The Secret Behind Power Chord Riff Tonality...

Power chord riffs are a staple sound of rock guitar. However, if you don't have a clear understanding of how power chords can be applied in both major and minor applications their use within tonalities can become a little confusing... 

In this post we'll learn the basics behind creating Major or Minor Power-Chord Riffs...

Whether you play electric guitar or acoustic guitar, at some point you’re going to run into power chords. While the concept behind these “chords” has been around for ages, they are a staple of most guitarist’s playing, being used in music of all genres and styles.

Here’s a primer to help you understand the tonal application of the power chord and how you can apply it in different ways.

As you may already know, power chords are not "really chords" at all, they are intervals, (dyads). Power chords only use two notes; the root note, with the fifth note of the major or minor scale in order to create their 2-note structure.

However, standard major and minor chords are "true" chords and have three notes, (the Root, 3rd and 5th). It’s the third note of the triad that creates our choice of using either the major or minor third to make a triad sound as either major or minor.

Power chords (also known as “5” chords, as in “C5” for example), technically, are not chords. They are dyads, (a two-note interval composed of the root note and the fifth note of the major scale). Because there is no third, the sound of a power chord is neither major nor minor. It’s ambiguous, until you begin moving it around.

Once the Power Chord starts moving around, it begins to form its major or minor color by way of the scale tones from the key signature. The shifts that the chord makes from one location on the neck to another will determine the tonality of the power chord progression.

The most popular power chord progressions are minor since so many power chord riffs are based in rock and the principle tonality of rock is minor.

However, there are also quite a number of power chord riffs that are based in major keys as well. These progressions are found in a lot of the pop-punk songs and some pop-rock riffs.

Having a good understanding for composing either major or minor power chord riffs is essential to every guitarist.

In order to create a "Minor Tonality" Power Chord riff, we must learn to use the notes of the minor scale in building progressions with power chords.

The critical scale tones for creating the "Minor" color are the, "Minor 3rd," the "Minor 6th," and the, "Minor 7th." There is no justification of the minor color for the 2nd, 4th or 5th tones.

Make a study of the minor tonality power chord riff shown below, (see; Riff #1). The key center is "G Minor" and the tonality is made to be Minor due to the "Bb" power chord.

Riff #1). "G Minor" Power-Chord Riff - Minor 3rd focus...

Minor tonality power chord riffs can also function by way of the minor scales degrees of the "Minor 6th" and the "Minor 7th" tones. Make a study of the "G Minor" power chord riff shown below in example riff #2. The lowered 6th and 7th degrees are off of the steps of "Eb" and "F."

Riff #2). "G Minor" Power-Chord Riff - Minor 6th and 7th focus...

In order to create a "Major Tonality" Power Chord riff, we need to learn how to use the notes of the major scale in building progressions that apply the power chords.

In the major scale power chord riffs, our primary focus needs to be on the color tones of the scales "Major 3rd" and the "Major 6th." These tones are the principle "Major" color tones and once they can be utilized in riffs, out power chord ideas become "Major."

Make a study of the major tonality power chord riff shown below, (see; Riff #3). The key center is "G Major" and the tonality is made to be Major due to the "B" power chord.

Riff #3). "G Major" Power-Chord Riff - Major 3rd focus...

Major tonality power chord riffs can also function by way of their major scales degrees of the "Major 6th" (and to a lessor extent the "Major 7th" tones). The "Major 7th" - while being the strongest Major resolution color, cannot produce a "Perfect 5th" Power Chord. This degree of the scale is Diminished and produces a lowered fifth degree. Therefore, it may be used, but the interval off of this step would have to be "Diminished" instead of "Perfect."

Make a study of the "G Major" power chord riff shown below in example riff #4. The major 3rd and 6th degrees are off of the steps of "B" and "E."

 Riff #4). "G Major" Power-Chord Riff - Major 3rd and 6th focus...

