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Songwriting 101 – The Shift/Stay Approach to Outlining a Progression

Let's face it; power chords can start to sound monotonous after a while. A simple method I employ to spice things up is something I call the shift/stay technique. This involves keeping the 5th from the first power chord of the progression in place whilst moving the root note as normal. The resulting sound is what could be described as 'dissonant', although it sounds pretty good to my ear.

The progression we are going to use here is your standard generic fare employed by everyone from Alkaline Trio to Iron Maiden and beyond. But it works, which is why it's used so often.

Example 1 illustrates the standard power chord progression in action, B5-A5-G5-F#5. Although the transcription sets the B5 and A5 starting on the fifth string, you could just as easily play them starting on the 6th string, thereby minimizing the hassle of shifting to a different set of strings mid-way through. Visually speaking, this also makes apparent the dark descending nature of the progression.

The progression we are going to use here is your standard generic fare employed by everyone from Alkaline Trio to Iron Maiden and beyond. But it works, which is why it's used so often.

Exercise 2 then proceeds to transform the basic progression into something a little more interesting using the method I discussed earlier. There's not really an option of staying on the same set of strings throughout here unless your fingers are really long. The middle finger should be used for the G note in bar 3 after which, the index will take care of the F#, forming an octave shape. It's important to mute the 5th string here using the back of the fretting finger in order to avoid unwanted string noise.