Neo-Classical Metal Music

author: Donkey Fly date: 10/03/2007 category: music styles

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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)

Melodic minor scale (Aeolian mode with a raised 6th and 7th scale degree)
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


It's played in 16ths at around 120 Bpm. Here is a pedal tone exercise which is also classically inspired.
Here's a Harmonic Minor Run, which is good for building your shred technique

Here are a couple of Phyrgian Modes which are used by Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani.


This is an excerpt from Malmsteen's Far Beyond The Sun, in my opinion a great example of neo-classical metal.


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.
More Donkey Fly lessons:
+ Total Guitar Workout Correct Practice 10/03/2007
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