Just like Eddie Munson in stranger things 4, Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” is “the most metallic of all time” for me. I spent my teenage years obsessively learning guitar, and Metallica was one of my biggest influences. The combination of vocalist and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield’s thrash riffs and progressive song structures along with lead guitarist Kirk Hammett’s shredding gave me a lot to try and master. I was never quite fast or precise enough to fully hit Metallica’s heaviest songs, but I was able to make a pretty decent impression when I was on my game.
20+ years later I’m definitely not in my game as I’ve only played sporadically for the last ten years. I’ve tried playing back in bursts, but nothing really stuck. Finnish company Yousician recently became famous thanks to a collaboration with – who else? – got on my radar. – Metallica.
At a high level, the Yousician software listens to your guitar playing and matches it to the lesson or song you’re trying to play, giving you a higher score based on how accurate you are. The app offers courses and songs for guitar, piano, bass, ukulele, and vocals, but my time was only spent on the guitar section.
There are plenty of introductory lessons for people who have never played before – but the most interesting thing about Yousician for someone like me are the song transcriptions. The app is packed with tons of popular songs, which in my limited testing have fairly accurate transcriptions to help you learn to play with the original recording. When you queue a song, a continuously scrolling tablature overview of the song is displayed. Play along and Yousician will try to tell you if you hit a chord right in time, if you’re a little early or late, or if you’ve messed it up completely.
As far as I can tell, the vast majority of the music on Yousician was recorded by session musicians – so you’re not playing to the original Nirvana or Foo Fighters tracks, but to a well-recorded, if somewhat soulless, reproduction. That’s okay, because these exercises work well enough to learn a song, and then you can just play with the original once you’ve perfected it.
But the Metallica course is different and far more compelling. Yousician has been given access to the band’s master recording of 10 songs, meaning you’ll learn from and play along with the original songs you (presumably) love.
However, the Metallica part of Yousician is not limited to learning specific songs. There are three courses to play: Riff Life, Rock in Rhythm and Take the Lead, each of which delve into a different aspect of the band’s music. Each of these courses, in turn, has a handful of lessons that focus on a song and the skills needed to play it. There are also videos with members of the band talking about the overall concept. Although James and Kirk don’t literally teach you the songs, it’s still great to see them play up close and personal and hear how they approach the writing and performing.
For example, the Rock in Rhythm course has an entire section on downpicking, a more percussive and aggressive way of using your picking hand that defines much of Metallica’s riffs and heavy metal music in general. Watching James Hetfield detail some of his most intricate and fastest riffs is an absolute delight.
Blended into these videos are lessons that focus on a specific part of a song. The Riff Life course starts off quite simply, with the key riffs to songs like “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Nothing Else Matters,” and “Enter Sandman.” These lessons follow a fairly standard format. Listen to the isolated guitar part, um getting it into your head, sometimes accompanied by a Yousician teacher to show you how to approach the song. Then play the part in the context of the song, starting slowly and then gradually increasing Play it at full speed. Then play the entire song to complete the lesson.
For this last option, Yousician offers several ways to advance. If you’re a beginner, you can play simplified versions of the song – but Yousician also includes full versions of the rhythm guitar track, or a combination of rhythm and lead parts. If you’re just learning the song for the first time, you won’t want to jump right into these versions. But if you’re up for the challenge, the practice mode helpfully divides the song into sections like intro, verse, chorus, solo, and so on. You can slow down the song, work on those sections, and then string the whole thing together. The app uses time stretching so the pitch of the music is not affected.
As someone already familiar with the included Metallica songs, I can say that Yousician has done an impressive job with these full transcriptions. I’ve already picked up a few tricks and learned some improved ways of playing these songs, even for very simple parts like the opening riff of “Enter Sandman”. I’ve known this song basically since I first picked up a guitar, but Yousician has noted that Hetfield plays the riff with his left hand in a rather unconventional finger position, one that’s not easy, but the notes are clearer when mastered.
The lead guitar parts are also impressively detailed considering how fast and complex some of Hammett’s solos can be. I’m sure in this case having access to Metallica’s master recordings for these songs helped; Being able to isolate bits and slow things down makes the learning process a lot more accessible and probably made a difference in the accuracy of the transcriptions as well. While I can’t say the notation is 100% correct for extremely fast solos like “One” or “Battery,” they should be good enough for a convincing performance.
Unfortunately, I ran into a few problems trying to tackle the aforementioned Master of Puppets epic. As I worked through the downpicking lessons, I was presented with the riff played during the main verse. Whether through my own ineptitude, Yousician not “hearing” me well enough, or some other unknown problem, I just couldn’t play the riff accurately enough to progress. It’s definitely a fast one, but even at slowed speeds Yousician consistently failed to recognize that I was hitting the sliding power chords that anchor the riff’s end. A colleague of mine had previously tried Yousician and had a similar issue with the app not recognizing his play, which can be a huge disappointment when trying to master each lesson.
I can’t say why that happened on this particular riff. Yousician did a good job of hearing me play the song’s introduction, which on its own is just as fast paced and quite complex. There seemed to be something specific about these sliding chords that the app was struggling to capture. I’m not proficient enough to play the fastest solos that the Metallica course offers, so I can’t say how well it will take those, but it did a good job of picking out the fast, arpeggiated licks towards the end of that “Fade to Black” solo. Yousician understood better when I connected my guitar directly to my computer via the iRig 2 interface. But since I don’t usually go straight into my computer, I didn’t have any virtual amps or effects set up, meaning it wasn’t nearly as fun to play as it was through my amp.
Despite these occasional hiccups, I really enjoyed the Yousician Metallica course. Whether it’s worth the money is another question entirely — Yousician costs $140 a year or $30 a month. It’s not cheap, but it’s less expensive than the private guitar lessons I took 20 years ago. Of course, Yousician can’t tailor his classes for me, but I’m still impressed by the attention to detail and the immersive nature of the Metallica course, and there’s a ton of other stuff I could play around with as well. Between the accuracy of the transcriptions, a solid song selection, and the ability to slow down tracks for practice, there’s a lot to like here.
When I learned guitar as a teenager it certainly would have been a fantastic tool – but in 2022 there are a multitude of ways to learn your favorite songs. That’s probably the biggest catch with Yousician. Most people will probably enjoy watching YouTube instructional videos and look up transcripts online for free. I just did a quick search for “Master of Puppet’s Guitar Lessons” and found a bunch of excellent videos, including a multi-part video where the teacher spent ten minutes demonstrating just the first two riffs. It was a thorough, detailed lesson from someone who knows both the song and Metallica’s approach to playing in general.
Having said that, I would still encourage Metallica fans to try a monthly subscription to Yousician. The song choices range from easier tracks to some of their hardest stuff, making them useful no matter your skill level. The video content is entertaining and informative; it’s rare to see a band speak so openly about their approach to playing their instruments. And as good as some YouTube lessons are, being able to view and play along with detailed tab transcriptions of extremely fast guitar solos makes the learning experience that much better. These transcriptions make an excellent practice tool when combined with the original Metallica master tracks, which you can slow down or speed up as needed. For anyone looking to unleash their inner Eddie Munson, Yousician’s Metallica course is a solid place to start.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independently of our parent company. Some of our stories contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may receive an affiliate commission. All prices are correct at time of publication.