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Guitar Power Chords


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Power chords are one of the absolute best things about guitar.  They sound great, can be used in almost any form of music and best of all, they're dead easy to play!

Power chords are mainly used in Rock, Metal and Punk music and usually played on electric guitars with distortion or overdrive effects.  Chances are, as you listen to the video's and examples in these lessons you'll recognize the sound of the power chord as something you hear regularly in your personal music collection.

Power chords are not soft and 'classically' like open and barre chords tend to sound, especially when plucked.  On the contrary, power chords have an growling, aggressive sound to it that add amazing dimension to a song when used correctly.

Indeed, many people will argue that the distorted power chord is THE signature sound of our modern day electric guitar (apart from screaming solo's of course).  If you wanna be a classical guitarist, you can get by on barre chords.  But if you wanna be a rock star, you have to learn power chords...

If you're going to be playing rock, metal, punk or anything with distortion you need to learn and master everything about Guitar Power Chords!

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Officially, power chords are called 5th chords - the A Power chord is called the A5th chord, the D Power Chord the D5th chord etc.

The great thing about these chords, as I mentioned earlier, is that they are dead easy to play, especially if you know your barre chords.

There's no barring involved and the same basic shape is maintained for all the different keys.  Yep, really simple stuff.

What kind of gear do I need...

For the best effect, it's ideal to play power chords on an electric guitar.  If you have an effects pedal or an guitar amplifier with built in effects, add some distortion to your setup, but keep the sound clear enough so that you can still distinguish what's being played.
If you don't have an electric guitar, that's perfectly fine too.  Guitar Power Chords can also be played and used on an acoustic guitar and you can also use your acoustic for this lesson.

As a side note (and I put this on a few of my lesson intro pages), while these lessons will teach you the basics of guitar power chords, for a greater understanding (especially on using it in specific rock and metal songs), I recommend you check out some of the amazing video lessons by Jamplay.  They are currently offering a limited free trail (more info on my Jamplay review page) with access to any of their over 4,000 lessons, which include songs and techniques from many genres.

I've done a short review on the "why" and "how" of Jamplay here, as they continue to dominate the Internet Guitar market, and for good reason: their material (which I myself use) are truly of high quality.
Guitar Power Chords
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Power chords are straightforward and real simple to play:  There is one basic chord formation that you can use for ALL of the power chords on the guitar.  This shape consists of the top three strings of the major barre chord shape.  This is what it looks like:
Power Chord Shape
As always, the X's on the three bottom strings mean these strings should not be played when strumming the chord.

To play this chord you would thus put your index finger (1) on the first fret of the E (thick) string, your ring finger (3) on the third fret of the A string and your pinkie on the 3rd fret of the D string.

If you don't have any experience with barre chords, this shape might seem difficult initially.  People normally have problems stretching their 3rd and 4th fingers across an open fret, but your hand gets used to it pretty quickly...
Here's what it would look like on the Guitar.  This is a picture of the F power chord shape, but remember that this same shape is used with ALL the power chords for guitar!
F Power Chord on Guitar
Is that all?
In short, YES!  Power Chords are uncomplicated:  There are no Minors, Majors, 7th's or sustained notes (like with open or barre chords), there's just the single simple power chord shape.  And depending on where you play it on the neck, you play the power chord of the corresponding key.
Power Chord Chart
Frets and Keys
The image on the left shows you what key you'll be playing when fretting the power chord shape on a specific fret.

Example:  When playing the power chord so that you're index finger (1) is on the 3rd fret you're playing the G Power Chord.

When playing the power chord so that you're index finger (1) is on the 5th fret you're playing the A Power Chord.

When playing the power chord so that you're index finger (1) is on the 1st fret you're playing the F Power Chord.

You'll notice that the keys are exactly the same as with power chords, it's a good idea to try and memorize these keys of the fretboard.  This makes life a lot easier when you're playing chords in quick succession.

Let's hear what it sounds like
This video will illustrate the beauty of power chords.  I'm using an electric guitar with a distortion effect (this is when power chords sound the best), and am playing the following power chords in succession.

