How to Play Metal Guitar for Beginners: 6 Techniques You Must Learn

By Jason Stallworth

September 21, 2019

Are you a beginner guitar player and want to learn how to play heavy metal guitar? Or have you already learned the guitar basics and now you want to learn a style that’s more complex?

In this post, I’m going to show you the 6 core metal guitar techniques that you need to learn for playing metal music

Although this is for beginners, learning these techniques can be a challenge. But I’m also going to show you some tricks that I’ve learned over the years that will help you progress, faster! 

Basics of Playing Metal Guitar

Metal Guitar Player Jason Stallworth

There are 6 core techniques to playing metal guitar. Of course you eventually learn to expand on all of these, but for now we’re going to keep them super simple. 

The premises of metal music lies within the dark depths of that distorted tone. And the methods you’re about to learn compliment that darkness. Hopefully that didn’t sound too cheesy! 

Here’s what you’re going to learn:

  1. Power chords made easy
  2. How palm mute properly
  3. Downstroke tips
  4. Metal riffing techniques
  5. Alternate picking for thrash, speed, and death metal
  6. Galloping on guitar (this is one KILLER technique you’ll learn!)

VIDEO LESSON: How to Play Metal Guitar

Check out my YouTube video below that I made for you. I go over each of these metal guitar beginner techniques and there’s also lessons with guitar tabs. So make sure you practice those!! 

Essential Metal Guitar Tips

Now let’s go over some metal guitar tips for each technique. I’m going to expand on the video and show you some more ways to enhance your guitar skills so you can start playing more metal! 

1 – Power Chords Made Easy

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that power chords are the first step to playing both rock and metal guitar. These chords accentuate the ‘heaviness’ of metal music.

Dial back a few decades and you can hear Black Sabbath making power chords the standard for heavy metal music. However, the actual invention of power chords seems to have come from Link Wray, known as the ‘father of the power chord.’ 

What are power chords? As you learn in the video above they’re quite simple. It’s just the root note played with the 5th note. 

Here’s what a E, G, and C power chord looks like:

E Power Chord

  • A string = 2nd fret
  • E string = open

G Power Chord

  • A string = 5th fret
  • E string = 3rd fret

C Power Chord

  • D string = 5th fret
  • A string = 3rd fret

*You can see that the G and C power chords are virtually the same, just on different strings. 

This is pretty much it for power chords. You can play this almost anywhere on your fretboard using the first 4 strings. 

2 – How to Palm Mute Properly

Second to power chords, palm muting is something you’ll hear in practically every metal song. It’s that sound that just reaches out and grabs you, and gives you a mixture of emotions from aggression to extreme inspiration and fulfillment! 

Palm muting is that chunky sound you hear that sounds like a ‘freight train coming your way’ – no, I didn’t mean to steal that from Metallica’s  song ‘No Leaf Clover!’

My trick for palm muting properly is this…

  • Rest your palm just over the strings on top of your bridge
  • Don’t press too hard (or else you’ll be playing slightly out of tune)
  • And make sure your palm isn’t too far before the bridge, or, yes, you’ll be playing out of tune

​​​This may be difficult to remember because when you’re playing metal guitar, it’s sort of like you’re playing with this attack. But for this specific technique, you have to back off a little. ​​

3 – Tips for Downstrokes

The kings of downstrokes start with the Big 4:

  • Metallica
  • Megadeth
  • Slayer
  • Anthrax 

…as if I need to name all that out for you!

Of course it doesn’t stop there. Bands like Testament, Exodus, Keator, Overkill and a long list of others were right there with them. 

The concept of downstrokes is simple. It’s just picking downward. Where it get complex is when you start playing faster. 

My simple method for getting faster at playing downstrokes is this:

  • ‘Pick’ (uh-um…choose!) a simple riff to downstroke
  • Set your click track or drum machine to a moderate BPM (maybe start with 90)
  • Gradually increase the BPM speed
  • Each day, start with a little higher BPM speed

You can also add in more notes and challenge yourself more once you get to a comfortable point. Or just learn Megadeth’s into to Tornado of Souls! That’s a tough downstroke song to play!

4 – Metal Riffing Techniques

Riffing isn’t really a beginner metal guitar technique. However, I included it in this lesson because I want you to get used to riffing from the start, because it’s a crucial part of metal music. 

