Heavy Metal Style - The Basics

This lesson should introduce you to some of the more common chords used in heavy metal guitar.

Why? When I first bought my guitar, all I wanted to do was play heavy metal licks, and after playing the intro to Enter Sandman ten thousand times, I got sick of my guitar because I didn't know where to go from there! So, I thought that if there was a compendium that had a list of common techniques that are used in Heavy Metal, that maybe it'd be helpful, and so that is what these should do. What is Heavy Metal? That is a really tough question, but to sum it up in a nutshell, I would say it's pretty fast music that has a lot of harsh sound to it, often comprised of a few chord formations posed at different spots on the fretboard. This lesson should introduce you to some of the more common chords used in heavy metal guitar. Fingers will be referred to by numbers, meaning:
  1 = Index finger
  2 = Middle finger
  3 = Ring finger
  4 = Pinky (finger)
Future lessons will cover techniques used for both common rhythms, and good ways to break the palm muted open 6th string E sound that most people find monotonous in heavy metal. Maybe some Ballad techniques, etc. Power Chords. I don't want to get into technical definitions of anything if it's possible, because: A) They're usually confusing. B) Someone always wants to argue. That is fine, but argue with someone else, eh? C) I am aware three frets are needed for a chord, but that's what it's called, okay? The primary chord used in heavy metal is called the "Power Chord". This is basically done in the following way:
e  ---    This chord would be called an "F Power Chord".  This means that the
   ---    note that you'll hear is an F, but there will be a harsh dragging
   ---    sound, created by the c (3rd fret, 5th string) added with it. 
D  ---    This basic chord formation can be moved almost anywhere on the 
A  -3-    fretboard to allow for a variety of notes at different octaves to
E  -1-    be produced.  These can be slightly expanded to contain another 
          string, by placing fretting the 3rd fret on the "D" string, as 
illustrated above.  This sound is slightly more throaty.
Fingering for this chord can be done in two ways. I prefer to use finger 1 at the root of the chord (the lower octave note - the string that will be deeper sounding), and use finger 3 on the other string. Some people (for example, James Hetfield, of Metallica) choose to use finger 4. Both have advantages -> the first method leaves your pinky to move to a fret closer to the body of the guitar, and you can probably go up or down a string, as well. The second way does not allow this, but instead allows you to fret notes in between the two up or down strings much easier. The root of this formation of chord can be placed anywhere on the top three strings (strings 4-6). On the two bottom strings, the chord sounds little odd. (You can't make it on the 1st string! ) Try practicing these riffs (If you have the album, then by all means, listen to the song and try to play it at the same speed! ) (By the way, 'v' means down strummed, '^' means up strummed. Down strummed means the pick strikes these going downward. Up strummed is the reverse; these strings are struck while the pick is moving upwards)
Anthrax: Milk
   v   v   v     v  v   v   v     v   v   v     v  v   v   v   v 
e ---------------------------------------------------------------
A -4---5---4-----2--4---5---4-----4---5---4-----2--4---5---7---5-
E -2---3---2-----0--2---3---2-----2---3---2-----0--2---3---5---3-
Once you have got that down, try this for a little bit more difficulty.
Slayer: Face The Slayer/Metalstorm
    v ^ v ^ v ^    v  v   v ^ v ^ v ^   v v
e ------------------------------------------
A --5-5-5-5-5-5/8--8--7---5-5-5-5-5-5/7-7-3-
E ------------------------3-3-3-3-3-3/5-5---
Inverted Power Chords: These chords are similar to the aforementioned chord, except that these chords switch aruond the ordering.
e ---    This chord formation is the opposite of the one above (look).  This
  ---    is also not an F; it is a G.  (3rd fret, 6th string). I prefer to
  ---    use the same fingering as above, but, also inverted, meaning finger
  ---    3 would go on the higher string, and finger 1 on the string below.
A -1-    It is still possible to use finger 4 instead of 3, of course, with 
E -3-    the same commentary as before.