A5th - C5th - D5th
A5th - C5th - Eb5th - D5th
A5th - C5th - D5th
C5th - A5th


Note that my hands maintain the same shape and I'm simply moving my arm up and down the fretboard to play the different keys (I've said this a hundred times already, but it's worth repeating :-).  Also, I'm only strumming the top three strings on the guitar...

See if you can play this power chord riff - pay special attention to the chord transitions (switching between the different chords.  If you're using distortion remember that the smallest scrape or slide on the string is magnified by the effect so try to get a good 'clean' distorted sound that's free of muddy tones.
This second set of power chords start on the A string of the guitar.  It consists of the top three strings of the Am-Barre Chord Shape.  Here's what it looks like:
Power Chord Shape
As always, the X's on the top and bottom two strings mean these strings should not be played when strumming the chord.

To play this chord you would thus put your index finger (1) on the first fret of the A string, your ring finger (3) on the third fret of the D string and your pinkie on the 3rd fret of the G string.

If you don't have any experience with barre chords, this shape might seem difficult initially.  People normally have problems stretching their 3rd and 4th fingers across an open fret, but your hand gets used to it pretty quickly...
Here's what it would look like on the Guitar.  This is a picture of the Bb (B Flat) power chord shape, but remember that this same shape is used with ALL power chords on the guitar!
B flat Power Chord
Power Chord Chart
See if you can play this power chord riff - be carefull not to pluck the strings that should be muted when playing the different power chords.  When you're using distortion, mistakes like that are heard loud and clearly!
One specific guitar technique that proves especially usefull when playing power chords, is palm muting. 
If you don't know what palm muting is or how to use it, visit this Palm Muting Guitar Techniques lessons before proceeding.
Here's a quick refresher:  Palm muting is achieved by placing the side of your strumming hand on the bridge and gently touch the strings.  This will produce a muffling (or muting) effect when strumming.  Palm muting is primarily used by electric guitar-players of the metal and rock genre.  Coupled with the distortion effect, it produces a heavy percussive sound.
Palm on Guitar
Normal hand placement
Hand position when palm muting
Palm on Guitar
This video illustrates the sound you achieve when combining power chords with palm muting.
Here I'm playing the G power chord with a distortion effect.

As you can see, my strumming hand then moves towards the strings until the percussive muting sound is achieved.
Power Chord Shape
3
In this video on the right I'm rapidly strumming, with palm muting, the top two strings of the G power Chord.  I then do the same with the G power chord on the A string (12th fret).  Here's the chord charts:
Power Chord Shape
3
Power Chord Shape
Power Chord Shape
10
Plus Sign
As you can see, there are a lot of options available when you combine palm muting, distortion and power chords.  It's great to combine these elements and mess around as much as you want. 

Playing with different kinds of effects/distortions also makes a difference.  Experiment and try and play power chords with different techniques and effects to see what you personally prefer and like.

There really is a lot you can do with power chords and a variety of different sounds you can produce with your electric guitar when using power chords effectively...  It's one of the primary reasons I love the guitar!
And that's the beauty of power chords...

If you're having trouble memorizing the frets and corresponding keys download a free printable power chords chart here.
 
 
 
Frets and Keys
The image on the left shows you what key you'll be playing when fretting this power chord shape on a specific fret.

Example:  When playing the power chord so that you're index finger (1) is on the 3rd fret you're playing the C Power Chord.

When playing the power chord so that you're index finger (1) is on the 5th fret you're playing the D Power Chord.

When playing the power chord so that you're index finger (1) is on the 1st fret you're playing the Bb Power Chord.

A reminder that it's a good idea to try and memorize these keys (for this string and the top E string).  This makes it real easy when playing power and barre chords...

Let's hear what it sounds like
In this video I'm playing the same riff from the previous lesson, but this time on the A string.  Here's the chords I'm playing...

D5th - F5th - G5th
D5th - F5th - Ab5th - G5th
D5th - F5th - G5th
F5th - G5th


Note that my hands maintain the same shape and I'm simply moving my arm up and down the fretboard and between the top and second strong to play the different keys.