A devoted student of classical guitar, Rhoads combined his classical music influences with his own heavy metal style. When he was asked, whether he focused on the melody or on the technical side when he was writing his leads, he answered:
"It depends on what the progression is and what the mood of the song is. You have to put down something that suits the song well. I like to play melodically."Randy began taking folk and classical guitar lessons at approximately age 7 at his mother's music school, and since that time he constantly studied and perfected his style until his death. At the age of 8, he became interested in electric guitar and began taking lessons from an instructor named Scott Shelly. Shelly soon approached Rhoads' mother to inform her that he could no longer teach her son, as Randy's knowledge of the electric guitar had exceeded his own.When Randy was about 16 he started teaching other guitarists. He was a very popular teacher with his great understanding of his students and very well relation with them.
Randy said later:
"When you teach something to a student, it clicks in your head. You may find the answer to another problem you have been trying to figure out. I taught eight hours a day, six days a week, every half hour a different student. I had little kids, teenagers, and even some older people. When you sit there and play all day long, you're going to develop a lot of speed. I learned to read, too, but I have to look at it, think about it, and then play it. About the third time I do a piece, I can read it. I think half of your sound comes in the way you play. A lot of it is in your hands. If you practice with a lot of muting and then go out and do it louder onstage, you've still got the same sort of sound. You can't be lazy. You have to want to play. You have to love the guitar. I did. As a matter of fact, I was afraid of competition because I thought that everybody was better than I was. It was so close to me, I thought everybody was great. Therefore I couldn't copy licks; I just learned my own."Rhoads' guitar playing is also known for many distinctive features: flowing legato sections segued to fast, palm-muted picking passages; incendiary trills and chromatic maneuvers coexisted with classically influenced melodies; jittery wrist vibrato; two-handed tapping - as well as extensive use of scales, bends and arpeggios (especially muted) and ever-shifting rhythmic landscapes.
Another distinctive feature of Randy Rhoads' sound was his experimentation with "weird noises" and "strange sounds" - many of his trademark licks and eerie sounds can be found on his later albums with Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne.
Randy Rhoads was known for his stellar live performances.
Ozzy Osbourne later said about it:
"Some nights Randy would give me a spine chill. His playing was so unpredictable live. He wouldn't think about it, he would just go for it. He wouldn't wonder if it would fit the song structure, he would just play his ideas as if they were there anyway."Randy said about live soloing:
"It's basically the same [every night]. I just improvise on it. It depends actually on the sound I have onstage. If it's a bad sound, I do a very, sort of, basic form of it. If it sounds really good, I like to carry on with it."Rhoads often diversified his solos with a large number of pentatonic pull-offs.
Randy also was an active user of the blues scale (1-b3-4-b5-5-b7), and often utilized its flatted 5th.
Chromaticism was another hallmark of Randy Rhoads' soloing style. His chromatic techniques ran the gamut from the simple use of tension tones (notes that lie outside of pentatonic and diatonic scales) all the way to full-blown chromatically modulating passages.
Unlike many of his peers in the early 1980s, Randy avoided tapping too often. But when he did choose to tap, the results were stunning, as he was an outstanding double-tapping player, with a lot of pull-offs and hammer-ons.
Rhoads also had a talent for composing ballads, as can be heard on the track "Goodbye to Romance," the first song Ozzy Osbourne co-wrote with Rhoads. One of Randy's favorite acoustic multi tracking approaches was overdubbing a steel-string acoustic on top of his primary nylon-string part for added sparkle (it can be heard on the track "Dee" as well as on "Diary of a Madman").Even before becoming a big guitarist, Randy's skills were recognized by many - since he began playing guitar. For example, Quiet Riot vocalist Kevin DuBrow recalled the day when he first met Randy:
"He was just 17 at the time; I was 18. He had hair down to his waist and a thumbnail about four inches long. I looked at him and thought, 'No way can this guy play.' But I figured what the hell and went over to his house to hear him play through this tiny amp. He plugged in, and I thought that my head was being plastered against the wall; every lead that I could ever imagine - he played them better than anybody I'd ever heard on record."As Randy constantly developed his playing and musicianship, several weeks before his death he expressed interest in leaving Ozzy Osbourne to pursue a degree in classical guitar in a university setting. During the "Diary of a Madman" tour, he told Ozzy, "'I want to learn to play classical guitar." Osborne said, "You're crazy, just play rock and roll and make some bucks.' He said, 'I want to do it.' So he started going to these seminars. Every town we'd go into, he'd look in the phone book for classical instructors. Seven weeks later, the classical stuff he was playing was unbelievable. Seven weeks. He worked around the clock to get where he wanted."
Rhoads never considered himself a rock star and he always felt strange wearing that label.
"I've always viewed myself as a musician. I never thought of myself as a star. Ozzy's a star - I'm just part of the band."The opinions of critics didn't matter much to Randy.
He said about it:
"As long as I'm satisfied with my work, I'm not too concerned with what any critics think. Our type of music will never be a critical favorite, but when I can stand on a stage and see a lot of smiling faces in the crowd, it makes it all worthwhile."