Combining Rhythm and Lead Playing

Great guitarists have the ability to seamlessly flow from rhythm playing to lead playing, regardless of the key, chord or position on the neck they find themselves in.

The key to developing this skill eluded me for many years. My thought was if I just keep practicing my scales, arpeggios and chord inversions, one day it will all come together.

Unfortunately, it didn't.

That is, until I learned the exercise I'll now share with you.

Practice chords, scales and arpeggios TOGETHER.

My problem was this...I practiced scales, arpeggios and chords. That's good. But I never worked on combining them. They were 3 separate categories in my practice routine, and thus became 3 separate categories in my mind.

This led to a fragmented approach to playing. I was either playing lead with scales, lead with arpeggios, or I was playing rhythm guitar. Three different worlds.

But when I began working on these 3 areas together, the walls came down.

For example, let's say you're working on an Fm7 harmony.

  • In 1st position, play an Fm7 chord voicing followed by an Fm7 arpeggio (1 b3 5 b7) then an F Dorian scale (1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7). (*This approach of chord/arpeggio/scale moves in order of most to least harmonically desriptive.)
  • Cycle through chord/arpeggio/scale until you're comfortable with it.
  • Next, begin to improvise. Alternate bars of rhythm playing and lead playing using either arpeggio or scale fragments.
  • Once you're able to comfortably play this exercise in 1st position, move up to 3rd or 4th position and do it all over again.

    If you're new to this way of thinking about the fretboard intervallically, be prepared to do some serious work on your fundamentals.

    But know this: the work you do in this area will have a profound impact on your overall musicianship and control of your instrument.

    Those results are more than worth your initial investment of time and brain work.

    There you have it. Now get to work, and have fun watching the walls you've built between rhythm and lead playing crumble!

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