Is Hetfield-style downpicking getting you down? Stagger-stroke picking might be the answer

James Hetfield
(Image credit: Ross Marino/Getty Images)

Anyone who has once been sat learning Metallica's Master Of Puppets in the vortex of despair, otherwise known as their bedroom, will be familiar with the feeling of frustration trying to downpick like James Hetfield. Indeed, the discipline is a cornerstone of his thrash peers, including Anthrax's Scott Ian, Megadeth's Dave Mustaine and Exodus's Gary Holt. But is there another way?

Stagger-stroke picking isn't the usual go-to compromise of down-up-down alternate picking that is much easier on the muscles and mind. It's using different combinations of upstrokes and downstrokes depending on the part you're playing. 

YouTuber with The Art Of Guitar channel and guitar teacher Mike Geronsin can downpick like a beast but explains that the stagger-stroke technique offers the speed and power to deliver songs like Master Of Puppets, Blackened and Creeping Death in the video above, without the fatigue associated with downpicking or the lack of attack that traditional alternate picking can cause. 

Now we're fully aware this kind of picking might not be news to some of you, but the breakdown here of how to use it is really useful. Mike is a great teacher and explains the approach clearly and concisely. It's a positive approach for those of us who might shy away from fast metal riffs because we don't think we can give them the downpick development time. 

Is it cheating? If it sounds good and it feels fun to play, that's irrelevant to us. Get thrashing! 

Check out more of Mike's excellent content at The Art Of Guitar YouTube channel

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.