Lead guitar vs rhythm guitar

The guitar is one of the globe’s favourite instruments. In fact, a staggering 10 percent of the world’s 7-billion-plus population has picked up and played the guitar at one point or another.

The role of the guitar in classical and popular music is varied and diverse, making it one of the most exciting instruments to learn. In this article, we’ll look at two of the primary functions of the guitar in musical composition: lead and rhythm.

Let’s get right into it.

What is the role of lead guitar?

The lead guitar plays an essential role in all genres of music. In short, the lead guitar carries the core melody – or counter-melody – of the composition. The melody usually consists of individual notes, but can also incorporate chords and power chords.

Here are the different parts the lead guitarist may play:

  • The melody. The lead guitarist may play the melody of the composition – this is particularly common in instrumental pieces. If the song features a singer, the lead guitar may mirror the melody during the intro and outro.
  • The counter-melody. A counter-melody is a simplified version of the core melody. If a singer is expressing the core melody, the lead guitar may play a counter-melody.
  • Solos are performed throughout a song, and are – temporarily – the centre of attention. Solos may be improvised, or composed beforehand.
  • Fills are like shorter solos, and are scattered throughout a composition.

What is the role of rhythm guitar?

Rhythm guitar is an over-arching term used to describe the many types of guitar accompaniments. Usually, the rhythm guitar expresses a simplified version of the melody using chords, while incorporating a rhythmic element sculpted by the strumming pattern.

Here are the different parts the rhythm guitarist may play.

  • The comping part. The comping part refers to a pattern of chords. These chords may be played at once, or as an arpeggio. All strings may be muted to create a purely rhythmic effect.
  • The pad. A pad is created when a chord or note is played and sustained.
  • A riff. A riff is a repeated musical idea, known as a lick. Riffs are usually short, and incredibly catchy. Think ‘Smoke on the Water’ or ‘Seven Nation Army’.

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