Ideas and tips for learning how to play lead guitar

Routes to a good solo

In my experience there are a few different ways to hone your skills when learning how to play lead guitar. The first question to ask yourself is who do you want to sound like ? You will always sound like yourself in the end but at first we want to copy the greats. Their timing, feel and tone are what you’re after. They are our heros and inspiration :p

So who you listen to and who you want to emulate is the first thing to consider.  But how can you get this ?

Listening & Transcribing

In my experience the answer was listen to them. A LOT. Then after a while you just start to pick up the essence of their playing. However, its not enough just to listen and admire, you have to get copying, transcribing or doing a ‘lift’ as they say in jazz. I used to feel like I had to reinvent the wheel for every solo until I started taking ideas from other players and making them my own. This is ok! If you have several players you like, you can learn solos from each player which will all become part of YOUR vocabulary as you improve.

Favourite 10 Solos

A goal I had last year was to learn my top 10 guitar solos off by heart. I knew I loved these solos and wanted to be able to play them along with the recordings from some of my fav players : Robben Ford, Kenny Burrell, Bill Evans, Django Reinhardt.

These are my 10 most favourite gypsy jazz, bebop and blues solos so I made a list and started learning them by ear..

When I was at college some players would write out the sols they learned, which you might say is the true meaning of transcribing, but I just wanted to get the solo under my fingers because at the end of the day, memorizing these solos so I could play them start to finish anytime, anyplace, anywhere, is what mattered to me.

Technique isn’t everything

Electric guitar has come a long way since the 50s and these days there are lots of players out there with great technique. Some players tap, some sweep, some use economy picking and others go for smoooth legato lines  .. By all means you should work towards creating good tecnhique/s on your intrument but I’ve found some of my fav players use nothing more than alternate picking … and they sound incredible. Why ? Phrasing.


The way you phrase your solo is so important if you want to keep your listeners attention. I’d go so far as to say it trumps any flashy technique out there.. We soloists should be working towards creating call and response solo lines that deliver a story in PIECES rather than throwing all your licks in straight away. I recently watched an interview with one of my influences (Allen Hinds) where he advised solo players to not play anything more than chord tones and simple motifs for the first several bars of any solo. Good advice. All my favourite solos have simple phrasing based on chord tones at their core.

In Conclusion

I hope this article was useful to you as I know sometimes we all feel overwhelmed with where to start given all the information available these days on lead guitar books, videos and a sea of guitar techniques.

So I encourage you to start learning solos by ear. I’ve found I now enjoy slowing down the track and piecing together the puzzle because that’s where I find all the best bits!

Best of luck !



20 thoughts on “Ideas and tips for learning how to play lead guitar”

  1. Paul,

    Thanks for the tips. I can tell you’re passionate–not only about playing guitar, but also about helping others learn. Your tips are filled with great ideas for us novices. What better way to practice, than to listen to our favorite artists? Great tip.

    Listening to chord tones, and only playing those, while figuring our what works for our style (and level) is a great tip as well.

    Thanks again.

  2. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience with technique and phrasing. I`m not a jazz guitarist – I`m a classical cellist. I`ve collaborated with a jazz guitarist and jazz bassist for my graduation recital which was my idea. However I had no idea what I was doing seeing that I was classically trained. Both of them told me exactly what you just told me – it was about the feel and the phrasing. Of course, it took a few jams for me to get the hang of it but in the end I was able to give an outstanding performance with them as my encore. Again, thanks for sharing!

  3. I would love to learn to play but so far have not even picked one up. There’s a lot great advice here, if I ever do though.
    I don’t really understand a lot of your terms although I’m sure anyone that does play a little would, do you have a page that is for beginners?

  4. These are some great tips for someone who just started learning guitar and my cousin just started learning and I will pass this along.

    • Hi Paula :}

      You can follow the links on my acoustic and electric guitar posts to lots of great guitars I can approve!


  5. You obviously have a lot of authority on your guitar playing techniques. I am especially amazed that Phrasing technique actually tells a story in solo. You have given a nice break down of basic tips which my husband has found useful. He is a guitar player himself, and has been learning on an electric guitar to create better solos. I read him your suggestions -because he watches a lot of YouTube ‘how to’ videos but thinks your written breakdown is much easier to follow. So he has bookmarked your site as a favorite. Thank you.

    • Thanks a lot for all the great feedback Ilaisaane. Still learning as I go here. I’ll be posting lessons from beginner to advanced in the next few months :} There should definitely be something in there for your husband. What kind of music does he like ?


  6. Hello Paul, thank you for sharing ideas and tips for learning how to play lead guitar. My son learned to play guitar, but unfortunately, he stopped because he didn’t have a teacher like you. I will show him your article sure he learns useful things. Or maybe I will start it as I love guitar.
    Thank you again and I wish you success in your work

    • THanks for stopping by Tina and for the kind words. I’ll be posting lessons from beginner to advanced in the next few months :}

  7. WOW…playing guitar seems pretty hard but, learning to play it by ear had to be a tough challenge.

    It is amazing to me, that you have learned to play the guitar by ear. Every time, I see a guitar in the store, I always look at it and wish I could play it; that, the drums, and the piano. You are very talented I must admit.

    Also, great advice about listening to the lead players that you look up to. I found these tips to be really helpful, and I am sure that it will help someone out, while they are learning to be a lead guitar player.

    By the way, I can tell that you have a true passion for playing the guitar. You learned by ear, and you know how to phrase your solo to keep the listener’s attention. Plus, you are helping others become lead Guitarist themselves. That is really amazing, keep up the awesome work.

    I’ve learned a lot of great tips and ideas from this article “Ideas and tips for learning how to play lead guitar”. Every time, I read your articles, it makes me want to go out and get a guitar.

    I hope you have an awesome day! 😀

    • Hey! :} Thanks so much for the reply. Glad you liked it and sorry for the late reply, just missed it somehow. Yes, there’s always something to be working on. . At the minute I’m working on arrangements for my duet that I play in with my wife. Check us out if you like at



  8. I like what you said about playing solos start to finish – it’s sometimes difficult to be patient with yourself long enough to get it all the way to the end. But so worth is and so rewarding when you can play it beginning to end.


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