Neo-Classical Metal Music

A guide to the genre that is Neo-Classical metal.

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What Is Neoclassical Metal? Neo-classical metal is a subgenre of the heavy metal music very influenced by classical music in it's style of playing and composing. It contains complex musical structures - analogous to progressive rock - and the use of elements from classical music and/or by famous classical music composers.

A Brief History.

Even though Yngwie Malmsteen is probably the best known musician to be a part of this genre of music, classical elements in rock music date back to the '70/'80s with players such as Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple and the great Randy Rhoads of Ozzy Osbourne and the early Quiet Riot. The genre was first 'formed' in the '60s. Most players of the genre are/were classically trained on classical guitar or keyboard. The popularization and growth of neo-classical metal is closely related to the ascension of the guitar shredding movement, as many neo-classical metal guitarists (Yngwie Malmsteen one of them) took inspiration from the impressive violin solos of Niccolo Paganini. Randy Rhoads was one of the first guitarists to be recognised for his neo-classical roots being brought into '70s/'80s shred. The fact that Rhoads took time to learn theory aswell as just 'shredding' really set him apart from any of the guitarists from the past 40 years. Neo-classical shred became most popular with the introduction of Yngwie Malmsteen who would transcribe and adapt classical pieces such as JS Bach's Bourree in E minor and Mozart's 5th Symphony.

Characteristics Of The Playing.

Pedal Points - repetition of a note or group, with a scalar, melodic line played alternately. Ostinato - strict repetition of a single phrase or idea. Scale Sequence - a stylized way of ascending or descending through a scale or mode, where a set pattern is observed. Fast Arpeggios. The frequent use of Tritone (musical interval that spans three whole tones or six semitones). This is common in many types of heavy metal and progressive rock music due to it's dissonant sound, seen as of "evil nature" in past ages. Fast solo cadences. Emphasis on ornamentation, such as strong and frequent vibrato. The use of instruments and timbres that resemble classical music, such as piano, harpsichord, violin and orchestra sounds, emulated or not by synthesizers. Analogy of the electric guitar to traditionally classical instruments, specifically the violin. The transcription and/or adaptation or emulation of classical pieces, mostly violin ones, to formations involving the electric guitar as the soloist. The frequent borrowing of harmony, motifs and themes from specially well-known classical pieces. The central role of guitar shredding playing techniques, many of them inspired by Paganini's style of playing.

Typical Elements Of The Genre

. Harmonic Minor Scale - Aeolian mode with a raised 7th scale degree. Melodic Minor Scale - Aeolian mode with a raised 6th and 7th scale degree. Diminished Arpeggios - a series of minor 3rd intervals stacked one on top of the next. Cycle Of Fifths - a chord progression where each chord becomes the dominant of the next e.g.: Am, Dm, G, C, F, Bdim, E, Am. Suspensions - cadences or "chord progression endings" where the true harmony chord is pushed out or "suspended" by another, non-harmony note and then reasserts itself. Examples: 4th replaces 3rd; 6th replaces 5th; 9th replace 8th or octave. The chord progressions, arpeggios, and fast scale runs of neo-classical metal are inspired for the most part from Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Niccolo Paganini, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, particularly the first three. So lets get on to some examples.
Ex. 1
Harmonic Minor Scale (Aeolian mode with a raised 7th scale degree)
|----------------------------------1-2-4---5-----|
|-----------------------------2-3----------------|
|---------------------1-2-4----------------------|
|----------------3-4-----------------------------|
|--------2-4-5-----------------------------------|
|-2-4-5------------------------------------------|

