Understanding Power Chords

This lesson will discuss about the simplified way of playing barre chords, the power chords. On the contrary, power chords are used in extremely complex music. Power chords are a key element of many styles of rock music.

Understanding Power Chords
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In guitar music, a power chord is a chord that consists of the root note and the fifth interval. Power chords are played on amplified guitars, especially on electric guitar with distortion. Power chords are a key element of many styles of rock music. Power Chords are sometimes labeled by their root note with the number 5 to identify them: C5, D5, etc. The power chords below will show you how to play a chord progression using power chords on the 5th and 6th guitar strings. Let's try a G power chord - G5:
e|-----|
b|-----|
g|-----|
d|-----|
a|-5---|
e|-3---|
Use your index- and ring finger, or index and little finger. If you move it up two frets, it becomes an A power chord - A5.
e|-----|
b|-----|
g|-----|
d|-----|
a|-7---|
e|-5---|

     D5             C5            G5                            
e||--------------|--------------|--------------|--------------||
B||--------------|--------------|--------------|--------------||
G||--7--7--7--7--|--5--5--5--5--|--------------|--------------||
D||--7--7--7--7--|--5--5--5--5--|--5--5--5--5--|--5--5--5--5--||
A||--5--5--5--5--|--3--3--3--3--|--5--5--5--5--|--5--5--5--5--||
E||--------------|--------------|--3--3--3--3--|--3--3--3--3--||
Some power chords can be played using an open string such as the A5 power chord and the D5 power chord used in the guitar tab below:
     A5                   D5 C5    A5                   D5 C5   
e||-----------------------------|-----------------------------||
B||-----------------------3-----|-----------------------3-----||
G||--2--2---2--2----2--2--2--5--|--2--2---2--2----2--2--2--5--||
D||--2--2---2--2----2--2--0--5--|--2--2---2--2----2--2--0--5--||
A||--0--0---0--0----0--0-----3--|--0--0---0--0----0--0-----3--||
E||-----------------------------|-----------------------------||
You can also play the guitar tab above this way:
    A5                    D5 C5    A5                    D5 C5    
e||------------------------------|------------------------------||
B||------------------------------|------------------------------||
G||--2--2----2--2----2--2--7--5--|--2--2----2--2----2--2--7--5--||
D||--2--2----2--2----2--2--7--5--|--2--2----2--2----2--2--7--5--||
A||--0--0----0--0----0--0--5--3--|--0--0----0--0----0--0--5--3--||
E||------------------------------|------------------------------||
Power Chords with root notes on the G or 3rd string and the D or 4th string:
     C5             G5             F5                           
e||--8--8--8--8--|--------------|--------------|--------------||
B||--8--8--8--8--|--8--8--8--8--|--6--6--6--6--|--6--6--6--6--||
G||--5--5--5--5--|--7--7--7--7--|--5--5--5--5--|--5--5--5--5--||
D||--------------|--5--5--5--5--|--3--3--3--3--|--3--3--3--3--||
A||--------------|--------------|--------------|--------------||
E||--------------|--------------|--------------|--------------||
I hope this lesson helps you to understand what a power chord is.

