Rock chords

Rock guitarRock music on the guitar with instructions about chords and riffs that are typical ingredients in rock songs.

Power chords and double-stops

Rock guitar can be far from rocket science. It's about rhythmic feel, attitude and some musical knowledge. You can go far with the three power chords presented in diagrams below combined with some speeded hammer-ons and palm muting – just A5 with the right bite and distortion on the amp will take you pretty far into the land of primordial ooze.

There are, of course, many different styles of rock music. The first part is from a more punkish and primitive perspective, with AC/DC as one of the inspirations. Plug in to an amp, turn up the gain knob and try this:

A5

  • A5 chord diagram X022XX

E5

  • E5 chord diagram 022XXX

D5

  • D5 chord diagram XX023X

When you need some variation:

A5/E

  • A5/E chord diagram

E5/B

  • E5/B chord diagram

D5/A

  • D5/A chord diagram

Other chords to put in the game:

G5: 3X0033 / 3X0003
D5/F#: 20023X
D5/A: X0023X
D5/E: XX223X

One famous song to try with these chords is "Highway To Hell", which use the following progression for its main riff:

A5 – D5/F# (2X023X) – G5 (3X003X) – D5/F# – G5 – D5/F# – G5 – D5/F# – A5

A more complex way of using power chords together with relative chords in a progression:

C#m/E (046XXX) – Esus2 (024XXX) – A5

Distorted rock beyond power chords

To mix it up and create a diversity of tone colors, to make it a little more "sophisticated" in other words, we can add chords that either can be combined with power chords or work alone.

C/E

  • C/E chord diagram

Em

  • Em chord diagram

F/A

  • F/A chord diagram

Am

  • Am chord diagram

Progressions including some of these chords:

C/E – Em – C/E – Em

Am (X025XX) – F5/C (X335XX) – G5/D (X557XX)


The second "package" of beyond-power-chords ideas (with a reminiscent of Foo Fighters):

Dsus4/G

  • Dsus4/G chord diagram

Esus4/A

  • Esus4/A chord diagram

F#sus4/B

  • E5/B chord diagram

Relevant progressions:

E5 (022XX) – C/E – Dsus4/G

Another concept:

E5 (X79XXX) – Esus4/A (579XXX) – D5 (X57XX) – Dsus4/G (357XXX)

Yet another concept with double stops and three-strings sus chords:

D5/A (XX77XX) – Dsus4/A (XX778X)

You may want to check up the alternate Drop D tuning in which these chords can be practiced with less stretch for the hand.

Open chords

To get a rock sound, we don’t need more than a few chords. Some open chords, including A, D and E are well suitable for rock songs that goes for a heavier sound.

By using common open chords, you can play songs like “Wild Thing” by The Troggs:

A – D – E – D – A – D – E

... or the verses to Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World":

Em – D – C

Customizing the chords for rock style

Some of the open chord, however, work less well in rock styles. The trick is to avoid chords with many open strings, skip the highest notes or use alternative shapes. For example, instead of the regular G major with three open strings, these are two options:

G chord diagram   G chord diagram no third

The first diagram has one less open string than the other common version (320003). And in the second version, the third (B) is removed altogether, which makes it to a power chord version, G5.

 

The regular C major can be replaced with Csus2, played like one of the versions below:

   Cadd9 chord diagram no thirdCadd9 chord diagram no third

These shapes aren't optimal in the key of C, but works well when the key is G or A, for example. One of these can be matched against chords such as G (3X003X), D5 (X0023X), A (X0222X).

Suspended chords (sus chords)

Suspended chords are common in many music styles including rock songs. These chords are almost identical with the major chords, but a slight difference – in general you just move one finger to change the chord, for example D Major to Dsus4.

There are Suspended 4th (sus4) and Suspended 2nd (sus2), the names depending on which note in the scale that are in the chord – the second or the fourth. On the pictures below, you can see some common sus chords suitable for rock music.

dsus2

Dsus2

 

dsus4
Dsus4


asus2

Asus2

 

asus4
Asus4

 

Suspended chords are often used together with their relative major chords. Two famous songs written by Tom Petty can be used as examples:

The first song, "Free Fallin'", uses the following chord sequence in most of the song:

D - Dsus4 - D - Asus4

The second song, "Feel a Whole Lot Better", has a distinct riff in the verses:

A - Asus2 - A - Asus4 - A - Asus2 - A

Barre chords progression

A fatter sound can be accomplished by the use of barre chords. An elemental rock progression can go like:

Eb – Bb – Ab

Here we use the barre chords positions: X68886 (Eb), 688766 (Bb), 466544 (Ab). Often when barre chords are used in a rock context the highest or the two highest strings are not played.

By doing some of the strums with muted strings, you can create more rhythm interest to the sound.

Rock progression

Various progression in the rock genre:

C - Bb - F - G

B - G - D - A

G - Bb - F

A progression such as C - Bb - F is also suitable as a shuffle. All progressions can of course be transposed to other keys as well and could be played as power chords. In rock, some chords that normally aren't combined become new options whereas other options become less common; the table below summarize this for various keys.

Key chart for rock guitar

Key I iiib IV V viib
B B D E F# A
E E G A B D
A A C D E G
D D F G A C
G G Bb C D F
C C Eb F G Bb
F F Ab Bb C Eb

More rock progressions could be found in the 500 Guitar Chord Progressions ebook.

Strumming techniques and effects

Important as well is how you play the chords and how the guitar is configured.

Two ways to make your strumming sound right for rock is to play mostly downstrokes and with partial palm muting. The downstrokes enable you to play more aggressive and the palm mutings could make it sound cool. One of the fundamental strum patterns is the straight-eights involving eight down strums with the third and seventh strokes accented.

To get the right character in the sound, you will probably need some distortion. You can do this by turning the tone knob on your guitar, or, which will really make a difference, use a distortion effect.

Four popular models seen on images below:
Boss ST-2 Power Stack (1)
EarthQuaker Acapulco Gold Dist (2)
MXR M104 Distortion Plus (3)
Ibanez SMMINI Distortion Super Metal Mini (4)

dist pedals

Jam tracks

The jam tracks are for rock guitar and involves only drums.

Jam track 1
Jam track 2
Jam track 3



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