How to Play Guitar Chords as a Lead Guitarist

So, you want to know how to play guitar chords on the level of a lead guitarist? What is important to understand first and foremost is that the lead guitarist is not necessarily the best guitarist!
The term “lead guitarist” appears mostly in the rock genre, but in a few others as well. Depending on the band, “lead guitarist” has different meanings.

A lead guitarist for a song set functions as the featured guitarist. That feature becomes determined by the skills or charisma of the musician.

With the lead position, you get some freedom. For the most part, they are proficient with the guitar. They start the band by giving the drummer a nod or a flick of their eyes. Lead guitarists, by their body movements, rhythms, and phrasing, direct the rest of the band in what mood they will take for this audience. They also assess the audience’s needs and help maintain the band’s reputation. They determine the direction of the song.


They may be a master at riffs–like Steve Stevens, who can play scales up and down the guitar neck, and make it drip with such soulfulness and angst that you understand the message. Or the magic hands of Keith Urban, who can dance up the neck of the guitar with a delightful lick or harmonization. Then you have Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler with his guitar playing interspersed between his wild antics and Carlos Santana with his Latin sizzle that makes you hear your inner tango.

All four of those are lead guitarist each with a different style that keeps the audience coming back for more, all while keeping the other parts of the band in sync.

What is a Lead Guitarist Suppose to Know?

The lead guitarist has to know all of the basics that the rhythm guitarist knows. Then they have to know how to play guitar chords, riffs, open positions, and single lines to add in. Harmonization of their making adds the flavor to give a band a unique sound.

The up and down strokes that fuel the sound make a lead guitarist as well. It is how well they can cross and skip strings that make the difference. Many of them practice guitar scales, and then break a rule of the scale to make it intriguing.

A lead guitarist creates an endless variation of lick patterns or scales to spruce up well played tunes. Movable chords come as a favorite since it can create variations scale wise, hand wise, and sound wise satisfying that inner music imp that insists you make it yours. Transitions between keys–such as a progression to a major key or minor key and/or a blues progression–makes a lead guitarist noticed.

After learning all that, the element of improvisation comes in. Creating honest, inspired, and credible music on the spot is the true gift lead guitarists need, more important in many cases than technical accuracy and perfection.

Learning how to play guitar chords takes time and careful practice. Here are some tips:

  • If you can find someone a bit better than you, practice with them. You will get better.
  • Many musicians swear by scales practice, but frankly it is hard to stay with. Do not be afraid to get a series of songs for practice. Somehow, singing or picking a tune helps motivation.
  • You need to develop calluses on your fingertips. Soaking your fingertips in a salt solution for a week is a quick way to make that happen.
  • Take a class. The interaction between you and the instructor helps clarify some things and build accountability.
  • Most of all, enjoy the fun of playing, and make sure you share it with others!


Campbell, Mary. “How To Make Your Guitar Practice Sessions Fun.” JamPlay Blog. JamPlay, 23 July 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.