential point of focus for every good metal player: how to best strengthen pick-hand technique. The examples I’m going to show you cover a wide variety of pick-hand techniques, from using all downstrokes to alternate picking to economy picking and more, offering a systematic approach to building up these different techniques that will allow you to play with more expression, control and power.

In FIGURE 1, I play a heavy riff on the bottom two strings only, using downpicking exclusively throughout the entire riff. In each bar, I palm-mute (P.M.) the sixth string but allow the notes played on the fifth string to ring out. This adds contour and dynamics to the line and accentuates the melodic development that occurs as the riff progresses. Notice that it alternates between bars of 4/4 and 5/4, sticking with 4/4 for the last two bars.

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Speaking of the last two bars, it’s there that I incorporate the most “metal” interval of all, the flatted fifth: over the E root note, I play Bf, sixth string/sixth fret, followed by a wide vibrato applied to the E note one octave above the open low E.

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Another great way to play this riff is to use a combination of downstrokes and upstrokes with the pick hand, as demonstrated in FIGURE 2: here, I use palm muting for the entire riff, with the exception of the last two bars. I begin with two downstrokes and then alternate two consecutive upstrokes against a single downstroke throughout the remainder of each two-bar phrase. At the very end of the riff, I switch to straight alternate picking.

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Let’s take the process one step further by introducing more complex riffs, as shown in FIGURES 3 and 4. In FIGURE 3, I begin with B octave shapes that are fretted on the sixth and fourth strings. Across bars 1 and 2, I form a melodic line on the fourth and fifth strings while maintaining the root-note pedal tone on the sixth string. Starting in bar 3 (the first two bars repeat), I move down one whole step and begin the new phrase with an A octave shape, once again playing a melodic line on the fourth and fifth strings, but the twist here is that I bring in quick eighth-note triplet pull-offs at the end of bars 4 and 6.

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FIGURE 4 illustrates a melodic line similar to that in FIGURE 3 but is picked entirely with downstrokes in order to maximize supreme heaviness. Notice that the melody line moves lower and lower on the fretboard as the riff progresses, culminating in sliding power chords at the very end, à la Metallica.

Part 1

Part 2

Metal Mike Chlasciak plays guitar for Halford and performs regularly with his own solo band. He is currently preparing a new solo CD called The Metalworker and recently re-launched his site.