How To Play Rhythm And Lead Guitar At The Same Time

Posted by Mike Schuck

When playing guitar, there are two main instruments you can play — rhythm or lead. The term “rhythm” is somewhat relative, as what one person may consider rhythm music is different from what another person might regard it as. Some people refer to songs with lots of drums and bass as having a rhythmic element, while others may not agree.

For this reason, we will use the word “regularly occurring notes” to describe what defines a piece as containing a rhythm component. These regularly occurring notes can be either a pulse (such as in drumming) or an accompaniment for someone else’s note (like a harmonic or octave-based bass).

With that definition in mind, here are some easy ways to learn how to play rhythm guitar! Read on for more tips. 🙂

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Tips

Practice using both your left hand and right hand independently. Most musicians only focus on one side, but if you try working towards that then switching gears later becomes much easier.

Most beginners struggle when trying to figure out which fingers go where, which strings get picked, and how many times each string gets hit.

Pay attention to how you use your hands

how to play rhythm and lead guitar at the same time

A good way to play rhythm and lead guitar simultaneously is by using different styles of hand positioning. You can put more emphasis on being able to play only one style or the other, but not both at once.

The easiest way to do this is to focus mostly on playing just the bass string as a first position chord (also known as open) while also adding some treble with your picking technique. Then move your index finger up into a second position melody note that goes along with the bass string, creating a harmonic tone.

Your middle finger should remain in place as your third position harmony note, matching the index finger. Your ring finger can be either extended forward for a fifth degree chord or moved down towards the neck for an octave (or lower) chord.

Practice holding down the fretboard and keeping your hand placement consistent

how to play rhythm and lead guitar at the same time

Even if you are only able to play one chord, you can still learn how to play rhythm guitar! This article will show you how to do that. Plus, we’ll take a look at some easy licks and songs that use this technique.

The first thing needed in order to play rhythm guitar is to be familiar with the bass string set up. These strings include the lowest tone of the instrument which is usually A tuned as a open note. Next comes the fifth string, also called the A string, which is normally tuned slightly higher than the bass A natural second scale degree (A-B). Then the third string, or G string, which is typically two steps lower then the A string and is therefore tuned one whole step below the A string. The fourth string is sometimes referred to as the D string but it is rarely ever used for anything other than creating an effect.

After these five main notes, there are three additional empty fretted out strings that can easily be added into any song. These strings are either picked up by ear or are standard E, B, and high G. Depending on what style music you want to explore, picking which ones to add into your repertoire is up to you.

Learn how to use your pick hand

how to play rhythm and lead guitar at the same time

With the index finger of your picking hand, start by pressing down on the first string just beyond its normal position. As you pull up with your picking arm, rotate your wrist so that your second and third fingers move together as one.

Continue pulling up until only the very tip of your index finger is left touching the string. At this stage, your ring and middle fingers should be hovering over the bridge area, in between all five strings. Your other hand can now take over!

With the thumb of your lower hand moving upward, press downward on the fifth fret using the side of your palm. Now roll your hands back up slowly while keeping your index finger pressed against the string for an additional 2-3 seconds.

When you have fully mastered this technique, try playing some chords or rhythm patterns.

Practice playing chords and melodies at the same time

It is very helpful to know how to play both lead guitar and rhythm guitar. Both of these are important if you want to truly master your instrument!

There are many ways to learn how to do this, but one of the best things you can do as a beginner is practice using either a chord or melody sequence as a leading tone.

A leading tone is an interval that sounds good next to another note. For example, the first half of a major second (MA) is a minor third (MI), and the other half is a perfect fourth (PI). These two notes create a strong feeling because they sound good together.

The trick with practicing this concept is to use either a full chord or melodic phrase for the top note, then follow it with the leading tone.

Try using a metronome to keep a consistent beat

how to play rhythm and lead guitar at the same time

A rhythm guitar player that is also able to play lead guitar very well is someone who can use both instruments effectively together. Technically, you do not need to be proficient in leading to be a great guitarist, but it is definitely an art form that takes practice.

There are many ways to learn how to lead guitar. Some people start by listening to songs with a lead part and then try to imitate what part of the song they like and what style of music they likes.

This is definitely helpful, but there’s just one problem – most songs have only a verse lead!

You would probably want to know more complex lead structures than this if you really wanted to become a good guitarist. So, how about trying out some easy leads?

Easy leads are when the main chord does not contain any notes higher than a third or lower than a major second. These types of chords are usually called triads.

A simple example of an easy lead would be to take the first note of your bass (the one that starts up a string) and go down two strings and back up a whole step – a minor sixth. This creates a nice smooth transition into the next note.

Use a drumstick

how to play rhythm and lead guitar at the same time

A second position is using a thin, plastic or metal stick that has a strap for holding it onto your leg. This tool is great because you can either use them as regular drumsticks or you can put a cap on them so that they act more like a guitar pick!

The best ones have a hard surface area that acts as a striking block. This helps create better rhythm by hitting the strings with a solid sound instead of an echo effect.

Use your own voice

how to play rhythm and lead guitar at the same time

The second key is to use your own voice when playing rhythm or lead guitar. I know, that sounds really simple, but it can be tricky sometimes!

If you are not sure how to play an individual note, then choose a chord or sequence of notes that seem natural to you and write out those notes as best you can.

Alternatively, if there’s a riff or pattern in the song that you want to replicate, pick up the chords for that and play them as slowly as possible while keeping time with the rest of the band.

The most important thing about practicing is to make yourself do it — even if you don’t feel like it. No matter what you're doing, you should try to spend some amount of time every day working on it. - Gary Vaynerchuk

I recommend recording yourself and listening back to see whether you need to slow down anything or add any accents. This way, you'll also get a sense of whether your timing is okay and whether yours needs work.

Listen to music while you play

how to play rhythm and lead guitar at the same time

One of the most important things for guitar players is listening to music! As mentioned before, practicing with headphones is great because you can focus on one part of the process without distractions.

But what if you want to listen to something else? You may already have your favorite songs that you just learn by heart, but how about creating new ones? Or learning an instrument or theory concept in sync with a song you’re already familiar with?

It is possible to do this! Here are some strategies for playing rhythm and lead guitars simultaneously.

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