Metal Riff Bootcamp 3: Killer Chords

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Power Chords VS. ‘Killer Chords’

For beginners, a simple power chord consists of the root note and 5th note of that chord played together. Technically, you can also include the octave of the root note but many will just play those first two notes.

How are ‘killer chords’ different? First, that’s just a cool name that I made up. These killer chords are really just variations of power chords.

In essence, you’re just playing the root note with a different note other than the 5th note. This gives you a different sound and helps keep your progressions from sounding stock or boring.

Knowing this allows you to play 4-5 different ways just by changing the secondary note! Add that concept to all of the power chords you’re playing in a song, and you open yourself up to endless sounds and possibilities.

The Role of Killer Chords for Metal Guitar

It’s safe to say that power chords are the ultimate foundation of metal music. Everything hinges on the power chord.

With regular power chords being the heart of metal music, using variations of these chords is what can make your song sound completely different.

One of the challenges of being a metal guitarist is playing writing music that, at the end of the day, kind of just runs together. And even more, if all you’re playing is regular power chords.

With these ‘killer chords,’ you can make a regular-sounding song and turn it into a song or riff that has a more powerful impact.

Of course, that’s subjective. But there’s no doubt that learning these variations will greatly expand your playing and songwriting.

Examples of Songs that Use Variations of Power Chords

You’ll hear these power chord variations used across every subgenre of metal. But they were especially common in the 80s metal era (including hair bands!).

Below are some notable metal songs that used these killer chords:

  • ‘Orion’ by Metallica
  • ‘I Don’t Believe in Love’ by Queensryche
  • ‘Unchain the Night’ by Dokken
  • ‘Children of the Night’ by Whitesnake
  • ‘The Metalizer’ by Jason Stallworth
  • ‘Back for More’ by Ratt
  • ‘Badlands’ by Metal Church

More than often, you’ll hear these power chord variations sort of hidden in parts of songs. But now that you know what they are, you know what to listen for.

Chances are it’s going to be that part of the song that makes it more captivating. It makes you walk away with that feeling of ‘There was something really cool and unique about that song!’

Best Way to Practice Power Chord Variations

Beginners: Start with just one chord. Let’s just say E minor.

Play the regular power chord on the A and D strings (A string 7th fret, D string 9th fret).

Now, change the note you play on the D string from the 9th to the 10th fret and play the chord. Then play the 5th, and then the 3rd fret of the D string.

Next, do the same with the D power chord (A string 5th fret, D string 7th fret). This will be a D major so you’re finger position for the next notes will be different. But mess around with these notes on the D string: 4th and 5th frets.

You can use this method for any power chord and get those variations (you’ll need to make sure the notes you’re playing are in the appropriate key; let your ears tell you what’s right or wrong!).

Intermediate: Start playing the different variations of power chords using full progressions. You can also move that 2nd finger around while you’re playing the chord to the point where it sounds like you’re playing melodies with these chords.

Also, practice playing the single notes by going back and forth between the two strings. Use palm muting to get that choppy sound.

Now you can really start expanding your rhythms when you’re writing music.

***If you’re ready to go to that next level now, click below to learn more about my course Metal Riff Master:

Jason Stallworth

About the author

Jason is a hard rock and heavy metal recording artist, songwriter, and published author. Primarily a guitarist, he's known for his melodic style and positivity. He also enjoys helping other guitarists and musicians excel. When he's not writing music or filming YouTube videos, he's helping others build muscle and get in shape on themuscleprogram.com.


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