Episode 30 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast looks at how you can improve your lead skills on guitar. Getting better at lead guitar is a great way to express yourself on guitar and develop your own unique voice. This episode will explain three important ways to get better at lead guitar.
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Check out these lessons and guides to help you get started working on your lead guitar skills.
- How to Break Out of the Pentatonic Box
- Scales Resources
- Build Your Unique Voice on Guitar
- Use a Looper Pedal to Practice
- Memorize the Fretboard
- The 2-Note Challenge
Of course, improving your rhythm skills is a fantastic way to improve your lead guitar skills. Listen to Episode 29 to learn how to improve your rhythm guitar skills.
Podcast Episode 30 Transcript
Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 30 of the Bite-Size Guitar podcast.
In the last episode, I covered three important ways you can get better at rhythm guitar. Whether you think of yourself as a lead guitarist or a rhythm guitarist, you should spend some time working on improving your rhythm skills.
In this episode, let’s look at how you can get better at lead guitar skills. Not everybody might want to get better at lead guitar, so this is an optional area you can choose to work on.
By the end of this episode, you’ll have a clear idea on the three important areas you can work on to improve your lead guitar skills, and I’ll share a few practice ideas you can try out to develop your lead guitar abilities.
The first of the three ways you can work on your lead guitar skills is to work on your technical skills. If you listened to the last episode, this first method should be obvious.
Working on technical skills is what most lessons you’ll find online and in books focus on. The basic idea with working on technical skills is that when you improve your technical skills, it makes it easier for you to play lead parts without fighting against your technical abilities.
A good way to think about technical skills is that the more accomplished they are, the less you need to worry about them.
A guitarist who can comfortably use alternate picking at a high speed isn’t going to freak out when they see a solo that uses fast alternate picking.
Your goal with working on your technical skills is to get to the point where you don’t need to think about technical skills anymore. When you go to learn a new lead part, you won’t need to think about what techniques are being used or whether you’ll be able to play it or not.
So technical skills are a good starting point to work on if you want to get better at lead guitar.
When I talk about technical skills, I’m talking about things like picking techniques: alternate, economy, hybrid, sweep, and fingerpicking. I’m talking about legato skills such as slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and tapping. I’m talking about things like string skipping, palm muting, vibrato, bends, and harmonics.
There is no rule or order you need to follow when learning technical skills – despite what some outdated books tell you. The technical skills you choose to work on should match the style you want to play.
If you’re not interested in sweep picking, don’t learn it. Spend time working on the techniques and skills you’re interested in using.
There are countless resources online on how to learn different technical skills, so I’ll move on to the next topic. But the main point to remember is that by improving your technical skills, lead guitar becomes easier. You won’t become a better lead guitarist if you only work on technical skills, but technical skills are important to work on.
The next of the three areas I recommend working on is note choices. This is a massively neglected area in lessons on lead guitar. When you listen to a guitarist play a solo, the notes they choose to play and the notes they choose not to play have a massive impact on how the solo sounds, what feelings they might be able to convey from that solo, and how the solo fits with the rest of the song.
Technical skills are easy to work on, you pick a skill such as vibrato, then you spend time working on vibrato exercises.
Working on your note choices is much harder, but far more rewarding if you spend enough time working on it.
To understand how important note choices are and why it’s something you should work on, let’s go through an example.
Let’s say you load a backing track on YouTube and it’s in the key of C. You hit play and go to play some lead over the backing track.
What notes should you focus on and what notes should you avoid?
Have a think about what your answer is or if you have any answer at all.
Some guitarists will think that this question is easy to answer. They might say to themselves, well, the backing track is in the key of C, so I’ll just play using the C Major scale.
But as you learn more about note choices, you’ll start to understand that this answer isn’t always the best answer. It might make sense to use the C Major scale when jamming with a backing track in the key of C, but it’s not the only answer, it may not be the best answer, and you might be missing out if that’s the only answer you can think of.
I won’t get into music theory in this episode, so I’ll just say for now that every note is worth thinking about and trying out if you want to get better at lead guitar. Playing the notes outside of the C Major scale when jamming in the key of C are often the best ways you can add something interesting to your playing.
Playing the so-called wrong notes can sometimes make your playing sound better than if you only stick to the so-called right notes.
