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What Are Downstrokes on Guitar?
Downstrokes mean that you’re only picking one way and that’s downward. This is also referred to as down-picking.
The goal of downstrokes is to give you a different sound, tone, and vibe that you get with other types of picking, mainly alternate picking.
Downstrokes can be used for playing fast while using other methods (see below). You can also use them to strike a powerful chord that will ring out for days.
The Role of Downstrokes for Metal Guitar
In both hard rock and metal music, downstrokes are often coupled with palm muting. Together, you have the foundation for playing metal guitar.
***Power chords and single-note riffs are also played with downstrokes as core elements of metal guitar. We’ll get into those in the upcoming lessons in the Metal Riff Bootcamp series.
As mentioned above, downstrokes also help sustain chords longer (as opposed to an upstroke, which is rarely used on its own). You can apply more power, if you will, by striking a chord with a single downstroke.
Downstrokes give metal riffs a sound, tone, and distinct character. You’re getting that thick, chunky sound that metal is known for. That’s what makes this method a core element of playing metal guitar.
Examples of Songs that Use Heavy Downstrokes
There are several classic heavy and thrash metal bands famous for their ability to play fast downstroke riffs. Metallica and Megadeth are the first that come to mind.
Below are some notable metal songs that highlight downstrokes being used:
- ‘Master of Puppets’ by Metallica
- ‘Blacklist’ by Exodus
- ‘Tornado of Souls’ by Megadeth
- ‘Fake Healer’ by Metal Church
- ‘Slaying the Dreamer’ by Nightwish
- ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Coming’ by Judas Priest
- ‘Creeping Death’ by Metallica
- ‘I Want Out’ by Helloween
- ‘Poison’ by Alice Cooper
- ‘Angels of Mercy’ by Primal Fear
This is a nice mix of some faster downstrokes played as well as downstrokes that aren’t built on speed.
For example, ‘Master of Puppets’ is one of the more challenging downstroke riffs whereas ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Coming’ has more chords being held out from downstrokes.
Then, you’ve got Alice Cooper’s ‘Poison’ is a great example of a melodic single-note pattern using downstrokes (that main intro riff, which is also played during the chorus).
Of course, this doesn’t scratch the surface as you could argue that every song ever written has downstrokes played in it.
Best Way to Practice Downstrokes
Beginners: If you’re new to playing metal guitar, don’t focus on speed at first. In fact, speed should be the last thing you focus on even as an intermediate or advanced guitarist. Faster doesn’t always mean better.
Obviously, if you’re learning a fast song then you’ll want to make that a goal. But as a beginner, you’ll want to focus on getting the technique down first. And that’s best done through repetition and consistency.
For all methods of guitar, consider practicing to a metronome, click track or even a drum program. Timing is crucial is this is where many guitarists suffer. Start with a manageable tempo (BPM) and you can gradually increase as you master the technique.
Intermediate: At this point, you can start learning faster riffs if that’s your goal. Even better, make sure that you’re practicing a range of other methods with your downstrokes.
Palm-muting is the norm with downstrokes when it comes to playing fast. But also play notes without palm muting, or mix both palm muting and non-palm muted notes.
Also, practice downstrokes with more single-note riffs. Get those fingers moving around more.
Most importantly, start expanding and writing your own chord and riffs patterns (aka songs!). This is when you start reaching that next level.
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