When you play a power chord on an electric guitar with the distortion cranked up on the amplifier, you generate overtones that give the Perfect “5” sound more depth and tonal color.

Depending on the other chords played in a particular progression, power chords can trick your listeners’ ears into hearing them as being either basic major or minor chords.

While you don’t get the overtones produced by an amplifier on an acoustic, the use of power chords on an acoustic guitar can create some very nice tonal ambiguity that adds to the mood of a song.



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Using Guitar Scales Musically

Using Guitar Scales Musically...

Takes both the Major Pentatonic and the 7-tone Major scale melodically  across common playing situations. The various musical principles described in the lesson can  later be taken into use within any other scale or mode...

The lesson demonstrates the value in breaking scale patterns away from their common fingerboard shapes. Exercises and melodic examples present scale segments into more flowing melodic passages. 

The first half of the lesson is dedicated to taking uncommon scale layouts into varied rhythmic duration and getting them to provide strong melodic scale flow. In the second half, our study shifts to learning the value of both 'along the neck' melodic applications and how to produce (and build upon) melodic themes.

PART ONE: In the first example, the Major Pentatonic scale from the key of "E" is used to explore extended note duration in a melody line by focusing on quarter and 8th-note phrases. 

Example 1a, uses a custom (Pattern #2) 6th position "E Major" Pentatonic scale shape between the 5th to 1st strings. Example 1b, applies the Pattern #2 shape (from example 1a), into a phrase over a group of chords from the key center. 

Example two begins with a customized segment from an 8th position "E Major Scale," (Pattern #3). The application of the scale segment is organized into a busy melodic line that relies on a mix of quarter, eighth and sixteenth note duration.

PART TWO: Example three uses a Major Scale (in the key of "C Major") to introduce the effects with how melodic passages can sound more interesting when they are used more laterally along the fingerboard.

Moving melodic ideas along the guitar allows for more phrasing devices to be applied. In particular, (as noticed in this example), the application of position finger slides. The abundant use of these slides allows for smooth transitions along the span of the fingerboard while dramatically affecting the sound of a melodic guitar part.

Example four takes a short melodic run from an "F Major" scale (in tenth position) and builds on the statement by gradually expanding the part into a more involved line.

This effect (of melodic expansion) is a valuable melody composing concept that can help musicians begin using their scales in more musical ways.

By expanding melodic phrases (and thus building more involved melodic themes), guitar players will better understand how to stretch lines further, use more technical devices and ultimately achieve greater tonal range.

Using Guitar Scales Musically

Related Videos:

Using Guitar Scales Musically...

Scales, Melodies and the Fingerboard

Pentatonic Scales and Melodic Improvisation



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Guitar Chords | F Chord | Guitar Notes | G Chord | C Chord | D Chord | Guitar String Notes

Core Principles of Modes

Modes are as easy to play as the major scale, but you need to know how they work to play them correctly. Once you have the ability to control their sound, and where they can fit, you'll have an brand new range of sound at your fingertips...

Using the Modes is all about note selection and how those notes are tied to the chords that are being played in a progression. Since the Modes are derived from the major scale (and contain the same exact notes), musicians need to take stock in why and where a mode might be more valuable to play rather than the basic major or natural minor scale.

Why learn new names for the same set of notes? 
One of the most common questions from music students is, "why should I bother learning about modes since they're the same notes as the major scale?"

The main reason that modes can be helpful is that sometimes the effects that a chord progression might produce will not make it very easy to play basic major or natural minor scale sounds. The player will be left with only one solution to cover the harmony, and that will generally fall back on the use of the Pentatonic scale.

Being able to make the shift in thinking (over to a mode) will help a musician unlock new sounds directly related to the chords in use. having control over modes will also help musicians when they are playing over unique chords, especially those obscure ones that pop up, (i.e., extended chords, triad over bass-note chords and altered chords).

Modal Purpose: 
All of us want to be able to improvise over any chord. and, we want it to sound good. However, when new chords are introduced, they will often cause musicians harmonic problems with trying to align the best scale sounds over the chord harmonies.

