Beginners Guide To Playing Punk

A brief overview of basic punk to get budding guitarists started in the genre.

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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. ._ _ _ _ _. ._ _ _ _ _. |_|_|_|_|_|... |_|_|_|_|_| 1_|_|_|_|_|... |_1_|_|_|_| |_|_|_|_|_|... |_|_|_|_|_| |_3_|_|_|_|... |_|_3_|_|_| |_|_|_|_|_|... |_|_|_|_|_| This is the basic 2 finger way with 6th and 5th string roots. ._ _ _ _ _. ._ _ _ _ _. |_|_|_|_|_|... |_|_|_|_|_| 1_|_|_|_|_|... |_1_|_|_|_| |_|_|_|_|_|... |_|_|_|_|_| |_3_4_|_|_|... |_|_3_4_|_| |_|_|_|_|_|... |_|_|_|_|_| This is the basic 3 finger way with 6th and 5th string roots. ._ _ _ _ _. ._ _ _ _ _. |_|_|_|_|_|... |_|_|_|_|_| 1_|_|_|_|_|... |_1_|_|_|_| |_|_|_|_|_|... |_|_|_|_|_| |_3_3_|_|_|... |_|_3_3_|_| |_|_|_|_|_|... |_|_|_|_|_| 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: Major: . _ _ _ _ _... x_ _ _ _ _ |_|_|_|_|_|... |_|_|_|_|_| 1_|_|_|_1_1... |_1_|_|_|_1 |_|_|_2_|_|... |_|_|_|_|_| |_3_4_|_|_|... |_|_3_3_3_| |_|_|_|_|_|... |_|_|_|_|_| Minor: . _ _ _ _ _... x_ _ _ _ _ |_|_|_|_|_|... |_|_|_|_|_| 1_|_|_1_1_1... |_1_|_|_|_1 |_|_|_|_|_|... |_|_|_|_2_| |_3_3_|_|_|... |_|_3_3_|_| |_|_|_|_|_|... |_|_|_|_|_| 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 e|------------------|-----------------|-----------------| B|--9---9---9---9---|-9---9---9-9-9-x-|-----------------| G|. -9---9---9---9--|-9---9---9-9-9-x-|-----------------| D|. -9---9---9---9--|-9---9---9-9-9-x-|-7---7-7-7-7-7-7-| A|--7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-|-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-x-|-7---7-7-7-7-7-7-| E|------------------|-----------------|-5---5-5-5-5-5-5-| /--------1--------\ /-------2-------\ e|------------------|-----------------| B|-9---9---9---9----|-----------------| G|-9---9---9---9---.|-9---9-9-9-9-9-9-| D|-9---9---9---9---.|-9---9-9-9-9-9-9-| A|-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7--|-7---7-7-7-7-7-7-| E|------------------|-0---0-0-0-0-0-0-| 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. 4. Techniques. 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. 5. Playing. 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. 6. Rhythm. 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. 7. Lead. 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." 8. Performance. 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.

142 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    bedurnk
    This is pretty much a beginner's guide to the basics of all rock music. Punk rock just doesn't extend too far out of the basics. At least a majority doesn't.
    piss_off
    Great article. Someone who actually knows punk is not all about power chords
    jof1029
    ^ i can see that literacy is not your strong point. come back when you learn to read. keep an open mind buddy, dont comment/vote on my lesson without reading it. its obvious you didnt, so dont say you did.
    Mike_uk2k
    isn't a beginners guide to plaing punk the same as an advanced guide to playing punk? lol
    jof1029
    dammit, the spacing is off and i tried so hard to get it to look right. glad for the the positve feedback so far guys!
    thesmartguy50
    okay, go to the article below this one on the Music Styles menu, called Punk Rock Music... then take another look at this one... and see that THIS one... kicks the other one's... ARSE. The last guy was inefficient, stereotypical, and plagerizical at that (i know, not a word, but you get it). Dude, major kudos to you for this excellent job at telling the world about punk, and even further (albeit, without meaning to). Thanks again, man.
    phrank
    pretty good article, but i wouldve like to see at least something on punk bass guitar-the bass guitarist from rancid is awesome!
    the_freak_hole
    One of my friends rubs this shit in my face cuz he can play it and I can't... Well now I know how
    rockstaraxe
    Some of the people posting are being kinda harsh, I think it was a damn good lesson, I have been teaching myself for a year, and it helped me. Punk rules whatever anyone else says, thnx
    agingpunker
    Good lesson overall - but if folks are looking to learn punk music... they're kinda missing the point... don't learn, invent (but indeed you can sometimes invent more if you actually know your instrument). Take the lesson, learn it, then forget about it and see what happens. And just to throw my hat in the ring, the definition of power chords in the lesson is correct (root and fifth only).
