You probably already know the difference between rhythms 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.