Extreme metal is full of different styles, and one of the most prominent of these is death metal. With aggressive and hellacious guitar work, deep guttural vocals, and powerful, fast drumming, death metal has worked its way to the forefront of the extreme metal scene.
Bands such as Death, Cannibal Corpse, Origin, Morbid Angel, Carcass, Entombed, Dark Tranquility, and Atheist have all pushed the genre in some way or another, whether that be by means of technical prowess, or shear, raw brutality.
No matter how much the genre has developed over the past two decades, one technique has remained a constant; tremolo picking.
Tremolo picking is actually a classical guitar technique. Odd as it may be, the purpose of tremolo notes is to create a shimmering, dazzling effect. Death metal bands have taken the traditional tremolo picking technique and given it a whole new edge, breathing new life into a technique older than rock and roll itself.
Tremolo picking is sometimes known as speed picking. While this nickname is somewhat accurate, many guitarists don’t actually recognize tremolo for what it is. Tremolo picking isn’t a grouping of separate note values played in a row, but actually, a single note played as a grouping of thirty second notes.
Take for instance an eighth note. If you were to tremolo pick an eighth note, you would be picking four thirty second notes to equal that one eighth note. That being said, those aren’t four separate thirty second notes; a tremolo note is the value of a single note.
So that eighth note tremolo note is still technically an eighth note, and is notated as such, only with three dashes through its stem. This lets you know that you will be playing the note as a grouping of thirty second notes.
You want to control the speed at which you are picking. This is important for many reasons, but mostly to (a) stay within your key signature, (b) avoid tiring your hand out, (c) keep the song rhythm steady, and (d) to avoid note spillage.
Note spillage is simply playing one too many notes, causing them to spill into the value of the next note. While this won’t necessarily change the entire value of a riff, it will throw the riff slightly out of whack.
The only way to truly develop your tremolo picking technique is to practice. Keep your arm relaxed, and while you are playing, be aware of your form. Many guitarists unknowingly tense up when picking quickly. This can not only lead to injury, but it can also lead to strains. Both will keep you from your guitar for an extended period of time.
Use a metronome starting off around 120bpm, and count each click as an eighth note beat within a 4/4 time signature. For each click, play four notes; one on the click, for simultaneously thereafter. Be patient, as tremolo picking takes time. As long as you practice, your endurance will build. Good luck!
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