    Qazwer
    I've been going through here and seeing these goddamn metal heads trying to act like badasses by saying punk is pointless. It's getting old. Punk is not about being a solo-out-of-your-ass guitarist. It's about putting a point across. The music gets quiet during vocals so that people can be sure to hear what the band is saying(with the exception of Anti-Flag who sing too fast to understand). More yet, punk musicians don't need the "I'm a badass, and I'll kick your ass if you don't agree with me" image to be respectable.
    Teh Freak
    Punk rock rocks, I don't care what anyone thinks. This is a nifty lesson. I love all kinds of rock and metal and hardcore (when I say "hardcore", you should be thinking of stuff like Hatebreed). I mean LOVE. Metal is so super fantastic... I love to headbang and I'll mosh a little if the spirit grabs me. But then again I also like techno and classical and instrumental bluegrass and traditional celtic folk music and a bit of regge... and even a little rap. I do however hate pop, and most country. I think it's good to listen to a lot of stuff, and keep to keep your mind open to all kinds of music. You never know where you may draw inspiration from. If you're ever in a creative slump, ask people what they listen to and research it and listen to it... and listen to stuff that's similar to it. You may find all kinds of new stuff to get the creativity back. Just an idea. -Teh Freak.
    ay up!
    pretty good work but... i was just lookin at this outta interest, who really needs lessons on how to play punk just play anything that sounds pretty good is wot i do
    DNRDustin
    this whole thread is a bullshit stereo-type. there is way more to punk than the 77 punk style. but on that note you could have at least used the "New York Dolls" or the "Dead Boys" as a reference. but im sure youre just a deuche bag who doesnt really know know what punk rock is you good charlett listenin to bastard!
    stevieraywolf
    nice lesson dude. and for the whole style battle goin on, i listen to it ALL!!!!! That's right, i listen to hard rock, punk, blues, alt rock, and... well... anything. Punk's not too hard on the guitar, true, but it's about all the members of the band fittin together, unlike hard rock like Pantera or Guns n Roses just gettin out there and lettin good ol' Slash show off. It's all good, just depends on how un stubborn you are. And don't get the wrong idea here, i love GnR, just, i love green day too.
    br4vw
    Well done dude - know one here has any grounds to critisize you - keep up the good work!
    BlueTails
    I'm gonna have to agree with Darth Chridious (except read what you're commenting on) to an extent...although props to you Jof for taking the time to demonstrate some power chords for the beginners. I'm sure it helped them out. But I'll put money on there not being an "advanced punk" lesson put out, and there's a reason for that. It's just not an advanced style. PS...Old school Green Day fan, still love Blink 182, and love The Offspring, not dissing the genre, just stating that its not an advanced style.
    hammetfan86
    im not a punk fan or anything, just wandering around the site, i thought it was a good lesson, i play more metal type music, but any beginner would find this very helpful, i'm just gonna say, even if u dont plan to play punk, and ur new to guitar, look at this lesson, it will help you out in any style of guitar you want to pursue
    hammetfan86
    oh, i'm sorry, just takin a shot at dimebag darril there, just because punk doesnt bring out the full potential of guitar, at least they have lyrics to fall back on, unlike....pantera...*shudder*
    ~~cemetary~~
    rad-tastic. as i understand (for the stuff i do) it's 3 chords for the verse with picking and 3 other chords for the chorus. but i'm self taught and a compltete and utter dipshit too
    sing4am
    OK... so to start playing punk I play simple power chords / barre chords and then keep it quiet when I sing and then maybe throw in some open chords. uh-huh and the bass, drums, 'lead' guitar, back up singing all just happen to fall into place. great, 5 stars. ps all those tabs of riffs, choruses, interludes you made to defrintiate between one-another were superb.
