Hey guys! I have a quick question for you (sorry if this is the wrong place to ask it).

When I started playing guitar around 5 years ago, I decided to teach myself. Like most people, I started by learning easy songs and progressing into more difficult songs. My problem is, however, that I have never really expanded beyond that--which puts me at a really weird place. When I sit down and try to learn a song, I can generally play it with no problems (unless it requires fast soloing). My problem is that I don't know what to do or how to play outside of that. If I wanted to go play guitar right now, I could either play a song I know or just play random chords. I don't know how to "jam," "improvise," "solo," or anything like that. I just don't know where to begin. My goal is to be able to just pick up a guitar and play something original from feel. I don't want to just keep playing Hey Joe a million times.

I have tried expanding through the use of websites and Youtube videos but am honestly overwhelmed. I have learned a few scales. I have learned a few riffs. But I still don't know where to really to start to cross the bridge from where I'm at to where I want to be.

I guess my question then is this: What would you guys recommend someone who has guitar basics down to do to start being able to play lead guitar? I'm not looking for advice like "learn scales" or "practice"--rather, I'd like a good resource that you guys think is a helpful place to start learning or specifics on what to do (i.e. where to focus my learning/practice or what scales to learn).
I would read about musical theory? And practice scales and chords.

Once you learn theory you can tie everything together. You won't be playing random chords anymore but chord progressions, etc. and you will know why they work together.
Buy a cheap pedal like digitech rp model. Start twisting knobs. The drum machine is gold for riffing. The rp355 has a looper and also usb for recording.

You don't say what type of music you prefer. Since you have shred in your name ill recommend looking up rusty cooleys fretboard autopsy lesson on youtube. The section you will find there is about 8 mins but is a nice workout that gets you moving all over the neck.

Who are your favorite rhythm players. See what chords they use and how they use them. Its usually not just purely random. Look for lessons specific to style you like. Also mix in days or whatever where you focus purely on exercises for building strength, speed, dexterity etc

Music theory is good. Never let anyone say learning this or that is a waste of time, it will probably always help in some manner but remember most of all if it sounds good it is good.
Last edited by drop1337 at Jan 22, 2014,
start off learning your box shape minor pentatonic/blues scale then you have pretty much covered rock and blues! Get a backing track off youtube and just play what you feel like playing in that scale, it'll be hard to get a grasp of at first but eventually you'll learn the intervals by sound etc... and be able to play what you like! then do this with other scales.. Also as suggested, music theory is always helpful!
I got improvising / jamming as the first thing I learned on guitar, after open chord shapes, and it does not take long at all, and it will be very rewarding. It does involve music theory.


(1) Learn major scale interval (w-w-h-w-w-w-h)

(2) Get a copy of the circle of fifths.

(3) Learn the "formula" for how the seven basic chords within a major key are created from the scale (1-3-5).

(4) Work out the seven chords in EACH of the twelve major keys by hand, or on a word processing document/summary. Start with C major, and then move clockwise around the circle of fifths (next do G, then D, then A, etc.). You will quickly notice basic patterns to the chords within a key, but finish doing all twelve to help reinforce it. Each key has the same seven chords, relatively speaking, so you really only learn seven chords and you know how to play in each of the twelve keys.

(5) Now, you can just put on a metronome or drum track (or forget about timing if you like), pick a key, and play only the chords in that key, making up progressions, strum patterns, etc. Now you can improvise a chord progression, and also understand the music theory underlying all those chord progressions in songs you've been playing, as to why they use the chords they use. You'll probably recognize, at some point, that many songs, if not most, borrow at least one chord that is "out of key," but it is generally from one of the keys that is adjacent to it in the circle of fifths, as those tend to sound the least out-of-key, and are also used to "pivot" a song from one key to another (which again generally involves moving from one key to an adjacent key, or nearly adjacent key, in the circle of fifths). But don't sweat memorizing this, the point is that different "insights" will just naturally come to you as you are using this stuff.


(1) As a separate exercise, learn how the seven modes of the major scale are just the major scale starting at different notes in the scale (Ionian starts at the 1, Dorian at the 2, etc.). What scale starts at the 6? The Aeolian, which is also the Natural Minor Scale. Now, if you play the Natural Minor scale, starting on 6 (so you play 6..7..1..2..3..4..5..6) you have just played the natural minor scale. Now, drop out the 4 and 7, and just play the 6..1..2..3..5..6. You have now played the Minor Pentatonic Scale. Now add in the note between the 2 and 3, the blue note, and you have now played the Blues Scale.

(2) Google these scales and you will find illustrations of the five "positions" where you can, with very little horizontal movement of your fretting hand, play through the Minor Pentatonic Scale (or Blues Scale, which I recommend because it's very similar and not really any harder and more fun) from the e to E or E to e strings. Play through these scales from top to bottom and bottom to top, preferably with drum track metronome, or backing chord progression in the key. Note, if your "6" is the A, that's A minor pentatonic scale, you'll want a chord progression that is A minor OR C major, since the C is the "1" and it is the same scale. Heck, you could find a chord progression that is "D dorian" or "E Phrygian" or "G mixolydian" and it should also work for the minor pentatonic scale that has "A" and the "6."

When you first start playing with these scale positions (or boxes, if you like), you'll likely see how chord shapes can be derived from them, like the E barre or A barre, or whatever. That's fine in the long run, but don't worry about learning it yet, this is just another insight that you let happen naturally.

(3) As you play through the scale, particularly with a backing track, you'll find you are ALREADY jamming, improvising, based on the speed and intonation you are choosing, your pacing, and it should sound decent even just moving up and down the scale. But get more creative and just play the notes in the scale position in whatever order you like, and you are now making up truly original jams in key. There are some tips for making it sound "good," like coming home to home/tonic note at beginning and/or end of phrases, which again is the "6" in the minor scale, not the "1", as I've laid it out (others change their numbering in their heads, and always think of the home key as the 1, but I think that's a bit more advanced). Another common rule is to, particularly for beginners, is to limit bending to the "2" note, and perhaps less often the blue note, since those are the only notes in the Blues scale where the note one semitone higher is also in the scale/key, so those bends tend to sound better. If you are doing whole tone bends, you can probably bend notes that are one whole tone below another note in the scale (go back to your intervals, or just look at the box to see, this will be the 1, 2 and 5, not the 3 and 6).

(4) If you really want to have fun (at least IMO), at this early stage, record yourself playing an original chord progression you came up with in a particular key, and then play it back and jam over it with the minor pentatonic or blues scale, and you are now really creating a completely original song, maybe one never played before in the history of the world, since the combinations are endless. I did this very early on in my music learning and it really pumped me up to learn more theory and songwriting and such, as opposed to learning to cover songs. And it seems that's what you want.

When I first did my own original chord progression, recorded it, and jammed over it with some very simple note selections from the minor pentatonic, I instinctively found myself gravitating towards starting and ending on the "3" note. The chord progression was in G major and I my improvised jam was starting and ending on the B, and I learned later that I had basically made up a song in B Phrygian without meaning to use that particular mode. So you don't have to fully understand modes to use them, and you'll find with just what I've outlined above, you can play what you feel, and come up with complex and original and personal music.

Bernie Sanders for President!
Last edited by krm27 at Jan 22, 2014,