If you want to know the best death metal scales to learn, this post is for you!
I’m not exactly a death metal expert.
In fact, this isn’t my favorite genre.
But one of the best ways to get better at the guitar is to learn from other genres!
That’s why I decided to investigate this topic.
Let’s get to it!
Before We Begin…
Let’s clear up how I’ll present these scales. Each of the tab examples will be with A as the root note. These tabs will also be written in the 5th position. Along with that, I’ll present the scale numerically.
For those who are not familiar, we always take the major scale, mark degrees as numbers, and alter them with sharps or flats. This will help you build the scale no matter the key.
Lastly, bear in mind that this guide is to help you expand your vocabulary. These scales can be useful for death metal. However, it’s not the scales that make the genre, but how you use them. And that’s a whole different story.
The simplest choice for this list is the Phrygian dominant scale. This one is the 5th mode of the harmonic minor. And, just like harmonic minor, it’s pretty tense.
In fact, this scale brings even more tension. This makes it a great choice for both riffs and solos. You can use it over dominant chords. Or, you can just build a chord progression using the scale.
It looks like this:
It’s very similar to the Phrygian mode. However, it has the major 3rd instead of a minor one. This builds a three-semitone difference between the 2nd and the 3rd degree. It’s also accompanied by a minor 6th interval which adds to the melancholic feel.
Here’s the tab:
The diminished scale is a bit tricky. This is because you have two versions. Essentially, both versions alternate between a whole and a half step. However, it can either start with a half step or a whole step.
Here’s the first variant, starting with the whole step:
And here’s the second one, starting with the half step:
As you can see, we’re kind of breaking some music theory rules here. Instead of 7, we have 8 degrees in the scale. In the first variant, you get both diminished and augmented 5th intervals. But in the second version, you have a diminished 5th and the perfect 5th.
Either way, this is a really fun scale to play around with. You can check out both variants below.
Dorian #4, aka Ukrainian Dorian Scale
The Dorian #4 is a scale that you can use in many genres. In particular, I’d recommend it to death metal musicians who are prog-oriented. Technically, it’s the fourth mode of the harmonic minor.
However, the easier way to look at it is a Dorian scale with an augmented 4th interval. And this is where things get weird. The perfect 4th adds some stability to every scale. But if you avoid the interval and use the augmented 4th instead, you get some pretty weird vibes.
The moment you learn it, you’ll be hooked. It’s super fun to play in. It’s also a great substitute for the minor pentatonic scale. Here’s what it looks like:
As you can see, it builds a minor 7th chord. But it has an augmented 4th that makes it sound sinister and a major 6th that adds a more cheerful vibe. Pretty weird, right? Here’s the tab:
Of course, this is the obvious choice. The natural minor is the safest choice for any metal subgenre. It has all the necessary elements to make the music sound heavy, dark, and melancholic.
We have minor 3rd, minor 6th, and minor 7th intervals. This makes it sound a bit depressing. I’d also describe it as nostalgic in a way. The scale looks like this:
And here’s the tab for the A minor scale in the 5th position.
And here’s another classic. A huge portion of extreme metal bands uses the harmonic minor. We can say the same thing about classic metal bands. For instance, Yngwie Malmsteen uses it all the time.
In the harmonic minor, we have minor 3rd and minor 6th intervals. However, we have a major 7th instead of a minor one. This adds a one-and-a-half step distance between its 6th and 7th degrees, adding tension. Of course, this is also what makes it a great choice for death metal.
Here’s the numerical representation of it.
And this is the A harmonic minor tab:
Now, I thought about whether I should have the Locrian mode on this list. The problem with this scale is that it sounds so unresolved. It’s not that melancholic and it’s not cheerful at all. It’s just weird, maybe a little awkward as well. Needless to say, almost no musician uses it.
But this is exactly why some musicians might like it. If you feel like experimenting, give it a try. I played around with the Locrian mode a lot. And you can actually write some smaller portions of the song in it. Here’s what it looks like:
As you can see, it has minor 2nd, minor 3rd, diminished 5th, minor 6th, and minor 7th intervals. The minor 2nd, minor 3rd, and minor 6th intervals add some melancholy and tension. However, combined with the diminished 5th and the minor 7th, things get complicated.
But hey, it has the tritone! This means that you can make it sound heavy and sinister. It’s great for those who like to add prog elements. Here’s the tab:
Double Harmonic Minor, aka Hungarian Minor Scale
Depressing, bleak, tense, and heart-rending are just some of the words to describe this scale. The Hungarian minor scale, or the double harmonic minor, takes it to the next level.
The scale includes two places with a one-and-a-half step between notes. Additionally, there’s also a three-note chromatic run. So this is what we have on our hands:
Therefore, just like Dorian #4, the double harmonic minor is a great substitute for the natural minor. So it’s pretty much like the harmonic minor on steroids. Here’s the tab:
I hope this article has given you some death metal scales to try out!
And if you have a recommendation of some others to add to this article, let me know in the comments!