Metalcore Theory

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Metalcore theory is a set of composition ideals which support fast paced riffing, dramatic changes in rhythm, polyrhythic beats, extreme phonation, and aggressive tones.

General[edit | edit source]

Instruments of Choice[edit | edit source]

The following instruments are commonly found in metalcore music:

  • Electric guitar with distortion
  • Electric bass
  • Vocal performance
  • Keyboards
  • Rock drum kits
  • Alternative percussion

Most Metalcore bands will feature two guitars, a bass, a drum kit, and, frequently, more than one vocal performer. While any instrument, with clever composition, can be used in any genre, these instruments will support the theory of metalcore the easiest.

Notable Influences[edit | edit source]

  • Asking Alexandria
  • Darkest Hour
  • Bullet for my Valentine
  • Killswitch Engage
  • A Day To Remember
  • August Burns Red
  • Lamb of God
  • In Flames
  • As I Lay Dying

Beginning Metalcore Composition[edit | edit source]

Metalcore riffing[edit | edit source]

Metalcore riffing features theory similar to hardcore punk, metal, black metal, and post-hardcore music. Here are some techniques that are common in Metalcore Riffing.

The Basic Metalcore Riff: Alternating Notes[edit | edit source]

The most common feature of Metalcore is the alternating note riff. This technique focuses on having a base palm muted note, such as C2 (since many metalcore arrangements feature guitars in drop C or C Standard), and alternating between that note and the melody either in the same or a different octave. These are most often played in eighth note intervals, putting the melody note on beat and the base note off beat. One notable example is in "A Paradox with Flies" by Darkest Hour. In the first verse, the progression switches from mainly chords to alternating note riffs. This kind of riffing techniques creates a feeling of rapid marching, or aggressive sprinting which is a cornerstone of metalcore. Here is an example riff:

e |--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
B |--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------      * = palm muted
G |--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
D |------------------------------------------------------10-10-10-9-9--------------------------
A |7---7---7---7---8---8---8---8---7---7---7---7---7-7-7---------------------------------------
E |--0---0---0---0---0---0---0---0---0---0---0---0---------------------------------------------
     *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

This technique can be difficult at first; as with any new technique, slow down your metronome when trying for the first time or if you start to lose precision as the riff progresses. As you increase your tempo, it may be difficult to catch each note with specific up and down motions. In this case, making use of string muting is effective. For example, in the riff above, muting the E string with the tip of your index (or other) finger while playing the E3 note (7 on A) and muting the A string while playing the bass note is an effective way to hide sloppiness that always arises from riffs of this nature. The muted E3 being played in addition to a palm muted E2 can also add to the percussion of the muted note.

Another aspect of this kind of play that can be difficult is rapidly switching between palm muted and open notes. In this case, practice is the best remedy.

It is also popular to change the base note to provide a different mood. For example:

e |--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
B |--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------      * = palm muted
G |--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
D |------------------------------------------------------10-10-10-9-9--------------------------
A |7---7---7---7---8---8---8---8---7---7---7---7---7-7-7---------------------------------------
E |--0---0---0---0---0---0---0---0---5---5---5---5---------------------------------------------
     *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

You can also play with the stress of the melody:

e |--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
B |--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------      * = palm muted
G |--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
D |------------------------------------------------------10-10-10-9-9--------------------------
A |7-------7---7-----------8-------7-------7---7---7-7-7---------------------------------------
E |--0-0-0---0---0-0-0-0-0---0-0-0---0-0-0---0---0---------------------------------------------
     * * *   *   * * * * *   * * *   * * *   *   *

These kinds of passages are best placed in a verse role. While any riff style can be used in any song section with clever composition, this kind of riff provides the speed and aggression needed for metalcore while setting up a satisfying chorus experience. It should be noted alternating notes is a particularly challenging riff for listeners, being on par with controlled solos in other genres; the rapid alternating octaves can be draining to appreciate over time, so avoid overusing this kind of riff.

Metalcore Transitions[edit | edit source]

A common feature of metalcore composition are high-speed transitions. These are often quarter and eighth note progressions played as 32nd notes. For example:

e |--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
B |--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------      * = palm muted
G |--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
D |----------------10.10.10.10.99999999--------10.10.10.10.9999--------10.10.10.10.99999999----
A |7777777788888888--------------------77778888----------------77778888------------------------
E |--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It should be apparent that this riff is an eighth note progression - all notes of this melody can be played using only eighth notes.

Riffs of this nature communicate rapid speed and are useful tools for linking sections of songs that have radically different tempos. Transitioning in this style should be done sparingly; not only is it challenging, and even dangerous, to play, but it is also especially challenging for listeners.

Metalcore Chorus[edit | edit source]

A chorus in metalcore is not too unlike an orthodox chorus: compared to the rest of the song, a chorus is typically open (referring to muting texture), fuller (referring to chord texture), and smoother (referring to rhythm texture). The chorus serves as a familiar satisfaction point in contrast to the tension built during the preceeding sections. A Metalcore chorus typically takes two forms: monophonic degree progressions, and polyphonorhythmic progressions.

Monophonic Degree Progressions[edit | edit source]

Monophonic degree progressions are common throughout metalcore, not just in metalcore chorus. These sections focus on an in-key progression that is accompanied by the same riff in a different key, usually in the same mode but at a different root. Taking the first riff from alternation note riffs as an example:

This riff is in the key of E Phrygian. An accompanying guitar might play the same riff, however in G Phrygian (instead of E, making the accompaniment a minor third to the main progression). Since a G2 might be difficult to reach, the E2 in the original riff can be left unaltered:

A variety of riffs and degrees can be used; octave, major third, and perfect fifth modulations are some of the most popular in metalcore.

Polyphonorhythmic Progressions[edit | edit source]

Polyphonorhymthmic progressions, like Monophonic degrees, are popular throughout metalcore. These sections feature a straightforward 4/4 lead with an occasionally polyrhymic polyphonic rhythm accompaniment. Rhythms in Metalcore play like jazz rhythm: the stress sits in rests as opposed to notes in most other genres. This kind of riff sacrifices fill for space, allowing the lead and rhythm to not only be chromatically wide, but also rhythmically wide. The straightforward lead balances out the more awkward rhythm, giving the listener a place of comfort to return to. Take, for example, this riff with accompaniment: