#1
Hi.
I'm Sohail. i've been listening to metal for 10 to 12 years but have never tried to find out what's under the hood(or behind the scenes if you prefer). i know music theory, i've composed a lot of music in genres such as trance and house and also symphonic music. but nothing like metal(i guess).
i know theory is theory and basics are the same no matter what genre but i think there are some exclusive stuff regarding metal music like using special kinds of scales,modes and chords(maybe better to say special kinda "music theory" and there are also times that there's no theory as it's used in classical music for example), specific guitar playing techniques, drum stuff, working with amps, cabs, pedals etc, and all the way up to maybe VSTs, effects and mixing and mastering techniques.
i'm interested to start learning to compose metal music so i'm more interested in learning first about its theory(scales, chords, even notes etc) and also about how do they program their amps(also other hardware and software stuff)so they make that bone crushing sound out of electric guitars(really interested in knowing about this too)?
where do you think i should start from considering i know classical music theory pretty well?
#3
I think the first step would be to look at some tabs and just see what's there. I'm not entirely sure from your post whether you play guitar or, if so, how long, so I'll try and just give an overview to start with.

The basics of metal are more or less rooted in rock and blues; your main scales are pentatonics and natural minor, with the intrusion of the flattened 5th common in either scale, and more often than not the rhythm guitar consists of power chords (dyads, almost always fifths, because they sound clearer with distorted guitar sounds than triads or extended chords). Bass usually follows the rhythm guitar closely with single note drones or mimicking the riff, while drums nearly always play a backbeat but within that framework there can be quite a lot of variation. Tempos vary massively and it's mostly a matter of subgenre.

I wouldn't say that there are situations where there's "no theory" (even in the classical music sense), more that dissonance and tension is often favoured over consonance and resolution; theory's descriptive, not proscriptive, after all. Again, a lot of that comes from the blues, too, where there's the ubiquitous accidental of the diminished 5th and the frequent use of minor melodies over major progressions; more modern progressive genres often contain more jazz-influenced harmonies and, to be fair, neoclassical metal had its day too back in the '80s.

The guitar sound is something that again depends a lot on subgenre but basically you use some kind of distortion (the traditional method is overdriving a tube amp). EQ depends on genre, but the role of the guitar in the band is always a consideration - the power of the metal sound is all about one or more guitars, the bass, the drums and the vocals all working in combination and occupying their own (usually) distinct frequency ranges. Because of the way the band as a whole works, the guitar needn't always be as distorted as it might seem (indeed it's often better to have a bit less distortion to retain more clarity).

Metal doesn't really have unique guitar techniques, but things like legato playing, sweep picking (basically a method of playing arpeggios fast) and just straight-up really fast alternate picking get more mileage in metal than elsewhere.

If you want to compose metal, I wouldn't say you have to choose specific subgenres, but you do need to know how those sounds are achieved and I think the easiest way to do that is just to look at tabs of songs that do so.
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Last edited by K33nbl4d3 at Aug 13, 2015,
#4
Quote by K33nbl4d3
I think the first step would be to look at some tabs and just see what's there. I'm not entirely sure from your post whether you play guitar or, if so, how long, so I'll try and just give an overview to start with.

I'll look at some tabs, great idea. i don't play guitar, i just like to compose new stuff. but i think it would be great if i learn to play guitar along the way.

The basics of metal are more or less rooted in rock and blues; your main scales are pentatonics and natural minor, with the intrusion of the flattened 5th common in either scale, and more often than not the rhythm guitar consists of power chords (dyads, almost always fifths, because they sound clearer with distorted guitar sounds than triads or extended chords).

Do they play rhythm guitar with just single notes too?!

Again, a lot of that comes from the blues, too, where there's the ubiquitous accidental of the diminished 5th and the frequent use of minor melodies over major progressions; more modern progressive genres often contain more jazz-influenced harmonies

Tell me more about the diminished 5th, the devil's 5th,is it used alot?in what situation?

The guitar sound is something that again depends a lot on subgenre but basically you use some kind of distortion (the traditional method is overdriving a tube amp).

What's the new method? is there any? you know, my problem is with creating that full and heavy sound of guitars, but apparently just increasing the distortion or gain or drive or volume doesn't make it. what about this?

but the role of the guitar in the band is always a consideration - the power of the metal sound is all about one or more guitars, the bass, the drums and the vocals all working in combination and occupying their own (usually) distinct frequency ranges. Because of the way the band as a whole works, the guitar needn't always be as distorted as it might seem (indeed it's often better to have a bit less distortion to retain more clarity).

this area is really nice to know about. so you mean to get that full sound it's not always the distortion and drive of amps? the important thing that makes a guitar sound is the inner workings of all the bass, drums etc together? am i right? how much distortion and drive is needed?

If you want to compose metal, I wouldn't say you have to choose specific subgenres, but you do need to know how those sounds are achieved and I think the easiest way to do that is just to look at tabs of songs that do so.

You're right. i like more than one genre. but i like Groove Metal, Melodic Death Metal and the style in which the band Triptykon writes music, it has everything, i like the huge heaviness of groove and also like that special feeling and energy of melodeath(like Insomnium).
so what do you suggest after these all?
#5
This turned out quite long and I haven't really got time to read back through it all, but I hope it's useful anyway.

Quote by odiwxe
Do they play rhythm guitar with just single notes too?!

Yeah, sometimes. Dimebag Darrell was a great one for that; Cowboys from Hell and Regular People both have some good riffs using single note lines. It also happens quite a lot in combination with drones on lower strings, especially in thrash; that's not really my genre but off the top of my head I can think of Holy Wars... The Punishment Due by Megadeth and Born Anew by Sylosis as examples of that.

