How to play lead guitar for beginners

Learn lead guitar - part 1

Learn lead guitar

Now before we even get started with these lead guitar lessons I’d like to make one thing clear: Following this four-part series alone isn’t going to make you an incredible guitarist. That’s a journey that’s impossible to fit into a mere four lessons. Instead what I’m going to try to do with these four lessons is to give you a thorough understanding of what it takes to become fluid as a solo guitarist and to also help you learn how to play lead guitar, building a solid foundation that you can base your guitar playing ambitions on. Remember, when it comes to the guitar, it’s far more difficult to unlearn bad technique and bad habits than it is to learn new ones. So I hope that you pay attention and work hard on mastering the lead guitar knowledge that I’m about to share with you.
So let’s get started.

Guitar solo lessons for beginners, you need: a guitar, a metronome and a guitar pick

Now before we get into the theoretical elements of lead guitar solos, it’s important that we make sure that you’re physically able to execute the concepts that I’m going to teach you over the course of this series. So let’s start off with five simple exercises that you can incorporate into your daily practice schedule that will help you build strength, stamina, dexterity, and muscle memory in both your picking and fretting hands, as well as the synchronization between them. For general advice on correct and effective guitar practice, refer to this article

Right Hand Exercises

right hand guitar exercises

Exercise 1 – Get into a comfortable position and start playing a series of eighth-note down strokes on your low E string, at a tempo that’s comfortable to you. Do this for a full three minutes. And remember, don’t try to set your metronome at a super high tempo from the get go. The point here isn’t to try to play as fast as you can, but to play as steadily as you can. Here's our online metronome with speed training feature.

Exercise 2 – Follow Exercise 1 by playing a series of eighth-notes, at the same tempo, but this time using alternate picking*. Do this for a full three minutes as well. And as with Exercise 1, remember to focus more on being able to play clean, consistent notes at a steady tempo rather than trying to play super fast from the start. Also when using alternative picking it’s important to make sure that both your down strokes and up strokes have a similar dynamic and attack.

(* For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, alternate picking is when you play using alternating down strokes and up strokes)

These two exercises might seem simple enough at first glance, but I’ve noticed a lot of beginner guitarists have problems with being able to restrain themselves from the temptation of trying to play as fast as they can from the get-go. You see, using a metronome isn’t some sort of a contest. It’s not that important to be able to play faster than you could the day before. It’s far more important to be able to be honest with yourself and stick to a consistent pace until you’re able to tackle these two exercises without any inkling of doubt; and then gradually up the pace.

Left Hand Exercise

lefthand guitar exercises

Exercise 3 – For this exercise, we’ll be using a series of legato hammer-ons and pull-offs involving various finger combinations of your fretting hand.

To start off, place the index finger of your fretting hand on the 5th fret of the 3rd string. Now hammer-on onto the 6th fret using your middle finger. Do this with much force as you can, while also making sure that you’re hitting the string cleanly. Keep doing this at a steady pace for 15 seconds.

Next, without pausing, start playing a series of hammer-ons with your ring finger on the 7th fret for another 15 seconds. Then start playing similar hammer-ons with your pinky finger on the 8th fret. Your index finger should remain firmly rooted on the 5th fret throughout these steps.

Now, without stopping the exercise, press down your middle finger on the 6th fret and start hammering on the 7th fret with your ring finger for 15 seconds. And then move onto hammering on the 8th fret with your ring finger, while keeping your middle finger in place on the 6th fret.

For the final step of the final step of the exercise, place your ring finger on the 7th fret and start hammering on the 8th fret with your pinky finger for a duration of 15 seconds.

Now some of you might find that you need to put in more effort to hammer-on and pull-off with your ring and pinky fingers, so it’s OK to hammer-on slower with these two fingers initially. And once you’re able to consistently perform this exercise with all fingers for 15 second durations, you can start increasing the duration of each segment.

Synchronization Exercise

Next let’s take a look at two really simple synchronization exercises which will help put together what you’ve developed with the previous three exercises.

