It is a slightly subjective question, however, there is, I'm sure, a common consensus as to what lends itself better to a beginner so as not to get frustrated with the instrument. I'm curious as to what the Teachers in the audience have found over the years to be the case with their students.

So, to make it less subjective - technically what would work better for beginners: Rhythm or Lead so that they want to keep playing and not get frustrated.

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    I just want to say as a guitarist of about 25 years and a teacher of about seven years, I object to the idea that guitar is divided up between "rhythm" and "lead". It's all guitar. Sometimes "rhythm" guitar involves playing single notes (e.g., James Brown backing), and sometimes "lead" guitar involves playing chords (Zeppelin and Pink Floyd among others), and it doesn't make sense IMHO to arbitrarily divide them up into not-so-meaningful categories. Mar 10, 2017 at 3:24

8 Answers 8


You should definitely start with rhythm.

For a beginner it is one the most valuable things: to understand that music is all about rhythm. Song can exists without a guitar solo, but definitely cannot exists without a solid rhythm line.

Another issue for beginner guitarists is that they rarely have someone to jam with. Playing a solo without any backing up is not very entertaining, while single rhythm section can create a whole full-sounding song.

Even if your aim is to become a great lead guitarist, a good knowledge of rhythm guitar will give you a perfect sense and understanding on how solo lines work. You will feel, when the chord change is coming up and when it is time to change the mode. your lead playing can be only as good as your rhythm playing is.

And finally, the quote by one of the famous guitar teachers:

The solo is only 10 seconds of a song. If a sting will break on your guitar, you can use those 10 seconds to grab another one and successfully finish the song.

  • I have nothing substantial to add, but I'd love to see a video of someone changing his guitar string as fast as possible. I guess 30 seconds, under prepared conditions, could possibly be enough? Mar 10, 2017 at 14:25
  • on a workbench with a string winder, about 20 seconds. Mar 10, 2017 at 19:21
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    I don't understand why you would want to break a string on your guitar. Seems like a strange thing to do. Mar 10, 2017 at 21:14

I have helped a few people find their feet with the guitar. Generally I have found that new starters often need something to keep them on the proverbial hook; so its better to find something that they already like and listen to, that they can realistically learn pretty quickly. Whether this is rhythm or not inst so important.

Each new fully formed tune that they can actually play and recognise as a tune keeps the learner on the hook and wanting more. The longer and more monotonous the road to their first 'victories', the more likely they are to get bored and find another hobby.

Another thing I have found it that people tend to be able to tolerate fretting chords better after their fingers have seen some scale type fretwork; which goes some way towards warming their hands up before the pressure of chords.

Generally I would start someone of with some 12 blues in E, with some small licks using the open E Pentatonic scale. This is because the 12 bar is a common musical theme even across a lot of styles; and its pretty difficult to find someone who cant identify with it in some way or other. Its also very malleable and extendible; you can build on it, such that the learner is jamming with you very quickly, I have never known anyone to give it up completely after having got far enough to be able to jam. Even if its not played in a blues style, it still works. Hey Joe(Hendrix) is good one for this, people love the fact they can play that intro basically straight away.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend the blues for everyone as a starting point though, you need to ask the person and decide what to do from there.


I personally think that rhythm is the way to go since a strong harmonic foundation is needed to successfully improvise.

BUT this doesn't mean you can't practice them together! Learn some rhythm for a backing track then attempt to play some lead over it! Just focus on rhythm so you learn to play with the changes instead of against(which isn't terrible but requires much more talent to make it work).

The reason rhythm is better is because it provides the foundation for knowing the "right" notes to solo with. When you are soloing you are not just randomly picking notes from a scale or the neck. You are playing a melody that must fit over the changes(it doesn't always(usually depends on style) have to but it generally sounds better when it does).

Jazz and Country are almost exclusively based on the use of "chord-scale" where the chord is the root for choosing the melody. If you start with learning your scales first, like I did, you might be able to play a billion notes and get some good licks in but it will be harder to make those licks fit over the proper chord. You'll be emphasizing non-chord tones notes too much and while sometimes it can sound cool it generally more than not sounds too random and/or non-stylistic.

When you learn rhythm you'll develop that ability faster and center your thinking around it. When it comes time to solo, it's not much more difficult to do so(at least for some people). The idea is that a "lead" in country and jazz is more about playing notes of the chords rather than of the scales. So when you already know the chords well you simply play them and learn little tricks to use the more "melodic" like(Hendrix did this a lot and you can learn a lot from him).

Also you generally wanna see scales as belonging to chords and not the other way around. This helps knowing which scales go with which chords. When you learn it the other way around you just see a scale and a key without connection to the momentary chord and it can be hard to get used to thinking about it otherwise.

That is, it's generally not preferable(Although it is easier) to think in terms of scales instead of chords. You'll sound better and more like you know what your doing if you think in terms of chords because you'll always fit with the rhythm. Why? Because essentially you are playing the rhythm. If you are simply playing the rhythm then you can't be wrong. When you think in terms of scales though, You have many more notes to chose from and are more likely to get it wrong.

In Jazz and Country there are 4 notes over each chord that are most important. In fact 2 if these are generally regarded as the "key" notes. In jazz it's the 3rd and 7th and in country it's the root and 7th(Blues too).

A scale generally has 5 to 7 notes. If you think in terms of scales you more than likely not be focusing on those more important tones because you see a scale as simply a collection of notes. If you can see the chords in the scales and see them and the scale change when the harmony does then you'll be doing much better. Learning rhythm "first" will help this.

But if you do not learn your scales and do not focusing on soloing you may develop the opposite problem I have described above. Seeing the Chords too much and not the scales in them. In this case your "solo's" may sound way to much like rhythm because your not able to add non-chord tones to make it more interesting and melodic(melody tends to have a lot of step-wise movement).