Melodic minor scale (Aeolian mode with a raised 6th and 7th scale degree)
|---------------------------1-2-4--4-2-1----------------------------|
|-----------------------2-4--------------2-3------------------------|
|-----------------1-2-4----------------------4-2-1------------------|
|-----------1-2-4----------------------------------4-3--------------|
|-------2-4--------------------------------------------5-4-2--------|
|-2-4-5------------------------------------------------------5-4-2--|
A melodic minor scale is a minor scale where you play the 6th and 7th degree a half step up, but only when playing the scale ascending. Then when playign the scale back down you usually lower the 6th and possibly the 7th depending on what sound you want. For neo-classical metal it's going to convert to a harmonic minor. I read a greta post the other day where someone was explaining about the raising of degrees. It really helped me understand it. If you was to take say A natural minor for example.
A B C D E F G - 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Harmonic minor has raised 7th
A B C D E F G# - 1 2 3 4 5 6 #7
Melodic minor has raised 6th and 7th
A B C D E F# G# - 1 2 3 4 5 #6 #7
Cicle Of Fifths. Learning how to use this can really help you develop classical sounding ideas. If you listen to a lot of classical music - the chord patterns are based around this. Here is an example of a chord pattern.
Am Dm G C F B E Am
Here is a diagram which explains the element to a certain extent. Please note: you will need to be generally good with music theory to even have a chance of understanding this straight away. "If you start on any equal-tempered pitch and repeatedly ascends by the musical interval of a perfect fifth, you will eventually land on a pitch with the same pitch class as the initial one, passing through all the other equal-tempered chromatic pitch classes in between." This is out of a book. Sounds confusing I know. It took me a while to understand. This is how I see it. The circle is split up into 12 parts or 'segments' - what ever takes your fancy. The key of C is at the top. In a clockwise sequence, key signatures are added to each segments in intervals of a 5th. If you move clockwise in 5ths around this circle, you will find that each major scale differs from the preceding scale by only one note. In each case, the subsequent major scale is formed by raising or sharpening (#) the note on the 7th degree (the leading note) by a half step/semitone. In a similar fashion, if you go counter-clockwise (or the other way for you who are not familiar with long words) the circle in 4ths there is also just one note difference between each pair of scales. In these cases, the new scale is formed by lowering/flattening (b) the note on the 4th (Sub-dominant) degrees of the previous scale. My final example is a lick which is derived from Paganini's style of playing.
Paganini Style Violin Lick
|----8-7-8-5-8-7-8---10-8-10-7-10-8-10------------|
|-5----------------6------------------------------|
|-------------------------------------------------|
|-------------------------------------------------|
|-------------------------------------------------|
|-------------------------------------------------|

|----12-10-12-8-12-10-12-10-7------7------------------|
|-10---------------------------------9-------9--------|
|--------------------------------------10------10-7---|
|-----------------------------------------------------|
|-----------------------------------------------------|
|-----------------------------------------------------|

|---------------------------------------------12-15-------|
|-9----------------------------------------13-------------|
|---10-7-----10-7-----------------------14----------------|
|----------9-------9-----------------14-------------------|
|--------------------11-12-14-15--------------------------|
|---------------------------------------------------------|
It's played in 16ths at around 120 Bpm. Here is a pedal tone exercise which is also classically inspired.
||--19-20-17-20-15-20----20-19-20-17-20-15-20---20----------||
||--------------------19---------------------19-------------||
||----------------------------------------------------------||
||----------------------------------------------------------||
||----------------------------------------------------------||
||----------------------------------------------------------||
Here's a Harmonic Minor Run, which is good for building your shred technique
|----------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------|
|------------------------------------10-12-14-12-10--|
|------------------------11-12-14--------------------|
|-------------9-11-12--------------------------------|
|-9-11-12--------------------------------------------|

|------------------------------------------|
|------------------------------------------|
|------------------------------------------|
|---14-12--11------------------------------|
|------------------12-11-9-----------------|
|-----------------------------12-11-9-(9)--|
Here are a couple of Phyrgian Modes which are used by Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani.
|--------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------------------|
|---------------5-7-9-7-9-5-9---9---9------------------------------------------9-|
|------6-7-9--------------------7---6----9-7-6-------6-7-----7-9-----------------|
|-7-8---------------------------------------------8-7-8-----8-7-----8-7-8-7------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

