So you want to play heavy metal, but you don’t know where to start? That’s okay, many guitarists don’t. Most guitar players start off learning their favorite bands songs, which isn’t bad, it just doesn’t teach you anything. How can you learn to write your own music if all you do is play other people’s music?
The best place to start learning heavy metal, if you are serious about your instrument, is by learning scales. Scales are seven note structures that outline the foundations of all music. Every time you hear a song, you are hearing scales at work.
So What Are the Heavy Metal Scales?
The first, most common heavy metal scale is the natural minor scale. Natural minor scales are so popular because they have a fragile, more depressive tone quality. With heavy metal being such a powerful form of music, the natural minor fits perfectly as it can be used to evoke powerful emotional responses together with thumping drum beats. The intervallic spacing of a natural minor scale is as follows:
Whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step
This means, if we were to make the most basic natural scale, the A minor scale, we would arrive at the letter names A, B (A#, B), C (C), D (C#, D), E (D#, E), F (F), and G (F#, G.) This means that our A minor scale would look like this:
A, B, C, D, E, F, G
The second most popular scale in heavy metal music as actually built off of the natural minor scale. This scale is called the harmonic minor scale. This scale is favored for its classical flavor, which lends itself nicely to diminished licks and chords, giving a darker sound.
To make a harmonic minor scale, we simply raise the seventh note name in our scale a single chromatic step, or a half step. If we were to do this to our A minor scale, our G would simply turn into a G#. That means our A harmonic minor scale would look like this:
A, B, C, D, E, F, G#
This little change brings on a complete different flavor to the scale. Any natural minor scale can be turned into a harmonic minor scale simply by raising that seventh note name. Subsequently, any harmonic minor scale can be turned into a natural minor scale by lowering the seventh note name.
The Dorian Mode
Another extremely popular scale in heavy metal is the Dorian mode. The Dorian mode has an extremely unique sound to it. Some would consider it a ‘serious’ mode, but I’ll let you judge for yourself. The Dorian mode consists of the notes D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. The construction of the Dorian mode is as follows:
Whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step
The Phrygian Mode
Finally, our last heavy metal scale is the Phrygian mode. This mode is very closely related to the harmonic minor in sound, as it carries diminished properties and that neoclassical feel. The notes of the Phrygian mode are E, F, G, A, B, C, and D. The construction of the Phrygian mode is as follows:
Half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step
Now that you know some heavy metal scale, the next step is to practice them. Learn them forwards and backwards, and then write some simple melodies in each key. Have fun, and practice hard!