August 3, 2022

About the Author: Cameron Hayes

Cameron Hayes is a guitar educator at the London Guitar Institute, teaching a wide range of styles such as rock, metal, blues, jazz, folk, RnB, acoustic, and many more! He teaches a large volume of students on a weekly basis and always looks to provide outstanding value in each and every lesson!

How To Make A Power Chord

A sound that many of us will know well even if we have never played one before, power chords are used excessively in all different genres of music. Although these are most commonly heard on the guitar, specifically the electric guitar, they can also be played on piano using the same combination of notes. To make a power chord you will need your root note of the chord and the 5th above the root note played together. For example; for an A power chord we will need the root note A, and the 5th above which is E played together at the same time. On the guitar this makes a specific shape that we can easily move around the neck in real time to play many different chord progressions. We will play the root note (A) with our 1st finger in the fretting hand, and the 5th above with our 3rd finger. Sometimes we can also add another root note the octave up with our pinky on the same fret as the 5th but the next string up. For example if we were to play an A power chord with three fingers we would have:

A (root note) – 1st finger on the 5th fret of the low E string

E (5th) – 3rd finger on the 7th fret of the A string

A (root octave up) – 4th finger on the 7th fret of the D string.

male guitar hands playing

How To Use A Power Chord

Once you have practised making this power chord shape on an A power chord, try moving the shape up and down the low E string to give a different root note and therefore a different power chord. The shape will stay the same, so we can lock in our fingers to shift the shape around on different places of the neck. The power chord doesn’t have to be played with the root note on the low E string either – it can also be shifted to have the root note on either the A or D string! More commonly power chords are played off of the low E string or the A string, which takes a bit of practice to jump the shape between these two strings. It can also be played with the root note on the D string, although this is a little less common and will require the 4th finger to place the root note the octave up one fret higher than it usually would be if the chord was played off of the low E or A string.

white electric guitar on wooden surface

Songs With Power Chords?

Rock music and similar genres/sub-genres is where you are most likely to find power chords played on the guitar, as they have a fairly simple sound since there are only two different notes in the chord and are very effective for the style, especially when played with some distortion! Some well known examples include “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, “American Idiot” by Greenday, and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar. Power chords can also be heard in pop music to give a similar effect.

Some examples where you may have heard the power chord in pop include “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele (listen in the intro!) and “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” by Shawn Mendes (listen in the chorus – not the guitar riff). An interesting thing about many of the songs listed above is how these power chord progressions look visually on the guitar neck, since they often make a ‘box’ shape from the frets that they are placed on. This is quite a specific guitar approach to using power chords, and no doubt would have contributed to how the songs were composed. Have a play of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “American Idiot” to see how these progressions appear on the neck.

guitarist playing guitar outside

Power Chords Vs. Barre Chords

There’s a lot of debate in the guitar community that power chords are just a poor mans version of the barre chord, which in its simplest form is a major or minor triad typically played across five or six of the guitar strings. If you took away the higher notes of the barre chord and only kept the lower two or three notes, you would have a power chord, which is why people think they are just a simpler version of the barre chord. Although they may be simpler to play and may be more simple in their makeup of only two different notes, this does not mean that you shouldn’t ever play them if you are capable of playing the full barre chord, or you are any less of a guitar player if you are playing power chords.

Power chords and barre chords have two completely different sounds that will serve totally different purposes in a song. Simple barre chords will either be major or minor triads since they contain a third in the chord as well as the regular root and 5th that the power chord has, which colours the sound a certain way. Since the power chord does not contain a third, it is neither major or minor, meaning using all power chords in a chord progression will give more of a blank canvas for the other instruments and vocals to decide on how they want to colour the sound.

female guitarist playing the guitar

This can be extremely useful when the guitar doesn’t want to cloud up too much of the sound of a song, and rather the power chords can cut through and provide a strong rhythmic motif that proves effective whilst not giving too much harmonic data. However if the lineup of the band is much more scarce or perhaps there isn’t a band and a song is to be performed with just vocals and guitar, the power chords may not provide enough harmonic data to fill out the song. This is a good example of where barre chords may have the edge over the power chords and would fulfil their specific purpose.

So in short power chords are a simple but effective two note chord that is easily transferrable to all parts of the guitar neck to give a strong recognisable sound. Using them can be as simple as moving the power chord shape around the neck to see what sounds you can create, giving you endless possibilities of chord progressions and riffs.

Tags: Guitar advice, Guitar technique, Guitar tips, Guitar wisdom

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Tags: Guitar advice, Guitar technique, Guitar tips, Guitar wisdom