In the first of what I intend to make a short series on rhythm playing I’m going to start by taking a look at one of heavy metal’s finest:- James Hetfield.
Before you begin, I think there are several techniques you need to become comfortable absolute, unconditional must for any metal guitarist. I’ll explain palm muting shortly. The second technique, a little more specific to James, you should at least be aware of is his use of endless down strokes. Playing at breakneck speeds using nothing but down strokes is an extremely daunting prospect and for most of us mortals, unthinkable. All I’ll say is give it a go, but if you’re happy with alternate picking, do it.
Even some of the most accomplished rhythm plays don’t play Metallica riffs the way James plays them so there’s no shame in it!
Before I begin and, for those of you who don’t know, palm muting is when you deaden the string using you picking hand (for most the right) placed against the strings at the bridge of you guitar. This technique produces a percussive “thunk!” when you hit the string and stops it from ringing out. If you’re not sure, there are plenty of excellent tutorials lurking around, simply search for them or ask at your favorite forum.
Now, on with the carnage!!!!!
Let’s start with something easy. Remember to take things slow and build from there. Also, keep in mind that rhythm playing is all about timing, you need to, in most of these cases, keep it tight. I suggest you get yourself a metronome or a drum machine and practice to them.
Figure 1. is the verse riff taken from Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”. This is a very simple riff to get under your fingers as it’s simply 16th notes. This is actually a very good introducing the all down strokes. I’d advise you practice effective.
Staying in the relatively easy territory or Hetfield’s playing, figure 2 is one of Metallica’s newer songs, a cover originally done by a group of Irish fellows by the name of The Dubliners; however you’re more likely to know of the version by Thin Lizzy. It is, of course, “Whiskey In The Jar”.
Got those under your fingers? Yes? No? Either way I’ve got to move on. Let’s take a brief step of the really easy riffs into something that you can get your fingers really into. Figure 3 is “Creeping Death” from “Ride The Lightning”. Once you’ve mastered this riff, you realize just how easy it is; although mastering it may take you a while. It took me about two or three weeks (being new to rhythm playing at the time), to get this spot on. Take your time with it and don’t rush this one. Get the notes right before playing it at recording speed.
Next, let’s take a look at James’ (dare I say?) softer side. Figure 4 is another offering from “Ride The Lightning”, this time the acoustic intro from “Fade To Black”. The interesting thing to note here is, apparently, James played finger style (without a pick) so put down that piece of plastic and use those nails! Alternatively, you can use a pick if you really want to, but throwing it away from time to time opens up brand news doors and unleashes ideas you never knew you had. Learning simple riffs such as this is the first step in what is likely to be a complete change for you. Look into it is all I’ll say.
Next, we’ll have a go at an apocalyptic number. You’ve guessed it, Figure 5 is “The Four Horsemen” from Metallica’s first release, “Kill ‘Em All”. I believe this was largely co-written by Dave Mustaine before he was kicked out and sounds very similar to a Megadeth song, although I couldn’t tell you which. This is one song I’d advise using alternate picking in order to get that “galloping” groove.
“You having fun?” as Hetfield once said during a live performance of that song. I hope so, because now I’m going to have to take you to another level with what Joel, Insane Guitar Webmaster) has called “the pinnacle of Hetfield’s riffage”. Taken from possibly their most technically demanding album, “…And Justice For All”, we’re going to turn our hands to figure 6, “Dyers Eve”. Here’s one of the easier, but still rather cool sounding, riffs, taken from the intro. Take special care with the time change from 4/4 to 3/4 back to 4/4.
So there you go. That’s me done for the quick look into Metallica’s front man’s style. Obviously, these aren’t all his great riffs, just a handful to give you a taste. I hope you’ve learnt a little. Feel free to email me with comments, suggests, hate mail…If I get enough feedback I’ll look at taking another look at James’ playing. ‘Til the next time!