Sounding Metal in a Major Key

Guitar Scales

The following post talks about scales. If you really want to learn every major, minor and pentatonic scale for guitar (along with the chord-tone arpeggios), you’ll want to get my new ebook ‘Advanced Guitar Basics: Scales and Arpeggios’ (click the link for more!).

Don’t you just hate it how major keys always sound so overly happy?

OK, maybe not! But, if you want to sound really metal when your song is in a major key…what do you do?

Well, there are a few things, actually! One of which I’ll explain in the video below.

First, a Little Theory…

The theory behind this is fairly straightforward…once you understand how chords and keys work together. You see, each scale has a series of chords associated with it- one built from each note in the scale.

Make sense so far? If not you may want to go back and read some of the articles I linked to above.

Now, the chord built from the 5th note of a major scale- any major scale- is called a dominant 7th. This is where we take a regular major chord, and add a flat 7- but that part isn’t important.

Playing a Trick

The important part is: the chord built from the 5th degree of the harmonic minor scale is also a dominant 7th chord. This means we can play a little trick, and convince everybody we’re actually in a minor key for a bit.

This is good news, because minor keys are much more metal– much darker! The harmonic minor is the scale used by Yngwie Malmsteen, or Richie Blackmore. It’s definitely going to make your solo stand out, and it’s not difficult to use.

…well, provided you know your chord progression!

So, when you get to the chord built from the 5th note of the scale, switch to the harmonic minor instead. For example, if you’re soloing in G major, wait until you get to the D major (or D7) chord (D being five notes up from G), and switch to G harmonic minor (tabbed below).

the three note per string G harmonic minor scale on guitar in 3rd position

…it should sound something like this:

Remember: this works because the notes of the D7 chord (D F# A and C) exist in both the G harmonic minor and the major scale. So, you must switch back to the major scale after the chord has finished- because the trick only works with this one chord.

Yes, it might seem fairly limited like that…but it works and that’s what matters!

In search of the Fifth Chord

As I said, there is a bit of theory. The fifth chord is always 5 notes up from the root (that is: from the note that gives the scale its letter name). So, in G, we’re looking for a D chord; if we were in the key of C, we’d be able to do this with a G chord; and if we were in the key of A, it will work with E chords.

…as long as those chords are of the major or dominant 7th variety.

Alternative Ideas

As I mention in the video, you could also use a variation of the minor pentatonic scale, if it’s easier. What I would suggest, is taking the minor pentatonic scale of the chord you’re on (D minor pentatonic over D, for example). Then, you just have to majorise it, by sharpening all the thirds.

That looks like this:

the D dominant or indian pentatonic scale

…and is what I like to call the ‘Dominant Pentatonic’- but it’s also known as the ‘Indian Pentatonic‘. Either way, here’s how it sounds over the same chords as before.

This shape is similar enough to the minor pentatonic, that your standard pentatonic licks should still work (with some alterations!).

In Conclusion

In conclusion, the harmonic minor scale is a very interesting, dark sounding scale. If you’re after a grittier, darker sound, I would suggest using it a lot. I mean, it worked well enough for Randy Rhoads (and many more rock and metal guitarists before and since).

This is only one method, and I’m sure there are countless more! Have you got a favourite way to sound extra mean when soloing? Let me know in the comments!

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