Only an idiot would come to me for guitar advice. And yet, here you are. You’re looking for a quick fix, a shortcut to fretboard wizardry, and I am all about shortcuts. I started my guitar odyssey with grand plans- to join a band, become a Youtube sensation, write an album. But my plans have a tendency to deteriorate, and eighteen months on, I am still trying to work out what Mixolydian means, and have yet to nail a single decent pinch harmonic.
There is absolutely no shortcut to becoming good at the guitar; even with the most expensive and complicated equipment, teachers, books, tabs, instructional videos; there is no substitute for thousands of hours of focused practice. I do not have a thousand hours, or a hundred hours- I can barely manage one hour a week of practice if I wish to call myself a decent parent- and so I am still only at the half-way point of the Powerslave solo I started learning a year ago.
However, while there’s no shortcut to being a guitar god/goddess, there is a shortcut to pretending to be one, because of the nature of the power chord.
The power chord, the musical basis of all heavy metal, has an extremely complex sonic profile, but is incredibly easy to play. It may only consist of two or three notes, but run that perfect fourth or fifth through a distorted amplifier and it splits into infinite resultant tones. Those resultant tones hit the nervous system, giving that spine-tingling sensation and generally sounding awesome.
In order to achieve that sort of resonance on the piano you’d need the hand span of Rachmaninov, every finger splayed into the biggest chord possible, with the sustain pedal held down. But all you need to play a power chord is an amp with the distortion cranked up. Play a few power chords in the right order and you have a classic metal riff.
After a failed practice session, make yourself feel better with these guilty pleasures. Each takes about two minutes to learn, and will then give you a lifetime of satisfying moments. Moments only because, once you’ve played each riff about 20 times in a row, you’ll realise that you can’t actually the play the rest of the song, you’re not in a band, and nobody cares that you sound exactly like Slash.
‘Iron Man’, Black Sabbath
Toni Iommi’s iconic Iron Man riff is the perfect example of how sometimes the simplest can be the most powerful. Iron Man is so easy you can learn the whole song in a few minutes, and the solo is do-able too.
‘The Trooper’, Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden riffs tend to sound more difficult than they actually are, and The Trooper is perfectly manageable. However you’ll need a friend (or a loop pedal) for those gorgeous harmonised thirds. The verse is great for practising the trademark Iron Maiden ‘gallop’.
‘Sweet Child O Mine’, Guns N’ Roses
No power chords here, just a beautiful tune. Don’t forget to switch to the right pick-up to achieve the sweet tone needed for this emblematic and plaintive refrain. It just goes on and on and becomes rapidly tedious once you’ve got over the novelty of being able to play it. Sweet Child O Mine used to be your favourite song; it won’t be for long and you’ll drive your entire household crazy.
‘Back in Black’, AC/DC
Ok this is more rock/blues than metal, but how could I not include it. There’s a couple of pull-offs and a slightly awkward bend, but other than that it’s ultra-straightforward. My kids immediately start dancing when they hear this.
‘Dissident Aggressor’, Judas Priest
Actually many of Judas Priest’s songs could have been included here; this is my favourite.
The syncopated rhythms of Invincible are great fun to play and easy on the fingers.
‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’, The Scorpions
This basic power chord combo is the most satisfying earworm in metal, and once you get bored you can stick it on loop and try adding in the trickier lead guitar parts. Don’t forget to face your amp then spin around to face the mirror audience importantly at the seminal moments.
‘Enter Sandman’, Metallica
This was the first song I learnt, and it’s a great place to start because it incorporates a range of techniques, and helps you learn the contrasts that palm muting can achieve.
‘Crazy Train’, Ozzy Osbourne
Randy Rhoads’ opening riff to Crazy Train is one of the most iconic in metal and very easy to play. The verse becomes a little tricky with some big chords and runs, but the chorus is just simple power chords with some lovely artificial harmonics to add interest.
‘Smoke on the Water’, Deep Purple
Ok, this is a cliché- even my seven-year old son can play this one. But it has to be on there as it’s officially the Easiest Metal Riff Of All Time.
Which easy metal riffs would you add to the list?