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Metal Guitar, Part 2: Power Chords, Octaves and Pinch Harmonics

So you’ve been spending the past month building up your palm muting and writing your own riffs, but palm muting isn’t enough to please the metal gods!

That’s why this month, I’m going to show you more techniques to give your riffs more flavour: power chords, octaves and pinch harmonics!

Once again, we’ll be in drop D. You can use the handy tuning guide provided last month or you may use a tuner, either is good.  Also, you’ll need a distorted sound again.

Example Riffs

Editor’s note: The tabs and instructions for playing each riff in the video are found below.

Power Chords

For Example One below we’re going to expand on looking at power chords, which are great as they are neither major nor minor. They only contain the first and the fifth notes of the major scale, as opposed to most other chords, which contain a third if it’s a major chord or a flattened third for a minor.

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Power Chord Riff in Drop D

In this example, you can play all the chords by just using your first finger or by using your third then sliding it up to the 7th fret, it’s up to you! Also note that I’m palm muting the root of each chord in triplets in between playing them.

‘… power chords … are great as they are neither major nor minor.’

This example is played at 140 BPM, but like with last month’s examples, feel free to slow it down. For examples of using power chords, check out the verse riff to The Trooper by Iron Maiden or the intro riff to Living After Midnight by Judas Priest.


In Example Two, we’re going to look at using octaves. They work best either to build up tension, such as the intro riff to Hallowed Be Thy Name by Iron Maiden, or to bridge the gap between heavier passages, such as the pre-chorus riff to Trivium’s Dying In Your Arms.

‘… octaves … work best either to build up tension … or to bridge the gap between heavier passages.’

The best way to play the riff below is by placing your first finger on the A string and your third finger on the G string and moving up and down the frets where required. Also make sure to keep a constant up and down motion in your picking hand. Finally, make sure that you deaden the D string using the part of your first finger not fretting the A string.

This example clocks in at 160 BPM.

Metal Octave Riff

Pinch Harmonics

Finally, for Example Three, we’re going to look at pinch harmonics. They’re great for piercing squeals when you want to be heard above the drummer and/or vocalist.

‘… pinch harmonics … [are] great for piercing squeals.’

To hear pinch harmonics in action, listen to the main riff from Cemetery Gates by Pantera. But without a doubt, the king of pinch harmonics is Black Label Society frontman Zakk Wylde; the song Stillborn is a great place to start, as it’s made up of pinch harmonics!

To create a pinch harmonic, you need to make sure that only the very tip of the plectrum is showing past your thumb.

How to Play a Pinch Harmonic

Correct Pick Position for Playing Pinch Harmonics

Then, just as you strike down on the string, you need to “pinch” it using the side of your thumb.

You also need to find the best position for your picking hand to find the right pitch. For the example below, I find it best to pinch the string at about the halfway point on the neck humbucker on my guitar for the 5th fret harmonic. I move it closer to the bridge for the 7th fret, although this can vary from one guitar to another, so it’s best to experiment.

Pinch Harmonics

Thank you for joining me this month, I hope that with these mechanics you can start coming up with your own metal riffs! Any questions, please feel free to message me on Facebook. I’ll see you next month!

Chris Ward About the Author

Chris Ward is currently studying a degree in Popular Music Performance at B.I.M.M. London. He also teaches and is one of the guitarists for the Corby International Orchestra, and is on the artist’s database for CORD Worldwide. He plays electric and acoustic guitar, bass and some keyboard.

When not playing, writing about, listening to, or thinking about music he can be found causing havoc with his local Viking re-enactment group, playing tabletop games or at home with a cup of coffee and a good book.

Feel free to book a lesson on Skype or in person through his Facebook page.

Our goal is to provide you with the training, inspiration, motivation and confidence to become the guitarist you dream of becoming.

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