Need help with metal rhythm playing

I’ve been playing as a natural DSX player for as long as I can remember and it’s incredibly impractical for playing heavy metal rhythms, so I’ve been working on my USX method for about three years now, basically ever since I discovered CTC. It’s been incredibly frustrating and I’m almost too embarrassed to ask for help. I’ve been to several high level teachers in my area and none of them have been able to help me solve this exact issue.

I’m trying to develop a wrist/forearm approach similar to old-school Troy, Doug Aldrich, that type of thing. It’s the perfect posture for what I want to accomplish musically and it’s a way better TONE for palm muting.

Herea my best crack at a recent riff from my band. I find these gallops incredibly difficult and I cant never seem to dial it in. Also, I lose strength after a few bars, I’m throwing airballs, pushing against the strings without passing through. Thisnis also true for my normal playing posture–i have a hell of a time just getting the pick THROUGH the strings half the time and I end up flapping around like a fish. I feel like I have to play extremely hard just to hit the notes at all, which leads me to my next problem.

The pinky side of my picking hand gets very tense and I can start to feel numbness behind my elbow in my ulnar nerve. I also have trouble with pick grip. If I hold too tight then it aggravates my arm but if I relax, the pick ends up being choked out in my fingers within a few seconds.

How do you metal guys pull this off?


Can you get your phone a little closer and record in slow motion?

Cool riff!

I can totally relate. I have always been a metal player but because i spent most of my time practicing a (messed up) lead-playing technique, i developed a lot of weird rythm playing habits.

+1. Do this to unleash the full unholy analysis potential of the forum’s sages.
However, as someone who has done a lot of cramped up metal-rythm guitar, i can at least say the following:

As you mentioned, the most common setup for the average metal-rythms (downstrokes, gallops, singlenoteriffs) is anything which allows you to do upward-escape motions

However, i think you are not really doing that. If i am not mistaken, the video shows your hand traveling in a slight halfcircle after each downstroke. If the escape motion is correct, the hand movement of most players looks more like a knocking movement. That your hand has to travel away from the strings a bit might indicate that your Pickslant tends more towards UPS than fits your approach. ( i am not too confident with my critique here, though. Its not visible beyond a doubt with slowed-down-YT, it is just the pitfall that i struggle with whenever i dont pay attention to my setup).

(Edit: This is weird but did we already have a discussion about how escape motions are relevant to bring the pick back above a string or am i just assuming this?)

I had some success with imagining that my picking position is a more extreme DPS than it actually has and creating the mental image that i primarily hit the front and bottom of the string instead of its top. That somehow helped me to not bring the pick too far behind the e-string (or dropped A-string if you are a grownup, like me).

That sounds similar to what i experience when my movements “get in the way of each other”. When playing the guitar the individual movements we do arent that complicated but you need to make lots of them in quick successions. If one movement isnt complete when you have to start the next one (or was completed in a flawed way) then we often compensate for that by applying additional force/tension, which tends to mess up the next move resulting in a vicious circle of increasing tension. I think once you found the right picking motion and internalised a good form, these issues will stop.

When i adopted a new picking position after i found CtC, i switched from an open hand (like yours) to a closed one with curled fingers. I am not saying one is better than the other, but i think this has helped me to change my position. You dont feel as tempted to cling to the disfunctional stuff you want to leave behind when you are not just trying to play different in the old setup.

I kind of want to write a lot more, especially concerning the gallops, but at this point i am unsure if i am not projecting some of the problems i used to have (or still have) with my own rythm playing onto your example because the whole thing sounds so familiar. I’d prefer to read what others have to say first and study a bit for now, looking forward to the results of this discussion here :raised_back_of_hand:


Thanks for the responses so far. Unfortunately Samsung didn’t have Cracking The Code in mind when they designed their selfie cam so I cant do much better than this–no zoom or slo-mo. I’ll have to amputate my legs to get it closer. YouTube doesnt give me any upload quality options either. You’ll have to use YouTubes playback speed to slow it down.

This is all I can do for today–the entire pinky side of my hand seized up at the end of this clip.

Thanks again

Your hand position looks good, I would say some of this is psychological and the rest is just practice.
UPX is definitely my preference for metal playing, I would also argue that a bit of pronation helps with this.

I have met a lot of great metal players in-person and online. One overarching commonality is that the majority played rhythm guitar (specifically metal) for the first couple of years almost exclusively. They lived and breathed it, and often neglected other aspects of their playing.

Concerning your playing, you seem to be digging in too much and not relaxing enough. Good rhythm playing, much like scalar/shreddy stuff should feel relatively ‘easy’ when done right.

To quote a modern metal great (Josh Middleton) “focus on endurance and accuracy at a manageable tempo before attempting faster tempos like 200bom or above.”

160bpm with a powerful and relaxed technique will always sound better than spasmodic ‘cheat’ playing with too much distortion :slight_smile:

How much ‘conentrated’ effort do you put into your rhythm playing and practice on a weekly basis?


