Fast Downstrokes for Thrash Rhythms

Ok time to get to the bottom of this. Those of you from the Master of Puppets et al camp, can anyone do this really well? And do you suspect there is something specific involved mechanically that may not be immediately obvious to those who are having trouble? Post a clip and let’s take a look!


Hell yeah! great thread.

I had this discussion with a friend of mine a couple of days ago. We were both playing the Master Of Puppets intro (on classical guitars with picks :sweat_smile:) and we were both laughing about the fact that we could only do the main riff in alternate picking. (0-1 on low E then consecutively 2, 3, 4 on the A string in between, you know…)

I have to admit, that I gave up trying this with down picking only a long time ago. I accepted the fact that James Hetfield is a down picking god and that I will never be able to play the lick like that. It’s sad, because the lick sounds a thousand times cooler with only down strokes.

I just would like to add that, I am able to play the riff with only down strokes for not more than 10 seconds but that results in a really tense elbow that forces me to stop. I even have the feeling that I am working out my neck in the process because the tension reaches it if I keep going :smile:

I tried the classic “try to be relaxed and use palm muting” advice but that simply slowed me down.

Anyway, I would be so happy to learn if there is some mechanical trick behind this! Thanks for starting this thread!

Cheers \m/

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I am genetically lazy (can produce proof on request :wink: ), so I totally endorse this (it’s the only way I can fake this song)!

But I would also like to know the mechanical ingredients of downpicking — besides the obvious athleticism required.

EDIT: Also Joscho is a monster downpicker, although in a completely different way. Is there something in common between him and Hetfield?

Man this is bad timing! I’m giving my picking hand a rest following injury. I’m definitely in the Master of Puppets camp, I’ve done a LOT of practice on downpicking to play that exact song, so I can play it pretty relaxed.

This is also something I’ve wondered about, because my top downpicking speed is a lot higher than my top alternate picking speed (as in I can downpick 8ths at a higher tempo than alternate 16ths), even though downpicking requires a string-hop to return to the starting position. Maybe the fact that you’re picking twice as many notes in alternate picking means you have double the string resistance per beat, making it slower?

I definitely suspect my mechanic is different between the two. For example, when doing very fast downpicking it can sometimes feel like I’m just hitting the string with the pick instead of actually picking through it.

But yeah, I’m just as interested to see what my own hand is doing. I can see what I can do about a video but it could be some time.

As are the Gypsies in general, since they’re dwps users and need to do this to get out of certain picking situations. There are clips on the web of Joscho doing this lick at even more ridiculous speeds than this:

This take in the interview is still quite fast, but it’s clear he has been even faster with it in the past. As to what’s going on specifically, if we can assume his approach has not changed, then yes, that’s clear. It’s forearm rotation down to the note, a tiny wrist extension to move the pick out of the way of the string so it doesn’t hit it on the way up, then he rotates back to the starting position, while flexing back to the starting wrist position. Rinse, repeat.

It’s a very smooth movement, but this doesn’t change the fact that the upstrokes aren’t playing anything, so it’s still repeated pickstrokes.

Ha, that sounds very interesting and in principle possible! Your other theory I’m not sure, because downpick + string hop should be intrinsically slower than downpick + uppick

One thing to take into consideration is that James Hetfield wears his guitar pretty low. A lot of punk rock (however you want to define the term) guitarists wear their guitars really (sometimes absurdly) low and they also do a lot of fast, aggresive down picking.

You have to be careful with this. Wrist flexion/extension isn’t slow, it’s quite fast, just as fast as deviation and arguably as fast as forearm movements. The reason stringhopping is bad is that it’s repeated wrist flexion and extension, on every pickstroke. The way out of this is alternate picking.

However in the case of all downstrokes, there is no way out — repetition is the technique.

That seems the case, however the bouncing off the string that @mcm suggested (or that I extrapolated from his message) could somehow make this repetition easier? (i.e. the pick goes back to the starting position by itself). The key would be to sorta slap the string, setting it in motion without crossing it :thinking:

The crazy fast palm-muted rhythm riffs are what got me into metal in the first place. Here was one of my starting points. The verse+bridge riffs in particular:

It’s a more alt-picked gallop pattern but the fast downstrokes still play a big part in it. I’m a natural UWPS guy so these kinds of riffs are just hell on earth for me. I’m always flying out of control.

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This is an error in picking technique that I see under the magnet often enough that I actually came up with a term for it: a “push”. Most of the time, at least when I do it, it produces no sound. You end up with a missing note in the phrase.

As far as picking errors, it’s a “good” error, in the sense that it means your technique is becoming precise enough that single notes go missing, instead of whole phrases. But it’s still an error.

