5 Things You Can Do To Learn To Play Guitar Like Tom Morello

The following post comes to us from Patrick, a long time guitar player, teacher and Morello fan. He shares some tips with us that he’s used to learn (and teach) some of Morello’s classic electric guitar style of playing typical of bands like Rage Against the Machine and his newly formed Prophets of Rage. Check out Patrick’s other recent post where he looks at some of Morello’s acoustic guitar work in this tutorial on How to Play The Nightwatchman’s Save the Hammer for the Man.


5 Tips for Playing Guitar Like Tom Morello from Patrick of MusikaLessons.com

Tom Morello’s distinct approach to playing the guitar has influenced modern popular music in massive and subtle ways. Merrelo’s incorporation of hip-hop and classic rock influences into his playing and his tactic of injecting percussive elements into his parts with string-muting have made his contributions to bands like Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave instantly recognizable and now widely imitated by other guitar players.

Morello is a legendary guitarist, but learning to play like him might be easier than you think. We’ve put together a list of 5 easy things you can do to help you learn how to play the guitar like Tom Morello:

#1. Get Familiar With Power Chords and Drop-D Tuning

Many of Tom Morello’s guitar parts were written in drop-D tuning. Drop-D tuning is when the 6th string E is tuned down a whole step lower to a D. You can use the 4th open D string to use as a reference to tune to here. If you’re somewhat new to the guitar, this next part might blow your mind a little bit. Lots of Tom Morello’s innovative guitar parts are built using easy-to-play power chords. When the guitar is tuned to drop-D tuning, power chords can easily be built by barring the 6th, 5th and 4th strings with your left hand index finger on any fret. These chords are incredibly easy to play. If you’re not familiar, power chords are chords that exclusively use the root and 5th notes. They leave out the 3rd note, which determines if the chord is major or minor.


#2. Learn To Mute Strings With Your Left Hand

Morello’s style incorporates tons of interesting muted strumming patterns, and they’re easier to play than you probably think. Tuned down to the drop-D tuning we just discussed, play a power chord on the fifth fret. Now, relax your left hand index finger just the slightest amount. If you strum the strings, you’ll find that the chord is now muted. With your right hand, strum simple eighth notes and start switching between pressing your left hand index down to make the chord resonate, and relaxing your finger to mute the strings. You’ll notice that when you strum the muted strings, they make a percussive clicking sound. This sort of percussive muting can be found in the guitar part from the song “Killing In The Name Of.”


#3. Brush Up On Your Basic Pentatonic Scales

Remember those simple pentatonic scales you learned in your first month of guitar lessons? Well, if you want to learn to play like Tom Morello, you’ll need to brush up on those. Lots of Morello’s innovative guitar work from Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave was developed by presenting notes found in these scales in new, interesting ways. Take some time to master basic major and minor pentatonic scales, and you’ll be on track to learn how to play like Tom Morello. Like any scale on the guitar, pentatonic scales are easy because they can be moved to any fret using the same fingers.


Basic Pentatonic Scales:


#4. Investigate His Influences

Morello’s rock, hip-hop and funk influences were front and center during his time with Rage Against The Machine, and if you want to learn how to play him, it’s a good idea to listen to the music that made the greatest impact on him. In a 2013 interview with NME magazine, Morello named Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz, Run DMC’s King Of Rock, Iron Maiden’s 1983 Piece Of Mind and Public Enemy’s Fear Of A Black Planet as albums directly influenced RATM’s unique and hard-hitting music. If you want to learn how to play like Tom, take some time to listen to the music that helped shape him the most as a guitarist.


#5. Learn To Make Space In Your Playing

One of the things that make Morello such a memorable guitar player is that he’s someone who embraces minimalism in his playing. Lots of his chorus parts are simple melodies that are often played on one string. Learning when to play out front and busy and when to scale things back is essential for good guitar playing. When Morello steps back during chorus sections, he’s wisely giving the vocal part plenty of room to be heard. He knows that his innovative guitar playing shouldn’t always be the main focus of the song he’s playing on. This is a vital skill that musicians in any genre should embrace.


These tips will certainly help you to learn how to play like Tom Morello, but the won’t do any good if you don’t take the time to master basic guitar technique. Morello developed his instantly memorable playing style after thousands of hours of playing the guitar. If you want to learn how to play like him, start by doing the same thing. Learn basic scales, chords, modes and how to play simple parts to the steady click of a metronome. For a great tutorial on how to play Tom Morello’s Save the Hammer for the Man, check out this guitar lesson from Musika Lessons