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Rhythm or Lead: What kind of guitar player are you?

When you first start learning the guitar, one of the first stylistic questions you’ll need to ask yourself is: “Am I more of a rhythm player or a lead player?” In other words, what kind of role do you want to take on when it comes to playing guitar?  Do you want to provide the underlying structure and support for your bandmates, or do you prefer taking center stage with flashy licks and solos?  Let’s explore the differences between rhythm and lead guitar playing.  

Rhythm Guitar Playing 

Rhythm guitar playing serves the function of supporting a song’s rhythm section. This can be done by strumming chords (e.g., power chords) in an even manner that complements the beats laid down by the bassist and drummer. It is also responsible for providing texture and atmosphere within a song. Examples of famous rhythm guitarists include John Lennon, Keith Richards, and Mike Campbell. 

Lead Guitar Playing 

Lead guitarists are responsible for playing ornamental melodic material within a song that brings melodies to life and adds excitement to them. Typically, these players use single notes instead of chords when they play and focus on improvisation; they tend to have faster tempos than their rhythm counterparts as well. Examples of famous lead guitarists include Jimi Hendrix, BB King, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Slash. 

Fingerpicking Guitar Styles 

Fingerpicking guitar styles typically bridge the gap between rhythm guitar vs lead guitar playing. These styles involve using both single-note melodies as well as strummed chords in order to create unique textures that can add flavor to any song. Examples of famous fingerpickers include Chet Atkins and Tommy Emmanuel. 

There are benefits and challenges that come with playing in rhythm and lead guitar styles, and there’s no reason why a student couldn’t learn how to play in both styles. While many young students are attracted to flashier lead guitar parts, a well-rounded student will learn to play the chords and shapes needed in rhythm guitar playing as well. This is why our recommendation to those first starting out is to learn to play in both styles. Instructors in our lesson program would tell you: exclusively focusing on just one style will deprive a student of valuable playing prowess and music theory experience.

When it comes down to it, there are no right or wrong answers when trying to decide if you should play rhythm or lead guitar—it ultimately comes down to what feels best for you as an individual musician! There are pros and cons for both roles; however, many talented musicians are able to masterfully blend elements from each style in order to create something truly special with their music! Whatever direction you choose as a guitarist – whether it be rhythm or lead – just remember that practice makes perfect!  With enough time dedicated towards honing your skills on the instrument, you too can become an expert at either role –or even better—both!