Should Every Guitarist Play Metal Guitar?

Whatever style of playing you gravitate towards, the chances are your early teachers took your playing through the foundations of blues, pop and perhaps a short stop off in the world of jazz; all in the name of broadening your musical skill set whilst instilling in you a love of all things music. It is surprising then, that many players, music educators and fans of other genres give metal such a wide berth. Is metal guitar the reserve of riff toting youths who haven’t yet learnt to develop their musical feel and harmony beyond those baby step power chords? We explore some unsung benefits of playing metal guitar and the, all too often, untapped musical well of skills to be gained from dipping your fingers in the heavy metal guitar world.

The perfect technique builder and warm up

Fast or slow, those riffs alone are the ideal warm up for both hands! So many metal riffs, old and new, engage your picking hand like nothing else; delivering precise and relentless single string picking patterns which hone your right hand efficiency. Many single note riffs also rely on the, neoclassical mainstay of pedal tones, string skipping and frantic string crossing; whilst chordal ideas often employ wide stretches and unconventional chord shapes. Taken as a whole your average metal track is a full guitar aerobics hit, without the mudanity of the metronome! Beyond this layer of technique is an element of control, brought about by careful muting and managing levels of distortion & noise which you will find infinity helpful when playing live in any style.

You can get on the metal guitar ride at any stop!

With single finger power chords made possible by the ever popular drop D tuning; a walk through an easy metal tune can provide the perfect repertoire for beginner guitarists. Simple but awesome sounding metal songs are also perfect for those reconnecting with the guitar after some time away. The upper tiers of metal, however, are symphonic, complex, harmonically sophisticated and contain more high-end techniques than the most challenging of guitar pieces. In between these extremes lies a sprawling choice of, possibly undiscovered, delights - from the blues driven grooves of Pantera to the trash & gallops of Maiden and Metallica; the simple but satisfying power chord riffs of Judas Priest to the mind melting complexity of Tesseract & Periphery; there’s an ‘in’ for guitarists of any level.

Give your sense of timing an overhaul

It is often said that, in comparison to our other musical cousins, we guitar players suck when it comes to our internal sense of time. A good metal band operates as a single rhythmic unit, with the guitar parts being mirrored and supported by the other instruments in a way unique to the style. Learning a metal song or two is the perfect opportunity to highlight your timing skills and improve on them, whilst rocking out with something more inspiring than a click. Even at the less advanced stages of metal guitar, there is a real emphasis on displaced rhythms and odd timings. Want to develop your awareness of 1/16 notes, accents or even a better understanding of bars and beats? - metal guitar is where its at!

Improve your blues and rock playing through metal

With its beginnings in the 1970’s, the genesis of much of metal’s chords and guitar ideas come directly from the blues; take any early Sabbath or Judas Priest solo and you will discover a wealth of new blues licks and patterns which, taken out of context, will add a whole new dimension to your standard pentatonic ‘go to’ shape. Those whammy bar scoops and aggressive dive bombs you hear in Slayer’s lead breaks all have their root in imitating delta slide guitar. Pick up some of those big metal choruses and you’ll be given a master class in pop harmony - with moving bass, piano style chord voicings to rival the best sing along anthems; enough to give your ears and imagination a boost.

Your route to harmony & theory made fun

If you have avoided music theory (despite being told its good for you) because you’d rather rock out than become a theory geek; then spending some time learning the ins and outs of metal guitar could be the perfect solution. Modal harmony and the chords/sounds derived from the harmonic minor scales are very common place in metal. Those ever popular twin guitar solos are the ultimate guide to harmonising melodies using 3rds and 5ths, plus interval training and diatonic scale theory; not to mention a valuable lesson in collaborating with another guitar player.

Expand your sound

The less conventional guitar tunings of metal bands are readily associated with the modern 7 and 8 string metal fraternity but, over metal’s 50 year development, drop tunings have been a constant since Black Sabbath kicked things off with their first doom laden riffs! If you are tiring of the same old sounds, songs and riff ideas; a dive into some drop C# or D riffs could be the cure to your creative rut, inspiring you to try something new. Take some Alter Bridge riffs for a spin and you’ll uncover a whole new realm of tuning options and some catchy hooks & choruses in the process!

Health benefits

For once we can say that those boring grown ups were wrong! Metal is not bad for you, won’t lead to devil worship or kill your brain cells. In fact, a study by the University of Queensland found that, just listening to metal music had huge benefits for channeling & removing your stress, with noticeable anger management implications. Hard day at work? That slow blues might not cut it as much as a loud, start to finish, run through of an Avenged Sevenfold or Rammstein number!

Ultimately, guitar is a never ending adventure, there is no straight line and the fun is in taking risks, discovering uncharted territory and new experiences. You may not become a true metal head but you will undoubtably make gains from an unscheduled stop in metal guitar land!