How Synyster Gates is breeding a new generation of guitar players

Synyster Gates playing guitar
Synyster Gates (Image credit: Getty Images)

Learning is metal. So Avenged Sevenfold’s lead guitarist Synyster Gates has set up a music school with the help of his dad, accomplished session player Brian Haner Sr. We called him for a chat about how to enroll in the The Synyster Gates School, and how we too can become an arena-conquering guitarist.

So why have you set up an online guitar school?

“I wanted to set something up that I felt could help kids like me from a young age. I really started playing guitar a lot more than usual when I started searching for stuff online, and there’s a lot of great content – I just felt it was hard to navigate through some of the YouTube stuff. I felt like I could do a pretty good job of curating a curriculum, and with the help of my father, who is an amazing musician, and has been playing in and out of studios for 40 plus years, I felt like we could really give people that extra benefit of our experience.”

How long have you been working on it?

“The curriculum took about two years to develop. It’s a really solid curriculum from very, very beginner – how to pick up a guitar – all the way to advanced theory that gives you a good solid foundation for jazz and other different applications. So it’s got it all. There are videos of my signature licks or things that I feel are really important to my playing, just me doing these little tapping sequences or economy picking, sweeping, all sorts of stuff. So you can take these dazzling pyrotechnics and apply them to real theory.”

What else can you do at the school?

“I’ve been preferring to call it a community, because a really big part of this thing is that it’s a free community, for kids to help each other. You’re able to set up profile pages where you can showcase your accomplishments and accolades, and upload videos. Then people can search you out, and find likeminded people to help instruct, or form bands together. So my hope is that kids help each other, and hopefully they can make a little money, if they wanna do a Skype lesson or something with somebody. I’m trying to facilitate the growth of the community. Because there’s so much to learn from everybody. My one way is great for what I’ve done with Avenged, and it certainly encompasses a lot of studio practices and eclectic styles, but there’s so much out there, and when you source the power of the crowd, that’s when you really get into some amazing things.”

What will people get when they sign up?

“Immediately, they’ll be given content and maybe some free swag. Another big part of the school is the ability to participate in competitions. It could be competitions ranging from transcribing a piece that I wrote, to who’s helped the most people, who’s got the most Likes from teaching other people. There will be grand prizes such as flying you out and putting you up in a cool hotel in Huntington Beach and we can hang out and just talk shop, and go get some food and have a really immersive, in-depth experience. All the way to personal Skype lessons, to answering customised questions, to free shirts. If you’re a big contributor, then you will be rewarded. We’re going to have our eyes and ears on everybody, making sure that everybody is happy, they’re learning, and they’re getting what they want out of the system.”

Your dad’s contributed to Avenged songs and been a session musician. What’s his background?

“My earliest memories are him touring or playing guitar. And always very available to help me. I knew what I was going to do since my earliest memories, because that was my environment – music, and specifically the guitar. So he’d show me songs – that’s one of the things he did so well. He learned thousands of songs, between playing studios and touring with people, to doing Top 40 stuff – he really has a very deep well of knowledge and experience. He is a huge contributor to the depth and the scope of this school.”

You mentioned videos of you playing. Are there other tutors?

“Well, this first iteration will be based on my work. Because if I had my brothers and I had backing tracks and metronomes and all the tool belts that will be there some day, it’s just a lot of stuff to dump on people. So you wanna start someone. Right now, we’ve integrated an amazing software programme called Soundslice, which tracks video, which transcribes in notation, and it follows along exactly what I’m playing. So it’s all tabbed and notated, and if that’s not enough, you can completely slow it down and learn it by ear – as fast as I can play, you can hear it as slow as anyone’s ever played anything. So that’s where we’re starting. There’s about 200 videos my dad and I created, a 120-plus video curriculum, and 50-plus videos of these things I called ‘etudes’, which are kind of like educational examples but in songs. So you get these backing tracks to play over, you can turn my solo on or off, so you can practice what I’m playing or you can just jam over it. And then we’ll go from there.”

What’s the future of the school?

“You start adding different people to your team. So I’ll recruit the 10 best kids and they’ll be my right-hand guys. And they’ll be checking out the school for me and letting me know when somebody needs some help, or what I can do to better things. As the school grows, it’s going to be really cool using direct help from really accomplished guitar players, and then I can spotlight them, showcase them, and say, ‘Hey, these guys are unbelievable. If you have some questions, go talk to them, go hang with them, book a Skype lesson with them, here’s their site’. So they can profit off of this platform, and not just contribute, but hopefully create or supplement their career with this stuff. So trying to make it all-encompassing.”

What kind of styles are you going to cover? Just metal?

“For the start of it, it’s a very deep curriculum. I went to school to be a studio musician, and my father was an incredibly successful studio musician. The last Avenged record had anything from neoclassical to jazz, and tons of harmonic concepts that we loved exploring. All that foundation is there. And then we’ll branch out and get more specific, and nothing will be taboo. We’ll have a classical curriculum, we’ll have a jazz curriculum, and then sub-divided, hopefully later on down the line. And then exploring different instruments, too.”

Have the other Avenged guys been involved?

“Aside from support, no. This is something I wanted to do. And, you know, I come from a more educated sort of background, and the cool thing about Avenged is that some of it is uneducated, and that was you get all sorts of crazy things. So I’m bringing style to it as well. But these guys are busy doing their own thing. Instead of going off and writing a different album or a solo album, and trying to be in another band – which I have never had the inclination or the want or desire to do – this is my pet project. So yeah, right now it’s me, but anybody’s more than welcome to participate and share knowledge. There will be a place for interviews, and I hope to talk to some pretty amazing people and get their insight, to further educate this community.”

What are your tips for brand new guitarists?

“Come to my site! All you gotta do is get a guitar. The site shows you literally how to pick up a guitar, how to put strings on, how to hold a pick. I mean, it’s very comprehensive, and there’s beginner, intermediate and advanced, but there’s also a segment called Day One Of The Guitar. Kids love the music and want to be musicians, but they’re not already. So what do you do? Show them a major scale? Show them a chord? No. You show them how to pick up a fucking guitar and hold it right – that’s the first fucking thing you do. And then hopefully you teach them how to tune, and hold a pick, and all that kind of stuff. So we really started from the bottom and worked our way to some super advanced stuff.”

You can sign up for The Synyster Gates School now.

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Eleanor Goodman
Editor, Metal Hammer

Eleanor was promoted to the role of Editor at Metal Hammer magazine after over seven years with the company, having previously served as Deputy Editor and Features Editor. Prior to joining Metal Hammer, El spent three years as Production Editor at Kerrang! and four years as Production Editor and Deputy Editor at Bizarre. She has also written for the likes of Classic Rock, Prog, Rock Sound and Visit London amongst others, and was a regular presenter on the Metal Hammer Podcast.