The power chord. If you’re new to guitar, you may not know what it is, but you’ve surely heard it. It’s the sound of rock n’ roll. These simple two-note chords have been used to create some of the greatest riffs and chord progressions in rock history. In this lesson we’re going to look at the basic power chords on guitar, from construction to the various ways they’re played. Let’s get rockin’.
Building the power chord
The power chord breaks the definition of a chord. Traditionally, chords are comprised of three notes: root, 3rd, and 5th.
* If you don’t know what root, 3rd, and 5th refers to, you should check out the lesson on intervals to gain an understanding.
The power chord, on the other hand, is comprised of only two notes: root and 5th.
This means power chords are neither major nor minor. If played over a major chord progression, they tend to take on a major chord feel. If played over a minor chord progression they take on a minor feel.
Power chords are notated via the root note and a 5, representing the 5th: G5, A5, D5, etc.
Common power chord shapes and fingerings
The diagrams below outline the common shapes of the power chord with the root on the 6th, 5th, and 4th strings. You’ll notice the 6th and 5th string shapes are the same, while the 4th string second root (on the 2nd string) is moved up one fret.
Important to note is that all of these shapes are moveable, so you can play any power chord up and down the neck by moving to a different root note.
Sometimes, instead of stacking the chord as root, 5th, root, the chord is played as just the root and 5th. I typically use this variation when having to move quickly between chords or if I’m looking for a bit thinner sound out of the chord.
Below are some recommended fingerings for the power chord and its variations. If the chord is stacked root, 5th, root, I prefer the 1-3-4 fingering. It allows me to play a little cleaner. If the stack is root, 5th only, I prefer the 1-4 fingering as it allows me to play clean and shift the chord up and down with a bit more ease.
With that said, there is no wrong way to finger them. Use what the most comfortable and works best for you.
1 = index finger, 2 = middle finger, 3 = ring finger, 4 = pinky
Power chords on guitar differ from standard chords in that they only contain the root and 5th instead of the root, 3rd, and 5th. The chords are notated using the root note with a 5 beside it: G5, A5, D5, etc. They can be played up and down the neck using the shapes in the diagrams above.
Power chords are versatile because they can used with major and minor progressions. A good way to practice is by taking chord progressions you already know and playing them as power chords.