Blue Collar Metal

Metal Guitar Lessons for after the 9 to 5

Where to start with Music Theory

Music Theory?!?


Wait! Come back! It's not that bad, I swear.

You've probably heard of this antediluvian, cosmic horror known as Music Theory (cue thunder and evil laughter...) and likely done a bit of digging around. If so, I'll bet money that you found about 5 million sites covering a million different topics each. Yeah, that's a problem.

So how do you sort through that mess? Well fortunately, I'm gonna do it for you. I bounced around like an idiot for a long time with music theory. I had no clue where to start or what was important for my goals. If your goal has anything to do with playing metal lead guitar (you're here, so I'm betting that's the case), read on.



Intervals are the building blocks of all music, and learning them is absolutely clutch.  An interval is just the musical "distance" between two notes. On a guitar, you can measure this in frets.

In western music, there are only 12 possible intervals within an octave. Of those, only 7 are important at any given time. There's a bit more to it than that, but starting here will make you progress sooooooo much faster.  Here are the intervals that exist in western music, within an octave, followed by their use in the Major and Natural Minor scales:

Fret Name Major Scale Natural Minor Scale
0 Tonic Y Y
1 Minor Second N N
2 Major Second Y Y
3 Minor Third N Y
4 Major Third Y N
5 Perfect Fourth Y Y
6 Tritone N N
7 Perfect Fifth Y Y
8 Minor Sixth N Y
9 Major Sixth Y N
11 Minor Seventh N Y
12 Major Seventh Y N

The table above shows the number of frets you need to travel for a given interval. The columns marked "Major Scale" and "Minor Scale" are there to show you which intervals are present in each of those scales.  I recommend starting with the Major scale.  Pick any note on the fretboard, then move up the number of frets in the left column, and bang - you've found your interval.  Play around with this on any one string of your choosing. Play the first note, then the interval, first note, interval.  Repeat. Listen to the difference in the sound of each interval.


The important bit to absorb is the distance between each note of the scale you are working on.

To be continued:

3 Note Per String Scales

You absolutely want to learn these in conjunction with intervals. Why? Because both of them will make so much more sense if you think about them together. Fear not, I'll make a separate post about these soon, but go ahead and google if you want.  I mention it here now because if you don't know the term, you can't look it up.  Go for it.


Guess what we’re here to talk about today?

The reason you aren’t making progress with your guitar is that you don’t know where to go, because you haven’t drawn a map. In order to create that map, you need to know where the hell you’re trying to go!

Close your eyes and step into my TARDIS. Yes, you have to close your eyes. No, I can’t tell you how to read with your eyes closed. Yes, I’m a Time Lord. OK, fine, keep your eyes open for now, jeez.

You are 5 years in the future, right now. It is your ideal future; the world is perfect. You have a guitar in your hands. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

Back to now.  What future you was just doing determines what present you needs to work on.

Do this now: Write down a very specific goal for yourself – that thing you’ll be doing in 5 years.  “I want to learn to play guitar good and do other things good, too” is not a goal. “I want to shred” is not a goal.  Pretend you have the ability to play everything, ever, at any speed.  What will you do now? THAT is your goal. Write it down.  WRITE IT DOWN.

Did I mention, write down your goal?


Shotguns and Sniper Rifles


What does this crap have to do with guitar? You suck Erik, go home.

…Hear me out. You have a problem – your hands aren’t doing what you want them to on the guitar. I’m about to explain why.

How your neural pathways work:

The first time you try something new, your brain uses what I like to call the “shotgun” approach. It loads up and blasts signals in the general area of whatever limb you’re using at the time. That’s why the first time you ever touched a guitar, your hands were all over the place, holding the pick felt weird, and fretting chords might as well have been open heart surgery. The worst part is, it’s going to stay that way until you learn to work WITH your brain, not against it.

Your brain can’t get specific or fast enough with its signals to do what you want to do. In the beginning, it’s like trying to swat a fly with a sledgehammer – awkward, slow, and more painful for you than the target. There’s good news: You can fix it!

Zero in on what you want, get it wrong, and try again. Repeat. This makes it easier for your brain to figure out what you want it to do.  Then it builds some pathways to make that happen. Eventually, that “shotgun” changes into a fully automatic sniper rifle. Then, shred time.

This ties in closely with my previous post: Learning How To Learn

There are actual PHYSICAL changes that need to happen, so give yourself some time to learn!  You can’t cyborg yourself to success in one day.

…yet?  Looking at you, science.

Learning How To Learn


You are learning to play the guitar all wrong.

So you’re thinking “dude I know how to learn, just practice and get better, everyone knows that.” Well, that’s true, but understanding HOW to practice and what causes your brain to improve is something that took me forever to discover, and it changed EVERYTHING.

Your BRAIN is what needs to improve for you to play better, not your hands. This one is fairly obvious once pointed out, but it’s an important fact to keep in mind for the rest of this article.

So here it is (scientists, please don’t shoot me for this oversimplification): You learn while you sleep.

What the hell? Well why can’t I just learn anything I want, then? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

You have to TELL your brain what you want to improve, and the way to do that is FOCUS. When you put all of your attention on something like riding a bike, or throwing a football, or practicing guitar…your brain flags that as important and files it away while you sleep. The more often you do something, the bigger the file gets, and the more important your brain thinks it is. It’s why you don’t forget how to ride a bike. You might get a bit rusty, but your brain digs up the file and then you’re good.

If you’ve ever been working on something – some sill work issue or whatever – failed, then the next day fixed the problem, you’ve experienced this first hand.

So, what to take away from this: FOCUS when you practice. Push everything else out and zone in on what you’re trying to accomplish – whether it’s a new lick, improving your picking, minimizing motion, whatever. 10 minutes with the TV off, your wife in the bathroom, and your dog outside are better than an hour diddling aimlessly watching Simpsons reruns.

Then, give yourself some time. We all learn the same way – be patient with yourself, but be diligent in your practice.

That’s it! Hop to it – pick ANYTHING you want to improve, shut everything else out, and work on it. Then get some sleep and let yourself improve!

Blue Collar Manifesto

Blue Collar Metal Manifesto
Light The Path
I will guide you to shred city, even if you have a busy job, spouse, kids, life. I did it, you can do it
Get on with it
Time is your most-stretched resource. You will practice and play, not watch or read all damn day.
Don't be a dick
I'm just a dude.  I will not present myself as the end-all be-all of guitar.  I will help you, humbly.
Why so serious?
I make no promises about what ridiculous things will or won't come out of my mouth.  But there will be education, first and foremost.
Work hard, no shortcuts.
Just as in my practice, I will work hard to make this a valuable resource for guys and gals just like me, so that they can achieve faster and more easily than I did.
Be metal as f#%@.
It's called Blue Collar Metal.  There will be no unicorns.  (Maybe dead ones?)

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