Just about any fingering picking tune is based on these principles. This is because they have to provide the harmony, rhythm, and melody at the same time. When you learn these songs you immediately can see how they are doing this. They generally play chords and use the right hand to pick out the melody from the chord and use the fingers of the left hand to add melodic notes not in the chord when they can.

Then again, if rhythm is very easy for you and learning progressions and such are easy then maybe focusing on scales will be more beneficial. The ultimate goal is not to think of chords and scales but to allow the music to flow through unimpeded by conscious thought. One thing you don't want to do is get lost on a progression and just ramble in the correct scale. If you have a strong since of rhythm you'll more likely just go to playing it and possibly adding some simple chord fill that will probably sound good and no one will know you got lost because it fit exactly with the harmony.

If I were just starting out I would spend about 80% on rhythm and 20% on lead. Once I was able to play just about any rhythm and in simple chordal fills(playing notes not in the chord in a melodic like way while still playing the chord) I would change it to about 65% rhythm. I would then work on making the my rhythm sound as good as I can get it and at some point later I would bring it to about 50/50 and possibly start focusing more on soloing.

  • "I personally think that rhythm is the way to go since a strong harmonic foundation is needed to successfully improvise." Why the assumption that every guitarist's aim is to improvise? Don't some of them want to become employable musicians?
    – Laurence
    Mar 10, 2017 at 13:11

I think knowing how to play rhythm well is extremely important. There are a lot more gigs available to a good rhythm player, and, in almost every song you play, you'll be covering a rhythm part for most of the soft, occasionally stepping out to cover the lead part.

In every band I've been in, country, jazz or rock, I concentrate on good rhythm parts that are dead-on with the drummer, that are rhythmically interesting, and that add something to support the melody. I've been the lead player in almost every band I've been in, but it's the rhythm parts I play that I consider more important.

A good rhythm player has to be there, but almost invisible. The part they play helps hold the song up, keeps it moving, ties the bass and drums and keyboards together, and, when the lead player starts playing, feeds them ideas if they're improvising.

My favorite rhythm player is Robbie McIntosh, from The Pretenders, who's done work with Paul McCartney and John Mayer. The man is amazing; His guitar parts are absolutely beautiful and played perfectly. He can play lead, but knows how to step back and play rhythm without detracting, and that's what we should aspire to.

So, I always recommend knowing how to play rhythm well, and learn it first. Once you know the chords and rhythm patterns it becomes easy to build on top of that and step into playing lead.


I used to think rhythm and chords are the best way for most people to start. And they do form a very important foundation. But after teaching hundreds of students how to play the guitar, I have realized that it's most important to learn what is in your grasp to learn, right now.

That means that learning a few simple chords and how to play them rhythmically is important. But after that, the next step may not be to learn the "Open Campfire Chords", but instead to do what is next in your grasp. And that very well may be learning some simple lead parts, such as the catchy-but-simple intro to Jason Mraz' "I'm Yours", or even the hokey but memorable "Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star" melody. When you can rise to these challenges, you realize that playing simple melodies on the guitar is not all that difficult.

Either way, I disagree with the notion that guitar is best divided into the functions of "rhythm" and "lead", and also with the idea that one of these should be somehow "learned" before giving thought to the other.

Most of the beginner students I see are learning both simple chords and simple within 1-2 weeks, and they begin extending these into simple rhythmic parts and simple lead parts, respectively.

Within about 4 weeks, most of my students can read many simple melodies by following along with the scale patterns that they learned, and play a simple block-chord accompaniment for a few of the most common chord progressions, like G, C, D. I feel that it's important to concentrate on specific key areas for improvement, but it's also important not to neglect some aspect of your playing and be caught in a rut. If you learn a ton of chords and can play alot of interesting rhythms, but can't do much else, you'll likely get bored. And worse, when you realize you're starting all over again at the beginning to learn lead, that can be very discouraging if you're already really good at chords. And that can lead you to neglect lead practice and go back to strumming the chords you're good at. Many, many, many guitar players (most?) seem to get stuck once they find their "comfort zone", unless there's some compelling reason for them to leave their comfort zone again.


In my experience as a teacher, a student who is not interested in understanding the structure of a song is never going to play anything interesting as a "lead guitarist", and in my experience as a musician a "rhythm guitarist" who can't come up with a lead part is probably not someone who's going to play anything you'd want to hear as an accompanist, so I think there's a large red herring built into the question.

In short, I can't imagine trying to teach "lead" as distinct from "rhythm" playing, any more than I can imagine trying to teach someone multiplication as something distinct from division.

Less briefly: when I was teaching, I typically started with a parallel path which involved developing finger strength to play the basic open chords (which were given as arbitrary patterns, at first) and also learning the fundamentals of the major scale and how to find the scales on the fretboard. This obviously led to the discovery that the chords and the scales were related, and usually the students would realize in the course of their exercises that they could move both scales and chords around, which typically gave them great joy. Obviously, we'd continue in this way, teaching new ideas and developing both the scalar concepts and the chordal concepts as though they were two sides of the same coin, which of course they are.


It is true that rhythm guitar keeps the background of any music, but to my own opinion, you first learn how to crawl before learning how to walk. Remember that chord has it lessons which is derived from the basics of guitar lesson. In the case like this you need the basics to lay the rhythm foundation.


Evolution wise humans created melody before harmony and it is definitely easier to play simple melodies before putting together chord progressions without that annoying stoppage between chord changes. what are chords anyway? chords are supposed to be the bringing together of different voices(melodies). Many guitarists never see that picture yet they happily hammer out blocks and chunks of chords. nothing wrong with happily strumming of course but lets appreciate context.