Learn a Lick 5: The Shifty Thrasher

Today’s lick has been inspired by Thrash giants such as Kirk Hammett from Metallica. It also requires a lot of quick position shifts that need to be executed cleanly. This is why I’ve called this one the ‘Shifty Thrasher’!

learn this E minor thrash lick that uses alternate picking and tricky position shifts

The lick uses the E natural minor scale, and would feel right at home in many forms of heavy metal. In the more extreme genres, you might want to change the bluesy end part to something a bit darker, but that’s up to you.

Also, watch out for the unusual note grouping! We’re using six notes per beat for the most part of this lick. This can be quite deceptive, as what sounds slow on the metronome, will actually turn out to be lightening fast!

So, for example, if you’re playing this lick at 80bpm, it doesn’t sound like it would be that fast…until you realise that 80bpm for this lick means about 8 notes per second…

80bpm x 6 notes per beat = 480 notes per minute = 8 notes per second.

…so you might want to slow this down much further than that! I recommend halving the speed from here and playing only 3 notes per beat at 80bpm instead.

How to play This Lick

This lick starts right up at the 20th fret, and we’re using the E natural minor scale (also known as the E Aeolian Mode. The first part is a descending, alternate picked idea, and we end with the blues scale and some bends.

Here is the tab:

an E minor thrash metal lead guitar lick

The First Scale Shape

We’re using the 3rd ‘3 note per string’ scale shape for E minor. This happens to be the same as the first shape of the major scale:

the third, three note per string, E minor shape, in 15th position

So, that’s the scale we’re using. Then, we’re taking the top two strings, and playing this pattern:

a descending patter using the E natural minor scale on guitar

This should be entirely alternate picked, starting with a downstroke. So the picking pattern for the six notes is: down up down up down up. It’s important to get this right, because the pattern starts on a downstoke, and ends on an upstroke. This sets you up for the downstroke to begin the next part of the pattern.

The Second Scale Shape

For the second six notes, we’re following exactly the same pattern, but with the next shape down in the scale. So, we have this scale shape:

the second three note per string scale shape in E minor

…and, again, we’re using the thinnest two strings. This gives us frets ’19 – 17 – 15′ on the thin E string, and then the same on the B string.

Putting it all Together

It’s important to know where these fretboard patterns come from, but by now I’m sure you’ve noticed the pattern. The lick then continues down the next two shapes of the E natural minor scale, using the thinnest two strings.

Now, the next two shapes aren’t symmetrical, so you have a slightly different pattern of frets on each string. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem once you’ve memorised it, but it’s much easier said than done! Just remember to take things slow at first.

The Bluesy Ending

The lick ends with a classic ‘Kirk Hammett’ style bluesy metal ending. Now, we’re using legato and bends, which contrasts to the rest of the lick.

As I explain in the video, you’ll want a different grip on the neck for this section, with your thumb over the top of the neck. This is completely different to the ‘thumb behind the neck’ technique that you should have been using up until now.

…or in my case (with a Les Paul): a ‘thumb as close as possible to playing position’ technique…

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