Beginner’s Guide To Punk Rock On Guitar

Punk Rock is a music genre as well as a subculture that emerged in the late 1970s.

Punk subculture is about rebellion and anti-conformity and has its own norms. 

This is clearly reflected in the music which is aggressive, simple, and to the point, as well as in the in-your-face lyrics of Punk songs.

Punk Rock musicians aren’t known for their virtuosity. A saying on how to learn Punk Rock on guitar goes “Here’s a chord. Here’s another. Now join a band”.

This is not meant to take away any credit from Punk Rock guitarists and musicians since music is all about expressing emotions and bands like the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Ramones, and the Dead Kennedys have mastered the expression of the predominant emotion in Punk – anger.

Though nowadays I prefer to write more complex music like Heavy Metal, I still go to my Punk influences when I want to express anger in my songs.

Punk had a very important role in the history of Rock music and has directly influenced other genres of music such as Trash Metal.

It has also evolved and its many sub-genres include Oi-Punk, ska-punk, pop-punk, and hardcore.

In this lesson, we’ll go through a step-by-step process of playing Punk music on the guitar.

Step 1: Learn the power chord

The power chord is the most commonly used chord in Punk. 

It’s surely not a coincidence that the power chord is simple in its structure and has an aggressive sound, especially when played with distortion.

Note: Technically speaking the power chord is not a chord but a double stop since it has only two different notes. Chords have 3 or more notes. However, it can function as a chord and in Punk music it frequently makes up the entire harmony of a song.

The power chord is notated by the name of the root note followed by the number 5 (ex. A5, G#5).

It can be played on two strings, or on three strings for a more solid sound. Note that when we play the power chord on 3 strings we’re not playing three different notes since the note on the third string is the same as the root repeated an octave higher.

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Step 2: Learn the name of the notes on the guitar fretboard

Once you learn the chord shape given above, you can play the power chord starting on any root – only if you can identify where the root is.

This is very easy once you have the notes of the guitar fretboard memorized.

Power chords are most commonly played on the low E and the A string, thus technically you don’t need to memorize the notes on all the strings to play Punk on guitar.

It is still highly advisable that you do learn the name of all the notes on the guitar fretboard if you want to become a more complete guitar player and musician though.

In this lesson I take you through a simple process to memorize the note names on the guitar.

Step 3: Punk chord progressions

A chord progression means two or more chords played after each other.

Most Punk songs are made of progressions of three or four power chords.

You can create Punk chord progressions with any combination of power chords.

The following are some of the most common chord progressions used in Punk.

Note: Chord progressions are notated using Roman numerals which describe the role of each chord in the key

The following examples will be in the key of A major, thus I = A5, II = B5, III = C#5, IV = D5, V = E5, VI = F#5, and VII = G#5. 

I – IV – V

This chord progression is very common in many genres of music, particularly in Punk, Classic Rock and the Blues.

I – V – VI – IV

This 4 chord progression is also widely used in Punk

I – VI – III – VII

This is another common Punk chord progression.

There are many more chord progressions than these and you should experiment with creating your own when writing songs.

Step 4: Learn the basics of rhythm

Solid knowledge of the basic elements of rhythm and playing on time are necessary skills if you want to play any genre of music and Punk is no exception.

This lesson shows you what these basic elements are.

A lot of Punk Rock doesn’t have very complex rhythms and rarely goes beyond the basics but this is by no means a rule and there have been many bands that have songs with more intricate rhythms.

The following is an example guitar riff that uses the I – V – VI – IV chord progression with a simple rhythm applied to it.

Step 5: Palm muting technique

There are many techniques that you can learn on the guitar, some of which we’ll touch on in the section on Punk solos, but the technique a Punk guitar player cannot do without is palm muting.

You execute this technique by lightly touching the strings of the guitar with your right hand close to the bridge.

This doesn’t completely mute the strings but instead gives them a chug-chug-chug sound that’s commonly heard in Punk Rock as well as other genres of music that use guitars with distortion.

The following is the same riff as in the step before, with palm muting applied to the eight notes.

Palm muting is indicated by the letters PM followed by dots below the notes the technique should be applied to.

Step 6: Other chords

Though the power chord is the most widely used chord in Punk, other chords sometimes find their way in Punk music too.

The most common are major and minor chords, open or barre.

More complex chords like 7th chords, extended chords, or suspended chords are rarely used in Punk music.

That said, I do suggest you get a working knowledge of some of these chords. 

One reason for this is that you may not want to play just Punk all your life but to be able to do other musical things.

Another reason is that innovative musicians (in any genre) usually take elements not usually popular in their genre of music and incorporate them into it, thus creating something new.

Building a chord vocabulary that goes beyond power chords and major and minor chords is one thing that can help you become a more unique Punk guitar player.

Step 7: Punk guitar solos

Though Punk is not known for extended and technically demanding guitar solos, short and simple solos are quite common.

The study of soloing is vast and goes beyond the purposes of this lesson.

In order to write Punk solos, I suggest that you get fluent in using the minor. pentatonic scale as well as learn techniques like hammer-ons and pull-offs, slides, bends, and vibrato.

Conclusion: My relationship with Punk Rock

In my late teens and early 20s, I was into Punk music and culture a big time.

Punk helped me express rebellion in a healthy way and its simplicity opened the door to songwriting.

As I improved my musical skills, I started finding Punk to be quite limiting and started opening my horizons to genres of music like Blues and Funk, not to mention Rock and Heavy Metal which I had already been listening to.

Nowadays I no longer color my hair green and most of the music I write is not Punk Rock.

However, I consider Punk as a very important part of my musical development.

The point I’m trying to make here is that if you’re a Punk, you shouldn’t limit yourself to just listening to and playing Punk music. Broaden your horizons.

And if you’re not a Punk, you shouldn’t dismiss this genre because of its simplicity since it may be the perfect genre to express certain emotions with your music. 

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