|----------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------|
|----------------------------------------------------|
|-----12-14-15-12-15-12-14-----12-14-15-12-15-12-14--|
|-15------------------------15-----------------------|

|--------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------|
|-13-14--------------------------------------------------------|
|---------15-14-15-14-12-----14----15----14----12--------------|
|------------------------------15----15----15----15----15--15--|
This is an excerpt from Malmsteen's Far Beyond The Sun, in my opinion a great example of neo-classical metal.
|-----------------------------------------------------------|
|-----------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------6--|
|--4-4-4--3-------6-6-6--4-------7-7-7--6--9-9-9-8--8-9-----|
|-----------------------------------------------------------|
|-----------------------------------------------------------|

|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
|-7-----------------------------6-----------------------4------------------|
|---------7-7-7--6--6-7-9-------6-6-6--4--4-6-7----4-4-4-6-3---------------|
|----------------------------------------------------------------5-2-------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------4-1---|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|

|------------------------------------------------|
|------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------6---|
|---------------------------------4----------6---|
|---------2-4-5-4-2------------4-------------4---|
|-2-4-5--------------5-4-2-1--2------------------|
This will of hopefully giving you some information of neo-classical metal and hopefully it should of given you some understandin if you didn't have any before on how to produce maybe your own material. If you want a good example of some great neo-classical metal. Check out Yngwie Malmsteen's Far Beyond The Sun or even Jerry C's Canon Rock.