I’m assuming you had this video in mind…


Ok, so i kept some of the things discussed here in mind during my practice session this morning and i feel a bit different now about some of the stuff i wrote in my first post…

Maybe you can relate to some of these characteristics i’ve noticed about my playing:

  • My downpicking is actually pretty relaxed on fast tempos. I have no probs to pick several bars of 200bpm 8ths in a relaxed way. I think this works because the movement i do feels like a knocking movement to me, even though i am factually doing something not unlike you do, where i actually perform a slight halfcircle. It has nothing to do with not bringing the pick too far behind the lowest string, as i previously thought, in fact i am almost hitting the pickup. I guess it has the feeling of a knocking movement because i am primarily using the muscles which i would use if i’d actually knock. Also my DPS is very pronounced while doing this.

  • I can also do the typical thrashy raining-blood-style pure gallops quite relaxed at that tempo, i have to pay some attention to not play them as short spasms, though. When i focus on the upstroke and keep my pickslant, i can keep control and the riff is fun.

  • I tend to fall into a weird habit when i play riffs that require both elements in combination (like the one of your band). I am for whatever reason super tempted to spasm the gallops when they are embedded in lines of downstrokes. Whenever i do, the whole thing becomes harder and much more “work”, because even though i can force the speed, its hard to relax afterwards, because there is no chill in proper metal.

I think the problem comes from sometimes using a different picking position for the gallops. Thats when i use much more edge and put more finger/thumb-work into it than necessary, which i neither do during tremolo or downstrokes. If i focus on playing the gallops with the same setup as the downstrokes, i have much more sucess and the riff feels fun and easy.

Maybe this is the most important part: In my playing in general, not just rhythm, a major problem of mine is a “hidden” tension which i develop in the wrist. For the majority of the time i dont realise it and therefore cant really conciously relax it, but when i do a lot of obstacles dissapear.
If done correctly it feels as if, while the movement comes from the wrist, the working muscles are in the forarm (i write such stuff down in the hope of reproducing it easier the next time). Because your setup itself looks flawless and you can force your way through the riff, maybe you got a similar problem.

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Hi @element0s, I feel your pain, I also struggled with metal-style rhythm guitar before working on my dwps (or better USX - but the two happen together for me). Now I am still not a good metal player but I think I at least have a couple of motions that would work for these riffs.

It seems to me that your RH posture is similar to what you use for DSX playing (and that worked well I think).

If you want to really break away from your “DSX habits” when playing rhythm, maybe you can try changing some things radically in your right hand posture. For example you can try to pick with a more closed fist, or anchor/slide the unused fingers on the pickguard (I found this example in my own playing to give an idea, the relaxed gliding fingers sort of force you into a primarily USX/DWPS setup - sorry for the low res).


You can also try to change things like the pick grip - even trying something radical like the “James Hatfield” grip. Maybe you’ll stumble into something comfortable. Then you can always go back to your standard form for the DSX lines.

I think it’s difficult to make progress by doing more of the same, especially if it does not feel good! Ask me how I know :slight_smile:

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Can you do straight eighth note downstrokes (no gallops) comfortably at this tempo without feeling that tension? How about alternate picked 16th notes? If you can do both of those comfortably, there’s no physical reason that you can’t play riffs like this, there’s just a mental block to get past.

After slowing down your second clip, it looks like you’re tensing up quite sharply on the gallops, resulting in far smaller movements than are necessary to get the string to sound cleanly. I think there was one instance there where your forearm just locked up and didn’t hit anything. You can make MUCH larger movements than you think and still be plenty clean and fast

I think you are definitely psyching yourself out over the gallop, at least partially. In reality there’s virtually no difference between the movements you need to make for the downstrokes and the gallop.
If you compare 2 downstrokes to one gallop, the only difference is that you don’t lift the pick away from the strings between downstrokes to get the gallop.

My advice for this I think would be to slow it down just a little bit. Using your second clip again, that feels like 160-180bpm. Back that down say 140-150bpm or so, just enough that you don’t have to think about it to hit the gallops consistently. Pay close attention to the way that feels, and the movements your forearm and wrist are making, then try again at tempo and try to focus on making it feel the same as it did when you played it a bit slower.

Something else worth mentioning - with syncopated gallops like that at high speeds, I can’t downstroke in between them without introducing a lot of tension in my picking. Think Bleed by Meshuggah - the main riff in that is impossible for me to play downstrokes in between each gallop for more than a measure or two, so practicing that forced me to get comfortable using an upstroke between gallops at high speeds.


It’s also impossible for them - it’s pure alternate.

To address the topic of the thread, I think it maybe helped me in the past with getting excess tension/force out of my gallops to do them on the high E string. Too much force and you just choke it out, so it forces you to go lightly but still ‘crispy’ enough to get the gallopy…er…the gallopiness of the gallop.


Indeed it’s very clear from the video below! This is also an alternative hand position/motion you could try, @element0s :

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Promise this is the last one - just had another thought: have you tried with a more bendy pick? If you are a “hard hitter” like me, a thinner pick can really help with reducing fatigue and the feeling of string resistance. I once picked up a 0.50 and could shred with it at my top speed no problem, and it felt very easy to keep it going.

