6.18.2013

Power Chord Habits: Part II


This is the second part of a series of lessons that I'm calling Power Chord Habits. In Part I we covered the following topics as they pertain to learning power chords:

  1. Basic Power Chords

  2. Basic Movement

  3. Ring Finger Movement

  4. Power Chord Progressions

Nick De Partee of Kutless
Boy knows his power chords...
You don't have to do all this in order, but it does help, so feel free to check back through the first part to review any concepts you might not be familiar with, or to just get a grasp on how I'm discussing and laying out each idea.

If you're ready to roll, here's what we'll cover in Part II

  1. More Power Chords

  2. Using your Pinky Finger

  3. Typical Progressions

  4. Adding Dynamics to your Progressions

All these topics will build off of what we covered in the first lesson, and will add some greater clarity and details to each area of study as it relates to your power chords.

Before we get started though, I would encourage you to not to get terribly bogged down in the structure or "order" of what we're doing here. Personally, I'm a structure and order guy, so having every laid out like this helps me learn. Chances are, some of you would agree.

If you don't learn that way, then don't feel like you have to read this (or any other) guitar article or lesson in that manner. Skip around to stuff if you have to, and camp out on certain areas.

It's just meant to be a collection of helpful ideas and concepts, so don't get too caught up in the order.

A Few More Power Chords to Memorize

In Part I, I gave you the bare minimum in terms of chords, which is most of what you need when you're playing power chord progressions. This time, I want to cover a few more power chords that you can memorize and work into your chord vocabulary.

I'll list all these chords in G, placed at the third fret. Just for review, here's what we covered yesterday:

E|-----
B|-----
G|-----
D|-(5)-
A|--5--
E|--3--
- See more at: http://www.guitarchalk.com/2013/06/power-chord-habits-part-one-guitar.html#sthash.WVikOBsN.dpuf
E|-----
B|-----
G|-----
D|-(5)-
A|--5--
E|--3--
- See more at: http://www.guitarchalk.com/2013/06/power-chord-habits-part-one-guitar.html#sthash.WVikOBsN.dpuf
E|-----
B|-----
G|-----
D|-(5)-
A|--5--
E|--3--
- See more at: http://www.guitarchalk.com/2013/06/power-chord-habits-part-one-guitar.html#sthash.WVikOBsN.dpuf
E|-----
B|-----
G|-----
D|-(5)-
A|--5--
E|--3--
- See more at: http://www.guitarchalk.com/2013/06/power-chord-habits-part-one-guitar.html#sthash.WVikOBsN.dpuf
E|------
B|------
G|------
D|-(5)--
A|--5---
E|--3---


So this is your most basic and most useful power chord. The last note (listed in parenthesis) is optional, which sort of gives you two different chords. In addition to these chords, add the following two forms:

E|------
B|------
G|------
D|-(3)--
A|--3---
E|--3---


Once again, we have an optional third note. All it does, is make the chord thicker. When and where you use it, is pretty much up to you. Now let's add one more chord before we move on to some new material:

E|------
B|------
G|------
D|-(5)--
A|--2---
E|--3---


So these are the three chords that we're going to be working with and using as a base camp for covering the rest of the material in this and the rest of the lessons. Work on them both with and without the optional note until you're at least comfortable with the two note version of each power chord.

Feel ready? Doesn't matter...let's keep going.

When to use your Pinky Finger

In the last lesson, we focused a lot on limbering up and freeing our ring finger, since that's a finger that's going to need to be more loose and tends to have a harder time separating its movement from other fingers.

Here, I want to talk about some power chord scenarios where you should try to use your pinky (or fourth) finger, both in addition to, and instead of your ring finger.

Why bother?

Your fourth finger is always going to be the weakest one on your hand, but you still need to train it and make it a viable option for when you're playing guitar.

Power chords (especially in the forms we've covered) are great opportunities to train your fourth finger and incorporate it into your routine. The reason you shouldn't just use your ring finger all the time is because you want to take advantages of opportunities to build the strength of your fourth finger.

Here are a few ways to do it.

Guitar Power Chords Methods

The first (and perhaps most obvious) way that you can bring your fourth finger into the equation, is to use it for grabbing the optional note on all three of the power chord forms that we've learned so far.

