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Rhythm Guitar

Hi all. Welcome to my first lesson for Insane Guitar. Keeping in mind that it may also be my last, I’m going to go over a lot of different aspects of rhythm guitar playing. My aim here is to be as helpful as I can be to all of you shredders out there.

Being a guest columnist for Insane Guitar, I realize that a lot of you are mainly interested in lead guitar. That’s completely fine-I love playing lead guitar myself. However, it’s important not to overlook rhythm playing as it’s extremely important for whichever type of music you are playing. A lot of shredders can play their asses off, but ask them to play a difficult riff in the proper speed and they can get themselves into some serious problems.

The first thing that I’m going to go over is palm muting. Palm muting is an extremely important technique in rhythm guitar, especially if you’re playing thrash, death or speed metal. Palm muting requires you to lay your palm on the strings near the bridge of your guitar. Now, the important thing here is to find the sweet spot of your instrument so you’ll stay in pitch while riffing away. On some guitars the distance between the bridge and the bridge pickup can differ somewhat, so it’s important to find the spot that you are most comfortable to play, and of course to stay in pitch while you’re at it. For example, I have a B.C. Rich Warlock that does not have a Floyd Rose Locking Tremolo System, so whenever I play a Ibanez RG I find it difficult to stay in pitch while playing. As I said earlier, the important thing here is to find the sweet spot on your guitar.

The next thing I want to talk about is strength and stamina. Many people think playing rhythm guitar is easier than playing shred, and it may be true to a certain degree, but try playing at 220 bpm for an hour and a half and tell me if you don’t feel anything in your right arm. This is a point where many players have problems, and although it’s an easy problem to solve, most people are too lazy to overcome it. What I did to solve this problem was to just sit down and play the low E string for ridiculous amounts of time until my arm got used to the abuse. Play triplets on the E string-with a metronome-and gradually increase the tempo until you reach about 220, or even 240. After about 2 weeks you should be able to play triplets at 220 bpm for at least half an hour without stopping. This exercise may seem easy at first, but it requires a lot of discipline to pull it off. After playing just triplets on the E string for about 5 minutes, you’ll be thinking about your girlfriend, food, television etc. The trick here is to stay focused on what you’re playing. Take it seriously-it’s the only way to succeed in something.

Now it’s time for the juicy stuff! Below you’ll find a whole bunch of riffs that will improve your playing a great deal. Some of these riffs will be quite easy for any experienced guitarist, others will be downright ugly. Before I move on, I want to talk about some different techniques that you can imply to your riffs. These include hammer-on’s, pull-off’s, artificial harmonics, string skipping, tapping and even sweep picking. Since most of you are lead players, I’m sure that all of you are more than familiar with these techniques, which is great. Now, the techniques I mentioned above are not just limited to lead guitar-it would be a shame if it was. Playing a riff that has just three chords will bore the hell out of your listeners, and after a period of time, you’ll even bore yourself. If you add a dash of hammers and pulls to your riffs you will have more melody and texture. Below is the 6th riff from ‘Underneath The Shroud’, a song from my band Daemonium. I’m not advertising my band or anything here, I’m just using this riff because it’s a great example of a cool riff that has both hammer-on’s and pull-off’s.

Underneath The Shroud-Daemonium (200 bpm)

	   . . . . . .     . . .                   . . . . . .

	   . . . . . .     . . .                   . . . . . .

Another thing that’s really important in rhythm guitar is alternate picking. I’m sure all of you know and have experienced that alternate picking is a huge pain in the ass in lead guitar, and it’s the same in rhythm guitar. To get a good grip on this technique, you have no choice but to sit down with a metronome and practice your head off. The thing with alternate picking is to start off slow and to use a metronome to gradually increase speed. I won’t get into too much detail here about this technique, for there are many great columns on this site that have already explained it to a great extent. If you haven’t read those columns before, I suggest you do so now before moving onto the riff below. If you have, dust off your pick and lets get ready to fly over those strings, because the riff we’ll be going over is from ‘Raining Blood’, the classic Slayer song. The riff tabbed below can be found 1:49 into the song, and it’s a real three finger workout (4,2,1-little, middle, index) This riff is a great example of a four note descending pattern.

Raining Blood-Slayer (230 bpm)

   (4/4)                              3x
	. . . .  . . . .  . . . .  . . . .      . . . .  . . . .  . . . .     . .

Whew! My hand is ready to fall off after that one! Speaking of hands falling off, never, ever over-play to the point where you are hurting your hand. If you take guitar playing seriously, you should always warm up and never stress your hand. ‘No pain, no gain’ doesn’t apply to guitar playing, so if your hand feels numb and tired, be a little sensible and give it a break.