52 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    AngelCityOutlaw
    Great lesson. However, I think it should be explained more often that power chords aren't chords and just because you have two intervals harmonized in fifths played in a row does not mean you are implying a chord progression. For example, the dyads or "power chords" in the Smoke on The Water riff are not a "chord progression". It is a melody harmonized in fifths/fourths. Something like that D - C - G example (the third tab) is more like an actual chord progression. Reason I say it's important is because if you just go nuts writing melodies over top of what is basically just a harmonized melody, you can get real messy sounding as your "lead" will add in the missing third interval and it can sound just like a lot of really rapid, full chord changes.
    Smoke666
    Is it wrong to play power chords without out their consecutive octave? I've always played them as just a two-note chord.
    jackrayment
    it really depends on the sound you are looking for, there isnt a "best" one as such.
    sideslick
    The context of of the song should receive some notice. Maybe you want to build up to a big, loud chorus. Start with a two-note power chord, then gradually hit the third note to begin the chorus. A good example of this, while not a power chord, is the pre-chorus buildup in "Plug in Baby", by Muse.
    The part is just before the 1-minute mark. This is just one example of fewer notes Vs. more notes.
    Scarface88
    I think it's also a speed thing; I tend to find it easier to play the two-string power chords if I need to be quick.
    MaggaraMarine
    You could have added that power chords can be used as minor or major chords because power chords don't have a third in them. So if a song has a chord progression like C-Am-F-G, you could play it like C5-A5-F5-G5. The lesson doesn't really talk about how to use them, it just talks about how to play them. But yeah, still a decent lesson.
    Sir_Taffey
    Then over the power chords have the melody fill in the defining intervals for the major/minor sounds
    Jimjambanx
    Not a bad lesson, but for something as simple as power chords, it wouldn't have hurt to add something on how to play them (like what fingerings to use etc.) as this is clearly aimed at beginners, it's something that a lot of beginners could benefit from.
    sewoo55
    Another way to play power chords seems to play something like this: Eb|-----5---| Bb|-----5---| Gb|-----7---| Db|-6-6-----9---9-9--4-4-----7---7-7--6-6-----9--11-9--4-4-----7---| Ab|-4-4-----7---7-7--2-2-----5---5-5--4-4-----7--9--7--2-2-----5---| Eb|-4-4-----7---7-7--2-2-----5---5-5--4-4-----7--9--7--2-2-----5---|
    Half step down by the way
    blacknex
    I see that as fourths with octave.
    AngelCityOutlaw
    Well, just judging by the guitar itself, yes. However, if your bass guitar (and possibly other instruments) is/are playing the root note of the dyad, then it still implies that your harmony is a fifth.
    RebukePete
    Also, just adding the 8 without explainig why or how seems... not very educational.
    AlanHB
    I like this 6 string power chord. 0 0 9 9 7 0 This E5 sounds great, especially on an acoustic guitar.
    dan.caffrey.94
    Hi there. I just started playing guitar, and am slowly learning the art of power chords. I have a question though. For me, it's easier to bar the fifth and the octave with my ring finger instead of holding each string down with an individual finger. So essentially, I play most power chords with my index finger for the root, then just my ring finger to bar the other two strings. It always sounds clearer than when I use three fingers. Is this technique wrong? Is it going to make things harder for me in the long run, once I start expanding from just power chords? More importantly, is it going to mess up my hand/fingers at all? It doesn't hurt or anything, but like I said, I'm a novice, so I might not know any better. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for the lesson! Dan
    dishfish69
    once you build up strength in your pinky it'll become easier to play them with your individual fingers
    timbo63
    Great lesson! Since others are adding other beginner tips, here are a few of my favorite variations on power chords (essentially, just leaving out thirds). Like someone said above, the more notes, the fuller the sound. E5 A5 D5 G5 e-0--5---5---3---- b-5--5---3---3---- g-4--2---2---x-- -- d-2--2---0---5---- a-2--0-----5---- E-0-----3---- T hat G5 can be played anywhere (so down two frets for F5, etc). Play that one loud with a lot of distortion. You need to use your thumb for the E string and have your reach to the d-string also mute the g-string. When I play rock, sometimes I finger the correct third (major or minor) and but only play the first three notes (the power chord). If needed, I can play the third or if I make a mistake strumming, I get the correct sound.
    Skat3rat
    Could someone explain to me the difference between Barre Chords and Power Chords?
    the_bi99man
    A barre chord is just a chord using a movable fingering, which relies on barring all 6 strings (or just 4 or 5) at a certain fret, using the index finger, and hitting the other notes with the other fingers. But those are typically full chords (triads at least; not power chords), meaning that they involve the 3rd, and maybe even other notes as well, not just the root and 5th. Unless you're talking about the "bar chords" often referred to by beginner guitarists who play in Drop-D tuning, where they just use one finger on the low two or three strings. Those bar chords are the same thing as power chords, musically; just root/5th chords. The only difference is that, in Drop-D tuning, you can play 5th chords with a root on the low string, using only one finger, because the low string is tuned down a step, which puts your root notes on the same frets as their 5ths.
    the_bi99man
    Decided to do a simple tab to help illustrate. This is a G Major chord, using a "barre" style fingering. |-3--| |-3--| |-4--| |-5--| |-5--| |-3--| The arrangement of the notes on the fretboard, relative to each other, creates a movable structure, which you can use, starting from another fret, to make a different chord. This is a C Major barre chord. Notice how the actual arrangement of your fingers is the same, just shifted up the neck by 5 frets. |-8--| |-8--| |-9--| |-10-| |-10-| |-8--| The other example is the Drop-D "bar chords" I mentioned, which are just a root and 5th (with or without the extra octave), just like power chords. The only difference is that in Drop-D tuning, you can do them with finger. A5 (Power Chord) in standard tuning: e|----| B|----| G|----| D|-7--| A|-7--| E|-5-- | The same power chord, A5, in Drop-D tuning: e|----| B|----| G|----| D|-7--| A|-7--| D|-7-- | See how they're the exact same notes? It's just that dropping the tuning of the low E string to D moves that A root note up two frets, into a position where it can be played with the 5th and high octave all on the same fret, just using one finger across three strings. Hope that clears things up, rather than just creating more confusion. I'm not a great teacher.
    Ekkehardt
    Amon Amarth usually combine powercords with other intervals as 3,4,6 to create a more melodic progression.
    Mathedes
    Well actually this isn't unheard of be it any band you might come across. Adding the 3rd interval completes a triad, which is the most basic chord type. Triads also determine the quality of the passage if the 3rd is a minor or major interval. A 4th creates a sus4 chord. And so forth.
    fanapathy
    Yes it's good stuff to have one guitar doing the minor/major "dyad" while another doing powerchords, almost all metal bands do that sometimes. Triads can get a bit muddy on their own and powerchords provide a very limited sound without backing instruments.