Improvisational ideas over new /unique chord progressions can often start to sound the same with players taking the easy road of performing their old "standby pentatonic scales" in order to be able to cover new harmonic situations.

Learning to apply modes becomes an excellent way for musicians to better connect into chords and they help musicians break out of the, "Pentatonic Rut."

The best thing about learning how to use modes, is that the modes are as easy to play as the major scale, (in fact; they are the major scale). Plus, learning modes also helps the musician with gaining a better understanding of chord harmony.

This carries over to helping musicians develop a better grasp over the use of arpeggios. So, when you stop and think about it, learning modes helps with improvising, with learning new chords and with developing arpeggios. That's a "Win - Win - Win" situation.

There are a number of ways that musicians set out to learn the modes. However, learning their application from the perspective of arpeggios and how the arpeggio relationship relates to the chords being used in a progression is still the best way.

Before learning each mode, the musician needs to comprehend basic major and minor key chord harmony.

Study the example below:

Example 1). "C Major Scale" harmonized into diatonic chords

The chart above demonstrates the chords found in the major key /scale. These chords can be expanded to larger intervals. Their degrees will play a role in helping us determine when specific modes can be applied in music.

Expanded Harmony:
Make a study of the chart below. Take note of how our diatonic chords can become further expanded through 9th's, 11th, 13ths and altered tones.

Listen and Learn:
Modes are able to cover a "sound" that ties into a specific harmony. Usually modes are applied when the sound (through the use of unique intervals) of a chord progression will require modes to cover a unique group of chords - not normally performed together. Often the chord types will contain extensions, such as; 6th's or 9th intervals.

Other times, modes will be required when chords appear that are considered "triad over bass-note." These situations present very different tonal characteristics that will have us leaving the standard diatonic chord harmonies, (shown above in example one).

Due to these factors, we need to be able to closely listen to how new chords interact in progressions. If the chords are unique, we will need to decide what makes them unique. What tones are new and how might those new tones be affecting the other surrounding chords. Everything in a harmony is colored by what happens ahead and after the chords in a progression.

Even though this sounds complex, it can be made a lot easier by learning a handful of common modal situations that occur over and over again in music. Once those situations are able to be recognized, musicians can start to notice them and react to them easier.

- The keys, major scales, degrees, chords, and modes are all related
- Diatonic chord progressions, within a key, gravitate toward specific chords
- Notes in a chord play an important role in determining scale coverage
- Modes highlight a chord’s harmony and relationship to surrounding chords
- Scale tones tie into the chord tones and the arpeggios are the link between them

Modal Table:

Basic modal theory revolves around the degrees of the major scale that create each mode. In the modal table above, the degrees are related to each step of a "C major" scale. However, this principle applies to all of the musical keys.

Once you know the degree that creates the mode, and the chord that relates to that degree, you have the basic foundation for using the major scale modes.

Learn more about modes by studying my modal video series and take your understanding of the modes up to the next level with my eBook "Using the Major Scale Modes."



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Things You Need to Know About Mark Knopflers Guitar Style...


Mark Knopfler's guitar playing is legendary in the music community and that makes him a guitarist worth studying. At some point every practicing guitar player will end up taking a closer look at the way he both plays and how he composes. 

That is exactly why we're going to check out the style of Mark Knopfler on this weeks "Guitar Blog Insider"...

Knopfler tends to hold back more than shred and he doesn't set out to show off his "chops" in the way that many other famous guitarists do. He plays guitar in a way that fully supports his songs. Whether that involves killer solos performed with just the right notes played on every chord, or even when he is simply playing a basic rhythm strumming pattern.

Picking Technique:
To achieve the "Mark Knopfler" tone it will take some practice. His technique is based around the use of his fingers, (he doesn't use a pick). Most of this plucking style is also quite unorthodox. However, it can be developed by focusing on the way he applies the plucking technique of his right hand's thumb, index and middle fingers. Some occasional use of the ring finger is also a part of the technique.

