Subscribe: How to Play Lead Guitar
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Preview: How to Play Lead Guitar

How to Play Lead Guitar

Updated: 2014-10-04T17:09:05.248-07:00


How to Play Lead Guitar


You probably already know the difference between rhythm and lead if you've spent any length of time searching for information on how to play lead guitar.There is a wealth of free tutorials available on the Internet that will teach you basic 'licks' and 'riffs.'However, many of these tutorials fail to explain how rhythm guitar and lead guitar differ not just in the skills required, but also in mindset.It's one thing to say that lead guitar focuses more on playing scales than chords, and quite another to say that playing lead guitar changes how you hear things within a song -- but that's exactly what it does.Let's look at an example using a simple I-V-VI-IV-I chord progression in the key of G-major.If you have the necessary tools, go ahead and record yourself playing these chords (G-major to D-major to E-minor to C-major back to G-major) so that you have a backing track (a 4 measure progression in 4/4 time will do just fine).Now, play the track back and think about how to make the progression more interesting from a lead guitar perspective. If these were the only chords in a song, and they were played in the same order the whole way through, it could get boring pretty quickly, right?In your role as a lead guitarist, you could spend a good portion of your time making the progression less mundane by picking notes within those chords or adding other flourishes to help pull out a more complex melodic movement.For example, you could move up the fretboard to a different 'voicing' of the chords and, instead of picking individual notes, use your fingers to 'pluck' the interval of root and fifth for each chord.This demonstrates an important point: playing lead isn't all about being 'flashy'. You've got know when to 'blend in' and when to stand out. It is much better to do what is best for the song. Sometimes less is more for the sake of keeping a song 'uncluttered'.There are other times, though, when a song does call for a fancy, breathtaking solo that shows off your 'guitar god' skills. Many beginners, however, mistakenly equate great solos with 'quantity' and speed. They try to cram as many notes as possible into as short of a time as possible.I'll let you in on a secret, though: great guitar solos (even those lightning-fast ones) often don't involve as many notes as you think they do. The fact is you can take just 4 or 5 notes and build a riff that sounds like you're traveling all over the fretboard.How?First, start thinking of riffs as 'building blocks' that can be fit together. For example, you can pair up a 2 note riff with a 3 or 4 note riff to create a 'larger', 5 or 6 note riff. If you know your fretboard (and your music theory) well enough, you'll see how each riff 'centers' around either the 'tonic' or the 'dominant' tonalities of the key.This is important because your solo must follow the progression. If the progression is about to resolve back to the root (key center), then your riff needs to include the notes which “lead” most strongly back to that key center.The concept of “leading” is actually a psychoacoustic phenomenon. In Western culture, our ears are trained to expect a 'resolution' to the key center of a musical progression whenever we hear the 'Dominant' (V) tone of the key.However, the impact of this leading quality is also dependent on where the Dominant falls within the progression. If you have a Perfect Fourth (which is 'D' when in the key of A-major) inserted somewhere in between, you may expect either the root or Dominant tonality to follow.So, imagine that you're playing a two-note blues riff in the key of A by bending D up to E and back down again. You can play this riff over any part of the progression from A to D to E. However, the riff will sound different at each point in the progression relative to how 'far' your are from resolving to the tonic.Let's say you have a 'collection' of riffs. Some of them center around A, some around D and some around E. You can mix and match these riffs in different ways across your chord progression, so long as you're emphasizing the appropriate 'tonics' at t[...]