♠ Ex. 1 is a basic eighth-note exercise for developing speed using downstrokes at different tempos. Focus less on the accuracy of the notes as the tempo ramps up, and more on the evenness and the fullness of each stroke, then move on to a faster tempo. If it’s perfectly in time, it will sound wrong.

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♠ In Ex. 2, we combine a simple rhythm pattern with a I-IV-V progression. Each measure starts with a quarter-note followed by a string of eighth-notes. The quarter-note gives your wrist a quick rest and a springboard from which to attack the rest of the measure.

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♠ Ex. 3 is a variation, where the quarter-note happens on the 4th beat of the measure. 

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♠ Let’s bring some diversity to the tone and technique with Ex. 4. The wrist switches between a wide whip on the downbeats and a smaller precise attack on the offbeats. The fretting hand helps the rhythmic bounce by muting those offbeats. The strumming is intricate and you’ll need some practice to get it right.

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♠ Odd time! You will sometimes find a section in a Ramones song with an extra beat or two, to accommodate lyrics or a transition. Ex. 5 is a two-measure phrase in 5/4, where the first beat is a quarter-note and the remaining beats are eighth-notes.

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♠ In Ex. 6, we have an alternating riff in 6/4, where the first three beats are quarter-notes and the next three beats consist of eighth-notes.

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♠ Ex. 7 is a variation of the 6/4 pattern: It starts with four beats of blasting eighth-notes and ends with two beats of quarter-notes.

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Harmony
Another staple of the Ramones’ sound is the use of predominantly major harmony. Their songs are heavily influenced by ’50s and ’60s pop, as well as blues chord changes. Generally, the harmony will stay very diatonic while the chord types rarely stray away from major or minor. Dominant or chromatic passing chords occasionally appear, perfectly suited for barre chords. Musically speaking, many of their songs sound uplifting and light, with the trademark aggressiveness conveyed through the delivery. 

♠ Ex. 8 is a traditional harmonic movement, sped up punk-rock style. As I mentioned before, make sure to attack all strings (even the muted ones) to ensure the fullest sound.

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♠ Ex. 9 is a common 12-bar blues progression. Note the sliding I chord, another signature element of the Johnny Ramone’s driving sound. It gives you a quick break before the onslaught of eighth-notes resume on beat 2, and this provides a quick break for your wrist that we discussed before.

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♠ There are some exceptions to the “rules” we’ve examined so far. Ex. 10 is a riff based on chunky power chords, rather than the full 6-string strum. Make it crowd-ready with a big loud shout on beat 4.

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♠ Ex. 11 explores a minor harmonic progression.

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♠ Based on palm-muted power chords, Ex. 12also includes some passing chords that are purposely kept small to maintain the chunkiness of the sound. The Eb/G going to Ab5 is very practical, and the G7 chord is limited to its two guide tones (3 and b7) to ensure a smooth and easy transition to C5. Smart and economical voicing.

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Lead
Johnny Ramone isn’t known for his single-note work, but some of the band’s songs feature guitar leads, often executed by record producers or guest guitarists such as Daniel Rey, Walter Lure from the Heartbreakers, and Vernon Reid from Living Colour, to name a few. Minimalist techniques like unison bends and octave melodies are effective ways to sound full while cutting through in a higher register. They remain go-to solutions for melodic playing in punk rock.

♠ Ex. 13 is essentially a simple melody using unison bends and toying with the dissonance of the long bends. Much like the rhythm playing, it’s important to use wide movements and mute the unwanted strings with your fretting hand to get a big sound and attack. 

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♠ Ex. 14 is a similar idea using octaves. Remember to hit them with big downstrokes!

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♠ Ex. 15 combines low single notes borrowed from the bass line and full chords.

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♠ Ex. 16 offers some new colors by arpeggiating and voice-leading the chord changes. In every arpeggiated chord, be sure to let each note ring out into the next one. I recommend using alternate picking for single-string accuracy. I won’t tell, if you won’t.

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Performing punk rock with the right intensity is both very demanding and a lot of fun. It’s a big field to explore. It will reward your playing with a new perspective, as every past experience and every past playing opportunity informs the current one. Even in situations outside of punk rock, I always favor playing downstrokes in phrases that allow for some hardness and wide-sounding movements. And I also embrace the fact that the many imperfections of a moment are what make a moment perfect … in guitar playing, in music, and in life. Find the elements you like and make it a facet of your own musical personality.