Anyone who is new to guitar playing may wonder what the difference is between a lead and a rhythm guitarist. \n\n\n\nWhile both guitar players can interchangeably switch positions between lead and rhythm, the two styles serve entirely different purposes. \n\n\n\nA lead guitar player typically plays the melodies in a song, guitar solos, fills, and other musical passages that fill out or stylize the track, in comparison to the rhythm guitarist, whose playing often serves more as the foundation of the song rhythmically and structurally. \n\n\n\nA great way of illustrating the primary difference between the two lies in who plays the chords and who plays the melodies over top of the chords.\n\n\n\nExplained in another way, the lead guitarist often plays melodies in the musical context set by the rhythm guitarist. \n\n\n\nDuring the formation stage of the creation of a band, it's commonly assumed that the guitar player who is better at playing melodies, whether fast or slow, will be the one who plays lead. \n\n\n\nWhereas the rhythm guitarist will be the player who is more comfortable playing the chords, lines, and musical passages that set up the foundation of the track. \n\n\n\nWhat Do Lead Guitar Players Do? \n\n\n\nTypically, lead guitar players can be distinguished by rhythm guitarists simply by looking at what types of musical passages they use in their parts. \n\n\n\nFirst and foremost, are the guitar solos. \n\n\n\n1) Guitar Solos \n\n\n\nWhile rhythm guitarists also play guitar solos, such as Dave Mustaine in Megadeth, for instance, usually this duty is left up to the lead guitarist. \n\n\n\nChances are, if the guitarist is the one playing all the solos, that makes them the lead player, but not always. \n\n\n\nFor instance, while Dave Mustaine might play guitar solos as well, in Megadeth's discography, there's no question that Marty Friedman was the lead player during his time in the band. His solos were amazing, by the way, especially on Countdown to Extinction. \n\n\n\nAs another example, you can compare Mike McCready to Stone Gossard in the band, Pearl Jam. \n\n\n\nMike is the lead player, and Stone Gossard is the rhythm guitarist. \n\n\n\nOr in the case of Guns and Roses, Slash was the lead player and Izzy Stradlin was the rhythm guitarist. \n\n\n\nAnother great example of the differences between lead guitarists and rhythm guitarists in the band, Metallica, with Kirk Hammett acting as the lead player and James Hetfield acting as the rhythm guitarist. \n\n\n\nKirk Hammett almost always played the solos in the band, with the exception of a few songs. \n\n\n\nThe clearest example of this was on their first record, Kill'Em'All, which clearly was Kirk's time to shine in terms of guitar solos. \n\n\n\nThat album has so many awesome bluesy guitar solos that were handled almost entirely by Kirk. \n\n\n\nYou can easily distinguish between the lead and rhythm guitarist based on which guitarist is playing the guitar solos and which guitarist is playing more single-note musical passages versus a guitar riff which utilizes a lot more chords and power chords. \n\n\n\nThis brings me to my next point. \n\n\n\n2) Single-Note Passages \n\n\n\nAs I just mentioned, lead guitarists typically have a lot more single-note passages than rhythm guitarists. You can see this example in the song, "Welcome To The Jungle," from Guns and Roses, particularly in the first few bars of the song. \n\n\n\nFor instance, in that classic 1987 song, Slash starts out with the descending pentatonic riff which uses a lot of reverb and delay, and Izzy Stradlin plays the chords underneath it which act as the musical context in which Slash is playing. \n\n\n\nYou can see this example again during the main riff of the song, where the two guitar players are playing essentially the same riff, although, the difference between the two is readily apparent at the end of the passage. \n\n\n\nYou can what this looks like in the guitar tablature below: \n\n\n\nSlash's part: \n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nAs you can see, there is a passage that Slash plays in which he descends down the Blues scale. This is an example of more stylized single-note passages that characterize the lead guitar player's role in the band. \n\n\n\nNow compare and contrast that to Izzy Stradlin's part: \n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nThe two riffs are fundamentally the same, however, Izzy's part is far less complicated and there aren't as many single-note passages. He just plays an "A" note on the high E-string as a way of adding a bit more musical context.