Basic Melodic Playing - Basic Lead Guitar



Now, we’ve finally progressed enough to get to the fun stuff. Who’s solo work do you enjoy? Satriani? Vai? Eddie Van Halen? Lead guitar is fun and it puts the guitarist in the spotlight for the duration of their solo, and even during their riffs and fills.


Lead guitar can be as technical or as simple as your abilities dictate. In this lesson you will learn how to play basic lead guitar. I know, you see people play and you want to go as fast as them. This is just like playing your scales. You need to start slow then build speed as your technical ability allows.


Melodic Playing


One of the things the lead guitarist is responsible for carrying the melody through the song. But, the job of the lead guitar player is to not only play the melody, but to embellish on it. The melody, for example, can form the idea behind the solo. But the solo is largely improvised. People like Satriani and Vai use their guitars to create the melody that a song is built on and then they change that melody depending on the mood, etc throughout the song.


Exercise 1


This exercise is designed to help you understand lead guitar style and give you a feel for how lead parts flow.

  • Pick a piece that you feel exemplifies melodic playing. If you can’t think of anything, choose Vai’s “For the Love of God”. That’s a great example.
  • Find the sheet music and/or tabs to the piece
  • Follow the sheet music and/or tabs while listening to the song.
  • Don’t worry about playing the song just yet. Some of these players can get really technical.

Exercise 2


A vital part of learning to play is setting goals. Whose playing do you admire? Make it your personal goal to learn at least one song by this person over the course of your practice schedule. But, don’t worry about starting right away unless you find a song that is within your skill level.

The Solo


The solo is a classic element for the lead guitar player. Consider such solos as Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption. What is it about that solo that is so memorable?


You already have a good foundation for creating your own solos because you’ve been practicing your scales. You can either write your own solos or improvise them on the fly.

Exercise 3


This exercise helps you build on your scales to help create solos.


  • Pick a scale. It can be either major or minor, but major might be easier to work with at first.
  • From that scale, come up with a melody.
  • Set your metronome to a comfortable pace.
  • Play the melody back to back until your fingers start to feel limber.
  • Now, play the melody, then play the scale. Repeat until your fingers start to feel limber and your creativity increases.
  • Finally, play the melody and then play some embellished, improvised parts. Tweak the melody and embellishments until you are happy with how it sounds.
  • This is your first solo!

Exercise 4


This exercise is designed to help you learn about arpeggios. Arpeggios are simply chords, but instead of strumming all the notes together you play them individually.

  • Choose some chords within the scale you decided on in Exercise 3.
  • Play them as arpeggios to a metronome setting that is comfortable.
  • As soon as your fingers feel limber, revisit the solo you created in exercise three.
  • Play it a few times and insert some of the arpeggios wherever you can.
  • Tweak it until you are happy with the results.

Riffs and Fills


Riffs and fills are another thing that the lead guitar can do (they are essentially the same thing). While the solo puts the guitarist in the spotlight for a minute or two, riffs and fills are just made up of a series of notes. Some riffs are quite memorable, such as Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.”

Exercise 5


Think about riffs that are memorable. What makes them that way? Using these popular riffs, can you create your own?

Putting it All Together


There is a stereotype that lead guitar players have to look, act, and play a certain way. In reality, with all the scales and chords available to you, there are endless combinations to draw from. Do you want to sound “just like” somebody, or do you want to do your own thing?


In this lesson, you learned the basics behind lead guitar. You know how to solo, how to build on a melody, and how to create some riffs. Now all that’s left is to get together with some other musicians and create a song based on what you came up with. Let your own creativity and style show through and who knows, maybe your little band will go places!