METAL RHYTHM GUITAR
March, 13 2014 | Level: Intermediate/Advanced
Down-picking is a technique that has been used since the early days of hard rock and metal. You can hear it in classic tracks like Black Sabbath's "Paranoid", Deep Purple's "Highway Star" and Led Zeppelin's "Communication Breakdown". The combination of down-picking and palm-muting gives the rhythm guitars in the songs their heaviness. Thrash metal bands in the 80's used down-picking far more than the previous generation of metal bands and modern metal has continued using this playing style.
While down-picking isn't necessarily a difficult technique it can be physically tiring in songs with very fast tempos. There can be a tendancy to use your whole arm when trying to play a riff using just down strokes but that can possibly cause some discomfort and even some physical harm if the habit is not changed. The best way to approach down picking is to use the wrist rather than using the whole arm. You also have to place your palm near the bridge if you want to get a good crunching, chug chug sound when you're also doing down strokes.
Many beginner guitar exercises online show approaching down-picking with the focus on practicing downstokes on an open string. For this lesson we're going to focus on players who already can down-pick fairly well but are looking to involve more of the left hand at higher tempos.
The following riff example is a standard, E Phrygian sounding metal riff that starts on one position for the first few bars on 6th, 5th and 4th strings. The last two bars ends the whole thing with some string skipping from the 6th string to the 4th string . The tempo is similar to Metallica's "Blackened" which is around 195 bpms. The whole piece is made of 16th notes with no breaks so it's important to play along with a metronome set to a tempo around 50 to 70 bpm when trying this out at first. Remember to start slow and just have fun with it!
Example 1 (E Phyrigian)