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Nailing Palm Mute Guitar in Metal
by Mike Beatham

Whether it be death, black, thrash or alternative, heavy metal and the palm mute guitar technique go hand in hand to creating that rhythmic brutality we relish.

In metal music, the rhythm guitarist has a role to play in shaping the melody and the percussive aspects. Palm muting specifically in metal is about exploiting percussive qualities of the guitar under high gain and heavy distortion.

==The Basics of Palm Mute Tone==

The first thing to note is that you don't actually use the "palm" of your hand when palm muting (well, almost) - rather the meaty part of the edge of your hand below your pinky finger. When placed over the strings just in front of the bridge of your guitar and you strike the strings as usual, you get that muted punch.

The further your "palm" is positioned toward the neck, away from the bridge, the more percussive and less defined whatever note or chord you're playing will sound. If you're a fan of Meshuggah, you'll know they have a very distinct and dry palm mute sound which is created by palm muting further away from the bridge towards the guitar neck.

So first thing would be to establish the position of your "palm" based on the sound you're after.

==Different Styles of Palm Muting==

With all palm muting techniques it's important to keep your picking hand as stationary as possible, using it only as a pivoting point over the muted area. What I do, to ensure all 6 strings are muted (if you need all 6) is get the meaty hand edge in position as usual but also lay out my pinky finger just about parallel to the bridge. This ensures the meaty part of your hand is stretched out over as much of the stringed area as possible.

- The downstroke is the most commonly used palm mute technique in rock, punk and metal. It simply involves getting your "palm" in position and then downpicking as usual in quick, sharp stabs. Picking in this way will enhance the punch of the bass and the cut of the treble through your guitar's EQ settings.

- Constant Alternate picking is where you add an upstroke to the strumming pattern - up/down/up/down/etc. in a constant rhythmic motion. Players use this to effectively double the speed of the riff, where using only downstrokes would prove too much for the average person's endurance. Whilst palm muting, this creates a violent percussive effect. The more violent and wide your picking strokes, the more violent the sound.

- Machine gunning is a technique used excessively in thrash and death metal. Probably the most famous and satisfying use of it is in Metallica's One amidst the lyric "Darkness imprisoning me...". It usually involves rhythmic bursts of 3 strokes (up/down/up - up/down/up etc.) or 5 strokes (up/down/up/down/up - up/down/up/down/up etc.) played very quick and mixed with regular downstrokes and unmuted interruptions. Precision and an excellent sense of rhythm and timing is needed. Starting slow with a metronome and gradually building up your speed is the best way to accomplish the speed of metal's best rhythm guitarists.

==Using palm mute guitar playing dynamically==

Mixing palm muted phrases with occasional injections of unmuted phrases is what adds depth to rhythm guitar playing.

e.g.

P= palm muted chord/diad
U= unmuted chord/diad

P-----P-----P-----P------U-------P------U---U------P-----P-----P-----P------U-------P------U----U-

And of course, palm muting compliments the drums, so you can work with the bass drum or against it. Often, metal guitarists will "machine gun" in sync with double-bass drumming to emphasise the thunderous charge.

The best thing to do (and you probably do this anyway if you're a metal head) is listen to as many different genres of metal you can stay awake to. Death metal, for example, uses different dynamics to hardcore. Experiment and learn to utilise the chinese water torture of a metronome (even better, a drum machine or backing tracks).

Happy thrashing!


For some in depth lessons with audio examples and exercises in rhythmic palm muting and more, see the heavy metal guitar lessons section on Mike's website.


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