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How To Play Lead Guitar

Dec 26, 2007
There's no secret to soloing fast or playing melodies on guitar. Learning how to play lead guitar is easy. It's the getting-good-at-it part that takes time. The time it will take is dependent upon how hard you work. I know guitarists who have been playing less than a year who can play Kirk Hammett (Metallica) and Slash (Guns N Roses and Velvet Revolver) solos.

Within this article I intend to map out what you'll need to learn and practice in order to simply "get good fast." There are 3 elements you'll need to master over time to play lead guitar effectively, and I'll be talking about each of them.

#1. Physical Dexterity and Prowess

Physically you'll need to be in great shape as far as your fingers are concerned. Stretching and flexibility is also a factor in soloing. If you want to solo as fast as Joe Satriani, you'll need dexterity and extreme hand strength.

Learning how to solo with speed you'll need to learn your 3-note-per-string diatonic scales and modes. Don't freak out about the theory. I'm talking about the Major Scale: do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-(do). By Modes I'm referring to starting the Major Scale from different notes. For example: re-me-fa-so-la-ti-(do)-do is one mode.

Guitar lessons websites on the net or your private teacher will teach you how to play the Major Scale and its Modes.

Not only do you need to practice the 3-note-per-string versions of the Major Scale and Modes to strengthen and quicken your fingers for lead guitar, you need to practice them with the right technique (especially correct fretboard-hand fingerings). Again, learning and practicing scales is one of 3 key components for getting good at lead guitar.

#2. Heart and Soul

Most guitarists focus solely on playing fast or technically good. You need Heart and Soul to play lead guitar! No one can teach you how to play with feeling. You'll need to learn that on your own by paying attention to the feel of a riff, run, lick, or general melody when playing lead.

#3. Understanding Scales in Relationship to Chords

In other words, you're going to have to know a little bit of music theory at least. Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and even Eddie Van Halen know music theory geared toward lead guitar. You simply can't be good at playing lead guitar without it.

I mentioned learning scales in part one for the purpose of physicality. If you don't understand how to use those scales for playing lead, you can't use your developed physical prowess. You'll get stuck playing in the same key all the time and every solo will sound nearly the same. Or worse yet, you won't play in harmony at all (you'll play a lot of wrong notes).

When you learn the Major Scale, for instance, you'll learn it in a certain key. If you start on the C note, you'll be playing the C Major Scale. If you start on the A note, you'll be playing the A Major Scale. The C Major Scale is in the key of C. The A Major Scale is in the key of A. Got it?

To play lead guitar in the key of C, you'll need to 1) play notes from scales in the key of C (like the C Major Scale) in order to have harmony in your lead playing, and 2) you'll need to play lead along with chords in the same key (these are called Chord Families).

Every key has its group of chords, or chord family. For the key of C, the family of chords happens to be C, F, G, Am, Dm, Em. If playing power chords: C5, F5, G5, A5, D5, E5.
About the Author
Jason Parker is an online guitar teacher at Atomic Guitarist , a resource for free lead guitar lesson videos. Parker is also the author of Key to Speed: Unlock Your Soloing Speed in 3 Days.
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