Can an Epic 80's Riff Make You a Better Lead Guitar Player? You Betcha!!!!

The 80's were an incredible time to be a developing guitar player.

Players like Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoades exploded on the scene and their influence was staggering.

All the sudden the airwaves were blasting amazing guitar music and every hair band had a hotshot lead player trying to leave their mark on the guitar world.

And while there was groundbreaking lead guitar happening everywhere, one of the hallmarks of the best 80's hair metal was the intricate and melodic RHYTHM guitar playing. 

By studying the concepts from one of the BEST 80's rhythm riffs, I'm going to show you how to use these ideas to be a better LEAD guitar player too!

Find this website helpful? Click the button to show your support.

Play Video

This riff is from the song “Tell Me” by the band White Lion with the great Vito Bratta on lead guitar.

Vito had a guitar style that somehow managed to be both super flashy and incredibly tasteful – its REALLY hard to straddle those 2 worlds!

Let's examine 2 of the techniques and concepts he played in this riff, and how you can use them in your LEAD guitar playing.


In the intro of the song between a C and G power chord, Vito sneaks in a little tapping run.

But it wasn't like many of the other tapping licks of the day which usually contained groupings of 3 notes.

This lick outlined a really cool scale called the dominant pentatonic scale...not only that, but he played BOTH the C dominant pentatonic AND the G dominant pentatonic scales.

Here's what those scales look like:

C Dominant Pentatonic
G Dominant Pentatonic

This is a great sounding scale that you can use over major and dominant 7 chords; it's just one note different from the normal minor pentatonic scale (we raise the 3rd degree of the scale a half step).

But – that small difference gives us a sound that's slightly exotic and a little Middle Eastern sounding... this scale was a favorite of the great Jeff Beck among others!

It's definitely one you should get familiar with and use to build some cool licks!


The other technique Vito employs that you should work into your lead playing is the use of 3rd intervals – playing 2 notes at the same time that are a 3rd apart. Take a look at the G major scale on one string....

G major scale

If you start on the G note and count over to the B note, B is the 3rd note. We can say B is the 3rd of G... We can do the same with the A and C notes, B and D notes, etc. Now take a look at the notes and their “3rds” laid out on 2 strings....

G major scale and 3rds

Seeing the 3rds like this on 2 adjacent strings lets us visualize how we could play the 3rds at the same time.... as little 2 note groupings (G and B, A and C, etc). In the riff Vito plays them as these 2 note groupings and moves through the scale.

We could also play the thirds as single notes (G THEN B, A THEN C, etc) and make up little lead guitar melodies that sound really cool!!!  I highly recommend you learn your 3rds across all the strings – it will make you a MUCH better guitar player!!!

Scroll to Top