Exercise 4 – This exercise involves a series of simple 4 note runs played on all six strings. To start off, play the notes on your 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th frets on your low E string using your index, middle, ring and pinky fingers, in that specific order. Now repeat this sequence across all 6 strings.

Once you’ve reached the 4th fret of your high E string, start coming back up the fretboard by starting off on the 5th fret on the high E string played with your pinky finger.

Tabbed out this exercise looks like this:

guitar soloing exercise tab

Exercise 5 – This exercise is a little more complicated than Exercise 4 and uses an alternating finger pattern to travel up and down the fretboard. As opposed to the simple 1-2-3-4 pattern used in the earlier exercise, this exercise uses 4 different alternating patterns for each string.

When tabbed out for a single string this exercise looks like this:

guitar soloing exercise tab

All you have to do is repeat this pattern down all 6 strings and back up again.

As with Exercise 1 and 2, it’s important to use a metronome when practicing these two exercises. To start off with set the metronome to the slowest tempo that you’re able to play both exercises cleanly and fluidly at and work your way up from there. Don’t get frustrated if your fingers feel weak and sluggish at the start. Like any muscle in your body the muscles of your fretting hand will take time to become stronger and more agile.

Make these five exercises a part of your daily practice regime. Even if you feel like you’ve mastered them at a significantly high speed, don’t stop. Practice them every day. Think of it like a daily gym session for your fingers.

It’s also a good idea to stretch out your fingers before starting on these daily exercises to avoid injuries. For proper finger stretching instructions and warm-up exercises refer to my video lesson here.

Learning the Notes on Your Guitar

One of the most fundamental pieces of theory when it comes to the guitar is learning the notes across your fretboard. You see, if you are to become a truly fluid solo guitarist, you need to be locate any and every note on your fretboard without having to spare a thought on the task.

Now this might seem like a daunting task for any beginner guitarist, but I’ve broken this down to easy steps that’ll make this process much easier.

Step 1 – Start off by learning the notes that your guitar is tuned to:

  • Your low E (Also known as the 6th string) is tuned to E
  • Your 5th string is tuned to A
  • Your 4th string is tuned to D
  • Your 3rd string is tuned to G
  • Your 2nd string is tuned to B
  • And your 1st string is tuned to E

Step 2 – Understand tonal distance between frets

Now for those of you who are entirely new to music theory, the smallest interval (or distance between two tones) used in Western music is called a semitone. This the tonal distance between a C and a C# or a B and C. On your guitar a distance of 1 fret equals 1 semitone.

For example the note on your 3rd fret on your 5th string is a C, so the note on the 4th fret on the same string is a C#.

Step 3 – Learn and memorize the primary notes across each string

One thing that I’ve realized with students over the years is that when they try to learn all the notes across the fretboard with sharp notes and flat notes, they get to get really confused. So instead I tell students to forget sharps and flats and first learn the primary notes on each string. And now that you know which notes each string is tuned to and the tonal distance between frets, you should be able to figure this out for yourself.

When tabbed out for a single string this exercise looks like this:

guitar soloing fretboard notes

Once you’re able to easily locate any primary note on any given string, to locate the relevant flat or sharp notes all you need to do is either move your finger down one fret or up one fret.

Step 4 – Cross-reference the notes on each string

For example, once you’re done learning the notes on the 6th string, and are starting to learn the notes on the 5th string, always cross reference each note across the two strings. Keep repeating this process across all 6 strings.

You can also make this entire process a little more fun by using my interactive fretboard mastery tool here.

Now I don’t mean to sound school-teacher-like, but it’ll really help you in the next 3 parts of the series, and your guitar playing career in general to really internalize these concepts and master them with absolute certainty. So I hope you practice hard and I’ll see you soon!

Here's a useful video that shows you how to play correctly with alternate picking. Be sure to watch it:

guitar alternate picking lesson

Guitar solo lessons for beginners: useful links

This concludes the first article of our lesson series "How to play lead guitar for beginners". Here are some useful links related to this lesson. Check them out!

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