How To Play Metallica On Guitar: A Lesson On Their Iconic Guitar Style - Play It Loud (2022)

Metallica is the very first band I ever loved and whose music I felt a deep connection to, and they are probably why I wanted to play guitar. Naturally it makes sense to make a guitar lesson to help other people like you who love their music just as much I did.

I can’t remember who told me this or where I heard this from, but supposedly Metallica’s catalog is not a place for beginners.

I beg to differ.

I learned several of their songs within my first two years even though I played some a little worse than others.

The best attitude to keep when playing their music is to realize that you won’t get it right at first. Even after playing some of these riffs for you to give advice, I had to realize I wasn’t doing some things right and think about a good solution. However I hope you do better than me and avoid my pitfalls.

You’ll notice that there are some pretty big omissions in this metallica guitar lesson so please understand it’s not meant to be comprehensive. I’m doing this to help you implement some of the metal guitar tips I shared in my Clueless Beginner’s Guitar Course.

I also covered a few songs in the course like Enter Sandman, Master of Puppets, Creeping Death, and One. I also avoided songs from the Black Album because they’re easier and my goal is to help you play the more difficult and faster riffs.

Some great songs to check out at a beginner’s level are Sad But True, Wherever I May Roam, and Of Wolf And Man (all from that album).

And yes, I’m a little biased against the Justice album because I couldn’t recall any fast riffs to discuss besides One. If there’s any you want me to do, shoot me an email at

The last thing to cover before getting into the actual songs is what you must have practiced by now. These aren’t my rules. They’re just what you need to play any of these songs:

  • You’ve got to be comfortable using palm muting, alternate picking, and heavy down picking at once and in combinations.
  • You can play all these on acoustic, but if you’re using an electric you’ll have to tweak your settings to have the right mix of gain and treble.
  • Power chords are a mainstay in metal and there’s no way around learning to hold the shapes and play them in succession.

Just for review I want to mention a few things that will help you play these riffs. First be sure your grip on the pick is set to where there is just enough room to strike the string and let it roll up and down easily. Holding it at an angle will help you do this but it will take a little messing around to get the right feel for all of this.

Down strokes are key to getting a metal sound though alternate picking is heavily used as well. It may take a lot of practice before you have the endurance to constantly pick down, but don’t give up. There’s no trick to doing it except just doing it over and over.

Using your fingernails on powerchords will help them sound heavier. All you have to do is pick down like usual but let your nail graze against the strings you’re picking as you go down.

Alright now let’s go!

Whiplash from Kill Em All


This first riff from Metallica is an easy one to get you started. There are lots of great riffs from Kill Em All but this one’s fast, requires little left hand movement, and sounds really loud. These are all perfect qualities for a great riff!

Notice that I spaced out the notes into 4-note phrases of the open E note. When you’re playing this you want to concentrate on playing the E in groups of 4 with alternate picking and palm muting. Otherwise you’ll just be playing an indiscriminate number of E notes and not caring where to end or begin the thing.

Playing in strict rhythmic timing is a little bit difficult for a beginner but it will help you tons in the future, especially with the upcoming riffs.

To play the ending 7-6-5 phrase requires us to use our 1st and 2nd fingers to play the double stop and slide down the neck as the song requires, and use down strokes for that part.

Seek and Destroy from Kill Em All


This riff comes after the second chorus before going into the solo, and I chose it because it’s really fun as well, once you know what to do.

Keep your first finger on the 5th fret when playing the first phrase and use that same finger when barreing the 55 and 44 double stops. Going between the open A string and the 5th and 7th frets will be easier if you concentrate on using up strokes on the fretted notes and down strokes on the open string.

The very last phrase consisting of 8 notes is tricky if you don’t know how to approach it. Just like separating the last riff into 4-note phrases do that with this phrase.

You will only need your 2nd and 1st fingers to play that part.

Battery from Master of Puppets


I’ve gotta tell the truth, and say I’ve never been able to play this riff correctly until I wrote this, when I wanted to get it right for you guys. The thing is that this riff is really fast and it’s a strange rhythm.

Breaking this one into three note phrases will help. The next part will be a phrase with 4 notes, which in this case consists of 8-8-7-0. That last open note is important to throw in for the sake of the entire rhythm. You’ll also notice this pattern when playing the 75 double stop in the very next phrase.

The very last phrase at F#, G, and G# is a little strange and I have to stress that you listen to this part a few times in order to get the feel.

That’s it and we should already know how to handle power chords if you’re attempting this one. The only funny thing is the 75 and 64 double stops, which you can hold by using the 3rd finger on the 7th fret and 1st finger on the 5th fret.

Sanitarium from Master of Puppets


This riff appears at the 3:45 second mark in the song, and I chose it for the same reasons as before. This one’s not as difficult as the other ones we’ve just covered, but the problem is the timing.

I spaced out the 4-note groups and left the open notes that connect to each other, but the notes in bold are where the rhythm gets a little weird.

The first bold note requires you to play it together with the fret 1 notes and the two open notes right after as a 4-note phrase. The next one is the same thing but if you listen to the song you’ll hear a quick rest right before going into the 0h2 note.

This is just one great riff that appears in this song so please check out the entire thing.

Disposable Heroes from Master of Puppets


I love playing this entire song and it has plenty of fast riffs in it, but I want to talk about this one in particular because the rhythm is kind of strange.

Listen to the song and you’ll hear that the first two notes I grouped together (again, in bold) and are played quickly before going into a normal 4-note phrase like before. The next 4 note phrase in bold is played just as quickly.

I put them in bold also because they will be played with alternate picking while the rest of the notes use down strokes.

With this riff I hope you can see why I’m focusing so much on talking about the particular rhythms and phrases because they all work together to play the song like the original. These are all subtle nuances, but with riffs this fast it will fall apart if you don’t pay attention to them.

Ride the Lightning from Ride the Lightning


I picked this one up right at the 4:22 mark, and it’s by far the most difficult riff in this lesson.

The key to throwing in the 6th and 4th frets on the E string is to use your 2nd finger, which will be free while keeping the power chord shape on strings A – G. You’ll let all the chords sound out while keeping these palm muted.

I’ve seen those chords appear as C/G (3355XX) but this makes it more difficult to transition between the power chords that come before C5 and B5. Because of this I highly recommend playing those as normal powerchords as they’ll be easier to throw in.

Hopefully you’re comfortable breaking down the end part by yourself by now.

Fight Fire With Fire from Ride the Lightning


This one isn’t much more difficult than what we’ve done so far but the way it ends is a little tricky because it throws a curveball into the rhythm. I look at those last six notes as two triplets, which helps you stay ready for it at the end of the riff.

And, just as a reminder, I want you to make sure that you’re just using the very tip of the pick in order to roll up and down off the E string. This way you’ll hit the string quickly and precisely enough to sound the riff out as clearly as possible.

Hit The Lights from Kill Em All


Right here we’ve got the intro riff to this song, which is another that I haven’t bothered to learn to play correctly until now. The trickiest part is bridging into the next bar because you want to play that 00 note and then immediately connect it to the 55. I have the tendency to want to do that so I’m including that here.

Playing those double stops is easier if you use your 1st and 2nd fingers like in Whiplash.

I separated the open notes again so that you can see the rhythm a little more clearly.

I really wish I could cover every song and riff because there’s many more nuances and techniques to discover in their first four albums if you look for them.

Please let me know if this helped you out in any way! And please sign up for my newsletter for free articles like this one, that will only be shared on there…..

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