MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT learning scales, sweeping arpeggios, and shredding speed runs. These are important, but while working on a new Rock House program with Eric Peterson of Testament, I realized that there is an equally important part of a successful metal band that often gets overlooked: right-hand rhythm techniques. Peterson is a founding member of Testament, and while he does play leads and can certainly shred, one important role he plays in the band is using his picking hand to create dynamic metal rhythms that really drive the tunes. I have never seen a player with such intricate control and power in their picking hand. Aspiring guitarists should take note of this and not spend all their time learning to shred. You also need to dedicate time and practice to righthand strength and coordination exercises.
In this lesson I’m going to show you two song sections Peterson included in his instructional program as picking exercises. These examples will get you on your way to a well-trained right hand. Ex. 1 is a section inspired by the song “D.N.R.” from Testament’s CD The Gatherings. The deal with the notation is, a chord with two slashes on the stem means pick four times, chords with one slash on the stem should be picked twice. It all adds up to sixteenthnotes, but the chords come at you faster in the final bar. Start slow and practice to a metronome. That’s the only way to achieve what bandmate Alex Skolnick calls “Eric’s razor-sharp precision.”
Ex. 2 is a speed-picking riff inspired by the chorus section of “Wolfhunt” off the Rapture CD by Peterson’s side project, Dragonlord.
In this two-part song section, Peterson weaves through a winding riff with the control of a master. Pay close attention to the second half where he hits the open low string to keep the riff dark and heavy.
Eric’s right hand is like a machine gun with brutally consistent alternate picking. I’m sure you will be feeling the pain after jamming this riff for a while!
These examples are a good starting point but it takes a lot of practice to become a truly great rhythm player. You can find the video sections that correspond with this lesson at rockhousemethod.com. Happy shredding!
John McCarthy is the creator of the Rock House Method.