\n\n\n\nI'd say the clearest example of a lead guitar part is in the song, "Sweet Child O' Mine" from Guns and Roses. \n\n\n\nIt features arguably one of the greatest lead guitar parts in the history of rock music, and it's instantly recognizable as Sweet Child' O Mine. \n\n\n\nSlash handles that part, and then Izzy Stradlin provides the musical context in which Slash plays the now-iconic riff. \n\n\n\n3) Arpeggios \n\n\n\nAnother great way to distinguish between a lead guitar player and a rhythm guitar player is the use of arpeggios. \n\n\n\nAn arpeggio is an Italian term that comes from, "arpeggiare," and it means to play on the harp. \n\n\n\nThe harp was typically used to play the leads in a song back in the day, so we still use the term today although the meaning of the term has shifted a little bit. \n\n\n\nAn arpeggio, in modern times, means we're playing the notes of the chord often quickly in single-note fashion rather than as one chord. \n\n\n\nFor instance, you can play the C Major Chord harmonically, which means we're playing all of the notes at once. \n\n\n\nHowever, if we arpeggiate the C Major chord, you play all of the notes in succession one after another rather than at once. \n\n\n\nHere's what a C Major Arpeggios looks like on the guitar:\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nCompare and contrast the C Major Arpeggio to the C Major Chord, which looks more like this: \n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nYou can see arpeggios and chords in the context of the differences between rhythm and lead playing all over music, but especially in metal and rock. \n\n\n\nFor instance, the first example that comes to mind is the band, Protest The Hero. \n\n\n\nLuke Hoskin is the lead guitarist and Tim Millar is the rhythm guitarist. \n\n\n\nIn this particular case, Luke Hoskin typically plays more of the tapped arpeggios and stylized single-note passages in comparison to Tim, who will usually use more Jazzy chords and power chords. \n\n\n\nProtest The Hero is a great example of the differences between lead and rhythm guitar playing because Luke is almost always the one to play all of the tapped sections and arpeggios. \n\n\n\n4) Use Of Effects\n\n\n\n\n\n\n\nA rhythm guitarist can definitely use effects in the same way that a lead guitar player can. For instance, there are countless songs where a chorus, flanger, or phaser is used on the rhythm section of the song. \n\n\n\nWhile a rhythm guitarist uses effects as well, so does a lead player. I would argue that it's more common for lead players to use way more effects, particularly on guitar solos. \n\n\n\nOn "Sweet Child'O'Mine" for instance, Slash used a lot of wah-wah on his guitar solo in that song. Some people describe it as one of the best solos of all time. \n\n\n\nUsing the example of Kirk Hammett again, there's no question that he was the one to use the most wah-wah. I imagine you could find a song or two where James Hetfield also used wah-wah, but it was mostly Kirk. \n\n\n\nExceptions And Important Things To Note \n\n\n\nUnclear Division Between Rhythm and Lead Guitar Playing \n\n\n\nTruthfully, there can be an unclear division between lead and rhythm guitarists. \n\n\n\nUsing the example I touched on above, Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman from Megadeth are an illustration of this phenomenon. \n\n\n\nMustaine often played guitar solos in Megadeth the same way that Marty Friedman did, but it was more common for Marty to take on this role. \n\n\n\nThis is because Dave Mustaine already played as a lead guitarist in another band, Metallica, before he moved on to his own band. \n\n\n\nThe two guitar players can often trade roles, with each one switching to Rhythm and Lead, depending on how they're feeling at the time. \n\n\n\nThe lead guitar player can play a solo while the rhythm guitarist provides the musical context. \n\n\n\nAnd then they can switch, with the rhythm guitarist then playing the lead role while the formerly leading guitarist plays the rhythm section which provides musical context to the song. \n\n\n\nLead And Rhythm At Once \n\n\n\nIn other cases, there can actually be a guitar player in a band who performs both the rhythm and lead section in a band. \n\n\n\nOne of the greatest examples of this is the guitar player, The Edge, in the band, U2. \n\n\n\nIn that band, The Edge is not only the lead guitarist who establishes the melody of the song, but he plays the rhythm section as well. \n\n\n\nThe Edge is often renowned for his use of effects, which he uses on almost every song. \n\n\n\nAnother similar player is Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine, who used a lot of effects as well and also played the rhythm and lead in the band. \n\n\n\nYouTube Video Tutorial\u00a0\n\n\n\n\nhttps:\/\/youtu.be\/e-atMRJYGDc\n\n\n\n\nConclusion \n\n\n\nKeep in mind that rhythm guitarists can do all of the same things as a lead player. A rhythm guitarist can play guitar solos, use effects, play single-note passages, and arpeggios as well. \n\n\n\nWhat separates the two styles is the fundamental purpose. \n\n\n\nAll-in-all, the fundamental purpose of the lead guitar player is to establish the melody of a piece of music or stylize a pre-existing melody, to fill it out more, or to make it more interesting. \n\n\n\nFor the most part, the rhythm guitarist, bassist, and other instrumentalists in the band provide the structure, the backbone, or the musical context in which the lead guitarist plays.