The black metal universe is full of interesting guitar riffs - some being more aggressive, some being more melodic. Behind them, one of the key techniques necessary to play stuffs from that genre is called tremolo picking. It requires precision and dedication.
But it often seems a bit difficult to find some good exercises for training, right?
To help you getting started and improving your tremolo picking guitar technique, I have gathered ten riffs and sorted them by difficulty. The seven first ones are exercises I have built specifically for the purpose of this article, based on my own practice routine - and the three last ones are real melodies from black metal songs. If you train long enough at playing them, I am sure it will be a great first step allowing you to target harder and faster metal guitar melodies.
Foreword: General tips about Tremolo Picking
This article aims at providing you with some interesting exercises to play along with a clear focus on black metal, while not re-explaining in details a technique which has already been documented several times online. Nonetheless, before we start, I'd like to give you a few advices to make sure you avoid making mistakes while practicing.
First off, you should hold your pick firmly but without putting too much pressure on it or you will get tired too quickly. Relax. Incline it to an angle of around 40 degrees, just like in the picture below.
Then, the second most important thing to remember is to make sure that your arm is not moving: it should be your wrist. Indeed, as you try to speed up, you will maybe notice that you start moving your arm/elbow instead of your wrist: it's really wrong, and very quickly you will feel tired and your picking will be less precise. In other words: while practicing, look at your hand picking the strings and ensure it moves correctly.
Something else: when you train on an exercise, it can be a good idea to start with a simplified version of the riff, in order to enhance the rhythm precision. Just start by playing quarter notes, then eigth notes , as in the bars 1 and 2 of the score below :
Moreover, you should ALWAYS play with a metronome. It's really useful for tremolo picking practicing, and it will allow you to set goals.
Indeed, the following exercises are more or less all at 120 bpm (beats per minute). If it's too fast for you, just lower it a bit. But step by step, as you are getting comfortable playing them at a given speed, you should speed up the metronome. Increments of 5 to 10 bpm are a good idea. Keep speeding it up progressively as you feel you're getting better.
Let's make it clear: only regular practice will allow you to master these riffs. So if you're serious about learning tremolo picking, I'd like to make a deal with you and suggest you a way of training: take the first riff and your metronome. Play it for 10 minutes.
Put your guitar aside, do something else. Come back to it tomorrow or later the same day.
Play the same one.
Unless you feel you master this exercise, don't learn the next ones. Or you're taking the risk of feeling disappointed because in the end you can play none.
After one or two weeks you should be able to see the difference.
Note: You will find for each exercise a download link for the scores in Guitar Pro 5 and PDF format.
Note 2: above the scores, you will find some numbers: they are suggestion of the fingers to use. Obviously, if you feel you can go faster with another combination, please feel free to: it's just an indication.
Exercise 1 - Basic Pattern
This is probably one of the easiest patterns one could come up with. You could very well train with one note only at first, but I believe it would quickly end up being a boring exercise, so I included some basic variations.
Make sure you're playing perfectly in time before increasing the speed. Also, take care to have a precise attack with your pick. In particular, for the '0' note, the string may get harder to pick as it vibrates more freely.
When you're ready, move on to the next riff.
Exercise 2 - Synchronizing both hands
Now the focus is on synchronizing your right hand with your left hand. With tremolo picking, it can be easy to get a little bit lost at the beginning when counting the beats. To solve that problem, you can try to accentuate slightly the first note of every beat: it will help you counting.
As the melody is easy, you may be tempted to simply slide your fingers from one note to another. Although it is possible, I would advise not doing it: at high speeds and with more complex guitar lines, you will need all your fingers to hit all the notes, so better do it right from beginning.
Exercise 3 - Faster left hand variations
This exercise is almost the same as the #2, but here notes are changing every beat so you don't really have time to rest before moving on to another note.
Again, try to play tight with your metronome and add some accent on the first note of each beat (or bar) in order not to get lost!
Exercise 4 - Adding one string
Obviously, most black metal bands use tremolo picking over several strings in order to create more diverse melodies (just like in the intro of Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, for instance).
Therefore, I am proposing you to add one string right away. As the transition between two strings is something rather tricky to master, the pattern I chose is the following: one quarter note on one string followed by some tremolo picking on the next string.
This should be rather easy but make sure to follow closely your metronome clicks when attacking the tremolo picking parts.
Exercise 5 - More two strings tremolo picking
Once you master the previous exercises, you can start working on this one.
It is clearly adding an interesting difficulty: this time you're playing full tremolo picking on two strings. The melody is quite simple, but notice that the last bar presents an inverted pattern where you play first on the higher string and then on the lowest one.
