by Rusty Cooley
Metal is a lot different today than it was in the ’80s. Back then, things were brutal. If you didn’t know how to solo, you weren’t even looked upon as a guitar player. It was the whole “if you only play rhythm, you’re only half a man” mentality. Metal has become more inclusive, but at a price. Musically speaking, metal guitar has devolved over the years. It has gone backwards from featuring over-the-top, killer playing all the way back to a three-chord format that’s arguably not that different from where rock and roll started. The main difference is that with today’s popular dropped-D tuning, you can play all three chords with just one finger! Read on for the full guitar lesson complete with audio, power tab, and charts…
Though guitar solos may not be common in current mainstream metal, the truth is that the guitar is not merely a rhythm instrument. And it hasn’t been since way back in the big-band era when Charlie Christian proved a 6-string could wail. The good news is that the tide seems to be turning towards good musicianship again. I teach dozens of guitar students each week, and they almost all have one thing in common: They want to learn to burn. This series of columns aims to help players develop their chops to the point where they can do some extreme shredding. If that’s your goal, the best place to start—even if you’re an experienced player—is with the pentatonic scale.
Many guitarists can play an A minor pentatonic scale, but how many really know all five pentatonic “boxes”? They’re presented in Ex. 1, with every appearance of the root, A, circled. Box 1—by far the most popular of the bunch—starts at the 5th fret, and each new box starts one scale tone higher up the neck. Once you’ve learned all five patterns, I suggest putting yourself through my Pentatonic Workout, which goes like this: Ascend through Box 1, then descend through Box 2, then ascend through Box 3, and so on. Once you’ve gone through all five boxes, do the whole process in reverse going down the neck. (Remember that you can also play Box 5 an octave lower in the second position.)
The next step is adding variations to the Workout. For instance, instead of only using alternating picking, try playing the scales legato, where each picked note is followed by a hammer-on (ascending) or a pull-off (descending). Then, employ different pitch sequences, such as the rising six-note triplet pattern in Ex. 2 (which you should also practice descending) and the “ascending while descending” approach in Ex. 3, moving each new pattern through all five boxes. The whole point of the Workout is to develop fretboard visualization, because the most important thing when improvising is being able to see the entire neck as a whole. The more you practice these five boxes, the more they will begin to merge into one giant box.