How to Compose Metal MusicPosted by Ben Heckler
Have a dream of remaining in a successful metal band but do not understand how to begin?
There is no easy trick to making an excellent metal song. You need to become obsessed with different kinds of metal music and find the elements that speak to you the most.
Luckily there are tons of great metal bands that come in all shapes and sizes. The variation between metal music is astounding.
As for creating your first metal song, we can give you some tips for how to start. You’ll need to develop a concept of the sound you’re going for and get like-minded bandmates on board to play, but that is the next step!
Getting started—songwriting in metal music
In terms of songwriting, metal is among the most fascinating and varied genres of music. The metal genre has no limits to the amount of instruments it can have, but typically between two guitars, drums and bass, you can have a pretty comprehensive sound.
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Many bands have a person dedicated to synthesizers which makes more possibilities for textures and ambiance.
Writing metal music requires writing strong rhythmic ideas that can get a crowd moving but also keeping it interesting and fresh enough that you don’t repeat what has already been done.
Let’s get started writing a metal song of our own. We have made a list of tips that will help you get on your way. The key thing to remember is rhythm and melody.
Fortunately, in metal music there are not many rules, there is so much variety that you could mix metal with bebop jazz or folkloric Turkish music.
Let’s take a look at how to get started with a rhythm in metal music.
Rhythm in metal music
To start out, let’s limit ourselves to only basic rhythms such as a steady stream of quarter notes and eighth notes.
Next, let’s start removing some of these notes. Let’s say you have a pattern that is 2 quarter notes and 4 eighth notes.
Now let’s remove the two eighth notes (replacing them with rests0) on the downbeats to make some syncopation, and start developing the groove.
When you have done this, return over the notes that stay and play through the rhythm you have actually developed and try to think a little more melodically about it. Melody is key in every type of music.
Most melodies in metal are based around some sort of minor scale. Sometimes they can explore more exotic scales too. Here is an example of the same rhythm but now with a more melodic feel.
See how that works better? We could now make a whole song out of just this riff. If we want to make it even more complex we could add a couple more notes and make it in an odd time signature. Listen to the band Tool or Meshuggah for an amazing example of this type of writing with odd time signatures.
Orchestration of a metal song
The last rhythm we just made could be the basis of a metal song. We could expand it and make it an odd time signature, and we could trade off having any instrument play a variation of that rhythm.
Furthermore, we could have some instruments playing the exact same rhythm and others playing different rhythms.
This will make some rhythms feel very powerful when two instruments are synchronized, and the contrast of another instrument (or voice) doing something counter rhythmic can be extremely interesting and will pull the listener in two different ways.
Power chords are a type of chord that are utilized frequently in metal music. These are composed of the root and the fifth of a chord. They work because they do not define what type of chord it is, whether it is A minor or major. But the progression of chords will dictate the scale.
Though power chords can give metal music its unmistakable sound, many other chords can be used and should be experimented with to find your own sound within the genre. The band Deftones are excellent at using a combination of full open chords and power chords.
Another defining feature of the genre is distortion. Try to invest in a great amp or distortion pedal to really get a good distortion tone that isn’t to weak or ‘tinny’.
Melodic approach to metal music
Many metal bands don’t understand that melody is a hugely important aspect of metal. I would disagree. In ALL MUSIC, and definitely metal included, the melody is essential.
Melody is the hook of the song, the part that you are going to remember. Yes, fancy one-note rhythmic odd-time chug patterns are awesome, but what sings over these parts is the most memorable.
Melody also doesn’t need to be super complex. Melody can just be one note at the right time. The melody can have space, it doesn’t need to be dense and long.
A fantastic method to begin writing a song is to develop the singing melodies initially and after that write the riffs around that.
Try writing a verse and chorus tune with some form of words up until you get a melodic and rhythmically fascinating gem. If the tune sticks in your head after a few days, then you are off to a fantastic start.
Consider your favorite songs. I’m guessing they all have catchy, memorable melodies. Polyrhythms, shredding and bombastic drumbeats are in the end no replacement for a catchy tune.
Riffs over ‘noodling’
The metal genre is known more for shredding guitars and exploding drums than for its skillfully written melodies. But the combination of the two is the best of two worlds.
Once you have given birth to your incredible melody, how can one compose a memorable riff to give it life?
Loop it and try things out! If you still can’t get anything you like take a break and come back to it. Call it a night and make it the priority first thing in the morning.
The best riffs are usually the most natural. You want to come into the practice space or the studio with fresh ears and begin there. Trust your instincts and then work to refine them.
Ben Heckler is a multi-instrumentalist and musician from Portland, Oregon. Currently Ben lives in Barcelona where he teaches drum lessons, writes and records original music for his band Sea Fuzz as well as playing drums for one of the biggest Beatles tribute bands in Europe, The Flaming Shakers.
Ben is constantly creating and composing various types of music, video, and artwork for a multitude of projects that come his way. He hopes to use his platforms to share, help and inspire others to create in their own ways.