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[2019-08-07] How To Play "Viking Death March" - THUMB

How To Play 'Viking Death March' by Billy Talent

08/07/2019 12:00 PM

By Jarred McAdams

“Viking Death March” – an aggressive track from Billy Talent’s 2012 album Dead Silence – offers us a great example of compound meter and how it applies to the guitar. Compound meter means that each beat is divided into three subdivisions rather than two. Compound meters are not uncommon in music, but are much less common in rock music than simple meters. Many of you will be familiar with simple time signatures like 4/4 and 2/4. Compound meters tend to use time signatures like 6/8 and 12/8; in this case, "Viking Death March" is in 6/8.

As a guitarist, it’s helpful to recognize that you’re dealing with a compound meter because it can influence your strumming. In simple meters, we tend to rely on alternate strumming, where your strumming hand always goes up and down to the beat of the song – down on the beats, and up between the beats – allowing you to strum or not strum whenever it’s called for without breaking the rhythm. Your strumming hand stays perfectly in sync with the beat of the music.

In compound meters, things get a little more complicated. For some rhythms, you might employ the same approach, with your hand strumming down on the beats and up in between - especially if each beat is divided into a long and a short subdivision:


| 1 - - 2 - - | 1 - - 2 - - |

| D - U D - U | D - U D - U |


However, in the case of “Viking Death March,” we’re going to use a different type of alternate strumming in which your hand is moving down and up on every subdivision of the beat. That means that on every other beat, you’ll be strumming up instead of down:


| 1 - - 2 - - | 1 - - 2 - - |

| D U D U D U | D U D U D U |


Of course, Billy Talent’s guitarist Ian D’Sa isn’t strumming on every one of these subdivisions. He creates different rhythms by selectively leaving out certain strums. Here’s a pattern that occurs frequently in this song:


| 1 - - 2 - - | 1 - - 2 - - | 1 - - 2 - - | 1 - - 2 - - |

| D - D U D U | D - D U D U | D - D U D U | D U D U - - |


Notice that there are strong accents on each beat. Take it slowly at first. Once your hand gets used to maintaining this steady up-and-down rhythm, you can set it on autopilot while you focus on other aspects of your playing.

One thing that might require some of that focus is the stretched-out chord shape that occurs throughout the main riff. Your first finger barres the first fret of the 5th and 6th strings while your pinky holds the 5th fret of the 4th string, which in Drop D gives us an Eb Major chord. You’ll want to be sure your hands are stretched and warmed up before trying to play it (that’s actually good advice for playing anything at all). Be sure you aren’t straining your hand so hard that you do real damage. Take it slow, warm up, and if it hurts, stop. If you’re really struggling to make that stretch, you can get the same notes by playing the open 3rd string instead of the fretted 4th string – you’ll just need to be sure you’re muting the unused strings.

Uncommon chord shapes and rhythms help us expand beyond the old familiar patterns that our fingers can too easily fall into time after time. “Viking Death March” is a lot of fun and provides some interesting challenges without requiring you to play anything too fast, technical, or unattainable.

Jarred McAdams joined the Rocksmith team in 2011. He studied composition at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and hold a Master's degree in composition from Mills College. Jarred has served as a composer, performer, writer, and video producer for a wide variety of artistic and commercial projects, and has worked on a number of music game franchises since 2008.

"Billy Talent @ Ruisrock 2007" by Anssi Koskinen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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