60 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    Ian_Hendrix
    finally something besides vibrato that makes me glad I play violin and guitar. thank you so freaking much.
    Caressing Death
    Great lesson but you should deal more with the fundamentals of classical music that can be used in neo-classical music like counterpoint, and harmony. Maybe a little part on violining and dynamics. Also, give some examples of how to apply pedal points and the various techniques.
    Scoobie_Snack
    A great lesson mate. I'm new to neo-classical and this was enough info to get me started, not too hard to get results from and presented in a very coherent way. Thanks for posting it!
    mMetalmaniac
    Come on everyone who wants to play Neo classical metal, we need a lot more shredders out there. We need more people to play like bands in the 80s. Because everybody and I mean everybody played like this. Not many bands play like this today, but they're still cool but I would recommend people to study their scales and more techniques, because we need to come above all this new music like rap and other music like that.
    sTx
    webbster87 wrote: do you really got to play that fast 120 bpm! That's crazy to me! i can't play that fast!
    That's why metronomes have variable speeds.
    JulianxTx91
    Also, as I've read on, the Harmonic Minor Run is incorrect. The run reads: 91112-91112-111214-101214... etc. It should read: 91112-91112-101113-91113... etc. Sorry, I feel like I'm being abit pedantic now, haha.
    JulianxTx91
    Not sure if this has been mentioned already, but the transcription of the Melodic Minor Scale is incorrect as the 7th isn't raised in its first appearance when played acsending. The scale reads: 245-24-124-124... etc. It should read: 245-24-134-124... etc. Hopes that helps clear things up.
    webbster87
    i love classical sounding stuff on guitar! It just cool to play! I like the article kind of short though!
    Tengatu Man
    mMetalmaniac wrote: Come on everyone who wants to play Neo classical metal, we need a lot more shredders out there. We need more people to play like bands in the 80s. Because everybody and I mean everybody played like this. Not many bands play like this today, but they're still cool but I would recommend people to study their scales and more techniques, because we need to come above all this new music like rap and other music like that.
    practice scales more! todays music sucks! lol but yea i agree
    mMetalmaniac
    Tengatu Man wrote: mMetalmaniac wrote: Come on everyone who wants to play Neo classical metal, we need a lot more shredders out there. We need more people to play like bands in the 80s. Because everybody and I mean everybody played like this. Not many bands play like this today, but they're still cool but I would recommend people to study their scales and more techniques, because we need to come above all this new music like rap and other music like that. practice scales more! todays music sucks! lol but yea i agree
    Finaly Someone who agrees with me thanks man.
    RSlove
    Excellent I also love the part were you explained how the metal genre relates to the classical style.
    freemoney
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    Funeral Moon
    Does anyone know what piece the Paganini style lick is from? I know I've heard it somewhere.
    Dimebag Dave
    This does not help. Most of this is what people already know about neo-classical metal, as opposed to teaching us how to compose such a thing on guitar. Giving a few examples of neo-classical playing a neo-classical guitar player it does not make.
    Skylargann19
    Very very interesting, however I'm sure that he was just explaining what exactly Neo-classical music was, becaues it was more of a definition than a lesson with some very good theory bits (the harmonic minors and melodic minor diagrams were very nice, and kind of helped clear that "what the hell are those numbers for" kind of deal that new guitarists have)...So very well done, I enjoyed reading it. Good job.
    Dimebag Dave wrote: This does not help. Most of this is what people already know about neo-classical metal, as opposed to teaching us how to compose such a thing on guitar. Giving a few examples of neo-classical playing a neo-classical guitar player it does not make.
    scoobydoo_666@h
    thanks this has been a really big help =] ive learnt a new style and now im writing my own stuff using this =]
    ZeroChan
    Question: Is there a correlation between the chord progression that he showed with the Circle of Fifths? I don't see it. (Am Dm G C F B E Am). Explain please?
    jonnyb01
    You should check out this new guitarist named Master Conductor. His music is classical in sound and almost like a mini orchestra. Definitely a different sound than the 80s neo classical but definitely cool stuff http://masterconductor.com/
    GilRoberts
    This is a great article, I used it as my base start to learn neo classical guitar now my ability has sky-rocketed I don't care if you got most of it from wikipedia like somebody else said earlier it was very helpful.
    1bdoit50
    I hope you, the writer, understands that this neo-classical genre is a product of styles developed, and fined tuned for nearly 60 years, maybe even more. Thanks to the invention of the solid body guitar, if it wasn't for the evolution of the electrical guitar, southern R&B, aka the blues, the world may never have generated such a short lived style of music!! The scales and modes you discuss here are not musical theories that we just discovered, and the styles and modes discussed here are a mere fraction or the information that musicians have studied for centuries. Composers will tell you there is a mathematical formula that create the theory to these scales, modes, chords, etc., JulianxTx91 has the idea, now, whether or not your correct, my point is that if you want to truly understand (the) music, the numbers that you make reference to are critical to the foundation to any particular formation. The math is not so hard, (circle of fifths) there are a lot of explanations on the web, and I only read three of them thoroughly, and I found this the particular