The song Master Of Puppets by Metallica has recently been making a bit of comeback thanks to season 4 of Stranger Things. So this week we’re looking at the main verse riff and that crazy bar you may have seen described as 5/8, 6/8 and even 21/32!!

We’re going to break it down and go on a DEEP DIVE into how you might practice and MASTER (master…master…master) that weird bar from the upside down!!

Master Of Puppets – Metallica

The title track from Metallica’s third studio album of the same name features complex rhythms and and an aggressive bass tone, thanks to the powerful style of the original Metallica bassist Cliff Burton.

Those Darn Tab Books!

As a huge Metallica fan myself, I originally learned the bass line from the Cherry Lane Master of Puppets transcription book, but after meticulously going through the recording of the isolated bass, I’ve discovered that a lot of it is in fact.. wrong!!

After careful listening you can see that most of the transcriptions were done referencing what was played by the guitars. Cliff actually added more groove and warmth to the lines by playing 8th notes rather than 16th’s as played by the guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett.

The Infamous Bar

However, there is one part of the song that causes problems when transcribing, whether that be for bass, guitar or drums, and that’s the infamous odd time bar in the main verse riff. This is played at a whopping 212bpm! There are some great little skips in there too that all add to the overall feel of the line. It’s a little tricky, but brilliant practice for working on our rhythm playing.

Time Signature Madness!!

This part has been described as being played in 5/8, but when you break it down and play along to the track, it feels more like a 6/8 groove. In fact, many people refer to this line as 21/32! This means, that there are 32nd notes played as notes can be broken down further and further into fractions.

Describing it this way can be a little difficult to comprehend, but these are just alternative ways of looking at simple meters. It’s all just math’s at the end of the day! By calling it 21/32, what we are really saying is that it is a bar of 5/8 with one extra 32nd note added.

I’m not convinced by this however, as a 32nd note at such a fast bpm would barely register. I think it’s somewhere between 5/8 and 6/8, which would be described as 11/16.  However, for practice purposes, it’s best to subdivide to a bar of 7/16 and 2/8.

By subdividing, I mean to break up the complex bar even further in order to get to grips with it. Remember to always start slow when working on tricky subdivisions and count all the “ands” in between the beats.

This section when broken down, sounds a little syncopated and funky in itself. Use a ghost note to help keep you in time when working through this unusual rhythm, which feels almost like a clavé.

You can hear this in the two practice tracks provided below, one is at 90bpm and the other at 110bpm. This all might sound a little crazy, but once you break it down and hear it with the track it’ll all make sense. I think this song is a great example of what a great bassist Cliff was.

RIP Cliff Burton

Cliff Burton was a metal bass revolutionary and gained notoriety for his deceptively complex bass lines. As a child, he learned classical piano and I think you can hear those influences in his playing style.

If you want to find out more about Cliff’s great playing, be sure to check out some of his most famous bass lines such as: For Whom the Bell Tolls, Seek and Destroy and the brilliant (Anaesthesia) – Pulling teeth, which is practically a bass solo!

Tragically Cliff was killed while on tour with the band in 1986, but his legacy and huge influence on metal bass players cannot be understated.

Master Of Puppets

Practice Tracks:

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