There’s this superstition in the guitar world that the thickness of our … pick is somehow proportional to our coolness or something. In reality I think whatever gets the job done is good - we all have different playing mechanics and hand shapes etc.

Paul Gilbert has used 0.60 tortex picks for a long time and I don’t think anyone sane could listen to him and say “this sounds so bad, I wish he used a 2mm”


Finally found my DIY pick camera

Clip one is my original pick orientation in DSX. When I need to play running 16ths, this is pretty much the only way I can do it:

It’s working to an extent, but I always feel like I’m clinging on for dear life. My hand is JAMMED inside that little nook where the bridge meets the body. You can see how this would be super inefficient for playing a riff along the lines of “Bark At The Moon”, which is the kind of stuff my band has been writing lately

Here’s my best shot at UPX running 16ths. This is really difficult for me. I have a lot of trouble finding a position that I can do this sort of running motions with any force. I also cant sustain the motion. As soon as I intro movement into the fretting hand, everything flies out the window.

I tried doing some radically different positions like a two finger grip and the amount of power you can get on down strokes is HUGE but I haven’t found a way to get an alternate picking motions. with it yet.

Thanks for the responses so far. I’ll reply to some of the more specific stuff when I get back on a computer

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I’m far from an expert when it comes to metal rhythm playing (have been working on it myself for years now), but have had some breakthroughs lately, so I’ll try to give my two cents.

Judging by your latest clip, even though you angle your hand in a downward picking position, you still seem to use primarily your wrist which which makes the pick move more or less vertically over a string, instead of in a downward slope, so it probably neutralizes the downward angle of the forearm. I know this will initially be difficult, but try using forearm rotation instead of wrist motion when using downward pickslanting. If you want, I can make a short video of my picking hand doing gallops and regular chugging to give you an exact idea of what I’m talking about.

I’ve only now noticed that you mentioned a tingling sensation in your ulnar nerve in the first post. That may indicate that you are using your elbow to play chugging stuff, which from I would try to avoid since it might mess up your ulnar nerve in the long run (I tend to have issues with my ulnar nerve from time to time because I was forcing my way through chugging without practising slowly and in a relaxed manner.)


Have you considered an option to use more edge picking and choose more sharp pin pick? In that case it’s much easier to do tum-tugudum…


Thanks for sharing the video! Usually works to just paste the link on its own line (this works for YouTube) but testing and I see Vimeo seems to not be working the same way. They may be blocking embeds somehow, I’ll look into it.

Oh. I thought I was doing something wrong… whew

To address a couple of the more specific questions in the thread:

I get told this all the time but I’m not really sure what’s to be done. As far as guitar playing goes I’ve been strictly a metal guy and I only really only started taking my lead playing seriously a couple years back when I discovered CTC. But playing fast, controlled and relaxed has been difficult for me my entire life on any instrument.

How much ‘conentrated’ effort do you put into your rhythm playing and practice on a weekly basis?

Added up, I’d say an hour a day on average but I go through phases depending on what’s coming down the pipeline that requires my focus. I often use click tracks and I’m trying to get in the habit of recording myself along with drum tracks when practicing at home.

That Josh Middleton guy is FEROCIOUS, wow. I wasn’t aware of him before, thanks for sharing.

I did monkey around with this a bit with a closed fist and whatnot. I found closed fist was pretty strong, but I had a lot of trouble relaxing and I was getting pains in my hand. Tried a few variations on three fingers and the picking power is pretty awesome on downstrokes but I couldn’t find any position that allowed me to alternate pick. I went back and tried to do more what you do–fingers relaxed and lightly anchored underneath the pickups and that’s probably been the best so far.

Nope, the only way I can reliably play running 16ths is in the clip I posted a couple days ago with my tightly anchored, extremely DSX position. The upstrokes on any other hand placement are utterly confounding to me. It’s clearly a mental block but I don’t really know what to do about it.

Would you mind posting a clip? I’ve been trying to do a proper forearm rotation thing ever since I found CTC but I haven’t yet found a smooth alternate-picking motion where I can fully escape the strings on upstrokes. Whenever I try to do a fast forearm rotation movement (like the EVH tremolo) I get pain in my arm.

I’ll try to film myself as soon as possible. Keep in mind that I’m far from an expert on the topic, I’m just a guy who’s had a few small breakthroughs along the way to mastering this type of playing, but I’ll do my best to explain it.

Also, Josh Middleton is a god among men. Check out Sylosis, his band. Modern metal in E standard.


I decided to do more of a lesson rather than a short clip in order to make myself as clear as possible. Excuse the digressions and general awkwardness, this is the first time I’ve done anything like this and I wanted to provide as much information as I could. Feel free to ask anything if you want a more concise and clear explanation, since I’ve spent most of the video talking about stuff instead of demonstrating my technique. Hope it helps!

EDIT: At 14:15 I said 140 BPM when I meant to say 40 BPM.