These chords are not at all as common as the regular power chord. However, these chords definately offer a break to the power chord sound. It ruffles the sound quite a bit; it almost doesn't sound like anything except randomly fretted notes. I can't think of any riff off the top of my head that is only comprised of these chords, so here is a quick primer.
   v  v  v  v  v  v  v  v  v  v  v  v  v  v  v  v  v  v
e ------------------------------------------------------
A -1--2--0--1--3--5--5--7-----------7--5--5--3--1--0--2-
E -3-----2--3--5-----------------------------5--3--2----
Repeat that, and go progressively faster, of course. These formations are quite weird, and don't get too used to them, but, once again, they are easy to use to break away from the regular power chord monotony. Another type of chord, follows this formation, and is very easy to remember:
e ---    This chord produces a somewhat deathly sound, and is very throaty.
  ---    As it looks, it is very simple to create.  There are really two ways.
  ---    The first is to lay finger 1 across the two desired frets, and mute 
  ---    the others.  The other way involvs using two fingers; usually 1 and 2.
A -3-    This is sometimes better in situations when you might want to chnage
E -3-    to another similar chord quickly by moving one of the fingers one fret
         in the desired direction (The next formation is one of these.)
This chord is probably more common than the inverted power chord, and is quite useful for breaking away from that infamous power chord sound. Megadeth seems to use these chords quite a bit. (NOTE: To those with tab to "The Thing That Should Not Be" [Metallica/Master of Puppets], the chords may be formed this way, but the sixth string is tuned down, so it does not resonateas if it were this type of chord. ) Let's take a look at some Megadeth riffs to get an idea of these chords and their use and sound.
  Megadeth: Go To Hell (Bill-n-Ted's!) 
   PM-----     PM-----     PM-----     PM-----
   v v v v v   v v v v v   v v v v v   v v v v v v v
e ---------------------------------------------------
A ---------2-----------3-----------0-----------5-4-3-
E -0-0-0-0-----0-0-0-0-----0-0-0-0-----0-0-0-0-------
  Megadeth: Symphony of Destruction
   PM  PM  PM  PM
   v v v v v v v v
e ---------------------
A ---7---6---5---------
E -0---0---0---0-------
The last chord that we will discuss is rather odd. I've seen it in a few difference songs, but it appears most prominent in Metallica (their newer albums, to say the least). It's general form is:
e ---    This chord can be most easily formed with two fingers.  Use finger
  ---    1 and 2.  Some people use 1 and 3, but there is really no point; it
  ---    will just make finger 2 less easy to move somewhere fast; giving you
  -6-    only one finger to move somewhere after the chords been strummed.
A -7-    At first, this will seem like your guitar is out of tune, but it
E ---    is really supposed to sound that way.  It'll seem normal after awhile,
         but if you're used to power chords, this will be a heartbreaker!
As aforementioned, Metallica seems to enjoy using this chord, rather than power chords. Lets take a look at the opening riff to... And Justice For All. Remember, this starts out acoustic!
Metallica: ...And Justice For All 
   v v v v v v     v v v v v v v v v v v v     v v v v v v
e ---------------------------------------------------------
A -7-----7---------5-----5---5-3-----3---------2-----2---2-
E -0-------------------------------------------------------
Synopsis: Now you have learned a few basic chords that a good quantity of mainstream metal is made up of. Try mixing them together, see what sounds good. Don't feel obligated to make your riffs use them all, a lot of riffs are comprised solely of just a few power chords, twined together. Nonetheless, try playing this a few times to get used to switching between the various chords and listen to the differences in each chord! For simplicity, I won't throw in any slides and all. Remember, you just want to work your ear to pick up various chords and bounce between them quickly.
   PM---     PM---     PM          PM--- 
   v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v
e -------------------------------------------------
A -------3-3-------2-2---6-6-6-7-5-------5-5-7-7-3-
E -0-0-0-----0-0-0-----0-----------0-0-0-3-------5-
That's all for now. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me: tck@bend. ucsd. edu - Kevin Marcus.

42 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Hey hoanga, those are called octaves. The 7 on the D string is one octave higher than the 5 on the E string.