Quote by odiwxe
Tell me more about the diminished 5th, the devil's 5th,is it used alot?in what situation?

That's largely a genre thing; it was something of a trademark of Tony Iommi, who was pretty central in the formation of metal and had his roots in blues rock to use it profusely (the song Black Sabbath, which many people call the first real metal song, relied heavily on the note). More widely it's used as a passing tone, the main riff of Judas Priest's Victim of Changes would be an example of that. In other cases, landing on it can make a good sort of "turnaround" section in a riff, as it creates tension that's immediately resolved by returning to the root/tonic when the riff begins again; Rammstein's Spieluhr and Pantera's A New Level both use it as the root of a power chord in this role.

Also worth noting that black and death metal, being very dissonance-focused, both use it heavily; Amorphis' Vulgar Necrolatry is absolutely full of it. In both genres, diminished and chromatic sounds are pretty central.

Quote by odiwxe
What's the new method? is there any? you know, my problem is with creating that full and heavy sound of guitars, but apparently just increasing the distortion or gain or drive or volume doesn't make it. what about this?

this area is really nice to know about. so you mean to get that full sound it's not always the distortion and drive of amps? the important thing that makes a guitar sound is the inner workings of all the bass, drums etc together? am i right? how much distortion and drive is needed?

Well these days most amps have dedicated distortion channels, and while the more expensive ones are almost always still using vacuum tubes, there's more solid state clipping involved.

The thing is that distortion basically cuts the peaks off the signal's waveform, which means you lose attack but get a "fuller" sound, so a very high gain guitar on its own can sound quite weak. That's why the band as a whole is so important; a lot of the attack can actually come from the drums and bass rather than the guitar even though the most noticeable part is the guitar riff. In a lot of power metal and melodeath bands, keyboard parts can provide the fullness and make the harmony more obvious so a slightly lower-gain guitar sound can be used to get more punch out of it, like in Sabaton's Screaming Eagles. In smaller bands quite often the bassist will be louder to fill out some of the space left in the mix. There's a lot of variation there.

Pay attention to EQ too: To generalise a bit, treble is the "attack" of the guitar sound, bass is richness and smoothness, and mids are where the actual notes are so it's kind of the substance of the sound.

Lead guitar parts work differently too, since they're usually in the vocalist's frequency range when the vocalist isn't singing, so they stand out anyway. Using the neck pickup with high gain for solos is quite common in modern metal as it gets a very smooth sound, while in the 80s a lot of glam metal guitarists had guitars which only had a bridge pickup because it has a more piercing sound and helps in producing pinch harmonics.

Quote by odiwxe
You're right. i like more than one genre. but i like Groove Metal, Melodic Death Metal and the style in which the band Triptykon writes music, it has everything, i like the huge heaviness of groove and also like that special feeling and energy of melodeath(like Insomnium).
so what do you suggest after these all?

I don't know Triptykon, but I listened to a couple of songs, what stands out to me is that the drums are fairly prominent, both the bass and the guitar have high mids, obviously there are a lot of long notes; quite often they leave an open string ringing while playing on higher strings. As well as normal (fifth) power chords, they use quite a lot of minor thirds and "inverted" power chords - perfect fourths. It's a sort of mixture of black metal and Black Sabbath-esque doom metal ideas. One of the songs I listened to was Tree of Suffocating Souls, some of the lead parts on that use tremolo picking (picking one note repeatedly, fast) and a wah-wah pedal, and in the guitar sounds at the start and a bit after the 5 minute point they use amp feedback to lengthen some of the drawn-out notes (notice how the notes gradually shift to harmonics, they do the same thing in I Am the Twilight about 3 minutes in). The punchier riffs are done with palm muting.

Insomnium I'm a bit more aware of; I only have the album "Across the Dark", but mostly they use conventional power chords (tonic, fifth, octave) on one guitar with smooth higher-register melodies on the other (or sometimes doubled/harmonised tracks). Again, quite mid-heavy rhythm guitar, the leads are a bit bassier and tend to have a fair bit of reverb (not enough to sound echoey as such but enough to fill everything out a bit and give a more atmospheric vibe). I'm fairly sure the rhythm parts are filled out a bit with keyboards.
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Last edited by K33nbl4d3 at Aug 13, 2015,
#6
Quote by K33nbl4d3
...

thank you so much very well explained. great
#7
I like to think of the term 'power chord' as meaning "This plays best when you have so much power that you have heavy distortion".

The large distortion is both a problem and a blessing, depending on how you look at it. On the one hand, trying to play full chords sounds muddy. On the other hand, you can play less and get more sound with the additional harmonics due to the distortion for metal. A single note with distortion sounds fully and more complete than a single note without distortion. It may not be too far to think of distortion as having the effect of multiplying the number of strings and notes you have.

I really like this as a primer to understanding what I use and why, for metal-ish sounds.
http://www.geofex.com/effxfaq/distn101.htm

That is why single notes and gallops sound good.
Last edited by Metal_fan_1000 at Aug 15, 2015,
#8
Quote by Metal_fan_1000
I like to think of the term 'power chord' as meaning "This plays best when you have so much power that you have heavy distortion".

The large distortion is both a problem and a blessing, depending on how you look at it. On the one hand, trying to play full chords sounds muddy. On the other hand, you can play less and get more sound with the additional harmonics due to the distortion for metal. A single note with distortion sounds fully and more complete than a single note without distortion. It may not be too far to think of distortion as having the effect of multiplying the number of strings and notes you have.

I really like this as a primer to understanding what I use and why, for metal-ish sounds.
http://www.geofex.com/effxfaq/distn101.htm

That is why single notes and gallops sound good.

thank you so much