What You Will Learn
  1. How to play bass notes with power chords
  2. What a pedal point is

Using Pedal Points with Power Chords and More

Many guitar riffs with power chords incorporate bass notes to create more interesting and complex riffs. The bass notes are usually either an open string or the lowest note in the chord being played. This kind of playing is typical in heavy metal and rock music. Several approaches to this style are covered below.

Bass Notes From the Chord

Using the lowest note in the chord as the bass note is the simplest way add bass notes to a riff. The bass notes are usually palm muted, while the chords may be muted in some riffs and not others.

Exercise 1

Exercise 1 is a simple riff on E5 and G5 power chords. The bass notes are muted, while the actual power chords aren't. The bass notes can be played with all downstrokes or with downstrokes and upstrokes. Practice the exercise both ways.

Bass note riff that uses the lowest note in the chord as the bass

Using an Open String as a Pedal

Heavy metal riffs frequently feature the low E string as a pedal point against changing power chords. This is considered a pedal point because the E is repeated while the harmony (the power chords) changes over this bass note.

A pedal point is a note that is sustained or repeated while other notes or harmonies are changed. The origin of the term is from organ music where a chords or other notes are played above a sustained bass note on the pedals of the organ.

Exercise 2

Exercise 2 is a typical heavy metal riff. The power chords move chromatically over a low E string pedal.

Make sure you get in position for the next chord anytime you are playing the pedal notes. While you may not be able to fret the note on the sixth string until it is time to play the chord, you can get in position to play the notes on the fourth and fifth strings. Don't press on the strings until you actually play the chord, but get your fingers in position above the fret where the chord occurs. This will make it much easier to play fast riffs in the future. As with exercise 1, this exercise can be played with all downstrokes or with downstrokes on the chords and alternate picking on the bass notes.

Heavy metal style riff with a bass pedal on the low E string

Exercise 3

Exercise 3 includes a bass pedal on the sixth string in sixteenth notes. This will be somewhat more challenging than the eighth note versions. The sixteenth notes should be played with alternate picking.

Heavy metal riff with a bass pedal in 16th notes