    Is it really right to say A| 1 E| 3 as G? To say G implies G major.. this leads to a minor, diminished or something similar chord
    its actually a GM with (no5) no relevence to a power chord at all..
    what u said where inverted power chords are actually called diads. inverted power chords are the fifth and the octave of a power chord plated together the riff to smoke on the water is a example of invrted power chords
    Hey, nice tab, you got all your stuff right an' all but you failed to mention about scratch power chords (don't now their proper name) the chords used by bands like Trivium, Bullet for my Valentine and fall out boy like this: e|----- B|----- G|----- D|-7-9-12- A|-x-x-x - E|-5-7-10- stuff like that but well done, this is a good lesson, unlike a few others I could mention.
    Decent lesson dude. Just wanted to point out that you got the ups and downs of the guitar a bit mixed up. Top three strings is (1st to 3rd). The lowest string on the guitar is the thickest (6th) and highest 1st (thinnest), regardless of the fact that the 1st is located closest to the floor and the 6th is closest to the ceiling. And, in tab, it's common for a "v" to mean upstroke, strum from 1st to 6th string. Yes the "v" points down but the top string on a tab is in fact the 1st string. Think about it; the "v" indicates strum direction. It's no biggie for me, but lets stick to the standars eh? for newbies sake... Props for effort though. Cheers, BoB
    wonderful lesson, I would like to add, that experimenting with those magnificent chords and playing them more and more as training will give great effect for all who wants to play heavy metal. It's good to start for heavy metal begginers guitarists, cause it gives a lot of fun getting better in playing such a heavy sounds. HAIL HEAVY METAL \m/_(>.
    I sort of get it but how about different metal progressions with simple classical charechteristics
    this dude is a r-tard. up at the top those arent power chords they're fifth chords a power chord adds the d string (or 3rd string)on the same fret as the string above it
    my bad D is the 4th string power chord e|--| B|--| G|--| D|3-| A|3-| E|1-| fifth chord e|--| B|--| G|--| D|--| A|3-| E|1-|
    minor 3rd e|--| B|--| G|--| D|--| A|1-| E|3-| Major 3rd e|--| B|--| G|--| D|--| A|2-| E|3-|
    \m/CoBhC\m/ wrote: \m/CoBhC\m/ wrote: good article, well written idk what the fags were talking about "its upside down its A|-3 not A|-1" E|-1 E|-3 Thats why its called "inverted" because its "upside down" FUCKING RETARDS my bad i typed it wrong it should be A|-3 A|-3 E|-1 and E|-1
    jeezus A|-3 A|-1 E|-1 E|-3
    Yeah, he does. This is a great lesson and there are two other great lessons.... Fundamentials of Metal... And Metal lesson for Beginners.... Print and enjoy.....
    Hey do you strum all six strings or just the ones that the power chords are on?
    good lesson but i find a power chord usually plays the octave too, so when its like 3-5-x-x-x-x, you would actually play 3-5-5-x-x-x. but both work it sounds almost identical anyways.
    why are the G,B and D strings missing from the tabs??? And why are half the strings missing from the chords? like as in F power chord: e randomly up here somwer D|-3 ---- A|-3 A|-3 E|-1 but here its just E|-1
    something went wrong i mean F power chord:1-3-3 but here its only 1-3 and theres an e string randomly at the top of all the tabs
    ok.... this lesson sucked, sort out your bloody tabs.. and a power chord is basicly just a few strings of a barre chord. oh yeah, and now i've learnt that UG Stranger is also a racist
    alright, correct me if im wrong, but those look like minor 3rd chords to me, not inverted power chords. seems to me an inverted power chord would be, for example, 5-5-x-x-x-x, being an D power chord with a low fifth?
    \m/CoBhC\m/ wrote: good article, well written idk what the fags were talking about "its upside down its A|-3 not A|-1" E|-1 E|-3 Thats why its called "inverted" because its "upside down" FUCKING RETARDS
    my bad i typed it wrong it should be A|-3 A|-3 E|-1 and E|-1
    i thought that i knew a guy that could have been ug stranger, but he was kind of a hippi, but i dont think that he liked metal
    uhhhh aside from all the comments that dont really relate decent article... as long as u ignore the typo's
    Nice - comprehensive. Should have been doing some school work but never mind. Good choice of artists, but i would have put some stuff in about dropped tunings of modern metal bands
    good article, well written idk what the fags were talking about "its upside down its A|-3 not A|-1" E|-1 E|-3 Thats why its called "inverted" because its "upside down" FUCKING RETARDS