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This lesson is in standard tuning (EADGBE) and has not been pitch altered!

Power chords, a staple in rock and metal genres, consist of two or three notes played on the guitar. They are constructed using a root note and either its fifth or octave. Unlike traditional major or minor chords, power chords lack a distinct tonality, creating a neutral sound that lends itself well to heavy distortion and palm muting techniques. Their simplicity and versatility make them ideal for creating a solid foundation and driving rhythm in songs. Power chords are often played on the lower strings of the guitar, delivering a raw and powerful sound that has become synonymous with the energy of rock music.

Ah, the mighty power chord! It’s arguably the backbone of rock music, and if you’re a beginner guitarist, it’s one of the first chords you’ll likely learn. But what exactly is a power chord, and why does it sound so, well, powerful?

1. What is a Power Chord?

A power chord, technically known as a “fifth chord” or “5 chord,” is a two-note chord consisting of the root note and the fifth. Unlike major or minor chords, power chords are neither major nor minor since they lack the third interval, which determines a chord’s major or minor quality.

2. Anatomy of a Power Chord

In Western music, we use 12 different notes. These notes form the basis of our scales. When we play the first note of a scale (the root) and then jump to the fifth note, we create a power chord.

For instance, in an A major scale: A (root) – B – C# – D – E (fifth) – F# – G# – A

The power chord would consist of A and E.

3. How to Play Power Chords on a Guitar

Power chords are primarily played on the lower three strings of a guitar.

Example: G Power Chord

  • Place your index finger on the 3rd fret of the E (6th) string. This is your root note, G.
  • Place your ring finger on the 5th fret of the A (5th) string. This is the fifth note, D.
  • Strum only these two strings together.

Power chords can also be played with three fingers, adding the octave above the root:

  • Place your pinky on the 5th fret of the D (4th) string, which is also a G (the octave).
  • Strum all three strings together.

This shape is movable, meaning you can slide it up and down the fretboard to play different power chords.

4. Why Use Power Chords?

Power chords have several advantages:

  • Simplicity: They’re easy to play, making them great for beginners.
  • Versatility: The movable shape works anywhere on the fretboard.
  • Sound: They provide a thick, powerful sound, especially when distorted, making them a staple in rock, punk, metal, and many other genres.

5. Expanding Beyond Basic Power Chords

As you get comfortable with basic power chords, you can start adding variations:

  • Extended Power Chords: Add additional intervals like the 6th or the 9th for more color.
  • Palm Muting: Create a percussive sound by resting your palm lightly on the strings near the bridge while you strum.
  • Rhythmic Variations: Mix up strumming patterns to add groove and energy.

6. Some Famous Power Chord Riffs

Here are a few legendary riffs built around power chords to inspire you:

  • “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
  • “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks (also covered by Van Halen)
  • “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath


Power chords might be simple in structure, but they offer a vast world of musical potential. Their versatility, combined with their powerful sound, makes them an essential tool in every guitarist’s arsenal. Whether you’re just starting out or have been playing for years, mastering power chords will help unlock a world of rock ‘n’ roll prowess. So, grab your guitar, crank up the distortion, and let those power chords ring!

This lesson is from the Pick Up The Guitar: Beginners course at Simply Guitar

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