One thing I find to be really important are the type of guitar picks most players are using. Now, of course it’s best to play with what you play best, but for some types of music, using the right guitar pick is very important. If you’re a lead player, chances are you’re using rather small picks because alternate picking is almost impossible with a huge and heavy guitar pick. It’s no different with rhythm guitar either-in order to move around the strings freely, your pick should be quite small so you don’t waste too much time while moving in and around the strings. I personally use D’Andrea Jazz Pro .88’s, and I would recommend them to all of you. Dunlop also makes some great picks called the Tortex, which is quite similar to the Jazz Pro. The thickness of your pick is also very important, as is the edge of your pick. You don’t want your pick to be too thick because sensitive amps will bring out every nuance of sound, and thick picks can bring out awful chunking sounds while you’re playing. Also, you don’t want the edge of your pick to be too round because it will eliminate any freedom you have when you’re playing fast riffs. Of course, these are all just my opinions and what works best for me. But I recommend that you check out some smaller picks-you’ll be amazed by their potential.

Another way to add some more color to your riffs is to mess around with the time signatures. Playing in 4/4 timing throughout an entire song can get really boring. Adding rests and weird stops in a riff can really make it more interesting, and they can even be heavier than they were before. The king of this style is John Petrucci of Dream Theater and Michael J. Romeo of Symphony X. Both use odd time signatures in their riffs, and I think none of us question their skills as guitar players! Below is one of my riffs from a song called ‘A New Age Of Darkness’, and it features the odd signature of 13/8. The artificial harmonic and vibrato on the last note of the riff adds a lot of color and feel.

A New Age Of Darkness-Daemonium (200 bpm)

(13/8)                      ah                               ah
	   .     .     .     .              .     .     .     .


One thing that I really love in riffs are artificial harmonics and slides. Michael Romeo introduced me to the world of artificial harmonics in riffs, and I haven’t looked back since. When used in the right places, artificial harmonics can add so much character and feeling to a riff, and when over-used, it can be a disaster. Below I’ve tabbed one of my favorite riffs of all time, it’s in the beginning of ‘Of Sins & Shadows’ by Symphony X. This riff will be extremely difficult to play properly for beginners, but even some old timers may find it hard to nail the artificial harmonic on the last note of the riff every time. Remember, play it clean! If it’s not clean it’s worth doo-doo. Start it off slow, hit each note with distinction, and use a metronome.

Of Sins & Shadows-Symphony X (200 bpm)

(4/4)                                                                   ah
	. . . .  . . . .     . . . .  . . . .     . . . .  . . .  . . .  . . .

Next up I want to talk about using slides in your riffs. This technique was introduced to rhythm guitar by the Black Sabbath legend Tony Iommi, and it has been updated by various players today-the first name to come to mind is Dimebag Darrell of Pantera. Slides can add tons of color and texture to your riffs, and if done correctly, they can sound really awesome. Wide (or long) slides sound really manical, and it makes the whole riff sound just downright mean. Remember, slides aren’t restricted to just guitar solos. When used in riffs, they can create a lot of heaviness and chunk. Below is the first riff in ‘5 Minutes Alone’ by Pantera-a great riff which also employs a fair deal of slide.

5 Minutes Alone-Pantera (96 bpm)



To those of you who have built up enough confidence to move on to the really insane stuff, the time has come! Due to the fact that I’ll be ending the lesson soon, I’ll leave you all with two completely disturbing riffs that will melt your strings. I’ve always loved playing fast riffs, and I guess I got used to it from inspecting and practicing Slayer and Sepultura songs. The tab below is from the Slayer song ‘Necrophobic’, and it boasts the awesome tempo of 248 bpm. If you can’t play this riff after a few tries, don’t kill yourself, or anyone else for that matter! This really is a difficult riff, and remember, play it clean, or don’t play it!

Necrophobic-Slayer (248 bpm)

   (4/4)                       3x
    .  . . . . .      ..  . . .      .  . .  . . .


Jesus Christ, that’s a hard one! Anyways, before I end the lesson I want to part with a ridiculous riff I wrote a few months ago for one of our songs. It’s just a riff played under one of my guitar solos, it’s barely noticeable, but it is there. My poor lead guitarist has to play this bastard riff while I solo, and it’s really hard because of the way the chords change positions-it’s a really hard riff, not to mention fast. Take a look at it and play it-I think you’ll get a good idea how even the weirdest chord changes can work in your songs. Oh yeah…play it clean! Anyone can play this riff sloppy, and even though it may look easy, it’s a pain in the ass to play it smoothly.

From Flesh To Machine-Daemonium (260 bpm)

    . . . .                       . . . .


Anyways people, that’s it for my lesson. I hope the information here was useful for some of you. I welcome all feedback, questions and comments. The riffs here were for beginners and intermediate players, and if I ever do a column for Insane Guitar again, that’s when the fun will really begin. Take care, and be sentimental to your guitar…not to your strings!!

Yener Öztürk

Guitarist & Songwriter of the band Daemonium



ICQ : 98967956

‘Raining Blood’ & ‘Necrophobic’ by Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman of Slayer.

‘5 Minutes Alone’ by Vincent Paul Abbot, Darrell Lance Abbot, Rex Brown and Phillip Anselmo of Pantera.

‘Of Sins & Shadows’ by Michael J. Romeo of Symphony X.

‘A New Age Of Darkness’, ‘From Flesh To Machine’ & ‘Underneath The Shroud’ by Yener Öztürk & Alper Hubar of Daemonium.

All Music Copyrighted & Belongs To Their Rightful Owners.

I wrote all those credits because I don’t want to get my ass kicked in court.

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