There is no group of chords that actually are called punk chords. Nonetheless, there are chords as well as chord progressions that are typical in punk songs.
The most used chord type in punk rock is probably the power chord. You can find it in songs by Ramones, Nirvana and Green Day for sure. The power chord is movable so all you need is one shape, and here it is:
Fingerings for a power chord
The numbers indicate index finger (1), ring finger (3) and little finger (4). Find out more about power chords.
Ramones – simple and fast
The Ramones song “Blitzkrieg Bop” use three power chords (B5 – E5 – F#5) and this characteristic riff is easy to repeat:
A common progression in this music style is three chords with a specific relation. The chords in “Blitzkrieg Bop” can also be written in scales degrees: I - IV - V. The Roman numerals are the same regardless of the key you playing in.
Green Day – adding some minor
The next example is almost similar in regards of scale degrees to the previous, but the order is changed a little and one chord is added, the vi. The riff in the tab below is taken from the Green Day song “When I Come Around”.
The chords here are G5 - D5 - Em - C5. The Em chord should be played as a barre chord, but without the highest string in it.
The Clash – a famous riff with open chords
We have mentioned power chords a lot but open chords are not banned in punk music. In the song “Should I Go or Should I Stay” by The Clash, you come across a famous riff consisting of open chords (D and G). Use hammer-on in measure four.
Nirvana – complex progressions
Nirvana songs make big use of power chords, and also some longer progressions, as in "Lithium". If you have played the examples so far without big difficulties, this one will give you some more to handle.
G#5 - C#5 - A5 - C5 - D5 - B5 - D5 - E5
Story of My Life
Artist: Social Distortion
Album: Social Distortion (1990)
G - C - D (verse & chorus)
Comment: Open chords works fine.
Artist: Green Day
Album: Dookie (1994)
E5 - B5 - C#5 - G#5 - A - E5 - B5 (verse)
Comment: Power chords are best suited for the job.
Album: Leave Home (1977)
E - A (x4) E - C# - A - B - E (riff)
Comment: Power chords or barre combi open chords without highest strings with lots of gain and distortion are recommended.
This article is only an introduction in the punk rock style for guitarists, and there are of course lots of other things to explore in this musical genre. For more in-depth reading, see:
Punk: The Guitarist's Guide to Music of the Masters (#CommissionsEarned)
See all articles about guitar.