“I just go where the guitar takes me.” - Angus Young
The guitar is one of the most popular instruments for people to learn. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. Like all musical instruments, getting started requires a lot of work, patience, and drive.
Enjoying the guitar will dictate whether or not a guitarist succeeds. Whether you’re a left-handed or right-handed guitar player, a classical guitarist or a metalhead, playing a Gibson Les Paul, Fender Stratocaster, or a B.C. Rich, you need perseverance when learning to play hard rock or heavy metal.
In this article, we're focusing on hard rock guitar technique, and how to play guitar along to hard rock and metal music.
So are you ready to play some AC/DC or Metallica?
Hard Rock, the Heir to the Blues
Hard rock appeared during the middle of the 1960s from within the blues rock movement. It’s famous for its aggressive singing, distorted guitars, driving bass and drums, and typical blues elements such as pentatonic scales (scales that include 5 different notes) and the occasional use of pianos or keyboards.
However, hard rock was played in a binary rhythm while blues used a ternary rhythm. There aren’t as many effects pedals as you’ll find in metal, either. During the 1980s, hard rock gave rise to heavy metal, grunge, punk rock, and the lighter pop rock.
How would you like to learn the fundamental rock chords?
The Importance of Power Chords
Power chords are everywhere in rock music. However, they’re almost essential in hard rock and metal as they can provide an aggressive sound. They’re simple and effective chords and you can quickly play them anywhere on the neck and get that aggressive sound from your guitar and your amp. Power chords are usually played on the lowest three strings (the E, A, and D strings).
For example, the E power chord (E5) is played like this:
- Open E string
- The second frets on the A and D strings
- Open D string
- The second fret on the D string and third on the G strings
- Open A string
- The second frets on the D and G strings
Start with a slow and heavy beat and you’ll get a blend between a blues and rock sound.
The Minor Pentatonic, Blue Note, and Mixolydian Mode
As we said, hard rock came from blues music. However, you hit the notes harder and with distortion. Have fun with the D minor pentatonic scale. Use the different techniques that hard rockers are fond of:
- Double Stop
The blue note is a note played in jazz and blues that is played slightly lower than usual (usually a quartertone or semitone). This is usually used to express sadness or nostalgia in the blues.
What’s the mixolydian mode?
If you’ve never heard of it, I’d recommend studying it if you’re serious about hard rock- if you take guitar lessons, get your tutor to show you. It’s a scale constructed on the fifth scale degree of major scale with a flat 7th. You need to avoid the fouth and eleventh with the third when playing the mixolydian mode.
It’s a good idea to play this with a chord.
Right Hand Metal Guitar Techniques
The position of your right hand, if you’re right-handed, or left hand, if you’re left-handed is essential. This hand focuses on the rhythm and striking the strings you wish to play.
Metal is a varied style of a music. There are several styles of metal music:
- Heavy metal
- Symphonic metal
- Stoner metal
- Funk metal
- Speed metal
- Power metal
- Thrash metal
- Black metal
- Sludge metal
- Death metal
Metal, which is derived from rock music, became popular with bands like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Metallica. It’s a diverse musical taste that allows for experimentation. Since it's so experimental, there aren't really any limits to which instruments can be included (clarinet, saxophone, and even the mandolin have been used). Creativity is at the heart of metal music and if it works with the sound, it's allowed.
However, the electric guitar is in almost every metal song. This is the thing that all styles of metal have in common. The guitar provides rhythmic and melodic parts. As a beginner, you’re going to have to do a few exercises to loosen up your fingers and get the hang of the following techniques.
Downpicking allows you to get a heavier and more aggressive sound from your guitar strings. However, you need to practise a bit before you get it perfect. It’s far more complicated than alternate picking.
Your wrist plays an essential role as you pick downwards without touching the strings on the upward motion. Johnny Ramone of The Ramones practised this technique a lot and could play songs live at over 200bpm! You need a lot of precision and endurance in order to master downpicking.
Alternate picking is an efficient way to keep time. With the plectrum, you pick both upwards and downwards. Speed and precision will be needed to perform this technique as well as John Petrucci of Dream Theater.
Sweeping or Sweet Picking
This technique was made popular by Franck Gambale, a jazz guitarist. You need to glide the plectrum from the top to bottom of the string while muting the string just after you’ve played the notes. Notes are often played in arpeggios but they don’t ring out at the same time as one another.
Palm muting is when you dampen the noise of the strings with the palm of your right hand (if you’re right-handed). It’s a great way to make a song more dynamic by providing percussive elements and nuance to your playing.
For something quite metal, try some palm muted power chords. You can palm mute while downpicking, alternate picking, or sweeping. Try out different combinations and see what you get.
Once you get good at those, you can start writing your own music for the guitar!
Hard Rock and Metal Songs for the Guitar
Now that you know a bit about the theory behind these genres, it’s time to practise!
Accessible Hard Rock Songs
When you hear hard rock, what do you think of?
AC/DC, of course!
If there’s a group that embodies hard rock, it’s them.
So to get started, you should play a few of their classics:
- AC/DC: Black in Black, Whole Lotta Rosie, Shoot to Thrill (and many others)
- Aerosmith: Mana Kin, Same Old Song and Dance, Love in an Elevator
- ZZ Top: La Grange
- Alice Cooper: Schools Out for Summer, Poison
- Skid Row: Youth Gone Wild
- Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child
- Led Zeppelin: Whole Lotta Love
- Poison: Talk Dirty to Me
- Free: All Right Now
So why not find the tabs and get to work?
Metal Songs for Beginners
Metal is a difficult style to get started with. You need to blend precision and speed for some of these legendary solos. You should start with some simple riffs and loosen up your fingers bit by bit:
- Most Rammstein songs.
- Marilyn Manson is quite accessible to beginners.
- Iron Maiden and Fear of the Dark, particular.
- Metallica: For Whom the Bell Tolls, Enter Sandman, Fight Fire with Fire, Seek and Destroy
- Black Sabbath: Black Sabbath, Iron Man
- Limp Bizkit: Take a Look Around
- Deftones: My Own Summer
- System of a Down: Suite Pee
- Sodom: Agent Orange
- Nightwish: Ocean Soul
- Slayer: South of Heaven
- Dragon Force: Through the Fire and Flames
- Saxon: Motorcycle Man
- Motorhead: Ace of Spades
Hard Rock and Metal Guitar Vocabulary
Regardless of what style you play, in order to play the guitar, there are some terms that you’ll need to be familiar with whether you’re playing an acoustic or electric guitar. We've included glossaries and explanations of throughout our series of articles on playing the guitar, guitar resources, and the different styles of music for the guitar. If you want to speak guitar fluently, you're just going to have to read all our other articles on the matter!
A tuner is used to help you tune your guitar (or any instrument). Tuners for acoustic guitars use a microphone to listen for the note being played whereas tuners for electric guitars come equipped with a jack allowing you to plug your guitar into the tuner. Many decent tuners come with both a microphone and a jack.
A capo can be placed on the fingerboard to make the open notes higher. While metal music prefers tuning a guitar differently, a capo is still is a useful tool in any guitarist's arsenal.
Now discover more music genres suitable for the guitar...
Did you know you can take bass guitar lessons as well as acoustic and electric?