It would seem unlikely that you could get a real clear / aggressive muted sound by doing something like this, but as usual, let’s get it on video. If it’s happening, then it exists!


That’s cool, definitely want to see video of this. Your whole technique is a little bit of an awesome puzzle, as we’ve come to expect from you!

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That’s a fairly accurate description of how it feels when I try to push it really fast, yeah. I’m gonna look pretty silly if that’s not actually what I’m doing :frowning:

Here’s a quick clip I threw together just now, in glorious comical 5-year old phone quality. Feel free to laugh amongst yourselves at how you can see the individual pixels. I’ll steal a better phone again some time.

This is the first time i’ve tried any fast-ish picking for a few weeks since I felt some pains and twinges in my wrist/arm, got scared and decided to take a break (around the time I was posting videos in my critique thread), so it was very stiff and crappy. And this kind of stuff is a one way ticket to Tendonitis Town. I’m gonna have to build back up to my top speed gradually, which was 15-ish bpm above this like a month ago. I can probably make a much more useful video then.

Cool clip, and great playing. I think what you’re describing as “bouncing” is the wrist extension movement, similar to what Marty does here:

The pickstrokes that you and Marty are doing all move away from the body of the guitar. This is partly because you’re using a supinated forearm, and partly because the wrist actually bends away using extension when you hit the string. Everyone does this. It’s how you can hit a power chord with a wrist movement and still somehow end up with your pick up in the air, away from the body.

Contrast this with what happens when you do dwps rest stroke, where the pick stays buried in the string. I bet that in the majority of such cases, players feel much more like the pick is “playing through” the string. In reality, that’s probably what’s happening in both cases, but the extension movement feels more like bouncing off the string because the pick ends up airborne.

To really see what happens at the moment of pick/string contact, you’d not only need a better phone but it would have to be in 240ps mode or even higher, with a s**tload of light. Examining physical phenomena of that sort is almost more engineering lab experiment territory, where you’d use a Phantom or something. That we can even talk about doing this on a device used for phone calls still blows my mind.

As a general note, considering how well you play and considering your interest level in these subjects, you really owe it to yourself to get a better phone. Almost all phones these days can do at least 120fps, even the lower end models. Totally worth starting a piggy bank for this.


When I was trying to learn this stuff, there wasn’t anyone to tell me “Hetfield does mostly downstrokes”. I got into Metallica after “And Justice For All” had been out for a little while, and then cut my teeth on the Master of Puppets tab book using alternate picking for the fast single-string rhythm stuff. And I suspect that on lots of Metallica’s fast triplet gallop stuff that James is alternate picking.

And trying to play the fast triplets before the famous “landmine!” part of One was probably my first foray into attempts at a fast alternate picking movement. So even if I’ve been wrong all these years, trying to play those parts with a mix of up and downstrokes was a productive use of time for me.

If anyone wants to get all forensic, there are at least some short fragments of Hetfield’s fast picking from a magnet-ish angle in the clip below:

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I have that tab book! It’s full of mistakes.
Ben Eller (who was guest host in the Andy Wood interview) has some good videos ‘decoding’ Metallica riffs that are tricky to figure out by ear, e.g.:

He does a quick shoutout to Troy in this video too. We should get him on this forum.


Nice video!

I like it when some famous Youtubers embrace the CtC stuff and use it during their lessons (as opposed to the deniers, but that has been discussed in a separate thread).

Anyway, I wonder if UPWS is the only key element to achieving fast down picking. For me, it’s a bit harder to do palm muting if I do UWPS at the the same time.

Let’s see where this thread goes. Learned a few things already :slight_smile:

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Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of wrist extension going on. I guess I’m not actually just doing a ‘push’ like I suggested before. Unlike my alternate picking technique I don’t think there’s any finger motion, although the hand and arm position is mostly the same. Maybe the reason I can downpick at a faster tempo than alternate is because pure wrist is just a faster motion for me than fingers, and I’d see an increase in alternate picking speed by switching to pure wrist.

Been planning on getting a new phone soon anyway, not just for guitar videos, but for, you know, phone stuff. So, better videos incoming.

To be honest I actually think Ben’s a little off the mark here. I don’t really see how pickslanting mechanics comes into play at all when it’s just downstrokes.

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You are right, I tried it and it seemed pretty much impossible. I thought something akin to the slap bass movement, but my theory was totally negated by experiment (story of my life as a theoretical physicist :wink: ).

@kounistou and @mcm, I was also confused by (the otherwise great) Uncle Ben’s comments on why UWPS should be better for repeated downstrokes.

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