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How To Transform Open Chord Progressions Into Rock Music

Article Written By Daniel Bainbridge

Want to escape the “pretty” sound that the major and minor open chords create?  If you are starting out your journey with making rock music and are unsure what to do once you have some of the basics then this article will help you make your first steps.


In this article you will find out how to turn common major and minor chord progressions into rock riffs so that you can create songs that match your rock style.

This is by no means a guide to making a rock masterpiece and is suited to beginners, if you are looking for a more advanced education in writing rock or metal music, you can request an article here.

First let’s take a simple chord progression in E minor played with common major and minor chord.  


Hear it by clicking on the play button.

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As you can hear, this sounds ok but is more suitable to a ballad or acoustic tune than a song that has excitement, aggression or grit.

Here are three ways to fire up this tune and make it really stand out.

Technique #1 – Rock chords and root notes Hear it

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In the example above each chord has been turned into a rock chord. If you play the piece above what you will find is that the fretting hand fingers play the same shape for each rock chord.

The lowest sounding note that is played by itself between the rock chords in each bar is the root note, the note that gives each chord its name eg. The root note of Em is E.

By playing the root note between each chord, you are creating a heavier sound because of the contrast between a three-string harmony and a single note. To enhance this contrasting effect and make the chords stand out, you can use a palm muting technique between the chords.


Technique #2 – Using triad shapes Hear it

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You can create major and minor chords that sound way cooler and are better suited to rock than traditional open chords by using just three notes, known as major and minor triads.

Knowing a bit of music theory can really help you create cool ideas such as this. One thing that really helped me when I was first starting to create rock songs was understanding that using any type of distortion or overdrive can exaggerate the tension of the notes within a chord, which is why big 6 string chords sound very harsh and can be unpleasant to hear when distortion or overdrive is used.

To give you a quick summary of triad theory, each minor and major chord is made out of three unique notes, for example an Em chord is made from the notes E, G and B, all strummed simultaneously.

Sometimes those notes appear twice or more in order to play a major or minor chord across 4 or more strings such as the six string E minor shape in the original example we began with. The notes in order from lowest string to highest string in the six string Em chord are E B E G B E. Notice that there are still only three unique notes E, G and B.

By reducing large chords to these simpler triad shapes, you get a sound that is more rock while keeping the qualities of the major and minor chords so that you can create songs with various expressive qualities.  It has become common to associate major chord with being more upbeat or positive and minor chords being more negative in emotion. That is why the Em chord in this progression sounds different to all the major chords.

Technique #3 Creating rock riffs using scale sequencing Hear it

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To use the idea in this example it takes a little knowledge of scales but the idea is simple. Each bar of this rock melody follows a pattern known as a scale sequence.

For this article I will show you the pattern by writing the E minor scale starting on the root note for the corresponding chord of each bar and highlight the notes I used in the scale sequence. For a more detailed explanation of creating music using theory concepts or to get help with your songwriting, a professional guitar teacher is recommended.

The scale sequence uses the following order of notes based on the E minor scale starting on the corresponding root note of each chord;


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As you can hear, these riffs could be used together to outline the sound of the major and minor chords from the original example.


What a lot of rock and metal bands do is combine the ideas from technique # 2 and #3 and assign one to each guitarist (if the band has two guitarists). This creates an awesome sound that is greater than either of those techniques separately. Hear it

There is a lot more to be said about creating rock songs, these are just three quick ways you can take chord progressions that you already know and change them to suit the genre. The next step from here would be to take other chord progressions that you know and try using one or more of these techniques with various rhythms. You will need to know what notes are in a chord for technique #2 and how to make major and minor scales for technique #3.

About the Author

Daniel Bainbridge is a guitar teacher in Albany, Western Australia. Daniel provides guitar lessons that cover many aspects of songwriting and composition. If you live in Western Australia and you wish to write your first musical piece, finish an incomplete work, improve the quality of your music or simply write more pieces faster, contact Daniel for a free consultation and discover how you can improve your creativity.

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