Why play regular guitar chords, when you can add some OOMPH, Play it LOUDER, & Add more POWER? Turn your amps on standby & let’s get ready to do a deep-dive to find out what are guitar power chords? What’s the theory behind them? Plus, examples & commonly asked questions you might have.
But first, a little background. From the opening riff of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” to the driving chords of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on The Water,” power chords have been the driving force behind some of the most iconic rock songs in history.
With their simple yet powerful sound, these two-note wonders have become the backbone of rock music, providing the perfect foundation for electric guitarists to let loose and create electrifying performances!
Power Chord Theory
Whether you’re a seasoned guitarist or just starting out, learning how to play power chords is a must if you want to rock out like the greats. But if you’re also seeking a deeper understanding, here’s the theory behind the almighty & strikingly simple “power chord”.
2 Note Power Chord
A two note chord consists of the root note and the fifth note of the scale, and lacks the third note that is found in traditional major and minor chords.
These basic power chords create a neutral, ambiguous sound that is neither major nor minor, and contributes to the driving & powerful sound.
The lack of a third note also makes power chords highly versatile, as they can be used to have both a major or minor quality, plus can be easily moved up and down the fretboard.
The simplicity of power chords with only two notes makes them a defining characteristic of rock music.
3 Note Power Chord
A power chord with three notes is an extended version of a basic two-note power chord, usually adding a single octave of the root note and played on three strings.
This creates a fuller sound while still retaining the power of the basic power chord.
The music theory behind a power chord with three notes is that it is a root position triad with the fifth note omitted.
The chord is constructed by taking the root note, adding the fifth note, and then adding the octave of the root note on top.
How To Play Power Chords
Choose the root note that you want to play. This can be any note on the guitar fretboard. For this example, we will use “G” or the 3rd fret on the 6th (thickest) string.
Next we find “the fifth” note of the corresponding G scale. This can be done by counting up seven half-steps from the root note. In this case, it’s “D” which will be played on 5th string, 5th fret.
Place your first finger (index finger) on the root note, and your third finger (ring finger) on “the fifth” note
Press down both fingers firmly on the fretboard and strum the two strings together (root and fifth notes). Be sure to avoid touching any other strings to ensure that only the desired notes are played.
Finally, you can move the chord shape up or down the fretboard to play different power chords with different root notes.
Extended Power Chords
If you want a fuller sound & have mastered the 2-note shape, you can try playing power chords with 3 notes. All you will do, is essentially add you pinky finger into the mix & play the string & note right above “the 5th”.
Related: How to read a chord chart
Power Chord Video
Guitar Power Chord Examples In Music
Here’s a handful of notable songs that represent a wide range of genres and eras in rock music, and all feature power chords as a driving force in their sound.
Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
“Highway to Hell” by AC/DC
“Enter Sandman” by Metallica
“Iron Man” by Black Sabbath
Barre Chords vs Power Chords
Barre chords & power chords are both commonly used in guitar playing, but some differences between the two:
Number of notes: A power chord consist of 2 & sometimes 3 notes, while barre chords usually consist of 3 or more.
Sound: Power chords have a more neutral & ambiguous sound, while barre chords can be either major or minor, have more nuance, and have a fuller sound due to the inclusion of additional notes.
Finger placement: Power chords are played with 2 or 3 fingers and typically do not require the barring technique, while barre chords require the barring technique to hold down all the strings on a specific fret with one finger.
Versatility: Power chords are versatile and can be used in many different styles of music (most commonly rock & metal), while barre chords are more commonly used in rock, pop, jazz & acoustic music.
Difficulty: Barre chords are generally considered more difficult to play than power chords, as they require greater finger strength and dexterity to hold down all the strings on a specific fret.
One thing that both chord types have in common however, is that they are able to be shifted up & down the fretboard to create different chord progressions & voicings.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the point of a power chord?
The point of a power chord is to create a simple, powerful, and driving sound on the guitar.
Power chords are often used in rock, metal, and punk music to provide a foundation for the rhythm section, and they are popular because they are easy to play and can be moved up and down the fretboard to create a unique chord progression.
The lack of a third note in power chords also makes them versatile and neutral-sounding, allowing them to be used in both major and minor keys.
Overall, these chords provide a basic building block for many styles of guitar-based music.
Related: Learn the harmonic minor scale
What is the difference between power chords & regular chords?
The main difference between power chords and regular chords is the number of notes they contain, with power chords having only two or three notes while regular chords usually have three or more notes.
While power chords are used for their simplicity and power in rock and metal genres, regular chords are used in a wide range of styles and genres.
How many power chords are there in guitar?
There are technically an infinite number of power chords that can be played on a guitar, as they can be moved up and down the fretboard to create different chord progressions.
However, there are a limited number of root notes (12 in standard tuning) that can be used to create power chords, and they can be played in different positions and inversions on the guitar.
Should I learn chords or power chords?
If you’re new to guitar & just want to get going in order to play your favorite songs, I recommend you start with power chords.
They are a great foundation to get you started on guitar from which you can evolve into more complex & nuanced guitar chords.
Ultimately, learning both types of chords will make you a more versatile and well-rounded guitarist.
Can you play power chords without a pick?
Yes, you can play these chords without a pick if you prefer using fingerstyle.
You can even break down the chord into 2 or 3 individual notes to create what’s called an arpeggio.
Can you play power chords on any string?
Yes, you can play them on any string of the guitar.
However, some strings may be better suited for playing power chords than others, depending on the desired sound and the context in which they are being used.
For example, the thicker strings on the guitar (such as the E, A, and D strings) have a lower pitch and can provide a heavier and more powerful sound when playing power chords, which is why they are often used for rhythm guitar parts in rock and metal music.
Related: Open Guitar Chords: Made Simple