Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’ is an iconic song and will forever be part of the canon of Heavy Metal music, in that it will be song people will likely be familiar with, no matter their opinions of the musical genre.
It’s also a track I’ve forever tried and failed to master.
Over the last few months, I thought I’d dedicate some time to it, to learn how to master playing ‘Master of Puppets’.
Why I learnt Master Of Puppets
I took on the project as I wanted to use it as a reason to teach myself Reaper, having invested in a home recording rig, for projects just like this. I knew nothing of the digital audio workstation, and figured I need a dedicated project (as opposed to goofing around) that will show me the obstacles I’s need to overcome: choosing plugins, figuring out the audio interface, getting volumes on the master mix just right. I needed to learn how to master the master of Master of Puppets.
I thought, naively, I’ll take a week or so to learn the minute-long section I’d chosen – I was already familiar with the track, having attempted it many times in the past (mostly on acoustic guitars, doh). And from there, a day to pull everything together.
That was February sometime, and the song was deceptively difficult – but perhaps I made the project all the harder by using a Stratocaster on a metal song?
And while I was familiar with the track and how to play it, I needed to re-teach it to myself as I had taught myself the track with many mistakes ingrained.
Watch the result:
What Learning ‘Master of Puppets’ Can Teach Guitarists
- Playing at speed
- Stamina to play riffs for an extended period of time
- Picking technique
- Keeping to rhythm
- Efficient fretting technique – don’t waste energy with finger acrobatics (something I’ve always been guilty of)
For the benefit of anyone about to learn ‘Master of Puppets’, it’s a fantastic song and great for working on technique. For just a minute-long, the song’s intro is musically dense and quite physically demanding. You’ll need to work on your picking arm to pick at the required speed. You’ll need to strengthen your fretting fingers and arm. There’s also not a lot of room to re-configure the
As with many metal songs, being able to play the technique, even at speed isn’t enough: it’s a song built on stamina – it was my mistake to underestimate how demanding this one minute of music could be!
Challenges Of Playing ‘Master of Puppets’
- Multiple, quick transitions
- The high tempo means little respite
- Once you lose rhythm, it’s difficult to catch back up, so you need to know the part and know it well.
To overcome the difficulties of the song, and get my skill level to that of the track, I found the best way to learn the song accurately was to break the song down: first I tried splitting into four sections and then I realised it needed to be bar by bar.
To get each bar right, I dedicated periods of time to practicing each individual phrase first and getting it right, before moving on to playing each bar. Once I could play each individual bar confidently, albeit individually, I worked on individual segments: I separated the 55-seconds of music into four individual segments that I could work on by themselves. Only then was I able to start playing it all in one go, and even that took many attempts to get it right, at the right tempo.
The End Result
Overall, there are some sloppy bits that I’ll need to spend some time ironing out. There’s a few filler open E-string that I missed out as I wanted to get the right melody note.
It’s a lame excuse, but I do feel that this guitar is a limiting factor: the strings are worn as is the pick I used, so it was difficult to get a good grip of the strings. I’ve ordered new picks so in a week or so, I’ll be able to judge if that theory holds water.
Another difficulty I encountered was moving up and down the neck during the power chord slides. My palms got a bit sweaty and created friction that made moving around the neck at the right speed incredibly difficult.
To remedy this, I first tried some talcum powder, which helped a little, but in an act of desperation, I decided vegetable oil would be a good idea as lubricant.
Technically, it worked really well, but the downside was my hands and guitar smelt like a chip shop afterwards!
I also really don’t think using food oil to treat wood is a great idea, as these oils will go rancid and cause the wood to smell), so it’s not something I want to experiment with again, but after a little research, there is a workable a solution to reduce neck friction and overcome a sticky guitar neck.
Overall, I really enjoyed this project as it forced me to up my game as guitarist – playing a demanding song in a disciplined manner and learning my tools a little better to get the result that I wanted!
I’d happily learn the rest of the song, as it’s such a great tune, but at eight-minutes long it’d be a long while before I tell you about it here… and there’s still the question of the solos!