Introduction To Lead Guitar. Part 1

This lesson contains some basic concept about playing on lead guitar as well as some helpful tips to start with.

Ultimate Guitar

Table of Contents:

1. Lead vs. Rhythm 2. Learning the first position 3. How to press down strings

Lead Vs. Rhythm

What do the terms lead guitar and rhythm guitar mean? Lead guitar and rhythm guitar simply refer to two different ways the guitar can be played used in the context of a band. They have nothing to do with types of guitars; they only refer to various styles of guitar playing. In a band with two guitarists, the rhythm guitarist is the one who plays the "structure" of the song; he/she plays the chords that backup the vocals and help create the overall feel of the song. As the name suggests, rhythm is especially important for a rhythm guitarist, as creating a strong structure for a song performed by a band relies heavily on having a great rhythm that is infectious with listeners while also allowing fellow bandmates to easily build upon it. Because of their role in contributing to the structure of the song, rhythm guitarists are typically at the core of the given band's songwriting process. In a band where the lead singer also serves as a guitarist, he/she is almost invariably serving as the rhythm guitarist, as the rhythm guitar will serve to support his/her vocals. The same is true for singer/songwriters, as they must essentially play a rhythm guitar style to accompany their vocals. Lead Guitar. Lead guitarists are the more glamorous and "rock star" type, as they are characterized by their mastery of the fretboard. Lead guitarists add solos to songs, and often use the structure provided by the rhythm guitarist's work as a foundation for their improvisation. While their work is often more impressive and glamorous, they generally cannot stand alone and need the structure created by the other members of their band in order to offer their greatest contribution. To summarize, the work of rhythm guitarists is most commonly characterized by chords, while lead guitarists incorporate more single-string playing and soloing. Becoming The Total Package. Of course, the best guitarists are those who can play both roles. When a guitarist has a mastery of both lead and rhythm, he/she can be both an infectious and harmonious songwriter and a uniquely rhythmic virtuoso. Examples Of Lead Guitar. Below are song excerpts that contain notable lead guitar work.
  • Eruption. This early Van Halen song is primarily a stage for Eddie Van Halen to perform his technically astounding solo in the song "Eruption." Check out the video clip below.
  • Sweet Child O' Mine. This Guns N' Roses ballad from their debut album, Appetite For Destruction, features a remarkable solo from lead guitarist Slash. Note though, that a tight rhythm section is crucial to allowing this solo to flourish in the context of the song. Check out the solo in the video clip below, a live performance from a Guns n' Roses concert in Argentina in 1993 (the song starts about a minute and a half into the video).

