Perfecting Power Chords
In Learning To Play The Guitar – An Absolute Beginners Guide simple 2 string power chords were introduced. Power chords (also known as 5 chords) are used in hard rock, punk and heavy metal helping to give these styles of music a direct aggressive and heavy sound. Here we will add an extra string to play 3 string power chords.
There are 2 ways of playing these chords. The first is with fingers 1 and 3 with finger 3 laid flat on the fret board to play 2 strings.
The other is to use fingers 1 3 & 4. When playing power chords this way fingers 3 & 4 are curved in comparison to the flattened finger 3 in the last example.
This shape forms the basis of the bar (barre) chord shape.
Muting Unwanted Strings
With both of these shapes it helps if you mute strings 1 2 (and sometimes 3) with the edge of finger 1 just touching them slightly. All you want to hear with a power chord is the 3 strings used in the actual chord shape.
When playing power chords with the bass/root note on the 5th string you can also mute the 6th string by lightly touching it with the tip of your finger.
The cool thing about learning power chord shape is that it will work for all minor and major chords up and down the guitar neck. Power chords don’t contain the 3rd note of the scale which gives a chord it major or minor sound so they are neutral sounding chords. They just contain the root and the 5th note of the scale so they’re sometimes called a “5 chord”.
Finding The Root Note
The next step is to know where these chords are located on the guitar neck. To do this you need to learn and memorise the notes on the 6th (thick E) string and 5th (A) string. The notes on these strings are the root (AKA bass) notes of the chord. For example if you play a power chord with finger 1 on fret 1 of the 5th string it is a Bb power chord as the note on fret 1 is Bb.
This handy diagram shows all the notes on the guitar neck up to the 12th fret where the notes repeat again. Here you will notice that some notes have 2 names. For example on fret 2 of the 6th string there is F# (sharp) and Gb (flat). These notes match the black notes on the piano keyboard. A note will be labelled as a sharp or flat depending on the key signature.
Open String Power Chords
Apart from the 2 main power chord shapes shown there are also 3 open string power chords which are similar to the standard open string major/minor chords except they are easier as you just play 3 strings.
To help learn the power chord locations on the guitar neck a good exercise is to play your favourite songs entirely in power chords. You don’t have to worry if the chords are major or minor as the power chord will fit either version. There are many guitar chord/tab sites online where you can look up the chords to many songs for this exercise. The best songs for this exercise are ones that contain a wide range of chords. Some recommended songs include:
- American Pie by Don McClean
- Karma Police by Radiohead
- Space Oddity by David Bowie
- Yesterday by The Beatles
Power chords are easy and fun to play sounding great with distortion/overdrive on an electric guitar. They’re also a great step towards playing full bar chords so have fun rocking out with these chords.