You've got your guitar, you've got your amplifier. Now what? Now it's time to bring YOUR story to life. You need the tools and knowledge to get what's in your head to your fingers and beyond. This is How to Write Epic Metal.
Complete course with step-by-step lessons and practice examples.
Course filmed with 6 cameras for the perfect angles.
All tabs and notation provided in PDF and Guitar Pro formats.
Download tabs, helpers, JamTracks and docs included with lessons.
In this course we will go over the basics of theory and technique, the philosophy behind composition, rhythm, how to write leads, how to write solos, and how to tell stories with just our guitars alone. By the end of this course you will have the tools necessary to bring the music you have growing inside yourself to life! And potentially summon a dragon or two...Begin the Course
Join JD McGibney as he gives us an introduction to his course: How to Write Epic Metal.
Let us start off by recapping chords. Chords, in their most basic form are a series of three notes that are played at the same time. We'll take a look at the main chord types used in metal: major, minor and power chords
In this lesson we are going to go over the major scale, also known as the Ionian Mode. In western music the major scale is the oldest mode we use and is the grandpappy of all the other modes, having roots in ancient Sumeria!
Now, we are going to go over a rock and metal staple: pentatonic scales. Pentatonic scales are scales that have 5 notes, instead of seven. JD takes a look at the two types of pentatonic scales: major pentatonic and minor pentatonic.
In this lesson we are going to go over how to apply your picking hand. The goal here is to try and let your picking hand think and act separately from your fretting hand so that you can focus on what notes and chords you are holding down!
After going over the basics a bit, let’s start talking about writing. First off, ask yourself “what is it that I want to say? What is it I want to express?” When we write a song we are attempting to tell a story, or we are trying to express a flow of emotion that’s so intense that it’s BURSTING out of us. JD gives us some tips for accomplishing this in the instrumental realm.
In this next lesson, let’s explore the second mode in modern music, the Dorian Mode. This mode also has its origins in ancient Greece, followed by a revision and “interpretation” during the middle ages, before becoming what we know now as Dorian.
In this lesson we are going to go over the third mode pattern: Phrygian. The reason it is the third mode is because, you guessed it, it starts on the third note of the major scale. This also has its roots in ancient Greece, followed by revisions in the middle ages, and a final revision in the 1800s.
Now we are going to go over the fourth mode of the major scale - Lydian. Named after the ancient Greek province of Lydia, this mode (like the others) has its roots in ancient Greece, was modified by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, and had its final revision in the 1800s before becoming what we know and use today.
This lesson is going to go over the Mixolydian Mode, which is our fifth mode in modern western music. We can trace its roots to around the 7th century BC to (you guessed it) ancient Greece! It got revamped by the church in the middle ages, and then mutated into what we use now. Mixolydian is SUPER popular in rock, blues, jazz, and folk music, and is considered a major mode.
Our next lesson is going to go over the Aeolian mode, more commonly known as “the natural minor scale.” It is the sixth mode in our pattern, and has been in existence since the renaissance. Being that this is referred to as natural minor, this mode is indeed… a minor mode.
In this lesson we are going to go over the seventh and final mode in western music: The Locrian Mode. The term “Locrian” can be found in a bunch of ancient Greek texts, but there is no evidence of any early forms of this mode until the 1700s, which is when we see what we are using now.
Now it's time to put the modes together and see how the patterns relate to one another. This is a handy bit of knowledge to have when you start composing your first songs!
One of the really cool things about the guitar is the fact that you can play one note in several different spots. Now, you might ask yourself “Why would I want to play the SAME note in different places?!” The answer is because it allows you to play with different voicings, and therefore… create different feels.
Rhythm is just as important as the notes and chords we choose in our compositions. The best way to practice your rhythm is to (I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times) practice. with. a. metronome. Every mode that we have gone over so far is perfect to use for this kind of practice. Start slow with your metronome, and slowly work your way to a higher speed. Once you have trained yourself to stay in time, you will then be able to spice up your rhythm with accents and subdivisions.
A really important thing to keep in mind while writing is dynamics. You want your song to flow, have feeling, and you want each part to stand out. When we think about specific emotions we realize that they are complex and have many layers, and when we think of stories we realize that there are different stages, acts, parts. We want to keep this in mind when we write our songs.