    Learning The First Position

    What Is The 1st Position? The first position simply refers to musical pieces that are played primarily using the first four frets, so that the index finger is on the first fret. If a musical piece was played primarily within the range of the second fret to the fifth fret, that would be known as the 2nd position. In sum, whichever is the first fret of the musical piece is also the fret that determines what position the piece is in. Typically, a song will have multiple positions, and will involve transitioning from one position to another. Playing Notes In The First Position. Why is it important to have a basic understanding of positions? Because positions help to determine which finger you should use to play notes and chords in a given musical piece. As a general rule of thumb, the first fret of the position -- so, in other words, the fret that names the position -- should be played by the index finger. It is common for guitarists to employ a "one finger per fret" rule, so that one finger does not do all the playing. For instance, if a musical piece was to call for a note to be played on the second fret and then the third fret, two different fingers would be used; tempting as it may be, a guitarist should not use one finger to play both notes as it will ultimately substantially hinder the guitarist's mobility up and down the fretboard. As is the case with many aspects of playing guitar, this idea should be regarded primarily as a guideline. From time to time, you will find it necessary to stray from this ideology. Many chords, for instance, will simply not be able to be played unless the "one finger per fret" guideline is ignored. Of course, do so with caution and only when you feel it is necessary, as otherwise you may begin to cultivate habits that can adversely affect your success at playing guitar. Below you'll find video clips showing notes being played in the first position on each string. Pay careful attention to what fingers are used to play the notes; note that the index finger is not used for notes that are played on the second, third, or fourth frets. 1. High E String The high E string is the first string -- meaning the one closest to the ground. The high E string played open produces the E note. The high E string played on the first fret produces the F note. The high E string played on the third fret produces the G note. See the video clip below. Be sure to have your speakers turn on, and please allow a few seconds for the video to load.
    2. B String The B string is the second string -- meaning the one right above the E string. The B string played open produces the B note. The B string played on the first fret produces the C note. The B string played on the third fret produces the D note. See the video clip below. Be sure to have your speakers turn on, and please allow a few seconds for the video to load.
    3. G String The G string is the third string -- meaning the one right above the B string. The G string played open produces the G note. The G string played on the second fret produces the A note. See the video clip below. Be sure to have your speakers turn on, and please allow a few seconds for the video to load.
    4. D String The D string is the fourth string -- meaning the one right above the G string, or the fourth one up from the ground. The D string played open produces the D note. The D string played on the second fret produces the E note. The D string played on the third fret produces the F note. See the video clip below. Be sure to have your speakers turn on, and please allow a few seconds for the video to load.
    5. A String The A string is the fifth string -- meaning the second string from the top (or the fifth one from the ground up). The A string played open produces the A note. The A string played on the second fret produces the B note. The A string played on the third fret produces the C note. See the video clip below. Be sure to have your speakers turn on, and please allow a few seconds for the video to load.
    6. E String The low E string is the sixth string -- meaning the one furthest from the ground. The E string played open produces the E note. The E string played on the first fret produces the F note. The E string played on the third fret produces the G note. See the video clip below. Be sure to have your speakers turn on, and please allow a few seconds for the video to load.

    How To Press Down Strings

    At first, pressing strings down on the guitar is much tougher than it seems: pushing down the thin, tight metal strings can hurt your fingers. Moreover, many people may simply lack the finger strength needed, hence making the act of pushing the string down a rather challenging task require a substantial amount of concentration and effort. There are, however, certain key points to keep in mind when pushing down strings that will help to ensure you progress as quickly as possible as a guitarist:
  • Touch only the strings you intend to. When pushing the strings down, be sure to touch only the strings you intend to touch. This will help to ensure that you are (1) pushing down the strings you need to with enough strength and (2) will also ensure that you do not accidentally touch strings that need to be kept open. This latter point is especially important, as lightly touching a string will have the effect of muting, or "dampening," the string's sound. If you are playing a chord and need certain strings to be open while others are fretted, allowing your fingers to touch other strings can limit the quality of the sound produced when you play the chord. Click here to view the picture that illustrates a guitarist pushing down a string without touching other guitar strings.
  • Calluses. When you're just starting out as a guitarist, pushing down the string can cause pain in your fingers. This is normal. It will require extra discipline, though, as the challenge for the guitarist will be to fight through the pain. If this can be done, calluses will develop on the fingertips which will help to desensitize you to the pain. Playing guitar will also strengthen your fingers over time, so that before you know it, playing notes and chords will be an effortless task.
  • Acoustic vs. Electric. Acoustic guitars are noticeably tougher to play, as they require more strength to push down the strings. Acoustic guitars can almost be thought of as lifting weights for your fingers; by playing acoustic, you will find that your fingers are substantially stronger and can easily glide across the fretboard when you play electric. ActoGuitar's purpose is to help people learn to play guitar, and to help experienced guitarists with professional ambitions reach their aspirations. Be sure to check out ActoGuitar website at this location. To be continued...
  • 101 comments sorted by best / new / date

