How to Learn Lead Guitar for Beginners

No matter when you start playing guitar you will need to learn chords and how to play a melody. The fastest way how to learn lead guitar for beginners is to learn using key patterns. This will make it easy to feel confident that you are only hitting notes that work within a particular key.

It’s Simple If You Know How

I know this all sounds complicated but it really isn’t. There are 3 ways that you can play lead.

  1. Play a melody that you know
  2. Make up your own melody
  3. Play a mix of chords and joining notes

If you can hum a tune then you can play lead because that is all that lead is. Often lead guitarists will play part of the song melody and then add a creative mix of notes to spice it up. Let’s look at each way to find a place for you to start today.

1. Play a Melody that You Know

For this exercise, you can pick any song that you know well. Hum the first couple of bars to yourself. Pick up your guitar and keep playing notes until you find the first note that sounds the same as the one you are humming. Now find the next note that sounds like the melody and so on. Keep doing this until you are playing the whole melody.

What you will find is that most melody tunes have notes close to each other, it’s just a matter of finding where they are on your guitar.

To find the starting point of any melody you could also look up the chords of that song. The melody will be with the shape of the chords.

Here is a great simple lesson by Justin Guitar on how to play FIRE AND RAIN.

2. Make Up Your Own Melody

We’ve all seen guitarists noodling around on their guitars, either alone or with friends. What they are doing is creating melodies that they make up. Often you can see their lips moving because first, they are singing the tune in their heads and then transferring it to the guitar.

Creating a tune with a few simple notes and adding some emotion to it is how great melodies are created.

All you have to do is choose a starting point (note). Let’s say that you want to play a tune in the key of G Major. If you look at the diagram below you will see that there is a G on the 3rd fret on the top and bottom E strings. Here is your starting point.


Guitar fretboard notes

So how do you NOT hit the wrong notes? Good question! You use a pattern that you know will help you to remember which notes are in the scale of G, such as the 2nd Pentatonic Form. Now don’t glaze over as this is simpler than you think. Look at the diagram below and overlay it starting on the G note on your guitar neck.

Pentatonic form 2

The numbers inside the circles are just the suggested fingers to use. Pick up your guitar and put your second finger on the G note on the high E string. Play the pattern and really listen to each note. Now put on the BACKING TRACK IN G MAJOR using this link and try to make short musical sentences using the notes in this pattern.

There’s a sample of the lead played at the beginning, so when you are feeling brave try to work out what he is playing. This is the way all lead guitarists learn by copying what they hear. Don’t be afraid to experiment, the more you try different musical ideas the sooner you will remember which notes work and which don’t.

Everyone feels awkward when they first try to make up their own ideas. Try with just 3 notes at first, then add 3 more notes. Make up a tune in your head and play the notes using the pattern. You will soon get the idea. Don’t panic, no one expects it to sound amazing the first couple of times, just noodle around and enjoy yourself.

3. Play a Mix of Chords and Joining Notes

There is one other way that you hear guitarists playing lead. They will play the opening chord, then some notes, then the next chord in the song, and some more notes. Because the notes in-between are from the same key and are probably in the melody line it can sound very melodic. It does take some practice to get your fingers to play just the notes you want but it’s easier than you think.

In this guitar lesson, you will be only using a small number of notes in two box shapes. Take a look at this fret chart to see the notes that will be used to play a tune. The black dots are C notes but all these notes can be played using chords from the A  minor scale, starting on the 3rd string on the 5th Fret. Take the time to find these notes whilst watching the video.

Am Pentatonic scale in two boxes

Try playing along with Active Melody in this LESSON ON PLAYING CHORDS AND NOTES.

How to Learn Lead Guitar for Beginners

All budding guitarists want to learn because they heard a song that they really liked or saw a guitarist playing. Many people just want to learn chords to sing along to and some people want to play the melody (lead) in a band. You can learn all of this and more by first deciding where to start.

Are you just wanting to learn chords?

Do you want to be a lead guitarist?

Do you want to play chords and melodies like James Taylor?

Once you can answer these questions you will know where to start. It’s an exciting journey that I’m still taking after 40 years and gives me so much joy.

One tip I would suggest to you is to find the YouTube on songs that you want to learn, Google the chords and lyrics, and play along with the video. You will learn so much about playing in time by doing this. It’s just like playing with a band.

Check out the listings for MUST-KNOW LEAD RIFFS that are famous too. You are allowed to steal and copy to your heart’s content.

Also, there are many backing tracks in different keys available to practice online.


There are so many types of music that you can learn to play on guitar. From Pop to Rock and Classical, the Blues and Folk music. It all has a place and you can start anywhere that you choose. Check out this FREE LIVE LESSONS article.

Please contact me if you have any questions or need some encouragement with learning guitar. It’s more fun with friends and sometimes you just need a nudge to keep trying.

Warm Regards,

Lily Munday

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