If you’re able to learn when and where to use the so-called wrong notes, you’ll become a far better lead guitarist.
The more you learn about note choices, the more what I’ve said starts to make sense.
The key points I’d like you to keep in mind for now is that there aren’t any clear rules on what notes you should or shouldn’t play, and that you should spend time experimenting with all notes to learn how to use them.
This might be new to a lot of guitarists listening to this, so I’ll give you a clear exercise to work on.
Use a looper pedal or an app or computer to record yourself strumming a chord such as the C Major chord. Don’t play anything else, just record a simple loop of you strumming that one chord.
Bring up a scale diagram for C Major and jam over the chord using that scale. Think about how each note fits with the backing chord and how the scale sounds.
After a few minutes of jamming, bring up a scale diagram of the mode C Lydian and spend a few minutes jamming and thinking about how the notes sound. Then try the C Major Pentatonic scale, C Mixolydian, C Blues, and any other scale based on C you can think of.
Each time you try a different scale, you’ll notice that some notes fit with the backing chord better than others. You’ll get a feeling for what notes to focus on to bring out interesting sounds from your playing and you’ll quickly learn which notes to avoid.
This simple exercise will make it clear how important note choice is and how to work on it. If you haven’t tried this before, do it a few times this week.
Like I said earlier, working on your note choices is much harder than working on technical skills and it’s a very neglected area. But if you truly want to become a better lead guitarist, it’s crucial to work on.
I can talk about this topic more in future episodes if people let me know they’re interested in learning more.
The third way to improve your lead guitar playing is to work on your phrasing. Phrasing is how you express yourself on guitar.
Think of phrasing as how you use your guitar to speak. If you had a four note melody to play, phrasing is how you choose to play those four notes.
Do you just pick those four notes and stop? Do you slide into the first note, hammer-on to the next note, palm mute the third note, then end the fourth note with a long vibrato?
Or do you rapidly play all four notes aggressively with heavy picking?
That’s all phrasing. If ten guitarists are asked to play the same lick, even if they all play the exact lick perfectly, you’ll usually notice differences in phrasing between the guitarists. Sometimes the differences in how guitarists phrase their parts is so obvious that you can immediately tell who the guitarist is just by how they pick and play the notes.
Working on your phrasing is a great way to develop your own unique voice on guitar, something I’ve covered in episode 22.
The way to work on phrasing is to pick a lick, solo, or part and experiment with different ways you can play it. Analyze the way you use techniques such as bends and vibrato and think about how you can change the way you use those techniques to give your playing more personality.
A great way to work on your phrasing is to try and copy a vocal melody on guitar. Listen to a song with an interesting vocal melody and try to play the same melody on your guitar. Listen to how the vocalist glides between notes, how they use vibrato, and how they enunciate different syllables. Try to do the same thing with your guitar playing.
Working on your phrasing is the easiest of the three ways to improve your lead guitar skills, so if you’re looking for an easy way to get started, give it a go.
Working on your phrasing isn’t just something you do once and forget about. It’s something you can always get better at. There are virtuoso guitarists who have been working on their phrasing for decades. What I find most rewarding about working on your phrasing is that it makes guitar more fun to play. When you’re able to phrase a simple melody and make it sound expressive, you will have more fun playing lead.
To recap this episode, there are three main ways you can improve your lead guitar abilities.
The first way is to work on your technical skills. Think of your technical skills as the foundation for your lead guitar playing. If you have poor technical skills, you’re going to be constantly fighting with yourself when you try to play something. Improving your technical skills helps remove friction and frees up your mind to think about what you’re playing.
The second way is to work on your note choices. What separates an amazing lead guitarist from a mediocre lead guitarist is usually the notes they choose to play. A mediocre lead guitarist might have amazing technical skills, but if they use poor note choices, it’s still going to sound bad. An amazing lead guitarist will know just the right notes to play.
Working on your note choices is hard, but worth the effort you put in.
The third way is to work on your phrasing. Think of your phrasing as you ability to speak on guitar. Try to mimic what a vocalist would do and look for different ways you can express yourself in your playing.
If you work on all three ways, you’ll rapidly develop your abilities as a lead guitarist.
Spend some time this week working on what I’ve covered in this episode and let me know how you go on the page for this episode at guitargearfinder.com/podcast/episode-30
Have fun working on your lead playing and I’ll talk to you next time.