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      Great lesson, I am a real beginner, so your lesson made heaps of sense, Thanks for walking me through. Looking forward to next lesson. cheers
      Thx dude, that's what we beginning guitarists are looking for, please continu ur lesson so we could have a full list of lessons instead of cracking our heads trying to search for lessons over the net...
      This is absolutely fantastic. Yet i need to know which of my fingers is the "index finger" . How do i number my fingers starting form the thumb to the least finger. if any1 is there let he/she please help me out.
      thanks for the lesson.....i hope that this lesson can help me produce my own lead someday....
      peachyman 3
      You've written here a "first class" first class! Congratulations. These are the absolute fundamentals that a beginning lead guitarist needs to know, devoid of unnnecessary theory, practical, and spiced with some fine lead examples. Furthermore, you've added those little details that experienced players would have forgotten, like finger pain, but upon which your comments would help a novice. You've been able to put yourself back into the shoes of such a novice: again, good work. What are we to make of the mentality of those who would look at a lesson described as "for beginners" and call it too simple? It's like you've got a website called "blue", they've looked up your website called "blue", found "blue" and complained it's too blue! Congratulations again
      I'm a beginner and got alot of value out of it. I learned alot. Thank you for taking the time to write this lesson, us beginners really apprecaite it
      rebel_rocker89 wrote: It's good...but a bit over-explanitory. Keep up the good work though.
      Its for beginners, Its supposed to be over explanitory. lol Very good
      bueno trabajo! i think that's how you say good job in spanish... but ya you should continue it soon!
      Oh, and btw if you can answer this please e-mail me at, or IM me (my AIM is Delta3Xray)
      u might want to put a little bit more info on how to be a better lead guitarest if you feel like it... good lesson. . .
      Good lesson, nice and simple easy to start with. Keep up the good work.
      dude,although i already knew that (see my profile and youll know), not bad
      good lesson but this thing with the rhythm and lead guitaristst thing is just exaggerated
      i think its harder to play acoustic cuz reaching over the body is a little awkward
      Maybe I'm stupid, but I've always found electric to be harder to push down... not acoustic. I have both types, too.
      I have a question: I'm left handed, and I learned to play a normal right-handed guitar upside-down. Is this ok? Also, when I have a chord and I strum down, it is the equivalent of strumming up when playing right handed. Will this not produce the right sound that the chord needs, since the order is different?
      Good lesson. A bit beginnerish, but if you continue it, twill be good.
      nice lesson. I'm way past beginner level, but its nice to see some well written beginning lessons. I wish i had picked these up when i first started playing. I'm self taught and by the time i felt i was a decent player, I had picked up all of these bad technique habits which I then forced myself to relearn properly. ughh...what a hassle that was. Too many lessons forget to explain some concepts clearly enough for the beginner because thy eoverlook the things that are common knowledge and second nature to more advanced musicians - so great job! You might want to also include an side-note/exception to the "touch only the strings you intend to" section (unless you meant to leave it out). Some music requires you to dampen some of the strings around your fretted notes in order to only strum a certain set of notes. Dave Matthews for example uses this technique consistently through many of his song. Again, this may be unrelated to the main points you are trying to get accross but i just thought that I would mention it.
      Ah-ha! Problem fixed. Just needed to download a few things like Shockwave and reinstalled Flash and viola! Video's in all their guitar shredding glory!! WHOO-HOO!!
      Is it just me or do none of the video's work? All I've got are blank boxes with a little somethingorother in the upper left hand corner and nothing I do can get them to work. Again, just me?
      first thing i noticed 1. High E String The high E string is the first string -- meaning the one closest to the ground. The high E string played open produces the E note. The high E string played on the first fret produces the F note. The high E string played on the third fret produces the G note. No. Just... no... open = e first = f second = f# third = g *Face palm*
      Wow I am intermediate and that was a good memory refresher. Nice keep it up
      Thx dude thats a awesome lesson. You oly need to change the Guns N' Roses Sweet Child O' Mine Vid since its out of date. Ones again awesome lesson.
      peachyman3 has it right on! my 10yo beginner finaly understands positions and note locations for first position. ive been showing him, but, well ... thanks
      solid lesson, keep it up. not over-explanatory at all, exactly what ive been looking for
      JD Close
      I didn't think that it would be THAT much for begginers, I've only played for six months, but still, good lesson.