Your goal here is to make sure that the passing from one string to another is as clear as possible. Practice is the key to master this technique; unfortunately, there are few shortcuts. However, in order to enhance the clarity of your sound, you may need to use some muting techniques:
- Muting a string with your right hand (or the hand picking the strings) it order to stop it from ringing.
- When you're passing to another string, make sure you don't keep your finger pressed on the last note of the first string, otherwise it will keep ringing.
- When recording, some guitarists actually tape the strings not used to reduce the risk of unwanted guitar sounds.
Exercise 6 - Evolving two strings pattern
Here the pattern is a little bit different from what we have been working on previously.
The first and third bars show a note change at each beat, starting with the highest string. In my opinion, it is more difficult to move to a lower string rather than to a higher string when tremolo picking, so you will have to ensure a precise playing at this level.
The second and fourth bars are designed to be like short rests to avoid you stressing too much your wrist because of the difficulty. If you've already trained at the previous exercises, they should not be a problem for you.
Exercise 7 - Tremolo Triplets
One last riff before moving on to the real black metal tremolo picking melodies.
Here the goal is to give you an introduction to ternary rhythm: indeed, all the riffs we have been working on previously are binary, but black metal does often feature triplets (for instance Taake, as you will see in another exercise later).
There is no real difficulty here. For sure, the bpm speed is lower but in the end your hand is moving quite as much as in the previous binary rhythms. As advised previously, you should try to accentuate the first note of every beat or bar. Counting in triplets is substantially more difficult at the beginning, but after some practice you should be able to feel when you're playing correctly.
If you simply can't decide whether you're playing triplets or not, try to slow down until you get the correct feel.
Exercise 8 - A riff from Darkthrone: Transilvanian Hunger
Very famous riff by the black metal pioneers Darkthrone. It is a little bit faster than the other exercises (140 bpm), but the melody is quite simple so I do believe it is a good new step in your tremolo picking learning program.
I think that in the original song they are also playing a '0' note on the A string, which is tremolo-picked at the same time, but for the sake of this exercise it is not mandatory to include it. Actually, it is quite a common technique in black metal to tremolo-pick several strings, but in this lesson I decided to focus on simple melodies rather than on ambiance-creating wall-of-sound-style playing.
Exercise 9 - A riff from Askrinn: Frá spám Marmennils
I cannot resist sharing with you a riff I like a lot from the latest Askrinn album, Hjørleifsljóð.
Just like for Darkthrone, you will have to play it at 140 bpm, but don't hesitate to slow it down to 120 bpm in case it seems too difficult for you.
There are two main characteristics to notice in this guitar melody:
- First, the rhythm, although binary, involve some kind of syncopation: in the first bar, the first note lasts 2 beats, but in the third bar the first note lasts 1 beat only, giving the whole riff a more dynamic feel.
- Then, there is also a little rhythmic trick for the transition at the end, which may be a bit more difficult to take into account at the beginning: see the 1/4 bar?
Note also that this time the indications above the score show that you should use only two fingers. Really, it's up to you, but I thought I would write it like this as it is the way I played it when I recorded the album.
Exercise 10 - A riff from Taake: Hordalands Doedskvad IV
This one might be a little difficult to play at first, but the melody is very strong and moving, so I felt it was a good idea to include it. It is a quality black metal riff by Taake with a rather simple triplet-based tremolo picking pattern.
My best advice here is to listen several times to the song first in order to memorize the riff. It is not difficult, but if you don't know the melody by heart you will have some problems following the rhythm properly.
After a bit of practice, you should be able to play it easily!
How to keep practicing after these exercises?
I will possibly post more articles on the subject of black metal tremolo picking, especially with more advanced exercises. However, after practicing the ones above, you may feel you want to go further with this technique.
The best thing to do, at first, is to play the riffs on all the strings and to vary the position of your hand on the neck. Because of their different diameter, the hand feeling while tremolo picking is different whether you play on low E or high E.
Afterwards, you may also try to add more strings while playing the same patterns: for instance, take the exercise 2 and play it first on the low E string, then on the A one, then on the D one, then go back to the A string.
There are countless possibilities, and I'm sure you will find some other ideas to keep going on. But don't forget: play with the metronome. It will help you playing tight, and if one day you want to record music you will feel relieved that you used it before.
If you have no more ideas or have a question, feel free to drop a message below to ask for advices!
Did you like this lesson?
I sincerely hope you enjoyed this little lesson.
When starting playing black metal, I have really been confronted to the lack of guitar lessons related to this music genre. Probably some teachers are able to train you perfectly to extreme metal guitar techniques, but depending on your available time or on your location, practicing by yourself may be a better solution.
So did you like this series of tremolo picking exercises? Which one was more difficult for you to play? Are there some other techniques you would like me to cover in a future article?
I am eager to read your comments and suggestions, so shoot them below!