Master of Puppets and Alternate vs Sweep Picking

Kirk Hammett — Vienna 2007

Image via Wikipedia

While trying to learn to play “Master of Puppets” (still a work in progress…) I had a hard time with the main riff of the song (which can be found at around 30 seconds). The riff looks like this:

 

 

 

 

sA:-----2-----3-----4-----3-----2-2-
sE:-0-1---0-1---0-1---0-1---0-1-----
pA:-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-    Measure A
pS:-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-D-
ac: *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
bt: 1       2       3       4
nt: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
                      0 1 2 3 4 5 6

sA:-----2-----3-----4-----3----(2--)
sE:-0-1---0-1---0-1---0-1---0-1-----
pA:-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D---    Measure B
pS:-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U---
ac: *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
bt: 1       2       3       4
nt: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1
                    0 1 2 3 4 5

sA:-----2-----3-----4-----3-----2-2-
sE:-0-1---0-1---0-1---0-1---0-1-----
pA:-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-    Measure C
pS:-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-D-
ac: *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
bt: 1       2       3       4
nt: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
                      0 1 2 3 4 5 6

sA:-----2-----3---------------------
sE:-0-1---0-1---1-0-3-2-0-3-2-0-3-2-
pA:-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D---    Measure D
pS:-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-D-U-D-U-D-U-D---
ac: *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
bt: 1       2       3       4
nt: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
                      0 1 2 3 4 5 6

sA = the string A
sE = the string E
pA = Alternate picking
pS = Sweep picking
ac = Accenting
bt = Beat number (of current measure)
nt = Note number (of current measure)

At first look, it seems very simple, but its very clever and powerful and smells “Metallica” all over it.

Riff anatomy

The riff consists of 4 almost identical measures of 4 beats each. Let’s call them A, B, C, D. All the notes are 16ths with the exception of the final note (15) of measure B which is an 8th. There is a repeating pattern of 3 notes: E,F,X, E and F being the constant notes of the pattern and X being the one that changes in each instance of the pattern. Let’s call the pattern “PAT”. PAT is not aligned with beats (one beat is four notes) and so each repetition sounds differently in terms of accenting from the previous one.

Measure A consists of 5 repetitions of PAT and adds a twist at the end. The final note (note 15) repeats once more and this effectively brings the 3 note “misfit” to an end for the current measure so the next measure can start off new. Its like a full stop ending a sentence.

Measure B ends with a similar twist. This time there is no full stop note, but instead the value of this note was added to the previews one (note 15 of measure B), which now lasts twice than the same note of measure A and the result is again the same.

The importance of the full stop note is that it resets the next measure of the riff and lets it start beat-aligned. Being beat-aligned is important because one of the key elements of the riff is the differentiation in accenting of successive repetitions of PAT. See the accenting in notes 1 to 3 (*-*) and the accenting in notes 4-6 (-*-). This differentiation is what gives the riff its own character.

Try repeatidly playing the riff without the “full stop note” (note 16) and you’ll see what I’m talking about. After 3 repetitions or so it will start imposing a different rhythm to your head (maybe 3/4) and lose all its character. Without this little twist the riff would have been a predictable repetition of nonsense. And certainly that is not what Metallica is about!

Measure B can be seen as a mutation of measure A. They are almost the same except from the double valued note 15.

The other half of the riff (measures C and D) can also be seen as a mutation of the first half (measures A and B), but this time the changes are  more drastic. After 2 repetitions of  PAT in the D measure, the E and F notes change place. This puts an end to the ascending motion of the previews notes of the riff. Then the remaining beats (3 and 4) of the D measure are totally different from these at measure B. The PAT is gone and its place was taken by another pattern: a 3-note repetition of G, F# E,  again a decending motion  The rule of PAT is gone and so is the predictability of the riff. You stop expecting to listen to any more PAT repetitions, anymore. But there comes the next repetition of the whole riff (and a whole lot of PAT repetitions inside it) to prove you wrong!

The next repetition of the riff (say measures E, F, G and H) is also a mutation of the first repetition (measures A, B, C, D). Measure H is exactly like measure D but now it has grown two beats larger! (Ok, technically the measure did not mutate. Technically measure H is the same as D and another one measure of two beats was added after it, but we can still say that the musical phrase was mutated and that the mutation was an “insertion”). Those extra two beats are simply a repetition of beats 3 and 4 of measure H.

