Hard Rock Rhythm Guitar

When it comes to the rhythm guitar parts found in Hard Rock music, there aren't very many other styles that apply the rapid fretboard movements and those crunchy over-driven guitar tones that are found within this unique style of rhythm guitar playing.

It goes without saying that power-chords are at the center of this styles' chord harmony. But, when we listen to hits by the classic bands, there seems to be a little more going on than just a collection of palm-muted 5th intervals.

Next to power chords, (5th intervals), one of the most popular sounds generated by the chord harmonies in Hard Rock are small, (generally two or three note), versions of major and minor 3rd's, as well as, 4th intervals. These can be found in almost every section of a piece. However, since they carry such a strong, and busy, harmonic sound, they will tend to be used most often as intro sections, or as breakdown sections.

In example one, I have a fairly typical sounding hard rock riff that we might find used as an intro section in an 80's hard rock number. Listen to the audio clip, then study the TAB and notation to learn how to properly perform the part.


Hard Rock guitarists will commonly apply a number of phrasing concepts, (hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, bends), alongside of busy single-note scale phrases and interesting harmony. To demonstrate some of this, I've composed a short example below of a fairly typical sounding Hard Rock rhythm guitar part, (i.e., verse, bridge or chorus riff),  that applies a number of these concepts.

In example two below, I've applied some single-note passing-tone lines, hammer-on and slide phrasing devices, as well as, some interesting harmony by way of a, "B Augmented," (B+), two-note chord. Listen to the audio clip, then study the TAB and notation to learn how to properly perform the part.


One of the most popular sounds found in Hard Rock rhythm guitar is the palm-muted two-note chord riff. The palm-muting technique used along with the classic crunchy overdrive sound, really brings out the thick 'chunky push' of the Hard Rock feel.

A lot of the color and contour of this sound will come from the way we dial in the over-drive on our amp. When it comes down to generating this sound through an amplifier, sometimes it can be very difficult to reproduce the right kind of classic low-end, "thunk," without the use of either an analog, or a tube amp. The new digital modeling amps are getting better, but many still cannot adequately reproduce that classic Hard Rock sounding guitar tone.

In example three, I have a palm-muted chunky riff that mixes power chords with some upper register interval chords. This style of riff would work well for a typical verse, or chorus section of a Hard Rock tune. Watch how you apply your palm-muting technique. Too much pressure can make the chord loose it's dynamic response, and not enough will cause a lack of the required, "thickening distinction," necessary for the unique palm-muted chord sound. Listen to the audio clip, then study the TAB and notation to learn how to properly perform the part.


Hard Rock Rhythm Guitar is not just excellent for developing better control over using a heavily distorted guitar tone. This style pushes us further as guitarists to be able to develop higher level picking control, as well as, an abundance of techniques. Phrasing ideas like; palm-muting, slides, vibrato, bends, hammer-ons and pull-offs are used constantly in this style and must be developed to a decent ability level. However, since this style is both popular with guitarists and a whole lot of fun to play, it isn't difficult to sit down and work on to polish up a lot of unique harmonies and guitar techniques.

- Andrew Wasson