Confused about the best way to play clean power chords? Learn how to play power chord shapes for electric & acoustic guitar.
Hey there, and welcome to the ultimate beginner’s guide to playing power chords! Power chords are a great way to add power and excitement to your music, and they’re surprisingly easy to learn.
In this blog post, I’m going to teach you everything you need to know to start playing power chords today, including:
- What are power chords?
- How to find and play power chords on the guitar
- Tips for playing power chords cleanly and consistently
- How to use power chords in your music
Even if you’re a complete beginner, you’ll be able to learn to play power chords by the end of this post.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
What are power chords?
Power chords are a type of movable guitar chord shape that contain only two notes. They can be thought of as a simpler ‘watered down’ version of a barre chord.
These movable chords can be shifted around the fretboard to make countless other chords using the same fingerings.
Power chords are commonly used in rock music, but can also be found in other genres like country. They are primarily used on electric guitars to create a rich, distorted sound that adds depth to the rhythm.
Every guitar player will benefit from having power chords in their arsenal of techniques.
What’s the difference between power chords and barre chords?
Power chords are a type of chord that is made up of only two notes: the root and the fifth. This is what makes them sound neither major nor minor.
Major and minor chords, on the other hand, have three notes: the root, the third, and the fifth. The distance between the root and the third note is what gives a chord its major or minor sound.
Power chords are sometimes written like this:
“G5”. In this example, the ‘G’ represents the root note and the ‘5’ represents the 5th note.
If you don’t know, the interval between the root and third note in a Major chord is a major 3rd, whilst a minor chord contains an interval of a minor 3rd between the root and third.
What are the benefits of power chords?
Learning new chord shapes will always be useful to your overall guitar playing and musical development.
Power chord shapes are remarkably versatile thanks to their root and fifth note makeup, and they’re the building blocks for many other areas of guitar playing.
Here are the main benefits of learning power chords:
- Versatility: Power chords are remarkably versatile thanks to their root and fifth note makeup. This means you can use them in various musical genres, from rock to metal to pop.
- Building blocks for other guitar techniques: Power chords are the foundation for many other guitar techniques, such as barre chords, rock and metal riffs, and punky strumming patterns. Learning power chords is the first step towards getting more musical techniques under your belt.
- Substitutes for more complex chords: Power chords can be used to substitute for more complex chords, such as barre chords and major and minor triads. This makes them a great option for beginners and intermediate guitarists who are still learning to play more complex chords.
- Punchy and clear sound: Power chords sound punchy and clear on distorted guitar, making them ideal for rock and metal music.
- Great for jamming and songwriting: Power chords can be used for many purposes, such as working out songs, pinpointing fretboard note locations, and arranging and songwriting.
Power chords can be played in any of the 12 keys. We will use an A power chord for the following chord diagram examples.
Ready to get to the guitar power chord diagrams? Grab your guitar pick, and let’s do it!
Power Chord Shape No. 1 – Two Fingers
This first A power chord shape is played using two separate notes. Your 1st (index) finger plays the root note on the low E string whilst your 4th (pinky) finger plays the 5th note of the chord located on the 5th A string:
You can also play this first power chord shape with your 3rd finger fretting the 5th string note instead of your pinky.
If you want to boost your guitar skills, it’s a great idea to use your pinky finger as much as you can. This will help to strengthen it and make playing easier in the long run.
Using your pinky finger for power chords like F5 and G5 allows for a wider finger spread. Give it a try and see how it works for you!
How Movable Chords Work
You can play power chords in any key by simply shifting the movable shape up or down the fretboard. For example, to play a power chord in the key of A, move the G5 power chord shape up two frets.
To play a C5 power chord, shift the movable A shape up the fretboard three frets. Your index finger will now play the C note on fret 8, the new root note.
Power Chord Shape No. 2 – Three Fingers
The following power chord shape consists of only two distinct notes. However, you may be wondering why the chord diagram displays three notes.
The explanation is that we are still playing a root and fifth note, but we have added an additional A root note in a higher octave.
Take a peek:
The extra root note in this power chord shape helps to make the chord sound fuller. Practice muting the unplayed strings by resting your first finger on them just enough to mute them.
More on this, plus extra key practice tips towards the end of the article.
Your 1st (index) finger plays the root note on the low E string, your 3rd (ring) finger plays the 5th note on the A string, leaving your 4th (pinky) finger to play the octave root note on the fourth string.
Power Chord Shape No. 3 – Barred Finger
This 3rd power chord shape uses the same number of notes as the last. The difference is the two higher notes are played by barring your third finger across strings 5 and 4 to play them both.
