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Last Updated: November 2022 | Article Details: 1191 words (6 – 8 minute read)
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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.
But we got you – this is the only guide you’ll need to start playing power chords today.
What Are They?
Power chords are a type of chord 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 use power chords.
They sound best when they’re overdriven and distorted with amps and pedals.
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How Are They Formed?
Power chords consist of the root note and fifth of the scale/key you’re playing in.
Not sure what that means? Brush up on basic music theory here.
If you do know about guitar notes and some guitar scales, then you know in the key of C the root is a C note and the 5th is a G note.
So the C power chords 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 Chords w/ Images
This is one of the simplest chords to play, but can also be tricky for beginners because of the finger positioning.
Take a look at this chord diagram/chart that shows you the basic fret positions you’ll be using:
If you don’t know how to read those charts you can learn some basic guitar chords here.
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 power chord.
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How to Know What Power Chord 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 power chord 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 a power chord 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.
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 the power chords without trouble.
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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.
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 guitar 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 at power chords.
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 power chords can sound good on acoustic, go listen to Nirvana’s Unplugged performance.
Frequently Asked Questions
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. Power chords don’t have a third within them.
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.
You can use the power chords across any scale you use. So if you know your scales you can build power chords on any of that scales notes, and they will work well together.
That’s really all you need to know to start playing these. Make sure you practice your fretting. And download our free guitar chord and tab cheat sheets to help make your learning about how to play power chords easier!
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