Punk. Loved by many, hated by many. If you are one of the latter types, read with an open mind, you might learn something.
Punk and pop-punk get stereotyped as nothing but power chords played in a straight eighth note rhythm. While much of it is, there is much more to the music than that. But, since that is one of the basic tools of punk, we will start there.
1. Power chords.
Power chord is a misnomer, they are not technically chords (For my sake lets just not argue over this point for now). A power chord is composed of a note and its fifth. You can also include the octave or octave of the fifth, or even both if you so desire. Power chords are neither major nor minor, for those of you who care about that sort of thing.
._ _ _ _ _. ._ _ _ _ _.
This is the basic 2 finger way with 6th and 5th string roots.
._ _ _ _ _. ._ _ _ _ _.
This is the basic 3 finger way with 6th and 5th string roots.
._ _ _ _ _. ._ _ _ _ _.
This is the 2finger barre way with 6th and 5th string roots, but you can also barre with your pinky.
The lowest note on each of those is the root, and the next lowest is the fifth. On the 3 string versions the third note is the octave. Ok, so now you can play power chords right? Well, it is time to move on to the next aspect of punk: eighth note rhythms. So you are in four four time, and you want to play punk. Go with eighth notes. In standard notation they look like this:
. _... _... _... _
| | | | | | | |
/ / / / / / / /
Notice that there are eight notes in the four beats, hence a straight eighth note rhythm. Play this using all down strokes for the punk feel. With these too tools, you can play a bunch of songs right now! One problem though, you are going to fall into the stereotype if this is all you do. So we must build up your skills.
2. Barre chords.
These are much like power chords, but they use more strings. They also make use of the third or minor third to give the chord more tonality and depth. Major chords are composed of the root, third and fifth; minor chords are the root, flat third, and fifth. The flat third in the minor chord is also called a minor third.
Here are the basic major and minor barre shapes for 6th then 5th string roots:
. _ _ _ _ _... x_ _ _ _ _
. _ _ _ _ _... x_ _ _ _ _
There are other barre chords that you can use, but these are the basics. Now for a classic punk riff that uses barre chords! Its time to play!
I Wanna Be Sedated: verse riff
All single notes are palm muted.
Anyone want to argue now that all punks only use power chords? But its still barre chords you say. What’s your point? Want open chords now?
3. Open chords.
Ok, now some people think, "Punk? Open Chords? That never happens!" Guess what? Those people are wrong! I am not going to sit here an type out every open chord for you, that would be a waste of time. There are many resources you can use to find chords, so do it yourself (a punk motto none the less). Lets just say, learn your open chords, they come in useful. See "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" for an example of a punk song using open chords.
Now that you have chords down pat, its time to move up a little bit. We are going to learn some techniques that punk guitarists use commonly in their songs. The first I have already mentioned once: palm muting.
Palm muting gives that chunky sound that is common in a lot of punk songs. It almost sounds like they are playing the chord, but it doesn't quite ring out. This is done by resting the heel of your picking hand on the strings right next to the bridge. The sound of your strings should be muffled. It takes a bit of patience to get this down, as you need to learn how far down the strings you need to rest your hand. Different positions give different sounds. Practice palm muting while strumming power chords, as this is a common technique.
Fret hand muting is another common punk technique. This gives a similar effect to palm muting, and I have even given an example of this. Check bar 2 of "I Wanna Be Sedated," and notice those x’s at the end. Those are the symbol for fret hand muting. This is done by fretting a chord/note normally, then lifting your hand up so that it is still pushing on the strings, but not fretting them. When strummed this should make a 'chicka' sound. You don’t have to make a chord shape, just lay your hand/fingers on the strings without fretting them, but chord shapes make it easier most of the time.
Punk guitar also uses other common techniques such as slides, pull offs, hammer ons, and bends. I'm pretty sure you can find those in another lesson so I don’t think I am going to go in to those.
So now that you have your tools, you are ready to play. There are two things you can do here: play other people's songs or write you own songs. I would suggest starting by learning songs by other people. This way you get a feel for what other guitarists are doing with the genre. Learn how the songs are constructed and what guitarists do in certain parts of songs. Make sure you don't just learn the main intro riff to your favorite songs, learn the verses, chorus, and any other parts that they have.
So now you want to write your own songs. You have a good grip on chords, some techniques and know how punk songs are formed. So you are ready to go! Well, actually, not yet. How do you plan on writing a song if you know nothing about keys? Learn what a key is, and what a scale is. Learn the major scale and how to use it. Then go here and read, what chords are in what key, and why?. Now that you are armed with basic chord and scale theory you can start to write your own songs.
The most basic section of the punk guitar is the rhythm section. You can always stick to the fast power chords in eighth notes. Or come up with a more complex rhythm and chord switches. Don’t make it too complex during the verse and chorus, the focus in most punk songs is the vocals. Get creative in the instrumental parts such as the intros and breakdowns.
Yes, lead guitar in a punk band. It isn’t unheard of. In fact it is quite common. This guitar part is often simple as well, playing fast riffs over the rhythm guitar and almost cutting out during the verses. The lead has to be simple during the verses, because again, the vocals take precedence. I’m going to quote a post I made asking about how to play lead punk guitar:
"As lead you want to be simple, yet effective. The best punk leads stand out when they are supposed to, and drift to the back during the singing. That isn't to say they aren't there, they just tone it down a bit so that they dot overpower the vocals. Nothing is worse than a lead guitar overpowering vocals, especially in punk music.
Punk has a lot of straightforward rhythms. Slam beat one and play a bit lighter for the others. The rhythm guitarist will probably be playing straight eighth notes for most of the time, so keep that in mind. Triplets would sound bad over eighths, so don't go for them unless the rhythm is quarter notes. Punk is very rhythm based so you want to have a good rhythm to your lead lines.
Most punk riffs I know stay lower position wise. So I wouldn’t be playing your main riff at the 15th fret. They incorporate a lot of the lower strings, although the high strings do give a nice accompaniment to the low power chords."
Possibly the best part about punk music is watching it be performed. Live shows are loud, fun, and energetic. Watching a good punk band play is like seeing a musical. They do more than just stand there and play their instruments, they move around. They get the crowd into the show and make sure everyone is having a good time. Jump around, move, make an ass of yourself, as long as it fits the music. Most of all, have fun.
Now, please remember that these are just some basic guidelines to get you started. Don’t think this is the end all-be all of punk music, because it isn’t. The goal is to get you thinking and working on your own, not to create clones of what I think punk should be. So start here, and go where you will.
Any questions or comments feel free to contact me. PM or e-mail work well, or find me in the MT forum.