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Question about Improving Playing

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New Member
Joined: 13 years ago
Posts: 1
Topic starter  

This is my first post, and I'm writing for some general advice for how to advance my guitar playing.

I've been playing guitar off and on since I was about 14 years old... I'm in my mid 30's now. I first started playing when a friend showed me a few chords and how to listen to a record and figure out the chords. Since then, I've always played rhythm and can pretty much listen to any basic rock or pop song and figure it out.

That said, I've always wanted to expand my abilities, and move into more lead guitar playing. I've never figured out how to do that. I can figure out the melody line to a song, so I think I have a decent ear, and then just memorize the notes and play that as a "lead". I've used that when I was recording stuff on a four track and needed a solo. But it's still very limited and I can only play stuff I work through and memorize. I don't even use tab to notate it.

I've read advice before saying to memorize the notes on the guitar, which I kind of know, practice scales, learn theory. I could never really understand how that translates into playing lead guitar, improvising, writing better solos. I've tried reading some theory but it just seems disconnected to actually playing guitar and doesn't make much sense to me.

How does one move from just strumming rhythm guitar to playing solos and improvising or really being a lead player? What's the best place to start?

If anyone has any advice, I'd love it. I still enjoy guitar but have wanted to expand my playing for years. Sometimes I feel like I'm really dense since there are so many websites, books, etc. out there but I can't understand how to use them. I honestly don't think my guitar playing has improved much since age 16 except learning new chords and new songs.

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 5108

Have you worked at learning scales as well? That's important for lead playing. (I don't play lead that often but when I do, using scales forms the basis of my improvisations). Do you also have a chance to play with others? I play with friends in a band that performs a few times a year at charity events. Playing with other folks really forced me to step up my playing.

Well we all shine on--like the moon and the stars and the sun.
-- John Lennon

Eminent Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 36

I had the same problem when I moved from playing just rhythm to lead. As boring as is sounds.... You must know your scales in all positions on the neck. I would start with the Pentatonic Scales. After you can play these pretty fluently you can then start picking up some lead guitar licks and just messing around with the scales while playing with some backing tracks or other guitar players. This is where you will gain your improvisation skills. So, you will have to memorize the root notes to these scales so you can play in any key. Lead guitar is where's it's at. Mixing lead with rhythm is where is really gets fun. :mrgreen:

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Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 4921

Start small. You can say an awful lot with just a few notes!

I had a great improvisation teacher in college who had me repeatedly solo over five choruses using only ONE note. That helps focus your attention on what you can do with rhythm. Later on in our lessons, he had me solo over five choruses using only eighth notes - no other rhythm allowed, and no rests. That focused my attention on the melodic line. When the restrictions were finally lifted it sure seemed like I could do a lot more with the instrument than I could before!

I use slightly less restrictive exercises with my students, having them pick four notes of the scale they're working on, and see what they can do with just that limited set. Then you can add one note at a time - each one will have its own 'color' against the chord progression.

For what it's worth, this is also a great way to introduce other scales into your playing; let's say you've mastered the ins and outs of the minor pentatonic, and you want to try soloing using a Dorian scale. The Dorian is the minor pentatonic with the addition of the 2 and 6 notes of the major scale - and it's the 6 that gives it a different sound from other minor scales - so play the pentatonic and try adding just the major sixth. After you get the hang of the colors that note brings into play, then add the 2... and you've got a new scale in your toy box.

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Trusted Member
Joined: 13 years ago
Posts: 65

Note Boat had some great suggestions.

Based upon my reading of the situation, I think music theory is the way to go. What I think is just as important, is the ability to apply music theory to your playing. I think theory opens up so many doors. People see theory as being complex to understand, requiring super super feats of memorization, and being confusing as to how where and when to apply it. I truly don't think it HAS to be that way.

But along with that, you do need to have the skill sets to apply it, I think when you get all of those elements working, the ability to understand the big picture, and practical ways and application of that theory, it then becomes a part of your playing options. Ultimately, though, you should decide what means the most to you. You mentioned not having moved forward much, which implies that you WANT to move forward. The question is, what does moving forward to you, represent? What are things that you'd LIKE to be able to accomplish?



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