    Gone2Hell
    EXACTLY!!! Not too much more than power chords... This is just Punk, not punk rock, because it is not punk!
    zep_hed449
    If youre beginning by playing punk music odds are that you wont amount to much of a guitarist, to be honest punk music is for the half ass musician who really is too lazy to push himself to the next level
    simonzwaan
    sweet thing u even know what punk is the guy in the othe lesson thought fallout boy and switchfoot were punk
    arkameedees
    i'm new to punk rock myself, so my oppinion probably doesn't mean much. but i just want to say that this lesson was by far the best lesson on this site, it beat the hell out of the other poser lesson i looked at before this one. and as for punk being for lazy people, u musn't have seen very many punk concerts. watch anti-flag,or rancid, or NOFX play,and then tell me if they're lazy. thanks, and god bless.
    texas skunk
    real punk rock is heavy guitar with cool patterns, bad ass bassists, and lyrics that really make sense and have meaning
    Strombollii
    you know, although this guide isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination... its pretty damn good.
    jammer-91
    Nice.... heres a guy who really knows what punk is!!! Try and adjust the tabs.
    I_Dont_Know
    kudos, i never really hear barre chords in punk... but the reason tthere probably won't be an advanced one to you guys out there is because most people stop playing punk after a while and start playing harder stuff. or they advance in soloing or something like that. with teh exception of a few. i think that eigth note thing was a little untrue and the 4 chord progression, it can me more diverse with 5 chords like brainstew and other songs.
    deathtoaji
    DNRDustin wrote: this whole thread is a bullshit stereo-type. there is way more to punk than the 77 punk style. but on that note you could have at least used the "New York Dolls" or the "Dead Boys" as a reference. but im sure youre just a deuche bag who doesnt really know know what punk rock is you good charlett listenin to bastard!
    lamo
    lp in dc
    U stupid bitch u wasted ur time and more importantly my time. How in fuking hell am i going to learn anything with this stupid shit!
    penguin shoulde
    Actually, power chords are Major and Minor. An example differentiating the two would be a Major power chord (what you described) and a Minor, add the minor 5th instead of the major fifth. So, it'd look like e|-----| B|-----| G|-5----5-| D|-5----6-| A|-3----3-| E|-----| With the first being Major and the second being Minor.
    jbiafra
    to JakoDog92: the chord shapes should be read much easier as follows, (eADGBE): 1-3-3-x-x-x x-1-3-3-x-x note that the numbers depict finger position and not necessarily fret positions, although you can play the chord at that position. note also that the chord can be played anywhere on the neck as long as you keep that one fret space between your index and ring finger. the chord is based on an open E or open Am chord respectively, and actually starts at the second fret, using the nut instead of your index finger as a barre. The second thing you questioned is supposed to be a depiction of musical note, which is difficult to display in text. if you've ever seen two musical notes connected up top by a single line, the image is supposed to be 4 sets of that, if you can understand that. My personal reason for posting was to ask for a more detailed lead section. I've been soloing in pentatonic and blues scale forms. I was wondering if there's any recommended or tried and true methods for playing lead in punk.
    the.chris.casey
    This article has been here for a long time and I'm just now reading it. I mainly play blues and classic rock rhythm. I love punk rock and this has really helped me understand some key differences in the music. The fact that someone appreciates it 8 years later is pretty kick ass, don't you think?
    Riamdafurypunk
    I reckon that was pretty helpful, i mean, i had a reasonable idea on the chords but the rest of it was quite helpful. big ups.
    andreirosete
    WTF with that tabs on the first parts,its confusing but i understand now,but i suggest you dont make tabs like this
    drhammertime
    ProgFanDave wrote: My problem with punk music is that it's a sideshow, not an art. As you said in the last segment of your lesson, punk musicians seem to care more about what the crowd thinks of them as individuals instead of musicians. Metal gigs also have bands interacting with the crowd, but at least the main focus is the music. When I hear of a Punk musician who has the potential to be an influence through his or her musical prowess instead of his on stage antics, then I'll reconsider Punk as a plausible art. But all of that aside, your lesson was very good.
    Seriously? I'd venture to say that the three biggest Punk bands (The Clash, Ramones, and Sex Pistols) influenced a LOT of musicians... Not just because they put on a good show, but because the music was good. Pure, stripped-down, rock and roll.
    C0FF1NCAS3
    Nice, literally join a punk band today with no clue about punk. For me punk was The Clash and Iggy Pop. This will be very helpful in preparing for an audition and showing knowledge of the music.
    ProgFanDave
    My problem with punk music is that it's a sideshow, not an art. As you said in the last segment of your lesson, punk musicians seem to care more about what the crowd thinks of them as individuals instead of musicians. Metal gigs also have bands interacting with the crowd, but at least the main focus is the music. When I hear of a Punk musician who has the potential to be an influence through his or her musical prowess instead of his on stage antics, then I'll reconsider Punk as a plausible art. But all of that aside, your lesson was very good.