6 tips for better metal guitar playing, from Architects and Sylosis guitarist Josh Middleton

Josh Middleton
(Image credit: Andrea Friedrich/Redferns)

Guitar Showcase 2021: Josh Middleton is one of the UK's top guitar players right now. Josh took guitar lessons, he's given lessons and now he's a key part of two successful bands with Architects and his own band Sylosis. So his tips are worth noting. 

To celebrate his first ESP LTD Signature Series guitar, the JM-II, we revisit Josh's advice for all metal players. 

• Find out more about the ESP LTD JM-II

1. Try staying in standard

Sylosis have a reputation for not drop tuning.

"We constantly get people who are surprised that we're in standard tuning, they just can't believe, or they didn't realise when they were listening to us. Inverted powerchords tend to fool people a lot of the time. But standard forces you to really concentrate on the riff that you're playing and the notes in it.

"You can't get away with playing random notes all in a low register because in standard, you can hear every note. And if one of them isn't in the right key it will really show in standard.

"So you tend to not just focus on the riff, but you also think about it rhythmically; what the drums are going to be doing, and whether the bass can play powerchords, which can really help thicken things up as well."

2. Think rhythmically

I always think rhythmically when writing riffs

Great riffs and parts are about more than just your guitar - think about how your guitar interacts with the drums.

"I always think rhythmically when writing riffs; a lot of the time I won't even have a guitar with me when I'll write a riff. I'll be in the shower and humming out some kind of beat or some sort of accents the drummer can be doing that are interesting to me.

"That sort of leads into what makes the riffs sound heavy. It's not always about the riff, it's also about what came before and after the riff that makes it heavy."

3. Endurance > speed

Want to play well fast? You need to slow down. Yes, really...

"A lot of people chase speed, and when you go straight for that you develop bad technique. And it's going to be harder to get where you want to be.

"If you focus on the endurance side of things, it's muscle memory and you train your muscles at a slower speed; you'll get to those fast speeds you want to achieve quicker by practising slowly. That sounds wrong, but that really is how it works."

4. Learn theory

Overcome the stigma of theory and you'll free your playing

"I think a lot of people are scared of learning too much theory and it dictating what they do, but after a certain point it's so helpful when you know your modes and you don't even have to think about them.

"After doing it for so long you can go on your ear and it will tell you that two frets up is the note that you want to hear. Or a fifth on the next string is the note you can hear in your head.

"That's something that I didn't really think I'd ever be able to do, I thought that was something the jazz players did and hit every note they want to play as opposed to going up and down a scale, where you know your fingers are 'allowed' to go.

"With time, you develop your ear. As a blanket approach to all beginners, learning theory will really help that, and even if you naturally don't have a good ear for music, if you practise the right scales your ear will probably adapt anyway. "

5. Start recording

It's hugely important for the writing and it's been vital in how far we've come as songwriters

A home set-up will make you a better player and songwriter.

"I used to have a Yamaha four-track that I used to record in, back in 2000 or 2001, so I got into it very early on. I had one of those PODs – which I've still got actually – and in 2004 I got my first home studio set-up. A really basic interface.

"It's hugely important for the writing and it's been vital in how far we've come as songwriters. It's really easy to experiment with writing ideas and what makes songs work, and what doesn't.

"The experience you get from recording yourself at home can show you what makes a song work well and how throwing in something that's a bit different can be a nice surprise as well. It's so important these days to be able to demo songs for yourself and really listen back to them with fresh ears a week or two later."

6. Go unplugged

Playing acoustic guitar builds strength you can take back to your electric.

"For me, learning on an acoustic was hugely important. The first year of me having lessons was playing an acoustic, and it was kind of annoying at the time because I wanted to play heavy stuff, but it's the old story when your parents don't want to buy you an electric guitar if you're not going to stick with it.

"But it helps so much, especially for building up left-hand strength. Learning steel strung acoustic really builds your finger strength for electric, at least using a cheap acoustic in conjunction with electric as a training tool."

Find out more about the ESP LTD Josh Middleton JM-II at ESP Guitars

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.