How To Play Lead Guitar In Any Key

how to play lead guitar in any key

Understanding how to play lead guitar in any key can be very confusing for people who have not had the opportunity of someone showing them the theory behind it. The truth is that it’s not as hard as might might think, but when you don’t know anything about how to play lead guitar in key, it can seem very difficult to master.

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Solving The Mysteries Of How To Play Lead Guitar In Any Key

Today we are going to explore some of the elements of how to play lead guitar in any key, for any song, at any time, for any style of music you desire. The very first thing you need to understand is the basic major scale. This scale is also called the “Ionian Mode”. Anytime you hear someone talk about the the “Ionian Mode”, they are simply talking about the natural major scale.

To play lead guitar in any key with a firm understanding, you need to know that the major scale is what all other modes and scales are based off of. If you have a firm understanding of the major scale, then everything else you learn, (from this point forward) will be much clearer to you.

If you have any sort of training in the past, or any help from friends in the past, I want you to just let it all go for now and give yourself a new slate to work from mentally. Just allow yourself to start from scratch right now, as if you are a brand new guitar player with zero knowledge.

Understanding How To Play Lead Guitar In Any Key Begins With The Major Scale

The major scale is made up of 7 notes, and then the octave which is the 8th note. The 8th note is exactly the same as the 1st note only one octave apart from each other. Keep in mindwhen I talk about the notes as numbers, I’m talking about the number of notes in the scale, not 8th notes as in written music etc…

The formula (or intervals) for the major scale is: W-W-H-W-W-W-H (W= whole step) (H=half step)

Whole Step, Whole Step, Half Step, Whole Step, Whole Step, Whole Step, Half Step.

Play Lead Guitar In Any Key

Play Lead Guitar In Any Key

Anywhere you start on the neck, and follow this formula, you will be playing the major scale. The key you are playing in is simply determined by the first note that you start on. This holds true for any string or any starting point on the entire fretboard.

EXAMPLE: If you start your scale intervals on the 6th string 3rd fret, you would be in the key of “G”. Why, because the 6th string 3rd fret is the “G” note, so therefore the scale would be in the key of “G”

This would be an example of playing your major scale in a horizontal position. You should also know how to play the same major in a vertical position as well.

What’s the difference between horizontal positioning and vertical positioning…?

The simplified answer is that horizontal scaling tends to bring out more melodic phrasing within your lead guitar playing, where as vertical scaling tends to allow faster licks and phrasing to easily flow together. That’s not to say that you can’t can’t play lead guitar fast or melodic in both vertical and horizontal positions, it’s just a natural tendency to play melodic in a horizontal scale form, and fast-flowing licks within vertical scale form.

Any Advantage To Play Lead Guitar Horizontally and Vertically?

YES! The secret sauce is to recognize the difference between to the two styles and be able to play both ways in either forms of the scale positions. This takes a bit of time to master, but simply being made aware of this today, has put you miles ahead of the learning curve.

The next example is to play the same major scale in a vertical position. The formula and intervals are exactly the same, but this time you’ll only play 3 notes per string before move down to the next string.

EXAMPLE: (Key of “G”) If you start on the (6th string 3rd fret)… the first 3 notes would be 3rd fret, 5th fret, 7th fret… then jump down to the (5th string 3rd fret) the next 3 notes would be 3rd fret, 5th fret, 7th fret… then jump down to the (4th string) 4th fret, 5th fret, and finally the octave 7th fret.

If you counted all of those notes it would be a total of 8 notes, but only the first 7 notes make up the scale, and the 8th not is the octave. In this case the octave would be the 4th string 7th fret.

Again, the first note determines the key you are in. I suggest that you practice equal amounts of time on both horizontal and vertical positioning. This will give you a huge advantage on your lead guitar playing skills over many other guitarists. I also suggest that you practice in only one key to start with.

Since we used the key of “G”, just use this key to get as your starting point. You want to train your ear to hear the scale in the same key over and over, so it becomes very natural sounding. When you do this, it becomes much easier to practice in other keys because your ear will already be “tuned in” to the sound of the major scale.

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  1. bobmolton on February 1, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Please leave a comment if this post has helped you.
    Thanks, Bob

  2. dean on February 2, 2012 at 7:36 am

    Bob I have a hard time streching my fingers 3 5 7 frets can sliding be as effective? after all we are trying to get ear tone memmory???

  3. bobmolton on February 2, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Hi Dean – I don’t recommend sliding within this type of practice. The reason, is you want to work up to a point of being able to stretch your fingers that distance. I agree that it doesn’t feel comfortable at first, maybe your fingers can’t even do the full stretch yet, but they will in time. Just keep working on stretching them into these positions. Use index finger, middle finger, and pinky for the 3,5,7 frets, and in time it will get easier. Also try positioning the guitar in a way that allows more comfort for you. Hope that helps… Bob

  4. Allan Goethe on February 4, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Do as Rob says! I am 49 years old and started playing again after a 20 year break. I copied Rob with the Index, Middle and Pinky style. What a difference. You have to give it time and practice. Thanks Rob

  5. guitar chord lessons for beginners on September 4, 2012 at 10:42 am

    WOW just what I was looking for. Came here by
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