How to Create Riffs With the Heavy Metal Gallop

The gallop is to heavy metal what the blues shuffle is to blues.

In the same way that the blues shuffle can be found in genres other than blues, the heavy metal gallop can be found in genres other than metal.

However, it is a staple of both traditional heavy metal and many of its subgenres.

This lesson will help you understand this rhythmic pattern that is absolutely necessary for heavy metal music, identify it when listening to music, as well as using it to create your own guitar riffs.

What is the heavy metal gallop?

The heavy metal gallop is simply a rhythmic pattern that consists of an eighth note, followed by two sixteenth notes.

Metal gallop 1
Tabs created with Guitar Pro

These are repeated over and over to create a sound similar to that of a horse galloping.

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The heavy metal gallop is utilized not only by guitarists but also by bassists (Steve Harris of Iron Maiden is particularly well-known for his galloping riffs) as well as drummers.

In the context of the guitar, it is typically utilized over power chords, single notes, drones, and either with or without palm muting.

To begin, let’s get a better understanding of how to correctly play this rhythm. Later on in this lesson, we will be discussing different ways the gallop can be used to create music.

How to gallop on guitar

Although the pattern is straightforward, playing it over and over again can get confusing if you do not practice it in the right way.

To prevent this from happening, you should begin by practicing it very slowly and making sure to use the correct picking motions.

Before I give you the picking directions, I’ll explain this rhythmic pattern in greater detail, which will help you understand why you should use the given picking directions.

The metal gallop is a rhythmic pattern of three notes, but they are not triplets (Ex 1), a quarter divided into three equal notes.

Rather, they are derived from the sixteenth note pattern, which is a quarter note divided in four (Ex. 2), with the second note not struck but left ringing as if the first two sixteenth notes are tied (Ex. 3).

Metal gallop 3

This means that when you play the gallop you can make the same motions as if you’re alternate picking a sixteenth note pattern (Ex. 1) without hitting the second note in the pattern (Ex. 2), thus two down-strokes followed by an upstroke in terms of picking direction.

Metal gallop 4

The reverse gallop

The reverse gallop is a commonly used variation of the traditional gallop. As the name suggests, the placing of the sixteenth note and that of the eighth note is reversed, with the sixteenth notes played first.

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These create a sound that is similar to the galloping feel when played in succession.

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In the example above you are given the picking directions for the reverse gallop. These are changed from those of the regular gallop to fit the flow of your right-hand motions. For the reverse gallop you play a downstroke, followed by an upstroke, followed by another downstroke.

This time, when making the motions of the sixteenth note pattern, you don’t hit the fourth note in the pattern (rather than the second as in the regular gallop).

Metal gallop exercises

In this section, we will look at some practical applications of the gallop in heavy metal music.

The first example is a simple power chord riff that incorporates the gallop throughout. It has a punk flavor to it, which is another genre of music where the gallop can be found.

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The next example employs a palm-muted drone with the gallop rhythmic pattern applied to it.  The drone is played alongside power chords, which create melodic movement.

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The following example incorporates the same elements as the previous one (a drone, palm muting, and power chords, all essential to heavy metal music), but this time the reverse gallop is used.

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It is possible to create a new rhythmic pattern by combining the regular gallop with the reverse gallop, as demonstrated in the next example.

A rhythmic pattern like this is frequently used in rock and heavy metal music, even though it may no longer have the feel of a horse galloping.

Metal gallop 10

Gallop examples

The following are a few songs that use the gallop pattern in rock and heavy metal music.

While listening to the riffs of these songs, try to hear the sound of the gallop. Now that you understand how the gallop works, these rhythmic patterns should start popping out to you when you hear them.

Note: The riffs in these songs include the regular gallop, the reverse gallop as well as combinations and small variations. In most cases they’re played by the guitarist, but can also be found in the bass and in the drums.

  • Metallica – Battery, Damage inc, Disposable heroes
  • Pantera – Heresy
  • Judas Priest – Exciter
  • Krokus – Easy Rocker
  • UFO – Lights Out
  • Led Zeppelin – Achilles Last Stand
  • Megadeth – Holy Wars – the Punishment due
  • Sepultura – Mass Hypnosis
  • Dio – Holy Diver
  • Iron Maiden – The Trooper, Power slave, Run to the Hills
  • Slayer – Raining Blood
  • Heart – Barracuda
  • Sum 41 – Pain for pleasure

Create your own riffs

The best way to learn and internalize a musical concept, in this case, a rhythmic pattern, is to make it your own by using it creatively.

Use the galloping pattern to create your own rock and heavy metal guitar riffs.

If you don’t know how to go about creating your own riffs, this lesson gives you two templates that you can use to start writing. The gallop pattern can be applied to both.

The amount of riffs you can create with just the concepts we touched on in this lesson – galloping, drones, palm muting, and power chords, are literally infinite.  

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