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How To Play Metallica's Nothing Else Matters Guitar Solo (Part One)

In this two-part lesson, I’ll show you how to play the Nothing Else Matters Guitar Solo by Metallica. Whilst it’s a short and simple solo, it also has a few challenging parts.

Performed by rhythm guitarist and singer James Hetfield, rather than Kirk Hammett, the solo is heartfelt and melodic. This is definitely not the shredfest you’d normally expect from the band.

The solo is performed in 6/8 time and in the key of E Minor. James uses the E Minor Pentatonic, E Blues, and E Natural Minor (Aeolian) scales.

In Part One of this lesson, I’ll run through the scale shapes you’ll need to become familiar with, as well as provide exercises to prepare you for some of the tricky parts of the solo.

In Part Two of this lesson, I’ll be showing you how to play the entire solo. By using Part One of this lesson as a starting point, you’ll be in a much better position to play the solo successfully.

Check out Part One of my video lesson below. Download the PDF worksheet for the lesson here.

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Here are the scale shapes you’ll need to practice. I’ve included the picking directions for alternate picking, as well as the fretting-hand fingering you’ll need.

The most important of these scales shapes is the first one, the E Minor Pentatonic scale. This shape is at the twelfth fret:

James also uses the E Blues scale in the solo. This scale is the same as the Minor Pentatonic, with an added b5 note, making a six-note scale.

Finally, here’s the tab for the E Natural Minor (Aeolian) scale.

As the key of E Minor is the relative minor of G Major, this scale contains the same notes as the G Major scale (GABCDEF#G). In this case, the scale is played from E to E (EF#GABCDE):


Next, you’ll take a look at some of the exercises I’ve made to help you with the solo. If you can, have a thorough listen to the solo before trying these out.

Don’t forget – if you’re unsure how to play these exercises, you can always check out my video above and follow along. I’ve put the tab in the video to make it easier.

Exercise 1:

In this first example, you’ll need to do a kind of ‘unison bend’. This happens in the very first bar of the solo, and if you haven’t done this type of lick before, it can be tricky to play.

A real unison bend is where you play a note on, say, the high E string and at the same time bend a note on the B string (three frets higher) up one tone.

The same technique is used here, but with different notes.

You’ll need to keep the D note on the fifteenth fret still, while bending the A note on fret fourteen up to B (the same pitch as fret sixteen).

Use the thumb to anchor the D note to the fretboard and keep the third, second, and first fingers free to do the bend.

A good idea is to loop this exercise over and over until you have the pitch of the bend right. Listen to the song to get an idea of how it sounds.

Exercise 2:

Exercise 2 is a simple lick that focuses on the bend and release technique. Again, this happens in the first bar of the solo.

Use three fingers for the bend and release, and keep the pressure firmly on the neck until you finish the release stage.

You can leave the first finger on the G string for when you need to pick the note on the twelfth fret.

The same idea is applied to the B string. The difference is that this time you’ll be playing the fifteenth and twelfth frets.

I’ve included these notes, as you’ll be doing this bend and release in the final bars of the solo. We’ll get to that in Part Two.

Which leads me to…

Exercise 3:

This exercise is the same as Exercise 2. However, this time you’ll need to do a pull-off after the release stage.

Once you’ve done the release, take the middle finger off the neck, keeping fingers one and two pressed down. Then you’ll be ready for the pull-off.

Again, these techniques are used in the final bars of the solo.

Exercise 4:

Time for some classic Chuck Berry style licks here. You’ll hear these in the third bar of James’ epic solo.

After the initial bend, you’ll use a first-finger roll to play the two notes on the B and E strings.

When moving to the E string from the B, flex the first-finger joint so the note on the B string stops ringing. You don’t want these notes ringing over each other; they need to be heard separately.

Exercise 5:

This is probably the most difficult lick in the solo. Have no fear, I’ll get you through it. You’ll hear this bluesy lick at the end of bar three and the beginning of bar four in the solo.

It starts with two pull-offs from a single pick stroke. First from fret fifteen to fourteen, and then from fret fourteen to fret twelve.

While the string is still ringing on the twelfth fret, use the first finger to bend the string up a tone (two frets) and then release it back to the original pitch.

Confused? Watch the video, you’ll be fine.

Exercise 6:

In bar six of the solo there’s a memorable and speedy lick on the high E string which can be tricky to play at first. With this exercise, you’ll break it down and master the phrase easily.

I’ve started by moving the phrase down an octave onto the G string. You’ll begin at the twelfth fret.

Again, with a single pick stroke, you’ll play twelve, pull-off to eleven, hammer back on to twelve, pull-off to eleven again and finally, slide down to nine.

That was a mouthful. Trust me, it’s easier to play it than describe it!

To continue the exercise, I’ve repeated the same motif down the length of the G string. I’m just using the notes from the E Natural Minor (Aeolian) scale.

This way, you’ll get the opportunity to use different fret-hand fingerings and at the same time work on your legato playing.

By the time you’ve mastered this exercise, you’ll easily be able to play the next one and you’ll have no trouble playing that particular lick in the solo.

Exercise 7:

This is exactly the same as Exercise 6, including the fingering, only this time it’s up one octave on the high E string.

Now you’re ready and prepared for that epic solo…

Work on these exercises until you’re confident and then come back for the next part of the lesson.

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Simon Revill

Simon is a guitar teacher, guitar transcriber, and music producer from the UK. As well as writing lessons on guitar and music technology, he also gives online guitar lessons via Skype.

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