Ask Paul: The Basics of Rock Guitar in Five Songs
I began to seriously play guitar at the impressionable age of 11 (It would have been earlier if my parents hadn’t discouraged me) by receiving an acoustic and some lessons. Two years later, I had my first electric guitar and joined a band. I haven’t stopped consistently playing live since.
When I started, my intentions of playing guitar were pure; I was perfectly content to be in the background, in the shadows of stage right, as the foundational rhythm guitar player. The Brad Whitford, The Malcolm Young — they were all I strived to be.
But as anyone will tell you after playing in many bands, things change, and you either evolve or be eaten alive. So after the lead guitar player in my first band departed, I was told, “Hey man, you’re the lead guitar player now.”
I was terrified. This was not my chosen path, up front and sharing all the glory with the lead singer. No thanks. But you know what? I rose to the challenge.
So with that, I learned to swim rather than sink, and these are five of the many songs I was playing at the time that I believe carved out the lead player I am today. Even though these songs will teach all you’ll need to know about rock playing, with barre chords, chugging, single-note riffing, double-stops and arpeggios, they also contain all the rudimentary moves that bridge the gap from being just another rock guitar player to being a lead guitar player — and I’ll tell you why:
01." Iron Man" – Black Sabbath
Many of you will say, “Bro! What about "Smoke On The Water"?” To which I will respond, “Sure, the riff is easy, but try playing the solo if you’ve never soloed before,” which is why “Iron Man” is a better starting point. The riff is essentially the same plodding riff as "SOTW," but it has so much more going on.
Outside of the main riff, guitarist Tony Iommi does a break in the middle that was easy to learn and got my fingers used to moving quickly.
The box pattern of the break also revealed how I could connect those notes all along the neck and helped me see how Iommi constructed the solo using that little break as a launch pad for his very measured solo, which is perfect for the overall feel of the song.