Garage Rock Progressions

Finding out about the chord progressions used in garage rock is absolutely essential to getting the sound of the bands. Thankfully for beginner guitarists, the garage rock ethic of minimalism and simplicity continues into how they put their songs together. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that you will probably need no more than four chords when you’re writing a garage rock song. Many famous riffs are built from just two chords, with the guitarists alternating between them with fearsome intensity. We’ll have to briefly revisit theory, but you’ll be putting together progressions in no time.

Building Progressions

Chord progressions can also be built from scales. If we revisit the C major scale, you can apply numbers to each of the chords, so C is I, D is II, E is III, F is IV, G is V, A is VI and B is VII. You know that progressions of C, F and G work together, and this is one the most common chord progressions in all of music, I, IV, V. You can use minors for the II, III and VI chords, so they’re often written ii, iii and vi so you can see at a glance that they’re different. This means you could also do a progression such as I, vi, IV, V to build in a minor chord. In C, this would be C major, A minor, F major and G major. Generally, you play one chord for a bar or more before changing, but as you leaned in the previous lesson, you can change every half a bar if you like.

More on power chord progressions:

Going Garage Rock

So now you have a good basic understanding of how songs are put together, you can look at how garage rock bands messed around with the traditional mold to create their sound. One of the easiest progressions still incorporates the I, IV and V chords, but places the focus more on the IV chord to change the sound up. Using “/” to separate the bars, this progression goes I – IV / V – IV, or in C: C – F / G – F. With the barre chords and power chords you know you can use other keys. For example, in the key of E you could use E – A / B – A. Remember to test out different strumming patterns with the progressions.

One of the other major staples of garage rock is the I / bVII progression. We’ve not included the VII chord so far (because it’s technically supposed to be a diminished chord, something far too complex in tone for garage-rock), but garage bands simply flatten it and build entire progressions around it. This is a very common form of two-chord riff, which you can play with chords such as C and Bb, D and C or G and F. It’s easy if you’re playing power chords or barre chords, because you can play your main chord and then move two frets down to find the flat seventh.

Combining the two approaches can yield other interesting progressions, like  I – IV / bVII – IV. You can also bring in bIII and bVI chords too to change the sound up. Progressions like I – bVI / bVII – V and I – bVII / IV – bIII are commonly used in garage rock by bands like the 13th Floor Elevators, in C, these could be C – Ab / B – G and C – B / F – Eb.

Build these unusual chords into your playing and you’ll produce some garage rock style progressions. But ultimately, most garage rock was composed by people thrashing out whatever they felt like in a garage, so don’t be afraid to experiment.