Riffing is simply playing single notes in that area of the fretboard you play your rhythms in. Or you can think of riffing as playing lead guitar in the rhythm section.

You’re not just playing chords or power chords. You’re moving your fingers around…a lot.

I give you a simple riff with guitar tabs in the video. But here’s another extremely simple riff you can practice, and what to do once you get it down:

E String: -0–2–3–5–2–3–0-

  • Learn that, then play that same pattern on your A string. 
  • After that, play those as one riff (E string followed by A string)
  • Now start adding more notes and more strings
  • You’re riffing!

Metal Guitarists Known For Extreme Riffing

5 – Alternate Picking for Metal

If you were to just learn and master the first 4 metal guitar techniques above (hey, we could call these the Big 4…lol!), you’ll be doing awesome! 

But when I made this video, I felt the need to expand a little further. And now we’re talking about alternate picking. 

Alternate picking is the opposing concept to downstrokes, so to speak. Simply put, you’re picking back and forth. So when you hit one note with a downward motion, you’ll pick that second note with an upward motion. 

You’ll hear many metal bands playing super fast rhythms. They’re usually alternate picking. It’s like that freight train we talked about earlier pressed the turbo boost button. 

You can actually take the guitar riff above on the E string I just gave you and play it with the alternate picking method. In fact, I suggest practicing in with downstrokes for 10 minutes, then do another 10 minutes with alternate picking. 

Metal Songs with Fast Alternate Picking

Song Band Album
Fight Fire with Fire Metallica Ride the Lightning
Driving Down the Darkness DevilDriver The Fury of Our Maker’s Hand
Perilous Nation (intro) Testament Practice What You Preach
Aggressor Death Angel Humanicide
Speed of the Strike Exmortus Ride Forth
Destroyer of the Universe Amon Amarth Surtur Rising
Arise Sepultura Arise

6 – Galloping on Guitar

Now we’re sort venturing away from beginner guitar techniques to more advanced. But I since you just learn alternate picking, you might as well take it to the next level.

You may be thinking ‘What the hell is galloping?’

Listen to the intro of She-Wolf from Megadeth’s Cryptic Writings album. That’s the perfect example of galloping. 

In short, galloping is 3 notes that are quickly alternate picked. It’s almost like a snap…

  • One down
  • One up
  • One down

Some also call these triplets. I personally like galloping because I think it sounds cooler. And I teach you this in my video at the top of this post (starts around 14:51 of the video). 

I suggest practicing this technique on the open E string, starting slow until it registers with you. It feels a little weird at first but you will eventually get this down. Practice everyday and gradually build your speed. 

From Beginner to Advanced Metal Guitar

Jason Stallworth Metal

If you really want to get good at playing metal guitar, you must practice everyday! Make this a priority and schedule it, just like you would anything else that’s important in your life!

To add, practice metal guitar. If that’s what you really want to play, then don’t bother trying to learn blues scales or jazz or whatever else. I’m not saying those are ‘bad’ but if your heart is set on playing metal, then play metal. You’ll inadvertently learn a ton of other stuff just by playing metal anyway. 

I also recommend focusing on just 2-3 techniques for each guitar practice session. You could follow a similar schedule like this…

  • Monday: Downstrokes with palm muting power chords
  • Tuesday: Downstrokes with palm muting and riffing 
  • Wednesday: Alternate picking with palm muting and power chords
  • Thursday: Alternate picking with palm muting and riffing
  • Friday: Alternate picking and galloping
  • Saturday: Play whatever you want!!
  • Sunday: Alternate picking and riffing (more of a death metal style!)

The point is to know what you’re going to focus on when you pick up your guitar. Don’t just play random songs or whatever. I know that’s fun and all, but you’ll get a lot further, faster if your metal guitar practiced sessions are focus.

And watch the video over and over. Remember, you can pause it whenever you want and practice those patterns I give you.

I hope this post was helpful to you! Leave me a comment below if you have any questions – or you can also leave a post on my Facebook Music Page; I always answer!

Feel free to share this post too! 

Keep it Metal,


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Jason Stallworth

About the author

Jason is a melodic metal solo artist, songwriter, acoustic performer, and co-founder of Metal Mastermind.

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