Learning Lead Guitar Without Scales

There are two main aspects to learning how to play lead guitar. One is learning technique and the other is learning what to play over a chord progression.

Technique is the ability to perform the various skills that are required to play a guitar solo. These are such things as alternate picking, hammer-ons, pull offs, slides, bends, two handed tapping, sweep picking, harmonics, and pinch harmonics. These are pretty standard skills and there is a plethora of information on the Internet as to how you can perform these techniques.

The much more important skill is the ability to know what to play over a chord progression. Here is where most students get hung up. Why? Because they are not taught the proper method. They get hung up on which scales and modes to play over which chords. They play aimlessly over each chord using the right notes but not outlining the chord progression properly. This is also dangerous as it teaches most guitarists to play scales up and down and call it a solo.

Students have been shown that chords and scales are two different things. They are not. Students might ask – What should I play over this chord progression? The most obvious answer (that isn’t obvious anymore) is to play the notes that are in the chords! Most melodic solos are made up of steps (parts of scales) and leaps (skipping one or more scale steps), another reason not to get obsessed with scales.

Imagine yourself cutting a swath of chord tones through a progression. For each chord you pick a chord tone and then decorate the tone by playing before and after the tone. You connect the lines in a logical and interesting way. The non-chord tones you play come from a CAGED shape that you have firmly implanted in your mind. Any major scale can be broken down into five shapes on the fretboard making it much each to visualize what to play. This allows you to focus on the chord tones but also have a way to play the notes around the chord tones. They are seen as secondary choices you have outside of the chord tones.

A great starting point for you is to go back and play the root notes of a chord progression you like. Then play thirds, then fifths. Then mix and match the chord tones and try to approach each tone with a few notes. That will give you a good basis for creating melodic solos. Good luck.

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