Two-Note Metal Chords

Octave Chords

In this final chapter, I want to show you some other chords that you’ll need while playing metal rhythm guitar.

As you’ve discovered, power chords are only needed 90% of the time, but there are other chords you’ll need as well.

To begin, you’ll take a look at octave chords.

An octave chord is formed when a note is played at the same time as the same note at the same pitch, but an octave higher.

For example, imagine playing the fifth fret of the low E string at the same time as playing the seventh fret of the D string.

At the fifth fret you’re playing an A note, while at the seventh fret you’re playing another A note one octave higher.

Strictly speaking, a chord is when you play three or more notes at the same time. The name used for a two-note chord is dyad.

However, it’s easier to think of this as a chord. Power chords only have two notes, but we still call them chords, as it’s more familiar.

Similar to power chords, octave chords are ambiguous and can be used in major or minor keys.

They can be played alongside power chords to add interest, in conjunction with palm-muted bass notes or, more simply, on their own.

Listen to this song from Dream Theater; 99% of the intro is made up of octave chords, which produce an excitingly big and open sound:

Essential Listening:

Octave chords from Dream Theater:

'Under a Glass Moon' from Images and Words

Listen from 00:00 – 00:26

Click on the image to listen:

Before you get to the exercises, take a look at this chord diagram. It shows the first octave chord I described earlier at the fifth fret.

Use your first and pinky fingers to fret the notes. If you don’t feel comfortable with the pinky, then use your third finger instead.

Don’t try to play it yet, just have the notes ready on the neck:

Before you play the chord, you’ll need to consider what’s going to happen to the A string between the E and D strings.

Because you need to strike the E and D strings with your pick in the same strum, it’s inevitable that you’ll hit the A string too.

Don’t worry – the solution is easy. You’ll mute this string automatically with your first finger.

Make sure the tip of your first finger is on the E string as normal, then let the fleshy part of your finger rest lightly on top of the A string to mute it.

Here’s a picture to help you get your fingers in the right position:

Now that you’ve set up your fingers, strike the E, A and D strings with your pick.

If everything has gone to plan, the A string will be muted and the notes on the other two strings will be ringing clearly.

If not, check that your first finger is muting the A string and try again. Make sure you’re hitting all three strings, but no others.

Essential Listening:

Octave chords from Trivium:

'Like Light to the Flies' from Ascendancy

Listen from 00:56 – 01:15

Click on the image to listen:

In terms of notation, I’ve seen octave chords written in a few different ways over the years.

Because the string in between is muted, you might think it’d be sensible to place an ‘X’ on that line, like this:

I prefer to leave this ‘X’ out of the notation, as it can get very messy on the page and, ultimately, will be harder to read.

Here’s how I would notate it:

Now when you see the empty space between the two notes in the tab, you know you’ll usually be dealing with an octave chord.

Octave chords are not limited to the E string. The next diagram shows you an octave chord on the A string, again at the fifth fret:

As this chord is rooted on the A string, you must take care not to hit the low E string while strumming.

To stop this from happening, use the same tactic as you do when playing power chords on the A string, using the tip of your first finger to mute the low E string.

Finally, you can also play octave chords that are rooted on the D and G strings:

Unless you’re blessed with unusually large hands, you must use your pinky finger for the higher note in these chord shapes, as it sits one fret higher.

Again, use the tip of your first finger to mute the adjacent bass string.

Here’s a great exercise to practice these chord shapes. Your primary goal is to get them sounding clean without any noise coming from the other strings.

The right-hand rests on beat four of each bar will give you a chance to change strings without creating any unwanted noise:

The next step is to practice shifting these shapes up and down the neck. In the following exercise, you’ll move across the neck on the same string.

I’ve added some slides in the second half, as this happens a lot with these shapes in metal guitar. Keep that middle string muted as you slide:

Now that you have the fundamentals covered, it’s time for you to explore some riffs that use these octave chords.

Example Riffs

In the first riff, I’ve used the octave chords alongside some palm-muted bass notes as I did in the previous exercise.

This time, however, the octave chords are mostly played on the offbeat. Don’t let the 2/4 time signature concern you here:

Octave chords can be really effective when playing a melody on top of a chord progression or riff from another guitar part.