Another way to look at these extra beats is that they are not extra at all. Maybe they form a complete measure together with beats 3 and 4 of so-called “measure H”. Maybe the story told so far with the PATs and the mutations was not the one aligned with measures and from now on the alignment is going to be correct. Time to tell the true story. Time to go to the verse section of the song!

Application of sweep picking

When I started writing down the tablature for this post I thought I was only going to write about my little trick for playing the riff faster and with less effort. I could not resist the temptation of writing some of my thoughts about it though, not only because it kicks ass, but also because its structure conveys that the creator of the riff (Kirk?) followed some kind of methodology and put an awful lot of work in tweaking the parameters of the system until it was perfect.

I could continue sharing my thoughts on this riff for many pages, for example I could say that it sounds good enough even when you ignore notes on one of the two strings (ignore string A and you get a kick ass rhythm, ignore string E and you get a decent musical phrase), or I could say how this structure reminds me of evolution and how this brings a sense of “life” to the riff. But I’m definitely not going to say these things! Let’s see that tab again:

sA:-----2-----3-----4-----3-----2-2-
sE:-0-1---0-1---0-1---0-1---0-1-----
pA:-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-    Measure A
pS:-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-D-
ac: *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
bt: 1       2       3       4
nt: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
                      0 1 2 3 4 5 6

sA:-----2-----3-----4-----3----(2--)
sE:-0-1---0-1---0-1---0-1---0-1-----
pA:-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D---    Measure B
pS:-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U---
ac: *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
bt: 1       2       3       4
nt: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1
                    0 1 2 3 4 5

sA:-----2-----3-----4-----3-----2-2-
sE:-0-1---0-1---0-1---0-1---0-1-----
pA:-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-    Measure C
pS:-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-U-D-
ac: *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
bt: 1       2       3       4
nt: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
                      0 1 2 3 4 5 6

sA:-----2-----3---------------------
sE:-0-1---0-1---1-0-3-2-0-3-2-0-3-2-
pA:-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U-D---    Measure D
pS:-U-D-U-U-D-U-U-D-D-U-D-U-D-U-D---
ac: *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
bt: 1       2       3       4
nt: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
                      0 1 2 3 4 5 6sA = the string A
sE = the string E
pA = Alternate picking
pS = Sweep picking
ac = Accenting
bt = Beat number (of current measure)
nt = Note number (of current measure)

So my first approach to learning how to play it was alternate picking. I sat with the metronome and started really slow, but at some point as I was increasing the speed I caught myself using another pattern which came to me more naturally than alternate picking. I tried to slow it down again to analyze what I was doing and I was amazed to see that I was actually sweep picking the riff (because I had never done any sweep picking exercises before). This approach has its pros and cons, but it definitely had me playing the riff at a decent speed in no time!

Look at the tablature to see how to do it: U stands for upstroke and D stands for downstroke. Basically you start the riff with an upstroke and when you have to play the string A and then the string E you play them both with a single sweep.

Pros

+ Speed: In the sweep picking version you just need 12 movements per measure instead of 16.
+ consistency: Your hand’s motion is aligned with the 3 note pattern “PAT” and not with the beat (the latter being the case with alternate picking). This way if you miss a note you don’t get lost and you can continue playing the riff as if nothing happened. Try the same with alternate picking.

Cons

It won’t make you a better guitarist: This trick is not reusable. It applies only to this specific riff. Alternate picking on the other hand can be used everywhere and its a good habit to use it even when it does not feel so comfortable.
Non automatic accenting: With alternate picking you let your hand do the accenting (accent downstrokes and don’t accent upstrokes). On the other hand (!) with sweep picking you must accent the notes when they really need to be accented, not when your hands think so. It’s a little more tricky to get right.

Considering all these I think it was worth the effort: I learned the riff a lot easier and when the time comes to play it live I won’t screw it up in case I miss a single note. Even if it happens to be the full stop.

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3 thoughts on “Master of Puppets and Alternate vs Sweep Picking

  1. Pretty neat trick.
    I also found that sweeping is much easier, and it kinda came naturaly to me too, having done no excercises at all.

    Another piece of guitar history by Metallica. 😄

  2. thanks! Well, I still like to think sweep picking that it helps me to be a greater guitarist because I know more patters of picking

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