Matt-Gerry_webBusy times at South Middle School! It’s been nearly a month since my last post….wow. We’re on spring break this week, and it always seems like the rest of the year just flies from this point on. When we return to class next week, we have a mere two and a half weeks to prepare for our big concert, “the Night of the Arts.”

Right before spring break we had our Power Chord Week. I always like to put this week about mid-course and usually on a kind of hectic week (as we all can identify the week before spring break always is).

During this week I try and follow my normal routine of tuning, pentatonic scale work with improvisation, and a couple a notation songs….but the rest of class this week is devoted to all power chord songs. I define power chords by the following:

You will notice, I like to use the three finger power chord as opposed to the two finger version. For some reason, I think the three finger version tends to be easier to learn. Why? I don’t know. I am always trying to find ways to help my students remember important things in class….example….when we transition for minor pentatonic to major….I tell them you do the same pattern, but start with your pinky finger. The way I try and help them remember, is ask them to pretend that their pinky finger is a big shot in the army. So imagine their name is Major Pinky, and that finger is a ruthless general. You never ever want to cross Major Pinky. Sound stupid? Of course it does,but my students never forget which finger to start in when using the pentatonic scale in a major key. 🙂

Much the same way, when we play power chords, I always make a big deal about, “Whatever you do, DON’T practice your power chords in math class!” I tell them how when I used to get bored in class I would always practice my chord fingers – switching back and forth. But I warn them to NEVER do that with power chords. The reason: if you showed your power chord to your math teacher, you’re probably gonna get sent to the office! (why? because your middle finger stays up when you’re holding down a power chord). Stupid again….yes…but I never come across kinds in class after that using their middle finger to hold down a power chord. It works!

This is my progression of songs for power chord week.

1. 25 or 6 to 4 by Chicago. All power chords are on the sixth string….you just move the backwards a fret at a time. Great for introducing how power chords move.

2. Why Part 2 by Collective Soul. A perfect song! This is a GEM (I’ve got a great GEM post in my head…come back and read that one once I get it written out). A GEM is a song that works perfectly for what I want to teach. If you’re not using this song to teach power chords…I highly recommend it! Again…all power chords on the sixth string still.

3. Sunshine of Your Love by Cream – this is another GEM! I introduce tablature for the first time with this song as well. The riff gets the excited, and the chorus power chords are accomplishing my objective. We do this song and almost every concert. It never fails to impress and a major of my students have it master in a couple of days. Don’t you love songs like that!

4. Good by Better than Ezra ….first used to introduce moving the power chord to the fifth string

5. Pork and Beans by Weezer ….adding a riff and using fifth and sixth string power chords. Love the message of this song too. We talk about that quite a bit, as “being yourself” is a tough thing for a lot of middle schoolers. Plus…fond memories….

6. Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana….the ultimate power chord song. Don’t spend long on it…just touch it.

7. Blitzkrieg Bop by the Ramone …there’s just something about 25 guitarist yelling “Hey, Ho….Let’s Go!” in a British accent that always makes my day. Another song that I love to use as the opener to a concert.

8. Some years I like to add Tick, Tick, BOOM by The Hives. If I can ever get a student who can sing it with the energy of the lead singer of the Hives…we’ll do it in a concert!

Students who struggle with power chords usually have the same problem….it’s in the moving of the power chords. So I tell them to make sure their pinky and ring fingers never come apart when they move. If they can keep those two fingers glued together…normally…they’ll get it. For some a little masking tape on those fingers helps.

Power Chords can open the door to a TON of songs that are not doable with just open chords. Many time when we play open chord songs and we get to a B or an F I’ll have kids sub in a power chord if they can’t play the open chord version. There are many ways to skin a cat…I find myself skinning with power chords a lot!

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