Mark uses a unique vibrato and lot's of it - almost anywhere and everywhere he can. So, in practicing playing his style, be sure to work on adding smooth vibrato on everything, (that even includes chords).

Guitars and Tone:
Knopfler has dialed in on a guitar tone that can be established by using the combined bridge and middle pickups on a Strat (or similar style guitar). Clean tone favors some chorus and reverb and his dirty tone operates with only a touch of tube overdrive.

In Mark's early Dire Straits era, he'd rarely be seen playing anything other than a Fender Stratocaster. His fame and success has since allowed him to have ownership over a vast collection of amazing guitars including the incredible Pensa Suhr line of guitars.

When it comes to acoustic guitars, Mark is a die-hard Martin acoustic player with his signature Martin-40S model being his primary "go to" acoustic over the years.

 Knopfler with one of his Fender Stratocaster's

 Knopfler playing the Suhr MK-1

Performing on the Martin 40S acoustic

Over the years Knopfler has used many different amplifiers. In his early days he favored the Fender Vibrolux and the Twin-Reverb. He also used the Music Man HD-130 for awhile and used Mesa-Boogie heads with Marshell 4x12's.

Soldano SLO-100 became his main amp into the 1990's and beyond (keeping the Marshall 4 x 12" cabinets with Electro Voice speakers as his main speaker cabs).

Soldano SLO-100 with Marshall 4x12 cabinets

Mark Knopfler's ability to create simple but strong sounding chord progressions has become a staple part of his guitar sound over the years. When composing chord changes he principally favors chords that operate within the diatonic key center. Chords that target resolutions by way of the V or the IV are most common in his music.

Work through the Minor key chord changes in example one and notice how the IV-chord in this "A Minor" progression pulls us back to the top of the changes.

Example 1). "I-VII-VI-IV" progression in the key of "A Minor"

In many of his songs he places the majority of his focus on the lyrics and the groove, and enjoys the simplicity of basic I-IV-V changes, like in his piece "Cannibals." The up-tempo hill-billy beat of this song (combined with the application of a common I-IV-V in the key of "E Major"), makes it easy to zero in on the lyrics and message of the song.

Other songs will take on more of a smooth sound, with an almost "pop-jazz" approach using collections of seventh quality chords in more the style of jazz harmony. This is evident in his piece "Hard Shoulder." In this song, the feel is very laid back in an adult contemporary style. We find him using primarily major and minor 7th chords to create a very smooth effect.

Play through the chord changes in example two to get an idea of how this seventh chord approach affects the overall sound of the chord harmony.

Example 2). Key of "G Major" progression using seventh-chord harmony

There's no questioning that Mark Knopfler has excellent control over his feel of both major and minor key centers. While a majority of his single-note guitar playing places the focus around pentatonic scales, he will also tend to add select tones from the; Dorian, Mixolydian and the Harmonic Minor when he sees it appropriate.

His ability to focus on the specific chord tones from pentatonic scales for the melodic connection to each chord is amazing. Add it is also very cool how he outlines chords with arpeggio tones from the chord shapes. Plus, he's very smooth with adding a few extra unique modal ideas around the lines as well. All of this comes together in creating what we all know (and recognize) as his unique melodic sound.

His application of different melodic lines and scale runs is done using select pieces of the scale patterns located in mostly in position block areas along the fingerboard.

Study the melodic segment below in example one. Take notice of how the scales are located within the 12th position area of the guitar neck.

Example #1). 12th Position "A Minor" Pentatonic phrase

In example two, I've set up a classic Knopfler style Pentatonic run located in the 5th position. Plus, I've also added in his staple sound of outlining chords using small arpeggio clusters taken directly from the chord voicings.

Example #2). Classic "Knopfler style" Pentatonic lick with arpeggio outlines.

