Learning Metallica’s “The Shortest Straw”

Welcome to another edition of Guitar-Muse’s weekly challenge. This week’s suggested study material is the high energy fan favorite from Metallica’s And Justice For All “The Shortest Straw”.

Metallica - The Shortest StrawHonestly, I think as long as we’re doing these weekly challenges it was only a matter of time before a Metallica song surfaced. So why wait around? Metallica’s been a prime example for tight and powerful rhythm guitars ever since the 80s, and they’re still going strong so there’s plenty of incentive to bring them up.

As far as which song to practice… really any of their songs would be a good example, but we’ve chosen “The Shortest Straw” because let’s face it. Does the internet really need one more site endorsing people to learn “Enter Sandman”? Plus it’s a great workout for your picking hand.

Tips for Learning This Song

“The Shortest Staw” off the famed And Justice For All actually has some excellent rhythms that can keep your picking hand guessing the whole way through from varied notation throughout the song to the use of odd time signatures. On the other hand the song is kind of like a game of golf. It’s easy to learn, but difficult to master. “The Shortest Straw” does not feature a whole bunch of complex chord progressions nor does it ever stray too far from the its core elements. You could sit down and have the rhythm guitars and structure memorized in maybe a couple of hours, but getting the timing down just right will take some time.

Since I’m on the topic of rhythm guitars it’s extra strength important to practice your rhythm guitars, especially if you’re a lead guitarist. It’s a well known fact that the tighter your rhythm playing is the tighter your lead playing will be by default. That locked down performance easily translates to solos, melodies, licks, and leads, so think of practicing rhythms like drinking your milk and taking your vitamins. It does a body good, and “The Shortest Straw” is an excellent vitamin supplement for your playing.

What makes Metallica’s music stand out is the attention they put into the rhythms. Their guitars are some of the most precise out there so it stands to reason when perfecting the song you’ll probably want to break it into smaller pieces and practice in segments with a metronome. But regardless of how you approach doing that understanding that while the guitars have many similarities throughout the song the rhythms do bounce around a bit preventing you from being able to play with a “set it and forget it” mindset.

As is the one of the trademarks of Metallica there’s a lot of down stroking involved so the muscles in your hand and arm will have their work cut out for them. Expect some fatiguing. On the plus side, if you make it through and you perfect the song then you’ll have some pretty strong forearms that just might be capable of stopping a speeding bullet.*

*Addendum: There is no scientific evidence that learning to play guitar can translate to stopping bullets with your arms. Guitar-Muse is in no way responsible for people that get caught in the crossfire per the ramblings of a mad man. Instead we recommend you just stick to playing the guitar.

Previous Weekly Challenges

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Kyle Smitchens (448 Articles)

Kyle Smitchens is the Guitar-Muse Managing Editor, super hero extraordinaire, and all around great guy. He has been playing guitar since his late teens and writing personal biographies almost as long. An appreciator of all music, his biggest influences include Tchaikovsky, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Steve Vai, Therion, and Jon Levasseur of Cryptopsy.