Lead Guitar Technique – Common Problems

September 7, 2008 by  

What is one of the biggest problems among beginner and amateur lead guitarists?

I listen to a lot of lead guitar jams from amateur guitarists stuck in the rut. I’m not going to waste time here carefully choosing my words, I’ll let you decide yourself whether this applies to you or not but I will say this, unless you are truly happy with your playing then it’s very likely that some, if not all of this will apply to you.

Most amateur guitarist’s solos suck, not because they can’t play properly but because they WON’T play properly. Most of you visiting this site probably come here because you are into rock or blues guitar so lets get one very important thing out of the way first, something I repeat many times. The pentatonic scale dominates these genres. Don’t get me wrong, learning other scales, chords, arpeggios, theory etc is all good stuff, it’s all important, it’s all good to know, but what you should not be doing is spending all your time looking for the wrong ways to improve your guitar solos and ignoring the fact that there’s a very high probability you are ignoring at least some of the five most important basics of playing any musical instrument.

Now don’t hit the back button when I say what these five things are. I know you hear them all the time and it sounds like the same old boring stuff but believe me these are the biggest things that separate amateurs from pro’s … Timing, articulation, expression, phrasing and ear. That’s it. Not scale notes or runs, not licks and thorough chord knowledge. Most of you will be spending more of your time looking for formulas that you can use to play over chords and scale runs and cool licks, ways to play up and down the whole neck and what not. If you’re not paying attention to those five things outlined above then you are wasting your time with everything else.

Take a listen to this short solo.

I planned and threw that together in the same amount of time as it took me to play it. It’s not great, it could be better, that’s not important. What is important is it’s a fairly passable solo, if I pulled that off live on stage then I wouldn’t turn many heads but I also wouldn’t have been asking Scotty to beam me up 🙂

So what’s my point? … The point is this. That short solo contains only six notes as shown in the diagram below from the minor pentatonic scale and nothing else! What’s more, ninety percent of it was only using just four notes around the D and G string.

minor pentatonic scale

There’s a lot of bold text going on in those last few lines because I really can’t stress this enough. Many of you will be spending more of your time practicing and seeking out things that have less importance, or at least aren’t at the top of your priority list just yet. How much time do you spend really listening to what’s actually coming out when you play guitar? If you can’t produce something you are at least fairly happy with using only a few notes then you should start making this your priority right now.

By regularly restricting yourself to just a few notes when you practice, it will virtually force you to not only pay attention to your technique but guarantee you will improve much faster. When you spend all your time trying to play up and down the whole neck using every scale you can find, you are guaranteeing yourself a slower progress overall. Restricting yourself to small areas should show improvements within your playing within days.

I chose this simple straight feel twelve bar jam track in A for my example. It’s not particularly exciting but it’s straightforward and we will be using it for the upcoming lessons which will go through the five techniques in turn. In the meantime, start practicing with that jam track.


11 Responses to “Lead Guitar Technique – Common Problems”
  1. Dave Richards (Daveinozbikes) says:

    Thanks for that Lee. What you said about learning things in the wrong order is so correct. Going to follow what you said to the letter. Thanks Dave

  2. Lee says:

    Thanks Dave, I hope it helps. Forcing restrictions are IMO one of the most effecient ways to propel your playing in the shortest possible time because you are forced to take notice and think harder about your phrasing etc.

    The pentatonic for example is only five notes. Spending twenty minutes a day playing with those notes on just one string or maybe two strings in one limited area can do wonders. I done this many years ago and within weeks I had improved more than I had done in years previous. Btw, I sometimes still do it.

  3. Gareth says:

    Hi Lee

    Any chance you could put the tabs up for that solo. Sounds like I could steal some great licks from that 🙂 Only just starting to learn to solo so it all helps.


  4. Lee says:

    Hi Gareth.
    Tabbing this particular exercise might actually be missing the point but I’ll see what I can do. 🙂


  5. chrisbramill says:

    Thanx great post

  6. Some Random dude says:

    Im self taught and have been playing for about 5 or 6 months now, and I usually stick with a pentatonic scale and just keep at it for a month.Finding different melodic ideas and such.Good to know i was on the right track, these lessons should make practice much more effective now.Good stuff here Lee diggy dog.Good stuff.

  7. sakis from greece says:

    hi lee could you please tell me your age but also how exercises affect our progress and which are the most correct that’ll definitely help us to proceed to the next step??im 17 and ive started playing a year and 6months ago and im obssesed with what im doing so please tell me or email me and the other ones here to become very very very through a lot exercise of course ……GUIDE US With your knowledge MASTER i would be very pleased if you do that….

  8. sakis from greece says:

    very very very good i meant by the way

  9. Kim says:

    Lee, this is great. Are you going to put up any new lessons soon? Your teaching style is fantastic.

    • Lee says:

      Thanks Kim.
      I do have plans to add more as soon as I get the time. Lots of unfinished stuff here!
      I also run a couple of other guitar sites which you might find some of the stuff useful.
      Guitar Chords which is mostly chord and scale diagrams but you’ll find a few tips and lessons there as well. I’ve also got more being added there soon.

      The other one is Best Guitar Books with a few reviews.

      Both of these are being updated over the next few weeks and then I’m gonna spend some time back on this website again.

      If you have any suggestions of things you’d like to see here, let me know, all input is useful 🙂

  10. an extremely good point, that of restricting yourself to a narrow range of notes so that you actually end up getting out more out of the solo. It’s probably because it forces the player to put more rhythm and articulations such as bends etc, instead of more notes. It’s an interesting paradox. I have heard some famous songwriters self-devising challenges such as writing an entire song and recording it in 4 hours instead of just ‘writing a song and recording it this week’. And I think that this type of challenges is needed today more than ever as there’s so many players puking out as many notes as they can out of their guitar, and creating solos that sounds actually annoying. 🙂 So, you made a very good point.

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