Building speed for death metal rhythm


Hello everyone.

I’ve been struggling with alternate picking fast rifts for a long time now and playing 16th notes at 200bpm just seemed completely our of reach to me. I was plateauing around 165-170 bpm

Last week I’ve watched the “pickslanting primer” video on youtube and I realised that I was plateauing due to string hopping.

However now that I’ve figured that there needs to be some pickslanting, I can play a bit faster now, but I know I need to figure my optimal pick movement mechanic and have a practice method that will yield results.

I have a few questions concerning picking motion mechanics:

  1. I need to find the picking motion that lets me pick as fast as possible. I feel more comfortable with a combination of wrist deviation and rotation, however, I can pick much faster when adding some elbow motion, at the cost of much more muscular fatigue. Should I work on increasing speed on the motion I feel more comfortable on, or, build stamina on my fastest motion?

  2. Is it ok to use two different motions, e.g wrist most of time and elbow for fast tremolo picking?

Here’s an example of the kind of riffs I’m working on:

From “Suicide Machine” by Death

From “Flattening of Emotions” by Death

The arrows indicate the notes that are giving me trouble. I used to have a problem with the string hopping component and everytime I would try to increase the speed, I would unconsciously simply skip these in order to reach the next string.

Even though with DWPS, string hopping is not a problem anymore, my old habit is what’s holding me back.

Another question I have is, at high enough speeds, how to KNOW for sure that you are playing an even number of notes? When I play at my fastest I cannot hear if I’m playing 5 or 6 notes. Is it supposed to be proprioception? Or do you use your chunking to teach your brain to teach “play 6 notes” or “play 8 notes” as one motion?

How can I implement chunking on those riffs if I can’t even really hear how many notes I’m playing (at my highest speed)? Slow it down enough that I can heat all the notes and somehow keep the same picking mechanic?


This is what I do. I started doing this when trying to learn some of the more complex Megadeth/Metallica riffs long before I’d ever heard of CTC or heard the term chunking.
In “Suicide Machine” try chunking the notes in 7s or in a 3 and 4. In “Flattening of Emotions” I’d separate the eighths from the sixteenths. As for the connecting parts maybe try an economy type of sweep from the sixteenth to eighth. Downpick the eighths. Human is a badass album.


When doing this kind of riffs I usually lock into the “16th note speed” which is basically letting the movement go while only focusing on being on time on the down beat. For example with the Suicide Machine riff, for the first seven note I would go like this : D / D U D U D U and counting in my head “1, 1, 2, 3”. Doing that way, I lock into a regular picking movement and I just focus on landing the downstroke on the beats. You just need to be careful between the two consecutive downstrokes, and to nail those two properly I think that working on regular down picking is the way to go.

Now for the second riff I would do the same kind of thing, except that I would switch between 16th note speed and 8th speed, alternate picking everything. And then as I explained above, the goal is not so much to play a chunk, but to lock your picking movement at the correct speed, using the fact that your downstroke are on the downbeat to stay locked in properly. The difficult thing in flattening emotion is that the song is really fast and you need to change the speed of your picking motion in a really small frame. I use the same kind of idea when playing the really fast riff in Perennial Quest.

Regarding picking motion, I would take the most reliable one that you have and try to push it by bursting for 10/15 sec to high speed. I’ve been using the riffs in Esoteric surgery by Gojira to train my tremolo picking speed, and so far I’m making some progress.

I hope this was clear, and good luck for those riff :slight_smile:

PS: Death’ songs :+1:


Yeah, learning the fast 6-note chunks in the “machine gun” part of Metallica’s One back in the day is probably where I first started developing picking speed in general. I remember going through some of the textbook dilemmas about it re: “should I use a thinner pick?” etc. I’d say the main issue for me was developing the ability to keep the depth of each pickstroke consistent (and at least in the beginning, trying to do it with the minimum possible pick depth that still gave a clear sound).


Thanks everyone for your input


I can see how in those riffs, the “inside picking” component can be avoided entirely with an economy picking approach. However I’m pretty sure there are some riffs where economy won’t work. For now I prefer sticking to strict alternate picking and always lead on a downstroke to keep my rythmn right.


OK, I do the same picking pattern (D / D U D U D U). I used to count every stroke. I’m counting only the downstrokes now, hopefully that’ll help. I need to teach myself that “1,2,3” means 3x “down/up”. I’m still having trouble with the last upstroke before the string change.

I’m really surprised that it’s the two consecutive downstrokes that you need to pay attention to. To me that’s the easy part but I guess I had already perfected the downpicking motion a long time ago. That motion never felt unnatural to me so I got good at it pretty fast.

