I've only recently begun picking up guitar (barely over a week ago) with the intention of learning to play lead parts and solos of songs I like. I have been learning chords and scales and how they relate to each other, etc.

I was wondering if it was really necessary to really practice chord transitions (as I have trouble with them) and strumming patterns. Or if I could put off learning them for now and just focus on scales, chord patterns, and music theory?

Also, what should I actually learn to play lead guitar?

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    I've played guitar for a long time, been in a lot of bands, covered a lot of songs, learned a lot of famous solos note-for-note, and played almost every genre, and I've never played a part that didn't involve chords and strumming. Even though different guitarists are often described as "lead" and "rhythm", those are just jobs - they basically have all the same skills and knowledge. Don't let the phrase "lead guitar" make you think that means there's some special branch of guitar that only involves certain things. It's all primarily playing guitar. Commented May 1, 2017 at 17:21

3 Answers 3


What a lot of guitarists eventually realise is that lead work revolves around chords, so not knowing them will slow your progress considerably. You may think that you'll get to be a lead guitarist quicker, but all you'll have is each individually learned lead part, with little to help you learn the next one, so your playing will really rely on learning stuff from tabs and/or parrot fashion. There is a lot of players out there like that, sadly, who don't see the correlation between what they do and the chords that are being played by others.

There's also the fact that vocalists don't like being widdled (have the guitar played fast) over while they sing their parts, so what does the lead player do at those times? Certainly not just stand there, looking goofy! They often end up playing chords, or partial chords, or something from those chords. So, get on with learning the guitar as a whole instrument! You may find, as I have for many decades, that you're the only guitar in a band - often that's all that's needed. No rhythm playing means no place in those bands!


Your question is at once simple and complicated, and it can be answered in several ways. If you want to play the guitar part in tunes/songs you enjoy, there are many youtube videos that will help you learn by watching and copying slowed down sections of the music. There are lots of people out there playing these songs really well, although they may not have a clue what they are doing, musically. You will run out of lifetime before you learn all those tunes, so it can keep you entertained for a long time. If you want to make up your own songs/tunes, then a knowledge of scales and chord progression principles will help. Learning to read music means you don't have to memorise everything. If you want to come up with your own impressive lead guitar parts and solos then you will need to develop your guitar technique by practising scales, patterns, arpeggios and 'tricks' and experimenting with the sounds the electric guitar can make. If you want to be able to do this 'on the fly' by improvising, you will need to practise playing over lots of different chord progressions in lots of keys. All the approaches I've mentioned are valid, and the first one is the easiest. If you are asking if you need to play chords if you're a 'lead' guitarist, consider this: if someone wants to be the jockey then someone else needs to be the horse, and not everyone likes being relegated to this position in the band. Having said this, two famous exceptions would be B.B King and Allan Holdsworth. Holdsworth has intimated that he is a chord 'dummy', but he makes up for this with truly original melodic concepts and a staggering single-note technique.


It's possible to learn just the lead but I think that you will be putting yourself in a bad position as a player of music in general. Depending on your aspirations, playing chords may be necessary, as others have mentioned, such as playing in a band with only one chordal instrument or what you'd be doing during the singing.

Even if you don't intend to play in bands or anticipate playing chords in any setting, learning chords will help you a whole lot. Firstly, the coordination it takes to correctly place your fingers and transition between chords carries over into your lead playing. The shapes of the notes in different chords may end up being the same fingerings that you would use while playing those notes individual in a lead part and having learned and ingrained the chord shapes, playing that line will be much easier. You'll also find that lots of lead lines actually include chords. Usually the chords would end up having fewer notes (not using all 6 strings), which is also the case with lots of chords a rhythm player would play, such as in reggae or jazz, and some basic chords don't include all the strings anyway, like a D Major in open position.

If you were to pursue playing monophonically (one note at a time), then I would suggest looking at and trying to learn/emulate other monophonic instruments, such as woodwinds or horns. Strings would also be good, as they are usually playing monophonically but also have the capability of playing a couple notes at once. Even if you end up playing chords, I'd still recommend doing this since most instruments have a few different tendencies and don't necessarily overlap with other instruments very commonly, so learning saxophone solos might diversify your palette and bring a unique style to your playing.

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