Okay, so I have played guitar for quite some time, but I chose to take up tattooing for a career for about 10 years which left me no time to enjoy playing anymore. So needless to say, I ended up rupturing a disc in my lower back that pulled me away from my tattooing career, unfortunately. However, I am proud to say that I have picked up the guitar once again, and this time I am more focused than ever on playing with a little bit of theory instead of screwing around playing cover songs and playing by ear.

Recently I stared relearning the E minor pent. scale to begin rehashing things and getting my fingers limber enough to move as quickly as I once used to be able to play. Doing my research has taught me that, say you use the key of E minor to write some tunes, the notes of E minor scale would be E F# G A B C D, and using those notes of the scale you have the chords Em, f#dim,G maj, Am,Bm,Cmaj,Dmaj and so on and so forth.

So I decided to start off playing these chords as fifth chords, the root and the perfect fifth which there is no third present making the chords neither maj nor minor. So, say I am trying to write a little punk or rock song with these chords.

Would I play the chords formed by this scale and just play them as fifth chords, or would you use the actual notes of the scale as the root note and add your fifth to it to form the chords? Example (F#) Low E second fret and the A string a C# ) ? I was always taught by other musicians to just transform the actual chords that are taken from the scale and turn them into fifth diads instead of playing the scale notes as roots.

Also, I watched some drop D lessons which were SO awesome, but I had the same question about playing the fifth power chords in Drop D after seeing an online guitar lesson in which the teacher used the notes of the blues scale on the low D string to create the fifth chords by adding the perfect fifth below it instead of playing the chords which arm formed by the scale which totally made me wonder what the hell I was doing lol. Say I am going to use that same E minor key and I want to use the E minor pent. scale for some little fun licks to add in.

Would I just play the chords in which that scale produces and transform them into fifth chords on that low E string, or do I actually play the notes of the scale using the roots and add the perfect fifth right under it? This confuses me, so if you could clear that up I would definitely owe you big time!

Thank you so much

Hopefully I can get a response which would clear my frustrated mind up for me, and I could get back to having some fun without over thinking this whole thing.


3 Answers 3


Would I play the chords formed by this scale and just play them as fifth chords, or would you use the actual notes of the scale as the root note and add your fifth to it to form the chords? Example (F#) Low E second fret and the A string a C# )?

It's not totally clear to me what the difference is here. With the exception of the F#dim, each of the chords you mention has a perfect fifth.

Let's look at an example. You're thinking about the E minor scale, right? Suppose you take a "chord formed by this scale", such as the G major chord. G major has three notes: G, B, and D. If you make a "fifth" chord out of it—i.e. you drop the third—you get G and D. On the other hand, if you start out with G (an "actual note of the scale") and add a fifth to it, you get... G and D. So what's the difference?

I'm happy to try to help if you can offer some clarification on what you're asking, but right now, I'm not sure what you're looking for.

Update: Maybe you're wondering what to do in the special case of the F# dim chord? The short answer here is: whatever you want—it's your music.

The slightly longer answer is that the advice you mention getting from other musicians (to use the "actual chords that are taken from the scale") is a reference to diatonic harmony. And it's solid advice; diatonic harmony can take you very, very far in your music writing.

But it's not everything. Lots of pop music, especially music from the blues, rock, and punk traditions, ignores diatonic harmony altogether. If your song is in E minor and you play the chord formed by F# & C#, then your song isn't really adhering to diatonic harmony (unless that F# power chord is intended as a secondary dominant resolving to a B7 that itself resolves to E minor). And depending on the song, the style of music you're writing, and your own creative need, it's totally okay not to adhere to diatonic harmony.


There are a couple of ways you could think about this. You could take the chords from E minor and play the fifth chord for each root note, so E5, F♯(♭5), G5, A5, B5, C5, D5. Note that the F♯ is not the usual fifth chord since it has a diminished 5th. This is probably the easiest way to think about it.

Alternatively, you could construct the chords from the E natural minor scale:

    E  F♯ G  A  B  C  D

Looking at the scale it can be seen that E5 contains an E and a B, the F♯(♭5) contains an F♯ and a C, and so on. This results in exactly the same chords as the first way of looking at this.

The first method relies on knowing the pattern for fifth chords, while the second may provide a little more insight into where these chords come from.

In standard tuning you might have:

%X/X.7/1.9/3.9/4.X/X.X/X[E5] %X/X.9/1.10/2.11/3.X/X.X/X[F♯(♭5)]

For drop D tuning, you will have to adjust accordingly to get the right notes in the chord: move the notes on the sixth string up two frets:

%2/1.2/1.2/1.X/X.X/X.X/X[E5] %4/2.3/1.4/3.X/X.X/X.X/X[F♯(♭5)]

Note that you could leave out one of the doubled root notes in the above voicings if you like. And if you don't like the sound of the F♯(♭5) chord, you could substitute a vanilla F♯5 chord and be fine, though now things begin to diverge from strict diatonic harmony. For that matter, it would be fine to play any chords that sound good, even if they don't belong to E minor.


Rather than raise the C to C#, drop the F# down half a step to F and play an F5 power chord or if you want that F# sound to pull into the G then play a D/F#

  • If nothing else, the fingering you show here is going to be a serious stretch for most players. Feb 6, 2020 at 21:42
  • @ChristopherHunter it’s really not. It’s literally the 4th and 5th note of “crazy train” and no one would consider that too hard to teach someone. Feb 6, 2020 at 22:07
  • Not everyone's hands are built the same. I can make that but it's certainly not comfortable enough that I would care to play it if I didn't have to Feb 9, 2020 at 0:39
  • @ChristopherHunter okay. It makes no difference to me or the OP what is preferable for your comfort. If it’s a hard stretch for you keep playing and practicing and you’ll feel more comfortable playing. Feb 9, 2020 at 1:26
  • Answers on stackexchange sites are posted to share information to everyone, not just the OP. If the answers are only useful to a specific subset of people, it's worth noting. Feb 12, 2020 at 23:50

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