Use each chart to spot where you would be able to use your fourth finger.
Guitar Power Chords Guitar Power Chords Guitar Power Chords Guitar Power Chords

In each spot it just makes good simple sense to use your fourth, with the exception of perhaps the second (from the left) chord chart in the group.

That's an instance where I'd have your fourth finger substituting for your third. Now I wouldn't recommend this all the time, but I've found when playing that power chord, that my fourth finger is often in better position to grab that note if I'm gripping the fretboard, with my thumb closely wrapped and not loose.

It's not a matter of right or wrong, but if you tend to grip the fretboard when you play these chords and let your guitar hang lower, you might want to consider trying this method.

Focus on each chord individually and work on strengthening your fourth finger.

More "Typical" Power Chord Progressions

The chart we looked at last time listed some of the most typically used chord progressions when you're playing power chords. I pointed out that part of the reason is because in both a standard and drop-D tuning, those are where your most useful notes are going to be.

What we'll do here is look at some more chord progressions that are likely to come up for a modern rhythm guitarists who's hammering out a few power chords.

We'll use tabs here are go through each progression one at a time.

E|-----------
B|-----------
G|-----------
D|--2--4--7--
A|--2--4--7--

E|--0--2--5--

This is just E, F# and A as you climb up. Now let's take this same progression and dress it up a little bit to make it more interesting and hopefully help to memorize it.

E|------------------------------------------
B|------------------------------------------
G|------------------------------------------
D|--2--xx--------------7--------xx----------
A|--2--xx--------------7-----7--xx----------

E|--0--xx--2p0--2--/5--5--5-----xx--2b3--0--

What we need to learn to do is apply the chords and progressions that we learn. I'm not really interested in learning what chords are, or even in what order they make sense, and then just leaving it at that: I want to be able to do something with them.

That's what the second tab is for -- application.

Let's go ahead and look at a couple more progressions.

E|------------------
B|------------------
G|------------------
D|------------------
A|--2--12--7--6--5--

E|--0--10--5--4--3--

Before we move on to our application of this progression, go ahead and play through this progression using the following practice methods:

  • Play through the progression with just the root note.

  • Play through the progression with your pointer and fourth finger.

  • Memorize the pattern and sound of the progression.

At this point, you might even be able to come up with your own application. I'm not doing anything fancy, just improvising out from a structure and coming up with something a little more musical. In fact, you could think of the chord progression as a structure or "template" and the application as your room for musical creativity.

E|--------------------------------------
B|--------------------------------------
G|--------------------------------------
D|-----12-----xx---------------------2--
A|-----12--7--xx---------------------2--

E|--0--10--5--xx--5--4--3--3h5--2b3--0--

Note the walk-down from the fifth to the third fret, as well as the bend from the second fret up to the third. Those are the only real complexities (if you even want to call them that) in this tab, otherwise it should be pretty straightforward.

Let's do one more.

E|------------------
B|------------------
G|------------------
D|--5--12--7--9--2--
A|--5--12--7--9--2--

E|--3--10--5--7--0--

This is a five part chord progression that takes you from the third fret, all the way up to the tenth and back to open E. It's a little lengthy, but you'll see this type of thing a lot in modern rock and pop music. As a guitar player, you just want to be able to quickly jump to and from these frets in whatever order.

Switch them around and come up with your own applications for this one. By now, you've probably gotten the idea.

Adding Dynamics to your Progressions 

Guitar Power Chords
Photo credit: notsogoodphotographyFoter.com-CC BY
When you're playing through a chord progression made up mostly of power chords, you've got to
strike a balance between adding just enough dynamics and flavor and playing through the entire thing flat.

While you definitely don't want your chord progressions to sound flat and stale, you might have a hard time thinking of ways that you can add dynamics to those progressions.

It's kind of like, "Well, they're just power chords. What much more could I do?"

There are a few things you can do to add dynamics to a power chord progression (or any chord progression for that matter), and we'll cover the main ones here (hit the comments section if you think I missed anything).

