Power chords are basically those things that guitarists play in every riff ever created.
Whether it’s Metal, Rock, Grunge, Pop, Indie – you name it – power chords are used literally all the time.
In this post I’ll go over how to play power chords on guitar so that you can start riffing.
What is a Power Chord?
A power chord is – in short – a mini chord.
They are 2 note chords consisting of a root note and a 5th, often played using only 2 or 3 strings.
Due to the lack of a minor or major 3rd, a power chord is completely neutral.
This makes them easy to use in any key.
Their main use, however, is to beef out the sound of riffs that would otherwise consist of single notes.
How to Play Open Power Chords
Alright, it’s time to get you riffing.
Luckily for you these are the easiest chords on God’s green earth.
Do you have a single finger?
Congratualtions! You can play this chord:
Find me anything easier and I’ll buy tickets to a Nickelback concert.
All we’ve done is taken an E note and added the note 1 string and 2 frets higher to it to make it an E5.
Try to make sure that you’re muting the other strings with the underside of your index finger whilst you’re at it to reduce excess noise.
You may also see this power chord being played like this:
The extra note on the D string is also an E, but an octave higher than the low E string.
Therefore, it’s still an E5 chord.
Neither version is wrong and you’ll see both all the time in song tabs.
These rules also apply to A5 power chords:
And – like with E5 – you can also play this with the extra A note on the 2nd fret of the G string:
And here’s the final open power chord, D5:
And because the B string is weird and makes all notes 1 fret higher than they should be, the other version would look like this:
There you have it. That’s all the open position power chords for ya.
Now, although these are really great, you’re still limited to the same goddam chords.
And you’ll soon realise that you wanna play other power chords on guitar like F#5 and B5 in combination with these.
But never fear, they’re literally right here…
How to Play Closed Power Chords
If you want to become super flexible with playing power chords on guitar then you gotta get good at these.
If you were to play the A5 in a closed position, then there are again two variants:
Most of us guitarists decide to use our pinkie instead of our ring finger in the first version. It’s a matter of preference, but I find that it feels like less of a stretch for your hand to use your pinkie, especially when standing up.
The fundamental rule is, to make a power chord, take the note you want to beef up, and add the note 1 string and 2 frets higher to it.
And this works with any note on any of the lowest three strings.
For example, there is a D on the 5th fret of the A string so a D5 would be:
Just like that, you’re a power chord pro.
The reason I say that this + 1 string and 2 frets rule only works on the lowest 3 strings is because of that darn B string again.
You gotta shift what note would normally be there up a fret, like with the D5 from earlier.
So, if you used the C note on the 5th fret of the G string as your bass note, and wanted to turn it into a power chord, then it would have to look like this:
But literally no one ever uses power chords this high up so don’t worry if you don’t quite understand that.
As long as you get comfortable playing power chords on the lower strings, then you’re good to go.
How to play Power Chord Variations
Although the power chords above will cover most bases, there are a couple of variations you should still be made aware of…
Some power chords consist of a root note and a 4th, instead of a 5th:
It just gives a slightly different sound from the standard power chord.
And sometimes if a band is playing in drop D tuning (with the low E string tuned a whole step lower), you will see power chords played like this:
The lower tuning on the E string shifts the A note a whole step further up from the 5th fret to the 7th fret.
This is still an A5, but the tuning changes the shape a bit.
Hopefully that’ll save your brain from being frazzled when you come across it in the future.
Wrapping It Up
The fact is, power chords are pretty easy and it won’t take you long to get used to them. Unless you’re missing a hand or something, but then I’d start to question why you are playing guitar at all.
Anyway, when you’ve got them down you’ll have every riff under the sun at your fingertips.
Now go get riffing!