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Guitar Power Chords

Posted on October 25, 2023

Do you find normal guitar chords too difficult or complex to play? Maybe a simpler alternative could work until you master some basic cowboy chords for the guitar. Or maybe the song you’re playing calls for something else, something with a bit more edge.

Power chords could be exactly what you’re looking for. Although they may seem like simpler versions of regular, full guitar chord patterns, they still pack a punch with fewer notes. Let’s look at how you can power up your guitar playing with some simple and beginner-friendly power chords for the guitar.

What are power chords on the guitar?

A guitar chord consists of different notes that are played together simultaneously. On the guitar, a chord is generally made up of notes played on four to six strings. A guitar power chord, on the other hand, is typically made up of two, or sometimes three, notes. These are the so-called root notes and the perfect fifth of the chord. Compared to major and minor chords, the power chord is missing the third interval that normally gives a chord its major or minor quality.

Power chords are usually much easier to play because you need to finger one, two, or three strings with your fretting hand. The range of strings used to play power chords is also more limited compared to full guitar chords. Generally, power chords are played using only the lowest three or four strings, whereas full guitar chords can include all six strings.

Playing power chords

Although power chords are quite simple to play, don’t underestimate them or their importance. Many classic songs in rock and music history’s most memorable guitar riffs use only power chords rather than full major and minor chords. Here’s how to play power chords on the guitar.

Mute unnecessary strings

Because power chords usually use only two or three notes, you shouldn’t play any of the other strings. This can be challenging if the power chord has its root note on something other than the low E string. To avoid accidentally playing the low E string, you can use the tip of your index finger to stop it from ringing, essentially muting it. This way you can’t hear the string even if you accidentally hit it when strumming a chord.

Guitar power chords are often played using a technique called palm muting. You can do this by pressing the palm of your picking hand against the strings close to the bridge of the guitar. This creates a muted chugging sound that’s great for rock music and playing rhythm guitar.

As power chords are an essential part of playing rhythm guitar, you should consider playing them using a guitar pick. You can read more about choosing, holding, and using guitar picks from our guide.

The root note

To play a power chord on guitar, you need a root note and the fifth of the chord. The root note is the chord’s foundation and the note that gives the chord its name. For instance, in the C5 power chord, the root note is C while the number 5 indicates the perfect fifth. Here’s how to play the C5 power chord:

The C5 power chord

You generally play power chords with the root note either on the low E or A string. If the root note is an open string, then the power chord’s fifth lands on the second fret, like in the E5 and A5 chords. Here’s A5 for example:

The A5 power chord

Major and minor chords

Now you know where on the guitar fretboard a specific power chord is located based on its root note. Another piece of music theory to understand when learning how to play the guitar is the difference between major and minor chords. The simplest way to distinguish between minor and major guitar chords is by listening to how they sound: Major chords sound bright and happy, whereas minor chords are moody and sad.

Whereas a power chord consists of a root note and the fifth, major and minor chords also contain the third of the chord. It’s this note, the third, that distinguishes major chords from minor chords. How power chords then differ from basic minor and major chords is that they’re missing this major or minor quality.

Power chord shapes

The beauty of power chords is that you can play them after learning just a single chord shape. After that, you can play different power chords by simply moving up and down on the guitar fretboard.

Forming power chords is simple. To create the basic power chord shape, place your index finger on the root note of the chord and your ring finger two frets higher on the next string. Here’s an example of the F5 power chord with a root note on the first fret of the low E string:

The F5 power chord

Although all power chords are based on the same chord shape, there’s still some room for variation. You can add an extra note to the chord to play a three-string version. Just use your pinky to play the same fret as your ring finger but on the next string above the other one. This version of the same power chord allows you to create a fuller sound if the song calls for it.

To add even more nuance to your playing, you can try playing the three-finger variation of a power chord but mute the middle string. You can do this by laying your ring finger gently on the string but not pressing it all the way down against the fretboard.

Playing power chords in drop D tuning

Drop D is probably the simplest alternate tuning on the guitar. To tune your guitar in drop D, just detune the low E string down to D from the standard guitar tuning. Therefore, your guitar strings are tuned as D-A-D-G-B-E.

Why is the drop D particularly interesting when playing power chords, you ask? When the low E string is tuned down to D, you can play power chords with their root on the 6th string by using the same fret on the two or three adjacent strings. Using the drop D tuning is common, especially in rock, punk, and metal genres.

Learn power chords with Yousician

Whether you want to rock out with power chords or jam along to some more mellow tunes on your acoustic guitar, Yousician is the perfect companion, regardless of your skill level. Yousician’s interactive online guitar lessons teach you the basics of guitar chords, playing melodies, strumming, different guitar-playing techniques, and much more.

Learn with Yousician either on your acoustic or electric guitar. You can download Yousician for your computer or Android and iOS mobile devices. With Yousician Premium+, you also get access to lessons for bass guitar, ukulele, piano, and singing. Try Yousician for free and get started!

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