What’s the difference between lead guitar and rhythm guitar?

If you listen to most music that features guitars, you’ll hear that there are often two guitars playing simultaneously – one keeping the beat and the other playing a melody. The guitar that keeps a beat is called “rhythm guitar” and the one that plays a separate melody is called “lead guitar”.

Both parts can be crucial to a piece of music. Let’s break down what they do:


Rhythm guitar

The rhythm guitar part usually consists of chord progressions that keep pace with the drum’s tempo. Rhythm guitar can be easier for beginners to learn than lead guitar (a lot of famous songs can be played with only three chords!) However, it’s still a vital part of making a song memorable. Learning rhythm guitar can also be preferable if you’re a singer-songwriter, or just someone who wants to sing along with a song.

In many metal or hard rock songs, the rhythm guitar part utilizes “power chords” to make a maximum impact while supporting the lead guitar part and vocals. Power chords utilize the root note and fifth of a chord. Because there is no third note, the chord is neither minor nor major. Playing these creates a meaty low end sound that’s perfect for heavy music.

The technique you use to strum chords can give a song a specific sound. For example, using only downstrokes can give your playing a punk-rock vibe, while ska music usually utilizes an upstroke. You can also use techniques like arpeggio, palm-muting and fingerpicking to get the sound you want.

Try the Power Chord Workout for Guitar to master all of the power chords! 


Lead guitar

Feeling like the star of the show? Lead guitar utilizes riffs (series of notes that make up the main melody of the song) and solos (different melody lines that often stand alone in a song). Lead guitarist can use a variety of techniques to create different sounds, including finger-tapping, hammer-ons, and string bends.

While solos might sound like a group of random notes to the untrained ear, they’re actually made up of notes from scales – usually major or pentatonic scales. Mastering the scales can make you better at soloing, both writing parts, improvising, and playing solos in cover songs.

Interested in being a lead guitarist? Lead Guitar Beginners Level 1 can get you started!

Do you prefer playing lead or rhythm guitar? Let us know in the comments! 


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