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Play Rock Guitar Chords

Updated on March 10, 2021
Jon Green profile image

Mainly I play jazz standards, but I started out playing rock guitar in the 1970s, and it's still fun to play.

Rock Guitar

Play the chords on the chart below. If you play each chord twice, you get a similar chord progression to Dylan's All Along the Watchtower, and also the end section of Stairway to Heaven. These are both rock classics. First line is an easy chord version, second line is really how it should be played, with barre chords. The barre chord symbol is the loop, meaning you put your first finger across all six strings. If it's difficult, you can lift your first finger a bit and just play the lower 4 strings of the chord,that is, strings 6,5,4,3. A certain amount of amp distortion is good for this, like we need an excuse.

Next, the scale pattern for Am pentatonic is shown, with an optional extension up the neck next to it. You can use all these notes for playing lead guitar solos over the chords. I would learn each pattern as it is shown, and then practice moving from one pattern to the other so you can connect them easily. There is a five position pattern that covers the whole of the guitar neck, but it's much better to learn it in sections.

Fingering is important - use your little finger for the stretch to fret 8. Generally it's a good idea to have each finger covering a fret - so a four fret span uses all the fingers in sequence. This is a good practice routine, as most people have weak little fingers.

Rock Guitar examples

Learn from the best!

Santana progression

Santana tunes such as Oye Como Va use the Am7 to D9 progression. Again you can use the Am pentatonic scale to play lead over these chords, although it's also good to use the notes of the D9 chord. Another chord that you'll often find used with these chords is E7 sharp 9, often called the Hendrix chord because he was fond of using it. This chord creates a lot of tension, which is nicely resolved by the return to Am.

Chord progressions often use this principle - tension and release. Any dominant 7th chord wants to return to the home chord, and if there are more discordant notes such as a sharp 5 or 9 in the chord, the need to resolve is even stronger.

Apart from learning songs and applying these chords, it's good to just experiment with them, especially if you jam with other guitar players.

Ever since the Chuck Berry intro riffs that kick off Johnny B. Goode and Oh Carol, playing two note riffs, for example fret 5 on strings 1 and 2 together, has been a major part of rock guitar, and will really make solos sound better. If you look at the Am pentatonic scale pattern - just use any two notes at the same fret on different strings. For instance,

fret 5 on string 1,2

fret 5 strings 2,3

fret 7 strings 3,4.

Barre chords

Have a look at my other hub on barre chords. Don't assume that because they hurt you have to use them all the time. I'll usually play Am by using a half-barre on strings 1-4, and my thumb for string 6. So much easier, and usually sounds better too as you can add vibrato or slide into the chord, add a ninth by adding fret 7 on the high E string, etc.

Watch video of Hendrix playing this way, it also frees up your options to add other notes to a chord.


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