Half and Whole Mutes [Skip this if you're familiar with muting]

Learning to use mutes effectively is one of the best ways you can improve the overall sound and dynamics of your chord progressions. There are two different kinds you have to be aware of:

  1. Whole Mutes: In a whole mute, you press hard enough on the strings so that there's no resonance at all; just a scratch sound when the pick hits the string.

  2. Half Mutes: With half mutes, you mute the string(s) with your palm just enough so that you hear a low tonal resonance that maintains the integrity of the note being played.

Whole mutes on a tab sheet are indicated by an x like the one I used in the tabs above. To be honest, I don't know if there's a way to indicate half palm mutes, so in my tabs I'm just going to use brackets to indicate them.

Now, as it relates to the dynamics of your chord progressions, palm muting is a completely different lesson that is actually pretty hard to teach, so we won't get into all the specifics here. Those are for another day.

What we will do, is list some tabs that will at least help you get an idea for how to use half and whole mutes in the middle and during your chord progressions.

Remember that half mutes are in brackets...

E|--------------------------------------------------
B|--------------------------------------------------
G|--------------------------------------------------
D|--------------------------------------------------
A|--5--xx--[3h5]--[3h5]--5--3--xx----------------4--
E|--3--xx---3---------------1--xx--[1h3]--[1h3]--2--[Repeats]


E|---------------------------------------------------
B|---------------------------------------------------
G|---------------------------------------------------
D|--------xx----------xx---5----------------------5--
A|--5-----xx----------xx---2--2--[2h3]--2---------5--
E|-[3h5]--xx--[3--2]--xx---3--3------------[2b3]--3--


E|------------------------------------------
B|------------------------------------------
G|---------------------------------------1--
D|--------------xx-----------------------2--
A|-[2p0]--5--7--xx--------------2--5--3--2--
E|--0-----3--5--xx--3--[3h5]--3p0--3--1--0--

Bends

We've already seen a lot of bends in the tabs we've covered so far, so I won't create application tabs for bends, because at this point, you already have plenty to work off of. What I do want to point out is that bends will typically not be utilized with the entire power chord, but rather one note from a power chord that you might be playing.

Take the following example:

E|----------------
B|----------------
G|----------------
D|--5--------5b6--
A|--5-----5b6-----
E|--3--3b4--------


Assuming that chord, the most likely spots where I'll be able to bend notes would be on any one of the notes that make up the chord itself. Now of course this isn't a hard rule, but it's a good way to practice breaking out of your power chords and into bends.

Slides

The same concept would apply for slides, but in this case, you can slide between chords fairly easily. In fact, if you can get from one power chord to another by sliding, that's going to be your preferred method for changing chords, especially if the form of the power chord doesn't really change.

Here's the simplest example I can think of:

E|---------
B|---------
G|---------
D|--5--/7--
A|--5--/7--
E|--3--/5--


The distance between frets does have some say about how well this works, but usually, you can use slides to move either up or down between two different power chords of the same form.

Hammer-ons and Pull-offs

These have their place when you're playing power chords, but only if they're done in the right spot. Like with bends, you've already got a lot of good examples between this lesson and Part I, so go ahead and look back over the tabs and find where I've included hammer-ons (indicated by an h) or pull-offs (indicated by a p) on the tab sheets.

It's impossible to say when exactly it's "right" or helpful to use those, but make sure that at least one of following are true when you decide to encorporate a hammer-on or pull-off into a power chord progression:

  • You're adding to the dynamic value of your progression and not needlessly complicating it.

  • A hammer-on or pull-off improves the sound of the progression.

  • A hammer-on or pull-off is the easiest way to get from point A to point B on the fretboard.

Forming Good Habits

However you learn this stuff and whatever you're able to do with this information, just make sure that you're forming good habits and tendencies when it comes to your power chords.

Don't try and take the information here are just carbon copy it onto your playing style. As a guitar player, you're unique, and you don't learn or apply concepts the same way everybody else does. That being said, feel free to take the techniques and concepts here and use them in a way that makes sense to you. Don't worry if you don't feel like you're doing what I'm doing, or seeing things the same way.

If you get the concept, step away from the computer and just hash it out for awhile. That's where the real improvement will take place.

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About Robert Kittleberger

Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
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