Garage rock is definitely not known for its complexity, so you don’t really have to worry about nailing note-perfect solos or mastering challenging techniques. However, that doesn’t mean that all garage rock songs are just based on a few chords. There are short runs of individual notes throughout classic garage rock songs like “Psychotic Reaction” by Count Five and “Mr. Pharmacist” by the Other Half. Learning how these are put together helps you weave in the final element of the guitar sound.
The Simple Approach
As an in-your-face genre that’s light on music theory, you don’t really need any complex tricks to create the runs of notes you’ll find in most garage rock songs. In fact, the notes that are in the chord you’d be playing are ordinarily perfect for the purpose. If it’s just a short riff for a spot for an F in the chord progression, you can keep it simple and build a little run of notes from the chord itself.
This guitar tab shows you one such run of notes that you might find in a simple garage rock composition. Tabs are really easy to use; the six lines represent the six strings and the numbers tell you which frets to play. The thick E string is the bottom line, and a plucked open string is represented by a “0.”
Notice that each six-note run begins and ends with an F note, so it doesn’t stray too far away from the main tone. The flat seventh note (always two frets below the first, or “root” note) is brought in for that garage rock sound, but you can see that the remaining notes are lifted straight from the F barre chord. Garage rock is all about coming up with something effective without being too technical.
You don’t need to know many scales to play some effective garage rock, but having one or two mentally stored away helps if you need something for a quick melody. Don’t worry though, they aren’t hard, they’re just a couple of moveable patterns that you can use to put together melodies.
Scales are shown in pretty much the same way as chords, except that the notes are played one by one. Look at these two useful scales:
Practice running through these scales to get a general feel for the shapes. Once you’ve played them through enough, your fingers will automatically move around in these patterns, making it much easier to come up with melodies and riffs on the fly. The notes with the red outlines are the ones which tell you the “key” you’re playing in. So if you’re playing in A, you can just make sure the lowest note is on the fifth fret of the E string (this works for either scale) – it’s just like moving barre and power chords around.
Try to come up with some simple runs using either of these scales. If you’re playing in G major, you can use either of these. The minor scales you can use are always related to the vi note in the scale, so if you were playing in C major you could use A minor pentatonic.