"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
- Abraham Lincoln
I love power chords. They are the easiest chords to play, carry the most punch, and you can use them in virtually any situation and style. Plus, they are the meat and bones of rock: just two notes spawned one of the most incredible music styles in Human history so far.
With that in mind for this lesson, I'll show you the many ways you can play power chords so that you can add them to your arsenal and start blowing everyone's heads off with your playing.
Like Abe Lincoln said, let's see what you can play once you claim some Power.
You can watch the video below or continue reading for more details. Don't forget to check out the info graphic at the bottom for a quick reference, as well as gain access to the source file with the examples (you'll need Guitar Pro for this).
Although a power chord consists of just two notes (the root note and the 5th interval), we can play them using all the way from two to 6 strings.
For this position, we'll play the regular power chord shape without the octave, so that means we'll play the root note and the 5th.
This shape is very simple and easy to play, in addition to being quite fast to move around the neck, so that makes it very versatile.
Of course, you can not only play it with the root on the 6th string, but in the 5th and 4th strings as well.
This shape is the fastest of all, and is frequently used when you play riffs that involve fast changing chords, although you can also use them whenever the fingering of a specific part makes it difficult to move the entire hand. Because it does not have the root note, it sounds less powerful, so use it carefully whenever you want to emphasize a specific chord.
For better ease of use, hold both string with a small barre with just one finger (usually the index or ring fingers).
You can play this variant virtually anywhere on the fretboard.
Visually, this shape is exactly the same as the last one.
This is a very used chord with players that use drop tunings, for example, drop D (which tunes the guitar to DADGBE, changing the 6th string note from an E down to D). In this tuning, playing the 6th and 5th string in the same fret will have you playing a root and a 5th interval, which makes it the same notes as you would with playing the first figure we saw (the two-string power chord without the octave).
This combines the speed of playing the hacked power chords with the fuller sound of a regular power chord with the root note. Just like the previous shape, you can optionally use a single finger by making a small barre.
Tip: you can also play it as a three-string power chord, although it is more difficult (but very rewarding).
This is the full power chord. We'll be playing the root note, 5th interval, and octave.
This is the one I prefer to play as much as possible.
The drawback of this position is that it's not easy to make fast chord changes.
There are two variations on this shape that I want you to know:
Small barre: you can play the same shape but, instead of using the fingers 3 and 4, just use a small barre to play both notes, using either the ring or pinky fingers. Just make sure you don't force your finger joint.
Odd fingers: this is very useful when making a lot of chord changes from the open E power chord. It looks the same, but the fingers we use to play it change:
I like this variant a lot and use it frequently. You can use this with the root note in the 6th and 5th strings, even on the 4th strings (though in this case you won't play the octave note).
This shape we'll use when playing a three-string power chord with the root on the 5th string. We'll add another 5th interval on the 6th string to pump up the power through the roof.
We use a small barre with the index finger to play the two lower notes, and then the ring and pinky fingers for the rest. If your fretboard knowledge is good, you can tell that what we are playing is actually two "two-string power chords" without the root (the second figure we saw in this list).
They are actually the same chord, but doubled, for double the fun.
You can similarly play this chord as you would play a regular three-string power chord with the root on the 4th string, by adding a 5th interval inversion, like so:
These are, in my opinion, the heaviest power chords you can use, so if you are into metal music, definitely add this to your arsenal.
With a bit of practice, you will be able to move it up and down the fretboard quite well, so you can use them for heavy riffs.
This shape is quite easy to play and sounds with a lot of brightness, perfect for pop rock and styles like INXS or U2.
This position is using two power chord hacks at once, just like the last shape we saw (#5). Because of the "water diffraction effect" between the 3rd and 2nd strings, the shapes are split from each other by two frets, which changes the position and technique to play it.
You can learn to move it up and down the fretboard quite quickly and easily with some practice.
By now we start getting into the extreme sounds.
This shape derives from the major/minor barre chords with root on the 6th string, only that we won't be playing the 3rd string (which in the full chord contains the major/minor 3rd interval).
Using this same principle, we can play the same chord with the root on the 5th string as well.
In this shape, we are playing the position for a barre chord without playing the 3rd interval (that would be played on the 2nd string) and adding a note on the 6th string as an inversion (which happens to be the 5th interval of the barre chord shape).
I recommend you mute the X'ed string by slightly touching it with your pinky finger, so that you can play all the notes in a single sweep.
It's not very easy to move around quickly. I like to play these whenever you want to shock the song you are playing, but otherwise it is not usually used too much.
I especially like to alternate between the lower strings and the two high strings. I like how it creates a sound that cuts through anything in the band.
I can't say I've seen or heard any player out there use this chord, and I'm not sure how I came up with it, but I still like it, so I'm showing you how to do it.
Yes, playing this variation will require some stretching of the fingers, and even then, it is a good idea to play it from around the middle of the fretboard and forward, so that the distance between frets is not so big, which will help you nail this chord much easier.
I have used this chord sparingly in some songs, although I like to strum on it whenever the band is finishing a song (you know, that moment when everyone plays anything over the top of their heads, especially the drummer). It has a very complete sound as all the strings are ringing at the same time in unison.
Use it wisely!
If you are using the standard tuning, there's one more six-string power chord you can play.
In this chord we are combining a regular three-string power chord with the root on the 5th string (7th fret) with the 6th, 2nd, and 1st open strings. It just so happens that those open strings form a perfect power chord, as we have a low E (root note), a B (perfect 5th), and a high E as an octave.
Playing those in unison will give a very shinny yet powerful sound.
Tip: use it for finishing a song in the key of E, especially playing the strings one by one.
I hope you enjoyed this lesson!
You can download the Guitar Pro file with the examples here:
Check out the info graphic below for a quick reference.
About the author: Max Chiossi is a rock guitarist and engineer with a laser-focused approach. You can visit my website at www.iwillteachyoutoplayguitar.com.