Guitar power chords are simple things. They comprise of just two notes,
those being the root and
a 5th interval. Don't worry if you're unsure what
"root and 5th" mean. Just learn the visual relationship between these
two important notes and how they sound together.
They're not strictly chords (which involve three
or more notes), they're dyads - two notes played
The reason they have been given their own name and
have been used in rock and metal for decades is mainly due to the
especially good with
They are versatile
because they have no major/minor/extended color tones. The
color can be created through inventive
movements and key changes.
They allow for
faster chord changes and speed playing because the fingerings
are simple (only two fingers required!).
Below is how typical guitar
power chords are formed on the fretboard (I
use my index finger for the root
and my ring finger for the 5th)...
This standard powerchord shape can be played up and down
the neck, on the first two strings (E and A) the second 2 strings (A D)
or the third 2 strings (D G) - it's a movable shape,
The video below shows me moving these three root power chord
shapes around different positions...
A root-5th power chord is
abbreviated using the root note followed by the number 5.
For example, C5, E5, F5, G5 etc. So if the root was
the power chord would be... A5.
Let's go through a few
exercises to improve your speed, timing and
accuracy with power chords.
Later on, we'll look at
power chord variations that create different sounds.
power chord exercises
So as a warm up we're going to
play a simple riff comprising solely of power chords using the shape
from above. Download the drum track below (right click and "save as")
and try out your own powerchord riffs...
Remember, you can also use
this shape on the D and G strings for a higher
sounding power chord riff. Mixing high and low tones in a riff can make
it more interesting and dynamic.
Try the exercise below using
all 3 root strings...
can add an extra note to standard power chords as a lower octave of the
5th (see diagram at top of page for the "5th") by including the E
string on powerchords played on the A and D strings.
This makes the higher, A
string power chords sound a little deeper and fuller...
Simply bar your index across
those bottom 2 strings in the power chord
and then use your ring or pinky finger as usual to fret the higher 5th.
This is a different type of
power chord because the root note is not
actually the lowest note like usual, but because of how the 5th
harmonises with the root, the key stays the same.
Think of it as a downward extension of the basic powerchord shape.
Listen to me play a regular
powerchord followed by the meatier extended version from above...
You could also extend it to the G string,
giving us an extra root note as follows (use your little/4th finger to
fret the G string note)...
An even meatier powerchord!
extended powerchord is great to ring out as a closing "chord" in a song
has a big sound.
/ double stop
There is another shape you can
use which allows you to play powerchords with the characteristics of a
lead guitar solo. Smoke on the Water is probably
the most famous track in which this technique is used, in that opening
riff, but loads of rock
and metal songs use it. In a lead context it's known as a
double stop - two notes played simultaneously.
What this shape allows you to
do is use one finger at a time, barred
across the two strings, and then quickly switch to another finger just
like you would when soloing. You can accomplish a faster, more free
flowing powerchord riff like the one below...
Click the tab to hear.
Another thing this shape allows you to do is hammer ons and pull offs
above) and other lead guitar techniques.
tuning power chords
Firstly, if you're unsure what
drop tuning is, head over to the drop
The only difference in
fingering for drop tuned power chords is the
bottom string and A string. The A and D string root-5th shape stays
exactly the same, as it does on the D and G string.
Just like the "lead" powerchord shape, with drop tuning you can simply
bar a finger across the bottom 2 (or 3) strings (root, 5th and the
optional octave) and slide, hammer on, pull off using other fingers.
Take a look and listen to the Drop
D exercise below...
Powerchords don't just have
to be played on three strings up the fretboard. Remember those open
position chords you (hopefully) learned when you first picked up the
can be turned into power chords as well, and made more suitable
for high gain/distortion.
that's going on here is we're blocking out the "3rd" in the chords
(marked by the X on the E, G and A and simply left out on the D)
leaving just those root and fifth notes to ring out.
AC/DC used these a lot for
their vibrant and "big" sound under amp gain.
Altered power chords
Watch the below video for some great
melodic ideas on modifying that basic root-5th powerchord...
(also the 2nd
be added to the standard root 5th to make a 9th power chord.
This means we're adding the 2nd tone of the major scale to
the root and 5th (if you're not sure what that means, don't worry at
Here's how it would look on
the first 3 strings at the 2nd fret of your guitar...
It is quite a stretch, especially for people with small hands, but
using your 4th finger to stretch out and get that 2 tone is the
easiest way by far.
All you need to do is practice
a few riffs with this
chord shape. Below are a couple of exercises with clean and distorted
I hope you now have some
good exercises to help warm up and improve your power chord playing.
The secret is to mix them up when you're writing a new riff so your
music becomes diverse and interesting.
There is more to rock and
metal than just power
chords, but rhythm guitar power chords support the percussion and bass
in such a satisfying way - they're simple but very effective, which is
why they're used so religiously.