Rhythm or Lead: Which Type of Guitar Should You Play?

Rhythm or Lead: Which Type of Guitar Should You Play?

A Guide to Different Guitar Playing Styles

playing a G Chord

Playing rhythm guitar

In the world of modern music, guitar dominates most styles. The vast majority of guitarists play either lead or rhythm guitar, though some excel in both. They are both crucial parts of a band’s sound. So which type should you specialize in?

Today, we will go into detail about each method and the combination of the two and discuss your potential role in the band.

Rhythm Guitar – The Heart

Rhythm guitar keeps the structure and the pulse of the song moving along. Strumming along with the beat of the drums, making the critical chord progressions that hold up the songs, the rhythm player keeps the foundation of the tune together.

Many uninformed people believe that rhythm guitar isn’t as technically difficult as lead. While this may be true for beginning players strumming basic chords as they learn to play, ultimately that’s not always the case.

Consider how you started as a guitarist. (If you are brand new to the instrument, congratulations! This is typically the starting point.) It’s possible you may have begun by learning the individual notes made by the strings before you started learning to put them together to make chords. This is more typical with other instruments, however. With guitar, it’s usually the reverse, especially for self-taught guitarists. Most guitar books have the chords printed on the sheets, showing you the proper placement for your fingers without showing you what note each string represents. Once again, most guitarists learn the chords first.

Once a guitarist learns basic finger placement for major and minor chords, he or she will typically branch out by learning alternate fingerings for the chords. The guitarist may learn barre chords or power chords, and more advanced chords like 5ths, 7ths, diminished, etc. Each new chord and each new placement of the chord expands your musical vocabulary. With this knowledge, you may decide to stick to rhythm as you discover the importance of holding the song together and realize how complex rhythm playing can be. You may also decide to play lead at this point.

Lead Guitar – The Head

playing a guitar solo

Playing lead guitar

No doubt about it, the lead guitarist is usually the real rock star of the band, even if rock is not the music being played! The lead guitarist generally sets the overall sounds and tones of the band as a whole and drives the music with the melodies and fills he or she creates.

Because of the nature of this type of playing, it may take longer to truly master lead guitar than it does rhythm. It requires a more thorough understanding of the individual notes that make up each chord of a tune and learning how to create melodies within the song’s structure that move smoothly between chords in its progressions.

The One Man Band

If you are the sole guitarist in a band, or are simply looking to become a more versatile player, you may consider a style containing elements of both lead and rhythm guitar. This is more difficult and individualized than mastering just one style, so if you decide to go down this route, be extra-patient with yourself. The rewards may be bigger than you realize.


After reading this overview, you may decide which route you want to take. One last suggestion: if you are still not sure which way to go, try one for a while, then the other. In time you will figure it out.