Alternative Chords & The Bands Who Use Them

Chords which sound a little bit different have always appealed to me, mostly because bands like The Mars Volta, The Fall of Troy and The Dillinger Escape Plan rank amongst my favourites. Once I was good enough to attempt to play some of their songs, I noticed how odd some of the chords looked. Here I'll share a few of my favourite chords which could be described as “new” or “unusual” to beginners.

Individually these chords don't always sound that amazing, the trick is to mix them in with (or over the top of) power chords or use them with interesting timing signatures. So if you're looking for some soft melodic chords, these probably aren't for you. Unlike power chords, using them will need a fair bit of experimentation and thought.

Now I'm not an expert by any means, and for those who know about guitar theory (or jazz guitarists) some of these chords won't seem unusual at all. But hopefully for newer players it can work as a simple way to help break that “power chord only” mentality. I've included videos from the bands who use the chords so you can see them in action.

I'll try to give the names of the chords too (but some of them are so unusual they don't actually have exact names!)

At The Drive In

E ---

B -8-

G -7-

D -5-

A -7-

E ---

Name: Em7

This chord, or a similar variation, was used in One Armed Scissor by At The Drive In. I remember first hearing it and wondering what the chord was. It sounded like it had a real kick and managed to sound quite heavy without needing a ton of distortion. At the Drive In had two guitarists so they were fond of mixing the "different" chords grounded with more standard chords and timings. See it in action in the below video.

The Fall of Troy

E ---

B -10-

G -x-

D -8-

A ---

E ---

Name: Maj7 Interval Dyad

This is used by The Fall of Troy quite a bit. It won't necessarily sound good strummed in a chord progression, but works in short bursts. This chord has a similar impact and can be used in “breakdowns” in heavier genres of music:

E ---

B ---

G -9-

D -8-

A -7-

E ---

Name: Edim triad

You can hear the first chord in action around 6.5 seconds into this song:

The Fall of Troy actually occasionally use the alternative chords in quite normal 4/4 timings, or sprinkle them in amongst their "crazy single note hammer on / pull off frenzy". This is demonstrated really well in "Semi Fiction", have a look at the tab on the awesome site which is songsterr

At Dillinger Escape Plan

The Dillinger Escape Plan have some absolutely insane guitar parts, the most impressive of which is usually made up from single notes. But they also use some interesting chords. Similar to the chords used above they have that “discord” sound. Here are a few they use:

E -0----------

B -16--------

G -14-----6-

D -14-----x-

A ----------5-

E -------------

Name: EMaj7sus4 / Maj7 Interval Dyad

They're also fond of playing their standard tuned guitars as if they were in drop D. For example 43% Burnt uses this chord quite a bit:

E ---

B ---

G ---

D ---

A -3-

E -3-

Name: Fourth Dyad

Dillinger are a good example of a band who use chords from a non “rock” genre. In this case it's jazz, they just play the chords in a way which is miles away from the typical jazz band. Here is their song 43% Burnt:

The Mars Volta

The Mars Volta love to (guess it's more like “loved to” now :( ) use chords which are (relatively) high up the fretboard but which still have open notes. Like some of these:

E -0----------0-

B -0----0----5-

G -9----7----7-

D -9----0----0-

A -------7-------

E ----------------

Name: ??? / D6sus2 / Dsus2 

This, as opposed to the dischord of the Dillinger Escape Plan, can be used to create some pretty melodic sounds. An example of this is in the song Cygnus....Vismund Cygnus from Frances The Mute:

You also see quite a few chords consisting of just two notes which span quite a wide distance. Like these:

E -------------

B -10---6----

G -x-----x----

D -x-----x----

A -9-----6----

E -------------

Name: Barre F#m / Ebsus2 Barre

They are often played aggressively and in short bursts but can be used melodically with heavy reverb. However remember The Mars Volta do use quite a few effects in their songs so sometimes can get sounds which are harder to achieve with a standard setup.

Hopefully this has given you new players some ideas about the chords you're using. Experiment and find out what sounds cool / interesting. There are thousands of chord combinations on the fretboard (2341 not including 2 string power chords according to Premier Guitar) so why stick to the same shapes?

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