Now that we built a riff, we can start adding to it to make our composition sound more full. One of the things we can do, especially in metal because of the standard practice of having two guitarists, is use chord harmonies. Basically what this is is playing two chords at the same time. Doing this fills in more gaps and flushes out your story by directing the listener towards a certain emotional feeling due to the happiness, sadness, or dissonance of the chord harmonies.
Leads are fun to work with because when you are writing a lead, this is LITERALLY your chance to give your guitar a voice. Think of a lead as the melody line from your favorite song that you always catch yourself humming. In this lesson we are going to see how learning all our modes will come in handy.
Now that we have our main melody in hand, we can spice things up even MORE… by adding a COUNTER melody… to our regular melody. A countermelody is a second melody that is played at the same time as another melody, but it is slightly less prominent. Think of these guys as hidden accents that bridge the rhythm and main lead. Counter melodies are often times played as a bass line, but for this lesson we are going to add a third guitar to “Beauty in a Body Bag” because, well… it’s metal. And because we can.
At last, we arrive at the flashy stuff! Let’s talk about soloing. Solos are small sections within a song that allow for a musician to show off their chops, not only with their technique, but with their composition abilities. Think of a solo as a song-within-a-song. A well constructed solo is written as a point of climax within your story, and within itself has a beginning, middle, and an end. This is where your knowledge of modes is REALLY going to come in handy, and where ALL that metronome practice is going to pay off!
Now that we’ve set ourselves up to be in a soloing mindset, let’s break down an actual solo. For this exercise we are going to go over a section of a song that JD wrote called “Amor de mi Vida.”
Now that we’ve gone over how to compose a solo, let’s talk about improvising a solo. The fundamentals are the same, where you want to try and stick with a beginning, middle, and an end, but there is a lot more room to, well...wing it. The idea behind improvising is to allow yourself to fully explore a riff IN the moment, and to let yourself be as genuine to your feelings in that moment as possible.
Let’s start talking about techniques you can add to your bag of tricks in order to make your soloing a bit flashier. Let’s start off talking about tremolo picking. Remember at the beginning of this course JD made it a point that you practice running your scales in an Up-Down motion? THIS is exactly why. Basically, tremolo picking is you doing those exercises… REALLY fast.
Natural Harmonics can be played on a guitar in order to add a nice air, and calm sensation to a composition. Harmonics are the high overtones of a note with the fundamentals being dampened/muted. Every string has three areas that are REALLY easy to create natural harmonics. JD will take a look at these areas and more!
Pinch harmonics are a cool trick used by many famous guitarists. You can do this trick on any note of any string on the guitar. So crank up the distortion and join JD as he shows you the technique! (The secret lies in the thumb...)
For those who do NOT have whammy bars on their guitars, there is a little trick that can be done that simulates one of the effects of a whammy. The poor man’s whammy is meant to simulate certain whammy effects. Advanced warning: this trick is a bit... tricky. Be very careful when you try it!
This little trick is SUPER easy, but sounds really cool when you add it in for some spice to a solo or lead. It’s referred to as “auto flanging." In order to do this, you will need to have your gain or distortion on. You can do this on any string, but it works best with higher notes, so let’s work with the G string.
And no we have reached a technique that a lot of people end up trying to throw into their solos: Sweep picking! In this lesson, JD shows us the basic ideas behind this cool technique, and how to use it over a major chord.
In this lesson, JD will take a look at sweep picking again but this time over a minor pattern.
So you may have noticed JD using a 7 string guitar throughout this course! Well, as a conclusion to his course, JD will finally explain the mystery behind this beast of a guitar. To demonstrate the range of this instrument, JD will show us a portion of his song - "On the Wings of Dragons".
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After this lesson I wrote a couple of riffs around the F Maj and D Min pentatonic. Going to put those riffs in my latest tune.
I like the approach JD used here. We are bringing it together nicely over a backtrack by lesson 4. Really by lesson 3 not counting the course intro. That's awesome! It gives the student the "So what?!" factor very early in the course! Thank you
Very cool explanation