Tips on Playing Death Metal on Bass

Written by kris ramsay
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Tips on Playing Death Metal on Bass
Dave Lombardo of Slayer, prominent death-metal bassist. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

Rock music has created many different subgenres over time. Death metal is an offshoot of the heavy metal subgenre. It is characterised by detuned guitars, lightning-fast drum beats and vocals that sound more animal-like than human. The bass player in a death-metal band is the backbone of the guitar section. The bass player and the drummer work in concert to keep the tempo and rhythm constant.

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Tuning and Scales

Most death-metal bands start by down- or drop-tuning their guitars. Standard tuning goes E-A-D-G, from low string to high string, but a bass drop tuned to B would go B-F#-B-E. This helps create the low growling tone that death-metal bands favour. There are also specific scales that death-metal bands use to achieve that "evil" sound. Most start with a minor scale and use different variations of that scale, such as harmonic minor or a diminished minor scale. There are also different modes, such as the Phrygian and Locrian, of the minor scale that give the music an exotic sound.


While tuning down is one aspect of how death-metal bass players get their tone, other factors help round it out. Many death-metal bass players use a pick, which gives their sound more attack. Some still use fingerpicking and the slap-and-pop technique. These two styles make for a fuller tone but lose some of the attack that picking accomplishes. The instrument as well as the amplifier and speaker combination also play a large factor in what kind of tone is achieved. Many metal bass players use what is known as a distortion or fuzz pedal to get extra growl from their guitar.

Tips on Playing Death Metal on Bass
Distortion petals are popular with metal bassists. (Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)


One of the more difficult parts about being a death-metal bassist is the constant high-speed playing. This is one of the reasons that most death-metal players use picks. It is easier to play quicker with a pick than with your fingers or in the slap-and-pop style. However, if fingerpicking is more comfortable or gives you the sound you want, then practicing until you get your speed up is another option.


Practicing every day is the only way to become a capable death-metal bass guitarist. It will help you familiarise yourself with the scales that most metal bands use and also increase your endurance. Choose an interval of time that you are comfortable with and play your bass that amount of time everyday. As it becomes easier, increase the time period and include new scales and techniques.

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