A Mark Knopfler lesson wouldn't be complete without mentioning his abundant application of small chord shapes. This "small chord" performance approach makes even more of an impact when done using the finger-picked technique.

Study example three below. I've produced a riff to practice that is largely based upon the sound and style of his guitar part made famous in the hit song, "Money for Nothing."

Example #3). Double-stop chord riff (key of "G Minor")

While Mark Knopfler may not be known in the guitar community for blinding shred tactics or insane use of technical wizardry across the neck, there his no denying that his music is full of very tasty guitar licks.

I don't believe anyone would ever say that he is a slouch on the guitar. His technique is there. The feel and connection within all of his songs is always there. And, I think that the reason he is often under-rated in the guitar world (of virtuoso shredders and all that) is because he uses his licks sparingly.

Mark Knopfler is all about getting each of his notes in just the right place. In other words, he plays the right notes at the right time, designed add to the music, rather than call attention to him ever wanting to be any kind of a guitar hero.

Songs like "Sultans of Swing," "Money for Nothing," and "Brothers in Arms," are some of his most well known pieces. And, those songs rank as favorite study pieces for many practicing guitar players. But, he has many other songs as well. And, the more you dig into his style, the more you're going to discover just how versatile he really is.

So, in wrapping up, it's important to note that while Mark Knopfler may not rip the neck up with shedding madness, (like Malmsteen, Van Halen, Steve vai or Paul Gilbert), what he does do is play into the heart of his songs, and he does that extremely well.



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3 Strategies to Produce Strong Chord Resolutions...

Resolving chord progressions with strength is how musicians use musical intervals to help phrases lead songs back to their tonic chord. It can be applied to any chord progression.  And, once a musician understands this important movement, they can use it to their full advantage...

If you don’t already know, the 7th degree is referred to in harmony as the Leading Note because it leads back to the tonic.

The leading note is a half step away from the tonic. When strong chord movements resolve, they will use half steps.

In single note applications it is easy to understand the half-step theory because you only have to think about playing from one note back to the tonic. When you play with chord resolutions it gets a bit more complex since multiple tones will be aligning around the chords.

Single leading Tone:

Chord Resolutions:

Whenever a chord progression is being played or composed, we are searching for interesting ways to resolve back to the tonic. Not every chord resolves directly to the tonic, (V-I), sometimes they will resolve indirectly, (IV-I).

Chords that Resolve Directly to the Tonic
The chord that resolves to the tonic the best is formed from the 5th (V) degree of the scale, (the Dominant Degree).

The reason that this chord is the strongest is because it contains the leading note (7th degree). This "pulls" the sound back "home" to the Tonic chord.

In the Key of C, "B" is the leading tone because it is the note just before the Tonic of "C."

Study the chart below...

The Dominant Chords formed from the 5th degree resolve better than the basic major chord because the b7 note is added in the dominant chord. This lowered 7th tone resolves to the third of the tonic (in this case E), and the B is also still a part of the chord awaiting its resolve to the C.

Look at the chart below to see the notes resolve in a key of "C" (II-V-I) resolution:

Because the V chord resolves so nicely to the tonic (I chord), many songs end with this progression because it is such a strong ending for songs.

The diminished 7th chord also resolves nicely to the tonic because it is formed from the leading note (B). In the key of C, a diminished 7 can be built upon the "B" creating a,  "B diminished 7" chord which contains the notes B, D, F, Ab.

This resolves nicely to the tonic because the B resolves to the C (and Bb if you are playing a C7), the F resolves to the E, and the Ab resolves to the G.

Look at the chart below...

Chord resolutions are one of the most important areas of song writing and composing. Once you understand the movements, you'll achieve incredible results.

Study the intervals and get to know how chords can resolve. There are options and there are various chord voicings. The way the chord is voiced on the neck will also play a role. So with the rhythm of the piece.

Have fun, experiment and create. Over time you'll discover your own favorite chord movements and your favorite resolutions.


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