Metallica and the limitations of classical theory

Here’s a video – admittedly one with a sense of humour – that analyses a Metallica song and claims it has a bar of 21/32.

Being a nerd, I wrote an analysis of this song for my university dissertation which was all about genre distinctions in heavy metal.

Even then I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of using classical notation to transcribe this kind of music simply because heavy metal musicians don’t use it. It’s the wrong language, though before recording technology became so readily available maybe it was the only option.

This guy, nice as he seems, mistakes skill at the music for being able to think about it from a western classical perspective. Being able to think ‘let’s make this bar 21/32’ is not in any way more advanced than thinking ‘let’s make this bit go ‘ba dum dum’ ‘.

A rhythmic grid is one way of feeling music, but it’s not a rule, just an option. Western classical methods are definitely fine, and very useful tools that I use myself, but they are not the only way to think of music and I find myself mildly annoyed at musicians who only see through this lens. In fact it’s one of the reasons I don’t regret not being a music teacher anymore – all the qualifications saw things via that lens even when they were pretending not to be about classical music.

So, yeah, music theory. Raaaw.


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