Metal Guitar Harmonies Lesson

Metal guitar harmonies are really just like any other harmonies. So, it might have been more accurate to call this one ‘guitar harmony lines’…but it’s just that these ideas get used a lot in metal and heavy rock music!

Think of bands like: Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden or Metallica and one of the things that stands out is the awesome twin (or more) guitar parts. Just how do they manage to have so many guitar (or bass) parts that work so well together?

Well, in this lesson, you’ll be learning exactly how these harmonies are put together, and how you can create some for your own solos, or songs!

First, here’s the video with all the examples. The tabs are below.

Lets start with the main melody. This can be anything from a part of a guitar solo, to a riff- it doesn’t really matter (and we’re about to make it much cooler sounding anyway!).

a basic melody line that we're adding metal guitar harmonies to

Working Out a Guitar Harmony Line

So, you’ve got your main melody. Now what? What takes us from a single melody, to an awesome Thin Lizzy style riff?

Well, there are several ways to do this, so lets start from the beginning. The easiest way to write a harmony guitar part is to start the same melody on a higher or lower note. If that first note harmonizes, the rest should too, right?

If you’ve tried this, it might sound a little bit strange. That’s because since we’ve moved the melody, we’ve also changed the scale. For example, we’re going to do a harmony in 3rds (that’s three notes apart) and our original melody is in E minor. If we just go up three notes from our original starting note (E) to a ‘G’ and play the same thing, we’ll now be in G minor.

So, we’ve ended up with two tunes in two completely different keys, that we’re playing together. This can work sometimes as a metal guitar harmony, but tends to sound a bit odd.

The solution? We start on a different note but use the same scale. That way our two guitars can be in the same key!

This is what I’ve done in the next example, where the main melody (‘Lead’) starts on an ‘E’, and the harmony starts on a ‘G’. They both follow the same scale, and go up and down at exactly the same time (to stay 3 notes apart the whole time).

twin guitar harmonies in thirds

In reality, you may have to adjust some of the notes to get it to sound better, but I’ll leave that up to you.

Counter-melodies

What?! What on earth is a ‘counter-melody’? It sounds really complicated…right?

Actually, no. All a counter-melody is, is a second melody or tune that isn’t exactly following the first. For example, if we flip our harmony line on it’s head, we would end up with a ‘counter-melody’ as our metal guitar harmony.

In the example below, I’ve done just that. Notice how, when the melody goes up, the counter-melody goes down in pitch? That means it’s no longer just a ‘harmony’ following the main melody.

Also, I had to move it up by an octave to stop the two lines bumping into each other! Although it still starts on a ‘G’ note (making the two guitar parts 10 notes apart).

metal guitar harmonies can also include counter-melodies

Our second counter-melody is an example of how you could just use a different tune entirely. Although, the two lines still need to work together and harmonize! I’ve highlighted the notes that fall on the main, stressed beats (1 and 4 in six-eight time). Notice that these notes are definitely harmonized! The rest can be a bit more free…

two guitar parts with a separate melody being played by the second lead guitar

Rhythm Guitar Harmonies

Not sure you want the ‘twin lead guitar’ sound? Why not keep one of the guitars as a rhythm part? In the next example, I’ve converted the original main melody into a metal rhythm part. This might happen if you have a riff or something that you want to harmonize.

a lead guitar harmonizing with a rhythm guitar

Notice how the highlighted notes are exactly the same? All I’ve done is add palm muted notes to keep the rhythm going (and to sound really ‘metal’, of course!). If your original melody was higher up the neck, you would probably want to bring it down lower for a rhythm part.

Anyway, if we do the same thing with our harmony part, we can get two, harmonized rhythm parts working together!

two metal rhythm guitar parts working in harmony

You might hear this kind of thing in the intro to ‘The Trooper’, or Thin Lizzy’s ‘Don’t Believe a Word’ (and many more…). Notice how the two guitar are, again, starting 3 notes apart, and they’re moving up and down at the same time.

You could also come up with a counter-melody for the rhythm guitarist to play (as in the example, below). This really beats just strumming power-chords!

a lead guitar part with a metal rhythm part as a counter-melody

I wonder if you can see how I’ve based that rhythm part on the second counter-melody from earlier…

creating a metal rhythm part as a counter-melody

Metal Guitar Harmonies

I hope this lesson on rock and metal guitar harmonies has given you some inspiration to write your own ideas! Although, if you’re still confused, just email me via the ‘contact’ page on this website, and I’ll help you out.

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