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I've learnt some basic chords : A,D,E,C,G,Am,Em as well as most popular rhythm patterns (which have 4 beats in a bar) and have been using them in covering some easy acoustic songs.

My basic aim is to be able to play some decent lead guitar parts (mostly Led zep, Pink floyd, etc type of songs), as well as rhythm on some metal songs (Metallica, etc). My question is, how much chord learning should I be doing? Do I need to get into all the different type of chords (7th chords, sus2/4 chords, slash chords, barre chords). My doubt arises because most metal songs don't seem to be using anything other than power chords (please correct me if I'm wrong).

Regarding lead guitar, I've learnt the minor pentatonic scale, have been improvising on it using backing tracks and have also learnt some popular solos based on it. Should I just continue learning the lead part or concentrate on chords as well?

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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

"What not to learn" questions usually don't get the answer you want. It's never a bad thing to learn more, and having a rich palette of chords available to you will always be useful.

You have a very limited set indeed to far, and should at least learn A, Bb, B, C, D, E, F, G in both major and minor. The remaining sharps and flats are less common, but you'll eventually want to learn those too.

However this early stage would be a great time to start thinking of chords not as "magic hand shapes", but as sets of notes.

Look at an A chord. Work out which strings you're playing A notes on, which ones are C#, which ones are E. Notice the relationship between the fret positions of a root note on one string, the major third on the next string, the fifth on the next string. Since you're a beginner, it might take some effort, some counting, some pen-and-paper work to make sense of it -- but it's all logical and it will be worth it.

When you know which strings, and which frets, you're playing thirds on, you can work out how to play the minor version of that chord - just by dropping those thirds down one fret. Sometimes that results in something you can finger. Sometimes it doesn't so you have to find another way.

Likewise, you'll know how to make a 7th, a 9th, and suspensions, because you'll know where to find those notes.

So, you won't need to learn chords by rote -- you'll be able to work them out. With experience, you'll get really fast at working them out. But it's still useful to "just know" them, and that will happen with experience.

By knowing how chords are constructed, you'll be better positioned to play chords with fewer notes - or link them up into monophonic solos, which fits in with your lead guitar ambitions.

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i say do both! learn the songs you already know with barchords, it will help you see how minor pentatonic amongst others scales (natural minor/major) fit over the song youre playing. when you learn the songs like that, start looking into 7th chords and how they fit over blues songs. this will all help towards playing "simple" lead guitar (if there is such a thing).

when it comes to chords, learn all the chords you can, major and minor, then learn the 7ths, you will notice that theyre all variations on the same 4/5 shapes. power chords are neutral, this means they have neither a major or minor note in the chord.

as far as 7ths go, there are 3 main types, major7 minor7 and dominant7, blues uses alot of dominant7 chords, this is a good place to start...

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The melody notes you will be playing as a lead guitarist will be derived from the underlying notes of the chords (implied or otherwise) you will be playing over. So the more chords you learn, the more effective on lead you can be.

In reality though, it will be more important to understand the basic formula for chords (1-3-5 scale tones etc) more than their specific shapes or positions, which will come in time as you become more familiar with the fretboard.

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