What is a power chord?

Power chords are a basic element of modern electric guitar playing. They are found throughout all genres of contemporary music, and feature heavily in rock, alternative, punk and metal guitar, because they will still sound clear, bold and full through an overdriven or distorted amplifier.

A power chord has only 2 notes in it – the “root” note, and a note we call the “fifth” – for this reason, a power chord is also known more formally as a fifth chord. Power chords can be played on more than 2 strings, but will just have the same 2 notes repeated on different octaves.

A power chord doesn’t contain the note that tells us if it’s a major chord nor a minor chord, and will sound good when used in place of either.

Open Power Chords

An open power chord is one that is played with an open string. There are 4 are commonly played power chords that can be played in the open position: E5, A5, D5 and G5. Bands like AC/DC and Thin Lizzy have made good use of open power chords as a part of their signature sound.

e5-open-3

An open E power chord played on 3 strings

An open E power chord played on 2 strings

An open E power chord played on 2 strings

An open A power chord played on 3 strings

An open A power chord played on 3 strings

An open A power chord played on 2 strings

An open A power chord played on 2 strings

An open D power chord played on 3 strings

An open D power chord played on 3 strings

An open D power chord played on 2 strings

An open D power chord played on 2 strings

An open G power chord played on 3 strings

An open G power chord played on 3 strings

An open G power chord played on 2 strings

An open G power chord played on 2 strings

You will see that I have listed them here played on 3 strings, and on 2. Be sure to practice the 3 string versions, they have a bolder, stronger sound that most players prefer. 2 string power chords are still useful though, they can sound clearer and tighter if you are using a lot of gain.

(You can also play a B5 on the top 2 strings, although it’s not a very convenient place to play it – working out how to play it will be left as an exercise for the reader)

Movable Power Chords

You can play power chords without using open strings – in fact this is how they are usually played. Any chord shape that doesn’t include an open string in it is known as a movable chord shape – because you can play different chords by moving the same shape up and down the neck. So, by learning these movable power chords, you will then be able to use the same shapes on different positions of the neck to play any power chord. Pretty cool, huh?

Power chords played on the E string

This chord shown here is an G power chord, but it can be moved up the neck to play any other power chord.

A G power chord played with a movable shape on 3 strings

A G power chord played with a movable shape on 3 strings

A G power chord plared with a movable shape on 2 strings

A G power chord plared with a movable shape on 2 strings

Power chords played on the A string

A C power chord played with a movable shape on 3 strings

A C power chord played with a movable shape on 3 strings

A C power chord played with a movable shape on 2 strings

A C power chord played with a movable shape on 2 strings

Power chords played on the D string

An F power chord played with a movable shape on 3 strings

An F power chord played with a movable shape on 3 strings

An F power chord played with a movable shape on 2 strings

An F power chord played with a movable shape on 2 strings

Other Power Chords

These basic power chords shown above will be enough to play through a lot of songs.  There are other ways to power chords though, including inverted power chords, 4 string power chords, barred power chords, and power chords played with different tunings.  Please stay tuned for more posts on how to play these!