definition the easiest to comprehend. http://www.guitarhabits.com/how-to-benefit-fro... Although a person may have to read it several times, at some point, that person will say, "ohhh, that's why those chords sound good together!" they'll pick up their axe, and make a song!! NOw, correct me f I'm wrong, but, These explanations all point to two main factors or facts. Theory (and if you think about it, the study of music, is not theory, it is proven and has evidence to support it!) This "theory" is based on certain patterns that consist of intervals, both words can found in the same math books we all used in high school, and if you really take this so-called theory seriously, read this: https://www.britannica.com/art/diatonic and https://www.britannica.com/art/tetrachord and believe it or not this is just mere taste of information. make sure you understand the terminology, because if you don't know the words and their definitions you may as well be walking in a Japanese library!!
    liampje
    Can someone explain me modes while playing? Because i don't know what you mean by prhygian and ionical i know the scale modes but the playing modes is what i don't understand.
    Mexecutioner669
    asystemdown wrote: ZeroChan wrote: Question: Is there a correlation between the chord progression that he showed with the Circle of Fifths? I don't see it. (Am Dm G C F B E Am). Explain please? Im trying to learn more about progressoins myself, but I think I can help. This progression is based off of an A Aeolian scale which is not mentioned. It is actually a progression of fourths until the movement between F and B, which is the tritone interval he talked about, and then back to a movement of fourths until it rests on the tonal center at A. If you moved purely in fifths or fourths you would run into a lot of notes that don't fit well with that particular scale. B major is one chord in the progression that isn't actually part of the A Aeolian scale; B should be diminished, but with the use of the harmonic minor scale this chord fits nicely.
    Yes, each chord is the dominant of the following chord. Am is the 5 tone or dominant of Dm ex=D E F G A B C. the fifth tone of any Note is the dominant. hope it helps
    draceul
    well this is something kinda new for me, and 120 bpm for half the stuff up there isn't that hard thats about how fast i can play caprice 5 from Paganini. I've checked out the caprice 5 on here but its only like the beginning.
    moonatblack
    Amazing.You should check out Luca Turrili from Rhapsody of Fire.Not the fastest,but his knowledge in Neo Classical music is amazing.And he can creat the most inspiring melodies you will ever hear.
    asystemdown
    ZeroChan wrote: Question: Is there a correlation between the chord progression that he showed with the Circle of Fifths? I don't see it. (Am Dm G C F B E Am). Explain please?
    Im trying to learn more about progressoins myself, but I think I can help. This progression is based off of an A Aeolian scale which is not mentioned. It is actually a progression of fourths until the movement between F and B, which is the tritone interval he talked about, and then back to a movement of fourths until it rests on the tonal center at A. If you moved purely in fifths or fourths you would run into a lot of notes that don't fit well with that particular scale. B major is one chord in the progression that isn't actually part of the A Aeolian scale; B should be diminished, but with the use of the harmonic minor scale this chord fits nicely.
    Ibanezbelyeu
    damagecontrol77 wrote: death_metalhead and caressing death are right... if you want to play this type of music, it's very important to study up on some theory to fully understand it. All those composers were very talented and knew how theory works, hence you get these truely awesome pieces. My advice is to take a theory class at your local junior college and start from there. Not everybody is as 'gifted' or 'talented' as some crazy ass player who play this without any instruction or knowledge. Your average joe (like me) has to practice/study his ass off to one day play a Bach piece on a classical or electric guitar. ( almost there thou!) :]
    Haha I agree. I've had to work very hard this year to catch up Grade 5 theory in 1 year, but the outcomes are phenomenal! It opens up so much more once theory is understood. Just don't let theory rule your playing
    rejmond
    Playing Neo-classical metal means the ultimate knowledge for music and guitar and the base for playing is that you really got to listen classical music first.the article is O.K. nothing special, but in the end for playing Malmsteen,Ulli John Roth(nobody mentiones him WHY???)and ofcourse the classical masterpieces you just have to feel the music.
    ParkerScks
    btw one more thing people shuld really lisen to Paganini if you can get a hold of any of his pices erm i cant i have 3 of them but its crazy the dude is like well fastest stuff iv ever herd seriosly that kid was nuts
    sharpshootr55
    Really good article, though i would have liked to have seen some mention of Jason Becker, but that's just my opinion.
    Donkey Fly
    Yer, there are alot of people i missed out of this article. If you really want to develop your playing and stufff you should really look into all the composers and guitarists in the style that you can. I didn't even know this got accepted. Glad to see you like it.
    webbster87
    do you really got to play that fast 120 bpm! That's crazy to me! i can't play that fast!
    nido
    I like neo classic, some useful stuff here..thanks for sharing....
    tatertot13
    dude this is the best lesson I've ever read thank you so much it's helped me alot keep doing wwhat you're doing!
    samtberg
    The fact that Rhoads took time to learn theory aswell as just 'shredding' really set him apart from any of the guitarists from the past 40 years.
    Is this to say NO guitarists until Rhoads used theory? I've haven't heard anything so preposterous for some time!
    Miracle_Man
    your tab from Malmsteen's Far Beyond the Sun is wrong. The strings are shifted up by one on the middle line, for example the 7th fret on the B should be a 7th fret on the G