Are you a passionate metal guitarist but seem to be stuck at a certain point? Whether you’re an intermediate or advanced guitar player, it happens to all of us.
In fact, I’ve gone through this several times throughout my music career. But the good news is I’ve found some things that will really help you get over that musical hump and become a better metal guitar player.
Much of what you’ll learn starts in your mind, so we’re going to nail that part first…
1 – Get Your (Metal) Head in the Right Place
Playing metal guitar can be challenging so you need to be zoned in on what you’re doing. Seriously, at that time, nothing else matters (yes, that was a Metallica pun – there will be more song puns, so pay attention!).
You need to be focused, and that requires you to have your head in the right place when you’re playing guitar.
There are going to be 2 parts to this.
- When you pick up your guitar, put away your phone! Don’t be jamming out only to stop every 30 seconds to check how many people liked your latest post on Facebook and Instagram.
Seriously, I see this same thing happen in the gym every day; someone hogging up the bench with their face in their phones half the time! Not cool!
- Clear your mind of any negativity before you pick up your guitar. If you’re having one of those days or something is going on in your life, like drama or whatever, take a few minutes to meditate and or do some deep breathing.
I know what you’re thinking. If you’re upset you can harness those emotions into your music. That’s fine, I get it; however…
You don’t want is to start your guitar practice session with a negative mindset because that can carry over into your performance and playing. And you will be focused on that ‘thing’ rather than playing your guitar.
Here are some additional tips to get in the right headspace and mindset before picking up your guitar:
- Meditate for a few minutes right before practice
- Do some deep breathing or Yoga before you play guitar
- Read, watch, or listen to something that motivates you and makes you feel like you’re ‘Standing on Top of the World.’
Video: How to Become a Better Metal Guitarist
You can watch the video version of this post below on YouTube. I do encourage you to continue reading the post as well.
Now, this is going to flow right into the next tip….
2 – Schedule Focused Guitar Practice Sessions
Us musicians aren’t big fans of schedules and structure. That messes with our creative process and we just want to be free spirits, like fairy dusted dragons that just glide over the horizon.
Here’s the reality: If you do not schedule your guitar practice times you will more than likely not practice, or at least not as often. And you will be cheating yourself out of becoming a better metal musician.
It’s that simple. If you’re serious about becoming a better metal guitar player, you have to make practicing guitar a priority.
Next, you want to make sure your guitar practice sessions have a focus. If you just sit down a start playing guitar without a clear plan, your practice time isn’t going to be as valuable.
Sample Focused Guitar Practice Schedule
|hammer-ons and pull-offs|
alternate picking rhythms
|hammer-ons and pull-offs|
alternate picking rhythms
|sweep triads and melodic soloing|
riffs and palm muting
|Saturday||Off||Off (take a break)|
|Sunday||1-2 PM||bends and melodic solo patterns|
As you can see, we went even deeper. Not only are you scheduling your guitar practice times but you’re also listing what specific guitar techniques you want to work on.
You don’t want to just noodle around and playing random stuff on your guitar. Sure, there’s a time and place for that but this isn’t it.
You’ll also notice that you are practicing the same techniques throughout the week.
This is because consistency and repetition are crucial to becoming a better metal guitar player.
Oh, and you can take it to the next level and schedule these times on your phone or electronic calendar. And don’t forget to create reminders!
You have to treat your practice time like you would a job (unless you don’t show up half the time at your job, which if that’s the case you probably won’t be working there much longer…now do you get my point?).
This is especially true if you plan to do more than just play guitar in your bedroom.
3 – Don’t Just Learn Other People’s Songs
One of the first things we all did when we started playing the guitar was to learn our favorite metal songs. In fact, this was a huge reason why many of us started playing in the first place. However…
I may catch some crap for this section, but hear me out. I’ll start with my own personal journey, which yours may be a similar one…
I’ll never forget hearing Metallica for the first time. I immediately took the $20 I made from the last yard I mowed and bought the And Justice for All and Master of Puppets cassettes!
**Cassettes: These are ancient devices from an alien world that no longer exist (actually, cassettes are sort of making a comeback like vinyl!)
I wanted to learn how to play every song on those albums! I’m sure you had a similar experience. But at the end of the day, you’re just playing a song that someone else wrote instead of your own.
If you really want to become a better metal guitarist you need to practice writing your own riffs.
I’m not saying don’t learn your favorite metal songs. It’s actually great to learn these tunes.
What I’m saying is Don’t Stop Believ…aah, another song pun! I meant don’t stop there!
Use these songs that you’re learning to form metal riff ideas of your own! I show you how to do this is the video below…
Again, learning other band’s songs is a great place to start. And of course, if you’re in a cover band, it’s a necessity.
However, if all you play is other people’s music you’re not going to become the best guitar player that you can possibly be. You need to write your own riffs!
Now, the next tip is going to tie in very closely with what we just discussed…
4 – Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
One of the things us metal guitarists often guilty of is we tend to hang around in our comfort zone. And that’s typically playing the heaviest notes possible, most of the time.
Look, I get it. We’re metalheads! So it has to be heavy, right?
The problem with that is you really box yourself into a tiny little space and neglect other areas of the fretboard. Hey, those other frets need love too!
The solution is simple…
Make a conscious effort to start expanding on those riffs you play all the time. Heck, you can even add your own notes to other people’s songs (like we talked about earlier!).
Here’s a video lesson to show you some ways you can expand your guitar playing.
And though this lesson is primarily for metal rhythms, you can apply this same philosophy to your leads…
Another method that will help you get out of your comfort zone is to just pick a common riff that you play a lot and play that same riff in a different place on your fretboard.
For example, you can play it an octave higher. Or you can place it in a completely different place (in a different key). This will help you expand.