Here’s the power chord diagram:
This fingering will feel tricky at first. You’re not alone if you feel like you’re struggling. The secret is to practice your barring technique separately.
Like all of the shapes in this lesson, you can move this chord up and down the fretboard to play power chords in any key you wish.
Power Chord Shape No. 5 – Three Fingers
Don’t you love movable chord shapes? Here’s the 3-finger, three-note power chord shape shifted across the fretboard to form a 5th-string root power chord.
The same note pattern applies – your first finger plays the root note, your 3rd finger plays the 5th, and your pinky plays the octave root note.
The trick to cleanly playing a 5th string root power chord is to use the top of your index finger tip to mute the low E string.
Never rest your fingertip on the 6th string, as you run the risk of accidentally playing it. Instead, lightly touch the underside of the string to deaden it.
What are some examples of songs that use power chords?
Power chords are a staple of many different genres of music, including rock, metal, and punk. Here are a few famous examples of songs that use power chords:
- All the Small Things by Blink-182: This pop-punk anthem is filled with infectious energy, driven by power chords that give it that signature punk rock sound. It’s a blast to play and sing along to.
Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana: This iconic grunge-era track is renowned for its straightforward yet catchy riff, driven by four power chords. This riff is in the intro, verse, and chorus sections.
You Really Got Me by The Kinks: Among the earliest songs to adopt power chords, it set the stage for many future rock bands. The song’s vigorous rock sound relies on a main riff consisting of three power chords, which also make appearances in the chorus with some variations.
American Idiot by Green Day: A punk rock anthem critiquing American politics and media culture, this song harnesses the energy of power chords. The main riff, composed of five power chords, fuels its rapid and spirited sound, appearing in both the verse and chorus sections.
Iron Man by Black Sabbath: This classic metal track narrates a tale of time travel and apocalypse. It boasts a weighty and foreboding ambience, anchored by a main riff utilizing four power chords. These power chords are also prominent in the verse and chorus sections.
- Highway to Hell by AC/DC: This classic rock song features a catchy and powerful riff played with five power chords. The verse and chorus sections also use the riff and some variations. The song is about living a wild and rebellious life. Rock on!
How do you play power chords cleanly?
Playing a chord with only a few notes is harder than it looks. You need to mute the strings that you don’t use. Otherwise, your playing will sound awful.
To make your power chords sound clear, practice how to mute the extra strings with your first finger.
You need to master these three skills:
- First Finger Ninja: Use the tip of your first finger to fret the root note and the rest of the finger to touch the other strings lightly. Don’t press too hard on the strings that you want to mute. It might feel weird initially, but you’ll get used to it with practice, like everything else on guitar.
- Guitar Pick Aim: Make sure you only strum the strings that you fret. It sounds easy, but many beginners hit all six strings when they play power chords and wonder why it sounds bad. Work on your strumming accuracy.
- Thumb Position: Keep your thumb low on the back of the neck, under the middle of the three power chord frets. This will help you position your fingers better.
Start by practicing power chords with only down-strums. Many songs use down-strums with power chords, along with palm muting.
5 Practice Tips for Awesome Power Chords
If you’re taking guitar lessons, a good tutor will stress the importance of focused practice. To improve your guitar skills, you need productive practice sessions. Here are five practical tips to make your power chord practice sessions effective:
When playing power chords, concentrate on only the strings you hold down. Practice muting the unused strings and start with down-strums. As you gain confidence, add up-strums to your repertoire.
2. Set Goals
Your primary goal should be achieving clean power chords and smooth chord transitions. This requires patience and daily practice to build finger strength and muscle memory.
3. Record Yourself
Recording your practice sessions is invaluable for identifying areas that need improvement. Even if you think your playing sounds messy, still record yourself.
It serves as a motivating record of your progress and can significantly reduce practice time.
4. Use a Metronome
When you progress to changing between different power chord shapes, always practice with a metronome. It enhances your timing, preventing rushed playing.
Start with a slow tempo, like 70bpm, and count out loud in 4/4 time. Ensure your chord changes align with the metronome beats for consistent timing.
5. Play Along to Songs
Popular bands like The Kinks, Green Day, Metallica, and Nirvana frequently use power chords in their music. Learning songs that incorporate power chords is an excellent way to practice your skills.
Even if you’re a beginner and your chord changes are slow, practicing with songs helps you progress.
Summing it Up
Allocate 5-10 minutes of daily practice to power chords. Mastery of muting unused strings takes time, so don’t be discouraged if your playing sounds messy initially.
Stay committed, and keep rocking those power chords!