Is there a set of guitar scales that are used exclusively by metal guitar players?
Are metal guitarists bound by a set of scales specifically created for players in this genre?
The answer to both questions is no.
Any scale considered a “metal guitar scale” is also used in other genres, including classical, blues, folk, and Jazz among others.
And metal guitar players are free to use any scale they want to play their favorite genre.
However there are guitar scales that metal guitar players tend to use more commonly than others.
One of the main reasons these scales are preferred by metal players is that they have more dissonant intervals within them.
An interval is the distance between two notes. Some intervals are very consonant, some less consonant, and some downright dissonant.
Notice the difference between the Perfect 5th interval in the first bar and the Augmented 4th interval in the second bar.
The Perfect 5th sounds consonant, very pleasing to the ear, while the Augmented 4th sounds jarring, as if the notes aren’t meant to be played together.
One thing that makes music melodic is the use of dissonance resolving into consonance.
In Metal, we’re particularly fond of the use of dissonance thus, more likely than not (this is not a general rule, as we’ll see below) guitar scales used in Metal will have one or more dissonant intervals within them.
In this lesson we’re going to explore 7 guitar scales that are commonly used in heavy metal.
You will be given one position of each scale, each using A as the root note.
Following that you’ll find a guitar lick played in that scale, aimed to give you an idea of what you can do with the scale.
Note: Some of the scales below are actually modes. Scales are a series of intervals. Modes are the same series of intervals starting from a different point in the interval formula. For the purposes of this lesson you can consider a scale and a mode as the same thing since they both give us a set of note intervals from which we can create melodies.
Just keep in mind that though you’re going to use modes in the same way as scales in this lesson, every mode is actually a variation of another scale.
1. Minor pentatonic
Unlike most other guitar scales used in metal, the minor pentatonic scale offers us very little dissonance.
Yet, it’s commonly used in metal, as it is in many other genres, because it’s convenient and easy to use.
If you’re new to guitar soloing, I suggest that you start from using this scale for this reason.
Though the minor pentatonic has earned a reputation as a beginner guitar scale, it is used by countless great metal guitar players such as Tony Iommi and Zakk Wylde.
Needless to say, such guitar players have other scales in their palette of choices, which is why the minor pentatonic is great to train yourself how to solo, but you should learn other scales to have more options (and more dissonance)
Below is the A minor pentatonic scale, in the first position of the guitar fretboard.
Next, is a heavy metal guitar lick that uses notes exclusively from the A minor pentatonic scale.
2. Blues scale
In spite of its name, the blues scale is widely used outside blues music, including in metal.
It’s made of the same notes of the minor pentatonic and an extra note – the very dissonant augmented 4th interval.
Learn the blues scale in the first position:
And a metal guitar lick that makes use of notes from this scale:
3. The natural minor scale
This is one of my favorite guitar scales to write metal solos.
It has the same notes as the minor pentatonic as well as the major 2nd and the minor 6th interval from the root.
These give us two more note choices, and some more dissonance to play around with than the minor pentatonic.
The A minor natural scale:
A minor natural guitar lick:
4. Harmonic minor scale
The harmonic minor is made of the same notes of the natural minor scale, except for the 7th note which is sharpened (that is, moved up one semitone).
This change creates even more dissonance within the scale which makes it one of the most popular scales among heavy metal guitar players.
A Harmonic minor scale:
Harmonic minor lick:
5. Dorian mode
Dorian is the second mode of the major scale, Thus, A dorian has the same notes and intervals as G major, but starting from the note A instead of G.
This gives the Dorian its own unique flavor, one that’s at times chosen by metal guitar players.
A Dorian mode:
Dorian mode lick:
6. Phrygian dominant mode
With roots in flamenco and Middle Eastern music, the 5th mode of the harmonic minor scale, that is, the Phrygian dominant mode is another favorite among Rock and Metal guitar players.
A Phrygian dominant mode:
Phrygian dominant lick:
7. Hungarian minor scale
Also known as the double harmonic minor and the gypsy minor scale, the Hungarian minor scale has a distinctive sound and sometimes find its way in heavy metal guitar solos.
A Hungarian minor scale:
Hungarian minor lick:
Conclusion: Your next steps as a metal guitarist
One of the 7 variables that determine how long it will take you to become good, or great on the guitar is the genre of music you play.
And Heavy Metal is surely not among the easiest genres to master.
Now that you know some of the most common guitar scales used in metal, I suggest that you focus on these three elements to make fast progress in metal guitar playing:
- Technique. In the same way some guitar scales are more commonly used in metal, some guitar techniques are more commonly used in metal.
Getting a working knowledge of some of these techniques, and mastery of at least a few of them is very important if you want to become a metal guitarist.
- Music theory: The lesson above gives you some music theory concepts, but does not go into much depth since its main aim is to give you some scales you can use right now to play heavy metal.
Learning music theory will show you not only what scales you can use but also when to use them, among many other things.
Note: Some metal players suggest that you can do without music theory, or even worse that it stifles creativity.
Saying that music theory stifles creativity is like saying having good grammar stifles creative writing.
It doesn’t, does it? It actually enables creative writing.
That you can do without it is true.
However, if a manual comes with a complex gadget, I find no reason to throw away its valuable guidelines just because I can.
- Apply the techniques you acquire and the music theory you learn to create your own music.
It’s time to start turning these scales into your own metal guitar licks and solos.
If you can’t shred, you don’t need to wait until you can to start making your own music.
Rather, start making your own music now, and when you’re able to shred, start inserting fast parts into your solos.
Which you won’t find hard since by then you would have already acquired the ability to solo.
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