It’s also not a bad idea to play different styles of music. Yes, I get it…we’re metal guitarists.
But learning other styles can help you go deeper in developing your own signature style.
Heck, I even played in church for the first 15 years or so of playing guitar. Although today’s churches play more modern styles the one I grew up in was extremely old fashioned.
That meant most of the songs were not guitar-friendly (lot of E flats, A flats, and B flats which meant bar chords and playing frets we normally don’t play for us guitarists).
But this was a ‘blessing’ as it gave me more knowledge of the fretboard.
5 – Freestyle Riffs and Licks to Other Music
Do you want to know the one thing that helped me the most in my guitar playing (especially playing solos)? Making up stuff that goes with other songs! Or if you want to call if ‘freestyling riffs and licks!’
So what do I mean by freestyle guitar playing? In my early years, I would either turn on the radio or put in a cassette and I would play along with the songs.
But here’s the caveat. I wouldn’t actually play the songs as they’re being played. I would make up my own solos and play along. And sometimes I would do the same with single-note riffs lower on the neck.
Now, the radio was better because rarely would a song in the same key be played back to back. So this forced me to learn the fretboard even more!
So here’s what you can do…
- Create a playlist of songs from different bands and artists
- Put it on random play
- Start making up your own solos and riffs
This is truly a powerful method for guitar players because it also helps you develop the ability to play by ear.
Make sure that the levels are balanced. In other words, you don’t want your guitar blasting so loud that you can’t hear the music (then you won’t be able to tell when you’re hitting wrong notes!).
Likewise, make sure the music doesn’t overpower your guitar…for the same reason!
*This may sound like it contradicts the structured practice sessions we went over earlier. But freestyle guitar playing is in addition to your practice sessions.
If you’re limited on time you could do your structured practices during the weekend and freestyle play on the weekends.
6 – Lift Weights and Eat Well
You may be wondering what working out and eating healthy has to do with becoming a better guitar player. Well, it has everything to do with it!
This actually ties back to the first tip for becoming a better metal guitar player. It all starts with your mindset.
If you’re taking care of your health and building a strong body, you’re going to feel better. You’re also going to have more energy, physically and mentally to perform better and practice more.
If your health is ‘poop‘ then you’re going to feel drained and uninspired all the time.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to become bodybuilder or powerlifter and live in the gym, although that’s awesome if you want to push yourself to that level.
But (in my ‘strong’ opinion), you do need to do some type of resistance training and obviously don’t eat like crap all of the time.
I’m actually going to give you a simple plan to follow below…
- Monday: Back workout
- Tuesday: Leg workout
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: Chest and biceps workout
- Friday: Shoulders and triceps workout
- Saturday: Rest
- Sunday: Rest
This is just an example (and somewhat of a typical bodybuilding workout). You can change this workout plan to fit your own schedule.
You may prefer to train more on the weekends and have more rest days during the week. That’s fine.
*If you want a full workout program, read my post: Heavy Metal Strength and Conditioning Workout Routine
I’ll be posting some more workouts as well, so stay ‘tuned’ for that!
Oh, and if you’re not aware I also have the Heavy Metal Workout album series on all music streaming platforms:
Heavy Metal Workout
Heavy Metal Workout II
I’m not going to dive too deep into this. For one, everyone’s different and there’s no one-size-fits-all meal plan.
Two, some people get super emotional about the diet they choose…it’s almost like a cult (no carbs, carbs, keto, plant-based, vegan, paleo, whatever-o…blah!).
My advice is to just have a sensible meal plan, and here are a few ways to do that…
- Limit processed foods
- Limit refined sugars
- Eat a decent amount of protein
- Eat some healthy fats throughout the day
If you stick to that you’ll be able to figure out the rest and what works for your body.
**I realize that this section (working out and your health) contradicts the fact that many of our Rock and Metal Gods were strung out or drunk most of the time in their early years.
But don’t be deceived by this because you can rest-assure that lifestyle did indeed impact their lives.
And if you’ve ever tried to play guitar when you’re all f’d up, well, you know how that goes and it’s not pretty.
7 – Be You (Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Guitarists)
This is a mistake I see many metal guitar players make, and I’ve been guilty of this as well. You see someone get on stage (or on YouTube) just ripping it up and down the neck.
And you may be tempted to look at other awesome guitarists and think:
“It’s not in the cards for me to ever be at that level…it’s just not attainable for me!”
Well, I’m going to stop you dead in your tracks. The first problem with that mindset is that you’re already setting yourself up for failure with self-defeating thoughts.
Secondly, the truth is no one can play their guitar exactly the way you play!
Here’s a video where Gary V (Vaynerchuk) talks about this more and discusses the pitfalls of comparing yourself to others (this is a cool clip and worth watching):
You see when you’re consistently practicing and striving to become a better metal guitar player you’re continuously developing your own signature sound.
I’ll open up a little more here. One of my weaker areas in playing guitar is sweep arpeggios. And there are some guitarists out there who are completely amazing at that.
But I always have to remind myself that I have my own signature sound and tone. And so do you. And we have to continue to feed that and grow, not only as metal guitarists but as musicians.
Become a Better Metal Guitarist Everyday
By now you’re probably itching to go pick up your guitar and play some metal! I certainly encourage you to do that!
But first, here’s a quick recap of the 7 tips to becoming a better metal guitarist…
- Get your head in the right place
- Schedule focused practice sessions
- Don’t just learn other people’s songs
- Get out of your comfort zone
- Freestyle to other music/songs
- Lift weights and eat well
- Don’t compare yourself to other guitarists
I hope you enjoyed reading these tips for becoming a better metal guitar player!
Don’t forget to listen to my albums here: Jason’s Music
Keep it Metal,