I have worked on my single string picking mechanics. I’ve found the motion that lets me do 16th notes at 220 bpm, feels comfortable. It’s the string switching that’s giving me trouble.

I’ve been practicing the string switiching motion for a few days and I can now do it at 180 bpm. That is faster than before I started using pickslanting. However it still feels like I’m hitting an invisible wall and today things just finally clicked for me.

I realised that I wasn’t properly string tracking. I was string tracking AND picking with wrist deviation. It just never occured to me that the alternate picking motion needs to stay the same regardless of string changes. It’s the whole hand that has to move up or down to change string. As long as I have some pickslanting and that my upstrokes pull the pick high enough to allow for string changes, there is nothing wrong with my picking.


@paulemile are you still working on this? I was listening to the Death album “Human” last night and took a look at some tabs for the songs and wow - 200bpm seems impossible to me.

I’m wondering if Chuck Schulinder and Paul Masvidal were really nailing everything on the beat? Like in Flattening of Emotions were they nailing constant 16ths at 200bpm, cleanly? Lack of comprehension also has some fast riffage - not difficult to play, just the stamina and accuracy that gets me.


Seem to be landing most of them to me.

Faster than 200 bpm too.


that is quite an athletic feat, I’m gonna give up on this one I think.


Don’t, I made the same mistake when learning a lot of black and death metal and thinking any of this was impossible was very discouraging. A lot of times it’s either unmetered tremolo or a metered tremolo where it seems like they are playing at 200 BPM+ but in reality the right hand is moving around 180 BPM. If you ever tap tempo a metal song and it’s at 240 BPM, odds are they are playing triplets at 240, which translates to 180 BPM 16th notes.

In the case of Flattening Emotions it is 215-ish BPM 16th notes. I can play it at that speed, don’t give up. It takes work but it is not impossible by any stretch. The notes are in bursts which makes it easier, and Chuck alternate picks a slower group of notes in the middle of the riff to give his right hand a break.

Martin Goulding, a renowned UK virtuoso guitarist, has a lesson inspired by the riff from Flattening of Emotions on his website. It also has a backing track. Give it a go - he has it in standard tuning so it’s even more convenient to learn.


Did you mean triplets? Sextuplets are 6 notes per beat, no?


Yeah, my bad, I meant triplets, good catch. This is way more common in black metal than death metal due to blast beast usage by drummers.


So he says " The picking motion comes from the wrist and in this style is much lighter than you may think."

Which is probably also what I would say to anyone trying to do this (the thing about lighter than you think anyway, I think “the motion comes from the wrist” is potentially a bit misleading).

But If you watch the video I posted, at 1:20 you can see the second guitarist is definitely adhering to this but Chuck is using a wider looking motion (or…perhaps it just looks like that to me because his hand is more spread out).

I think a good thing to work on is picking a given tempo and then playing 16ths and morphing between tremolo smoothness, more articulation through to crispy muting and back again.


Thanks @guitarenthusiast - I have my guitar tuned down a half step and I use Transcribe to tune the Death songs up a half step so we meet in the middle. I don’t want to tune down a step and have to readjust my truss rod as I play in standard 99% of the time.


Yeah the constant retuning for metal annoys me too. I’m thinking of saving up for a guitar specifically for downtuning.


In my own experience, and after asking some producers/recording engineer who did metal bands, guitarists often stop to do “proper” 16th notes around ~220 bpm.

Accented thrashy riffs Schuldiner does allow for slight pauses. It’s easier to start with those ones. However motion-wise I don’t know if he uses arm-locking or still pure wrist motion.

As @guitarenthusiast said, in most black metal band player go for an approximated rate of notes, often without realizing it, and their sound allow for that to render well in a full band sound.

I did observe some death metal guitar player performing the “real” 16th notes at the 200-210 ish tempos on long lasting riffs without pauses, and they always used arm-locking.


A bit of video material to back-up my sayings.
Here you can see a player doing mostly DWPS w/ Forearm-rotation, however using forearm locking on the long tremolo part at 2:02, consisting of 16 bars of 16th notes (210 bpm) straight, with a fuck-up. “ho merde” :wink:

link to video


Getting on for 250 and I don’t quite see locked arms, I’m not posting this to be contrary but just so people don’t limit themselves unnecessarily.

Not as easy to hear if all the notes are landing in this clip as it was with the Death but again it sounds at the very least that more are being made than missed.


The athletic ability really is incredible.


They have some playthrough videos where you can better see what’s going on, but I specifically wanted that song cos it’s fast.