Tricks When Writing With Power Chords

Power chords are amazing. They are easy to play, can be played almost anywhere sound great with distortion or clean and can be coupled with a bass to create easy basslines, additionally they can and are used across all genres of music.

Tricks When Writing With Power Chords
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Here I will teach you, the reader, how to use the power of the 5th's to write music and how you can combine them with other techniques or use by themselves to write music.

The Chords Themselves

Power chords, or fifths combine the root note and the fifth of a chord the form the power chord, a shape that can be moved up and down the fretboard and played on most strings (although they tend to reside on the E and A strings and I will only be covering E and A string power chords).

Examples of power chords:

A B C D E F G
e|--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--|
B|--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--|
G|--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--|
D|--2--4--5--7--x--x--x--|
A|--0--2--3--5--2--3--5--|
E|--x--x--x--x--0--1--3--|
Those more experienced and with a keen eye will notice that power chords are dictated by the root note thus acting like barre chords. For example the E can be played:
e|--x--x--xx--xx--xx--|
B|--x--x--xx--xx--xx--|
G|--x--x--xx--xx--xx--|
D|--x--9--xx--21--xx--|
A|--2--7--14--19--26--|
E|--0--x--12--xx--24--|
Chunky power chords:

The so called "chunky" power chords are simply normal power chords in which the pinkie (smallest) finger in added on the string below the ring finger on the same fret, example with the G power chord:
e|--x--|
B|--x--|
G|--x--|
D|--5--|
A|--5--|
E|--3--|
This will simply make the chord sound "thicker" but in the end its really just what sound you prefer.

Drop D Power Chords

The drop D tuning is most commonly used in metal music as it has a generally darker sound the standard tuning.

What I want you to do (if you haven't before) is tune your low E (6th) string to a D (a whole step down) and play:
e|--x--|
B|--x--|
G|--x--|
D|--5--|
A|--5--|
D|--3--|
I probably sounds horrible right? Okay now I want you to move your index finger up to the 5th fret (or barre the top three strings of the 5th fret) like this:
e|--x--|
B|--x--|
G|--x--|
D|--5--|
A|--5--|
D|--5--|
Sound better? Yes. And if you don't know why you do that they do your theory!

Note that:
e|--x--|
B|--x--|
G|--x--|
D|--0--|
A|--0--|
D|--0--|
is now also a D chord.

Actually Writing Songs

Since we're already in drop D we'll start with that, so crank up your distortion and lets write a metal song!

Just power chords:

Writing with just power chords is easy:
e|-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-|
B|-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-|
G|-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-|
D|-0-0-2-0-2-0-0-0-2-|
A|-0-0-2-0-2-0-0-0-2-|
D|-0-0-2-0-2-0-0-0-2-|
See, easy.

Now we need to look at combining this with other techniques to make it more interesting:
e|-x-x-x--x-x-x-x-x-x---x----|
B|-x-x-x--x-x-x-x-x-x---x----|
G|-x-x-x--x-x-x-x-x-x---x----|
D|-0-0-5h-5-6-6-4-4-4/5-5-5p-|
A|-0-0-5h-5-6-6-4-4-4/5-5-5p-|
D|-0-0-5h-5-6-6-4-4-4/5-5-5p-|
Another drop D playing style often seen in metal is:
e|-----------------------------------------------------|
B|-----------------------------------------------------|
G|-----5/7-7-7-5-5-5-7-7-7-----4-----3-----6\4---------|
D|-----5/7-7-7-5-5-5-7-7-7-----4-----3-----6\4---------|
A|-----3/5-5-5-3-3-3-5-5-5-----2-----1-----4\2-----2/5-|
D|-0-0---------------------0-0---0-0---0-0-----0-0-2/5-|

Back to Standard Tuning

If we go back to standard tuning then I'll cover the last of the basic tricks to help you with songwriting with power chords.
e|-------------|
B|-------------|
G|-------4-4-0-|
D|-4-4-0-4-4-0-|
A|-4-4-0-2-2-0-|
E|-2-2-0-------|
The trick above can be seen in the riffs of many Nirvana songs such as "Smells Like Teen Spirit," whilst switching chords strum the open strings but make sure to quickly mute it or it'll sound horrible.

Second to last technique is combining power, open and barre chords:
e|-----3-2-22---1-1------------------------|
B|-----0-3-33---2-2------------------------|
G|-2-2-0-4-44---3-3------------------------|
D|-2-2-0-4-44-0-3-3-88\5-6~----------------|
A|-0-0-2-2-22-0-1-1-88\5-6~----------------|
E|-----3-x-xx-0-x-x-66\3-4~----------------|
My last technique is kinda obvious I guess. Picking power chords:

A C E G
e|---------------------|
B|---------------------|
G|---2-----5-----------|
D|---2---5-5---2-----5-|
A|-0-0-3-------2---5---|
E|-----------0---3-3---|
The two above can be improvised very easily thus creating many alternative ways to play the song and making it unique each time it is played.

So there you go. A lesson in ways to spice up your power chord riffs, good luck.

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