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How to Play Power Chords on Guitar in 5 Minutes, Guaranteed

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Article Details: 1191 words (6 – 8 minute read)

If you’re at all familiar with anything “guitar” you know all about power chords.

But if you’re just starting to learn how to play guitar, you may now know how to play them.

We got you – this is the only guide you’ll need to learn how to play power chords today.

But if you’re really serious about leveling up your guitar playing, the best way to do that is through structured online guitar training.

What Are They?

Power chords are a type of guitar chord (learn more) that is easy to play and sounds great – especially in rock related styles of music. They sound full and thick and work great on both electric and acoustic guitar.

Some of your favorite songs will no doubt strum these types of chords (read more about guitar strumming).

They sound best when they’re overdriven and distorted with amps and pedals.

How Are They Formed?

These chords consist of the root note and fifth of the scale/key you’re playing in.

If you do know about guitar notes and some guitar scales (learn them here), then you know in the key of C the root is a C note and the 5th is a G note.

So the C would use the notes C-G-C.

And the same goes for any power chord in any key. It’s just a root-fifth-root pattern

Power Chord Diagrams

This is one of the simplest chords to play, but can also be tricky for beginners learning how to play guitar because of the finger positioning.

Note: If you don’t know how to read the below diagram, click here to learn.

Take a look at this chord diagram/chart that shows you the basic fret positions you’ll be using:

Diagrams of Two Different Ways to Play Power Chords

To play with a 6th string root:

  • Your 1st finger holds down the 6th string (thickest) on the 1st fret
  • Your 3rd finger holds down the 5th string on the 3rd fret
  • Your 4th finger holds down the 4th string on the 3rd fret
  • Do not play the 3rd, 2nd or 1st guitar string.

To play with a 5th string root:

  • Your 1st finger holds down the 5th string (thickest) on the 1st fret
  • Your 3rd finger holds down the 4th string on the 3rd fret
  • Your 4th finger holds down the 3th string on the 3rd fret
  • Do not play the 1st, 2nd or 6th guitar string.

You can form a power chord with the root note starting on either the 5th or 6th string. The finger shape is the same, and you can move this exact pattern up and down the fret board to play a different chord.

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How to Know What You’re Playing

What type of chord you’re playing depends on what root note you start at.

If you use the left chart (6th string root), you’re playing an F power chord. How do we know that?

That’s because the 6th string is an E when it’s not fretted (played with an open string).

But every fret raises the note a half-step (or 1 semi-tone). So when you’re pressing down on the first fret, that 6th string plays an F note, which is a half step above E. Move up another fret (to the 2nd fret) and you’re now playing an F#/Gb (F sharp/G flat).

And since the root note is the name given to the chord, we’re playing an F in the left chart.

Similarly, if you use the right chart (5th string root), you’re playing a Bb (B flat) power chord. Again, it’s because the 5th string is an A, and a half step above that is a A#/Bb (A sharp/B flat).

You can use this knowledge to play with any root you like.

Tips for Playing Better Power Chords

At first, the finger positions may feel uncomfortable or difficult to achieve cleanly. Don’t worry, it’s a bit of a stretch and awkward positioning, but you’ll get used to it with practice.

How to Practice

The first thing you want to really practice is fretting and transitioning between chords. So start by practicing a completely clean fretting of the basic 6th string root power chord.

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After you’ve done that and are more comfortable with the shape of your fingers and holding down strings properly, practice going from a chord on the first fret to a chord on the second fret. Then try moving from the first fret to the 3rd fret. Keep expanding the move and practice until you can fret and transition between them without trouble.

Getting a Clean Sound

If you notice in the charts above, you’re only really playing 3 of the 6 strings on the guitar. But if you’re not careful, it’s easy to hit a string you don’t intend to.

Closeup of Fingers Holding a Guitar Chord

That will always sound BAD.

And the problem is if you’re really into playing/performing and you’re in the moment slamming on your guitar it’s easy to hit those strings.

That’s where palm muting comes in.

It’s a technique where you use the heel of your palm to mute the strings you’re not trying to play.

Practice it and you’ll eventually get a much cleaner sound.

Use Amps and Pedals

Power chords sound best when they’re being amplified and distorted. So get yourself a basic amp and guitar pedal so you can really feel the feeling you’re supposed to get when chugging away.

It doesn’t have to be anything very expensive. Just something to help crunch things up. Of course, if you’re playing on acoustic guitar, this doesn’t necessarily apply to you.

And if you don’t think these can sound good on acoustic, go listen to Nirvana’s Unplugged performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Power Chords Major or Minor?

Neither. Power chords actually do not have a major or minor designation. Because they’re formed with the root and the fifth of a scale, they don’t have any note that gives it a major/minor sound. The quality of major and minor chords are given through the major/minor 3rd interval in the middle of the chord formation. These chords don’t have a third within them.

Do Power Chords Work on Acoustic Guitars?

Yes you can still play power chords on an acoustic guitar, but they will not have the same impact as when played on an amped electric.

What Power Chords Go Together?

Power chords built on the notes of any scale will go together. So if you know your scales you can build them on any of that scales notes, and they will work well together.

That’s it!

That’s really all you need to know to start playing these.

Make sure you practice your fretting.

Next up, we recommend learning some essential guitar techniques – read guide here.

If you really want to become a better guitar player fast, I highly recommend you check out Guitar Tricks (14 Day Free Trial) – they’ve got a TON of in-depth video lessons on everything you could possibly want to learn.

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    About The Author:

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    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.