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I'm trying to write a rock/punk song in the key of A minor and the chorus goes: B5, C5, G5, F5. The B chord in A minor is B diminished, does that mean I have to use the diminished chord or can I use the power chord?

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    When these kinds of questions pop into my head while I'm writing a song, I usually like to go for the disruptive choice, the "third" choice, "other", or something that basically renders the question irrelevant. In this case, I would work really hard to play both the B5 and the B diminished. To me that's musically saying "F... you, I do what I want! This is punk rock!" It doesn't seem very punk to me to spend more than a minimum amount of time discussing music theory. :-) – Todd Wilcox Jun 28 '17 at 17:36
  • I wouldn't characterize the F♯ as an "anti-theory" approach. For example, if this were a Latin jazz song, it would be common to see a progression like | B min 7 | E7♭9 | A min | where the ii chord contains an F♯ and not an F. I don't think you're breaking theory rules by using the natural fifth on the ii chord when working in a minor tonality. – jdjazz Jun 28 '17 at 17:54
  • If you're using power chords, I would say most often people continue the parallel fifth motion because it's easiest to play and fits the style. But it might sound cool do use the F Nat? which would be from the B dim chord B D F. Try it. Use your ear. Music is all about experimentation – Kolob Canyon Jun 28 '17 at 19:03
  • @MattL. I edited. I went a different direction. And yes, that is correct. Although, since there wouldn't be a G# I would say it is borrowing from G maj / e minor - right next to A minor on the circle of fifths – Kolob Canyon Jun 28 '17 at 19:08
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You, as the songwriter, get to decide.

If it stayed in A minor, it would likely be a B and F power chord. But if you like F# better, then go with F#! I'd recommend trying both to see what you prefer, but either one is okay.

B and F would make the vamp fully in A minor. Using an F# would give it a bit of a Dorian feel and would mean you're just moving around using perfect fifths. Both are 100% acceptable in various environments.

Remember, too, that music theory often comes after composition. Thus theory is a way of explaining things, not a set of rules which you can never break.

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The '5' chord is essentially a P5: a root, and the '5' 7 semitones above it. Sometimes with the root doubled an octave above.

If you play a dim5 at some point in the song, with all (most of?) the others as just '5' chords, it will probably sound odd. Especially in punk.

Yes, it's worth considering the theoretical side of music when you're playing or composing, but in this case, the theory won't help the way the song sounds. And it'll dampen the flow of the (presumable) guitar playing. Having said that, it may even be a good move in that it will create tension - being a tritone - that the song needs. One person can and will have to decide, unless it ends up on the cutting room floor, which is better.

As Richard and most people here say - theory only tries to explain what has happened, certainly not how something must be done. Hence theory not law!

  • "If you play a dim5 at some point in the song, with all (most of?) the others as just '5' chords, it will probably sound odd. Especially in punk." Those two sentences confuse me, because making new-ish "odd" sounds is an important thing in many genres, including punk. Muse has definitely used "diminished power chords" (to coin a term) in power-chord based songs, and I believe "Movies" by Alien Ant Farm also has a diminished chord. My mind is telling me there are many more examples but it's not giving me specifics. I find Richard's answer to be much more appropriate. – Todd Wilcox Jun 28 '17 at 17:34
  • @T - not quite sure where you're coming from - I did advocate either may work. However, having had the pleasure of trying out a punk-type pattern that included the tritone on reaching a bar of B, in key A, I would further say that to me at least, it does sound odd. Not to say it can't be used as such-just that in the punk style,it sticks out as though a mistake has been made. The lack of any maj/min definition is awkward too.Give it a try and come back, please. Richard's answers are often more appropriate, but I don't think there's a competition going on, anyone is free to up/downvote as felt. – Tim Jun 29 '17 at 11:18
  • The only difference between a mistake and music is repetition. – Todd Wilcox Jun 29 '17 at 13:59
  • @ToddWilcox - with the mistakes I make, that probably means I'm a damned good muso... if indeed I understand the quote. – Tim Jun 29 '17 at 14:20
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If you want the 'power chord' sound, I think you'll only be happy with B and F#. (And 'B5' means B and F#, whatever key the piece is based in.

Being 'in A minor' does not restrict your choice of notes or chords. It just tells you what note and chord feels like 'home'. You could sprinkle in e.g. a load of Bb5 chords and, as long as you came back to A minor, you'd still be firmly 'in A minor'. You wouldn't be setting up a new 'home' of Bb major. You'd just be playing a chord that contrasted strongly with your home chord of A minor.

'Theory describes, it does not command'.

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You can do what you like, typically power chords are neither minor nor major in themselves as they don't contain a 3rd interval and they are generally used in the same way that you would use single notes in a melody so the overall tonality is more abut the root notes of the chords than anything else.

Often with power chord riffs you have a second guitar, bass or keyboard filling out the chord structure.

In particular it's probably worth having a look at how bands like Korn, Iron Maiden and Metallica structure their songs as they often have quiet melody driven riffs but with fairly complex harmonic structures underpinning how the wehole song works

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Does your melody contain a F natural or a F sharp at this point, and are you unwilling to change the melody there? If so, the chord you pick has already been decided for you. Does your melody contain both or neither instead? Only then will it truly be your decision to make.

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