Learn 6 rhythm guitar styles including AC/DC, Metallica, The Who, Pantera, Guns N' Roses and Iron Maiden

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Guitar lesson: Rock and metal techniques can be fiercely challenging, particularly when it comes to the accuracy and timing in your picking hand. However, if you feel like your progress is slow, fear not, we’ve got your back! 

Here we’re focusing on some key picking techniques, taking in a handful of standard rock riffs as we go. Simply read on, try out our tab exercises and expand your arsenal of riffs as you go.

1. Downpicking

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(Image credit: Future)

Metallica’s James Hetfield and Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine are bona fide riff-meisters with enviable picking stamina. 

Our riff is designed to help you hone your downpicking skills; we’re showcasing thrash metal trademarks such as sliding powerchords and chunky palm-muted bass notes. release your palm mute to let the accented chords.

2. Gallop 

(Image credit: Future)

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A well-known rock and metal groove, the gallop rhythm features in classics like Dio’s Holy Diver, Iron Maiden’s run to the hills and Heart’s Barracuda. 

It's based on a ‘down-down-up’ picking pattern, with the first downstroke always landing on the beat. as ever, listen carefully to our audio example and practise slowly first.

3. Counterpoint 

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Playing parts that act as a counterpoint to the lead guitar is a fine art – Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford and Izzy Stradlin from the Gun ’N Roses Appetite… era lineup are masters.

Our example shows how a 16th-note rhythm can inject a rock riff with a light, funky vibe – perfect for the lead guitar to weave around!

4. Push and pull 

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As a core member of the AC/DC engine room, Malcolm Young concentrated his efforts on the band’s relentless riff work. Our riff features the powerchords and open shapes.

Young used so heavily, but, more importantly, notice the timing of the chord changes in bars 2 and 3. Often referred to as ‘pushes’, these changes appear on the offbeat.

5. Groove and swing

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If there’s one heavy metal guitarist known for feel and groove it’s Dimebag Darrell. We’re focusing on the kind of swing feel heard in Pantera’s Walk and Good Friends And A Bottle Of Pills here – a rhythm more associated with blues and classic rock than metal. It’s all about feel, so make sure to lock in with the backing

6. Aggressive strumming 

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Guitarists like The Who’s Pete Townshend and The Clash’s Joe Strummer mixed an aggressive strumming attack with an explosive performance style. 

Our example features a mix of ringing, open-position chords that provide plenty of punch and sustain. There’s space in the rhythm for a strumming arm windmill should you feel the urge!

Learn the ultimate Jimi Hendrix rhythm guitar chord lesson

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