When playing a melody with these chords, you’re automatically doubling it with notes that are an octave higher. This gives you a large, powerful sound.

In the next exercise, I’ve recorded a chord progression underneath a melody played using octave chords over the top.

As you play the octave chord part, notice how the simple rhythm of the melody works well with the chords from the other guitar:

The other chord shapes on the D and G strings aren’t used nearly as much, but they’re definitely worth studying since you’ll come across them at some point.

In the final riff, I’ve included these shapes to get you moving around the neck.

Take care when moving around and watch out for your pinky finger, making sure it lands on the correct fret. Double-check the tab when you need to:

In the next section, you’ll play some other two-note chords that are common in metal rhythm guitar.

More Two-Note Chords

Throughout this guide I have emphasized the importance of power chords and the role they play in metal rhythm guitar.

Now that you’ve also played the octave chords, I want to show you some other useful two-note chords (dyads).

Diminished Fifth

The first two-note chord you’ll look at is the diminished fifth. Heavily used in death metal styles, this is a very dark, evil-sounding chord:

Without getting heavily into music theory, the reason this chord sounds so dark is due to the interval between the notes.

The interval between the two notes of a regular power chord is seven semitones (a perfect fifth), which sounds fantastic, especially with distortion applied.

With this chord, however, the interval between the root note and the higher note is six semitones.

With a difference of just one semitone (or one fret), the chord sounds completely different to a regular power chord.

You wouldn’t want to hear this chord all day long, as that would be torture, but used occasionally it can be very effective.

Listen to the verse of 'Awaken' from Disturbed and you’ll hear how these chords give the music a very unsettling and haunting quality:

Essential Listening:

Diminished-fifth dyads from Disturbed:

'Awaken' from Believe

Listen from 00:19 – 00:58

Click on the image to listen:

Two-Note Metal Chords - Disturbed - Believe

If you want to, you can beef up the sound of this chord by doubling the root note with your ring or pinky finger:

In the first exercise of this section you’ll play an E5 power chord followed by this diminished-fifth chord.

Your first finger will stay in position while you swap between your fourth and second fingers for the notes on the D string.

Remember to release your finger pressure off the neck (but not off the strings) after playing each chord.

Major & Minor Chords for Metal

After playing all of those power chords, it can be easy to assume that metal guitar playing doesn’t rely on regular major or minor chords.

This is definitely not the case.

It’s easy to forget that ‘metal’ is a term that describes a genre of music that has a wide variety of styles.

A death metal band like Cannibal Corpse won’t use standard major or minor chords, as that doesn’t suit their style of music.

A progressive metal band like Dream Theater will use them often, as their style of music demands it.

The same is true for a symphonic metal band like Nightwish, for example.

The trouble is, that when you play guitar with lots of distortion, basic major and minor chords don’t always (I’m not saying never) sound that great.

Power chords do the job well because even with high distortion applied, they sound powerful amongst the other instruments in the mix.

Major or minor chords have three notes – a root note, a third and a fifth.

The secret to getting them to sound good with a lot of distortion is to play the root and third and get rid of the fifth.

For example, if you wanted to play a C Major chord it would have the following notes: C (root), E (third) and G (fifth).

It will sound a lot better if you just play the C and E notes together.

As for minor chords, if you wanted to play an E Minor chord, you would have these notes: E (root), G (third) and B (fifth).

Again, just get rid of the B, and play the E and G notes.

Here are the chord shapes you’ll need for major chords. I’ve used C Major as an example for these diagrams.

The first one on the left has the root note on the E string, and the other has its root note on the A string. I’ve highlighted the root notes in red:

The following diagrams contain the shapes you’ll need for minor chords. Again, I’ve used C Minor as an example:

These shapes are quite easy to remember, as you can change the chord from major to minor just by moving the higher note down by one fret.

Now it’s time for you to play these chords in context. Watch out for the chord symbols in the next exercise to help you get the right shape.

There’s no harm in double-checking the tab numbers either:

All you need to remember is the two shapes for major and minor, and to use them wherever the relevant root note is, like you do for power chords.

It’s also worth mentioning that you can use these major and minor shapes when you have a root note on the D string.

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Simon Revill

Simon is a guitar teacher, guitar transcriber, and music producer from the UK. As well as writing lessons on guitar and music technology, he also gives online guitar lessons via Skype.

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