Metal Mike: Break Your Rhythm and Build Confidence in Taking the Lead

While doing my metal guitar workshops, one of the topics I hear a lot about is the art of tackling the ability to play lead guitar.

I often hear guitarists tell me they want to know how they can begin to play more lead in their band. They are interested in sharpening their skills, but they seem afraid and unsure of just how to dive in. Often they feel there is an invisible wall stopping them. They just don’t know.

I've been thinking about it for a bit and realized there is a gray factor that surrounds this. This gray factor has mostly nothing to do with the technical side of learning how to play (scales, techniques, etc.). It is more of a mental battle in honestly becoming open to learning something new.

Therefore, I want to touch up on some topics from a different perspective. Hopefully you can pick up some ideas for yourself.

It’s One Big Puzzle

First, I have never looked at guitar playing as falling into two separate categories consisting of lead and rhythm. I just thought of it all as guitar playing. I don’t know why these two have become so segregated. Many people think playing lead is harder than playing rhythm, but believe it or not, there are countless guitarists who feel the opposite way. They both take a lot of hard work to master.

Interest and Talent

Know that if you are interested in becoming a better lead player, the “interest” is often your “talent” telling you to give it a shot. What happens is that life gives us these little nudges of interest on different topics that we can ignore or check into. In my view, whatever interests you is very often something you can become good at.

You do not wake up as a child, your talents presented to you on a silver platter from A to Z for you to simply pick and go with. It takes a lot of trial and error. But it is obvious if you have a talent for something. Our initial interests lead to discovery of it. Know that if you are interested in playing lead guitar, you might very well have the initial talent for it.

If you doubt it, I still have good news. With practice, we can become better at almost anything. Just because you will not become a professional football player doesn't mean you cannot get good at throwing a football. I really believe that if you have no talent at all in something, you can still become better at it with practice.

Excuse Me While I Make An Excuse

The "Lead guitar isn't my thing" statement has been around as long as wind, fire and water. Let me ask you: Do you hate guitar leads? If you really hate them, then stop reading right here. Then again, ask yourself why you got this far in the first place.

If not, here is the truth: There is no reason you cannot get better if it is what you really want. If you have enough interest and can set time aside and determine yourself to learn, you will learn.

Fear Is a Four-Letter Word

Fear is a four-letter word. Let’s be frank. Most of the time, fear is a sneaky, destructive snake that slivers into everyone’s psyche. And if I had to pinpoint one thing that stops anyone from starting to learn to be better at anything, not only lead guitar -- it's fear. We are afraid of sucking at a task. We are also afraid that it will take a lot more time and effort to learn something. We fear leaving our comfort zone. So, we say the heck with it!

But guess what? It happens to everyone. Remember that it is you who will have to realize that unless the fear is a protective instinct used to a good cause (As in walking too close to hand feed a wild bear), it is simply just a reaction that negatively affects us. It is just a four-letter word. Realize for what it is and squash it in its beginnings while it is at its weakest.

Like the posters in offices across the world say, "Remember that everything is hard before it becomes easy."

I sometimes meet people who have never left the state they live in. Just imagine how much they are missing. Do not get stuck where you are. Not only you are better than that, you deserve it. Guitar playing becomes damn boring unless you learn something new.

Are you with me?

The next question is more technical, involving what you can do to pick up some lead techniques. Here are simple general tips for you to do some homework on.

Yours For The Taking

Everything you need is in front of you. It really is. With the wealth of information available to you via the Internet, friends, DVDs, home study courses, schools, private instructors or Guitar World, you have more tips available to you then ever before. In fact, you have no excuse.

Record Yourself

Learn how to record a simple rhythm track and solo over it. It does not matter how bad it sounds. You will hear what sounds bad -- and then you'll improve it. Be honest and you'll get better. Listening to your playing recorded is like looking in the mirror -- you know what you like and what you do not like. Save the good, fix the bad. Recording is the best and often quickest way of improving on the guitar.

Master Small Tasks First

Set smaller, realistic goals at first. These can be as simple as learning how to alternative pick through a scale. Learn that and become good at it. Keep it simple. Learn it. Then move forward.

Confidence Leads to Conquering Bigger Goals

Once you conquer smaller goals and build confidence, set more challenging ones. These can include writing and recording a lead or getting together with a friend and trading simple licks.

Back To The Future

In closing, I also want you to think what you did that provided success in you learning how to play rhythm guitar. Just think for a few minutes and write it down. Did you play for two hours a day? Did you come up with your own riffs? Were you trying to become faster than your buddy? These same movements and techniques are the map for you to learn other techniques. You already know the answers that work for you.


Above all, I just want you to know that you should see a big green light that says "Go” in front of you if you are thinking of learning new guitar techniques -- lead or whatever else. Do it! And just as important, keep those horns swinging high!

Polish-born Metal Mike Chlasciak has recorded or performed with heavy metal greats Rob Halford, Sebastian Bach, Bruce Dickinson and Axl Rose. Mike is the long-time guitarist for Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford's solo endeavor, Halford. Mike's new album, The Metalworker, is due in spring. For more info, check out his official website and visit him on Twitter.

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