Guitar power chords are simple things - they comprise of just 2 notes, those being the root note
and the 5th
from the major scale. They're not strictly "chords" (which involves 3 or more notes), they're diads
- two notes played simultaneously
The reasons they are used so much in rock, and have their own name is because of 3 main things:1)
They sound good with heavy distortion/gain. 2)
They are versatile (e.g. you can change key like a psycho) because they have no major/minor/extended tensions! The tension can be created through inventive movements and key changes. 3)
They allow for faster chord changes because the fingerings are so simple.
Below is how typical guitar power chords look on your fretboard (the yellow dots indicate where to fret the strings - I use my index finger for the root and my ring finger for the 5th)...
The typical powerchord shape can be played up and down
the fretboard, on the first 2 strings (E 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 note power chord shapes up and down the fretboard...
var so = new SWFObject('http://www.fretjam.info/flv/jwmp.swf','mpl','320','240','9');
Let's go through a few exercises to increase your speed, rhythm and accuracy with guitar power chords.
Later on, we'll look at different types of power chord that create different sounds.
Make sure your gain/distortion is turned up!Warmup power chord exercise
So as a warmup 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...
Example - Drum Track
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... Chunkier power chords
Now a different type of power chord...
You 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...
Left Click to Play, Right Click to "Save as"TIP:
this extended powerchord is great as a closing "chord" in a song because it has a large sound.Power chord exercise
Use of rhythm is very important with power chords as there's a definite percussive element to them.
Here's a riff inspired by Velvet Revolver to demonstrate...
The open (0) E string acts as a rhythmic filler between the fretted power chords. It's a good riff to practice when to fret and when to fill at speed.Lead power chords
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.
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 (like above) and other lead guitar techniques.Drop tuning and power chords
Firstly, if you're unsure what drop tuning is, head over to the drop tuning page where you can tune up (...i mean down).
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... Open power chords
Powerchords don't just have to be played on three strings up the fretboard. Remember those open position chords you learned when you first picked up the guitar? They can be turned into power chords as well, and made more suitable harmonically for high gain/distortion.
All 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/octave notes to ring out. AC/DC used these a lot for their vibrant and "big" sound under amp gain.More types of power chord
can be added to the standard root 5th to make a 9th power chord
. This means we're adding the 9th note of the major and minor scale to the root and 5th (if you're not sure what that means, don't worry at the moment).
This chord is used quite a lot in traditional Japanese music - it's a very distinctive sound.
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 9th is the easiest way by far. All you need to do is practice a few riffs with this chord anyway. Below are a couple of exercises with clean and distorted example clips... Clean example Distorted/metal example Hope you found this lesson useful!
OK! Hope you now have some good exercises to warm up and improve your power chord playing with. The secret is to mix them up when you're writing a new riff so your music becomes diverse and interesting.