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.




THE POWER CHORD:
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.




POWER CHORD RIFFS:
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.




MINOR TONALITY - POWER CHORD RIFFS:
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...





MAJOR TONALITY - POWER CHORD RIFFS:
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...





CONCLUSION:
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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