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Beginning Power Chords for Rock Rhythm Guitar

Updated on September 12, 2018
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What Are Power Chords?

Power chords are the backbone of most rock music with any drive and are for most much simpler to play than the regular open chords. Heavy Metal, Grunge and Punk Rock are some examples of musical genres that rely almost exclusively on these well-worn chords. In fact I would even say that without these chords much rock music as we know it today would not even exist.

Some may disagree with me on that but it's a moot point because power chords are here and don't appear to be leaving the music scene anytime soon. They've evend found their into country music!

The Number 5 After a Letter Means Power Chord

The standard abbreviation for power chord is 5. Instead of writing "F power chord" (that's way too long) you would use F5.

Power Chords Can Go With Regular Chords

Power chords are movable shapes that can follow the roots (bass notes) of most of the standard chords that are out there in rock music.

For example this chord progression, C - G - Ami - F which is used in many classic punk/pop tunes can be substituted with the power chords C5 - G5 - A5 - F5. Both sets of chords could also be played at the same time and often are.

In the following 4 examples, A5 - D5 could be used instead of, or along with.

  • A - D
  • Ami - D7
  • AMaj7 - DMaj7
  • Ami9 - Dmi9

The main exceptions are diminished and minor 7thb5 chords which need a power chord with a flattened 5th.

Major or Minor?

While power chords are neither major or minor the sequence in which you play them can imply whether the overall tonality is major or minor. Add up all the notes in a progression (the root and 5th of each power chord) and you will often find that it adds up to a scale.Sometimes because of the ambiguity of power chords there can be more than one choice of implied harmony. In my example of AFCG try playing all minor chords and it's just plain weird. (Might be cool) The typical implication of this progression is A minor F major C major and G major although one can certainly mess with the natural tendencies.

Power Chord Rhythm Technique

  • Eighth Note Downstrokes
  • Quarter Note Downstokes
  • Long Sustains
  • R. Hand Palm Muting
  • L. Hand Finger Muting

More advanced techniques incorporate faster 16th note alternating down/upstroke rhythms and syncopated accents.

E String Root Power Chord

This example shows the E string root (letter name on E string) power chords as the 2-finger root-5th, or 3-finger root-5th-octave.

If this chord was at the 5th fret, the notes would be A and E in the 2-finger version and A, E and octave A in the 3-finger version.

E String Root


A String Root Power Chord

This example shows the A string root (letter name on A string) power chords as the 2-finger root-5th, or 3-finger root-5th-octave.

If this chord was at the 5th fret, the notes would be D and A in the 2-finger version and D, A and octave D in the 3-finger version.

A String Root


D String Root Power Chord

This example shows the D string root (letter name on D string) power chords as the 2-finger root-5th, or 3-finger root-5th-octave.

If this chord was at the 5th fret, the notes would be G and D in the 2-finger version and G, D and octave G in the 3-finger version.

D String Root


Naming The Power Chords

The majority of power chord songs tend to use chords based on the E and the A string roots. The D string root chords are used much less frequently.

Whatever note your index finger is touching is the letter name of the chord. This article will show you where the notes are and how to quickly memorize them. MEMORIZE THE NECK!

Power Chord Theory

A chord is made up of the the 1st, 3rd and 5th note of a scale. In the C major scale (C D E F G A B C) that would be C-E-G. This is also known as the C major triad.

In the C minor scale (C D Eb F G Ab Bb C) that would be C-Eb-G.

A power chord is the the 1st and 5th note of the scale hence the use of 5 in the name. Power chords leave out the 3rd so the C5 would be a C and a G and no E or Eb. This means that the chord is neither major or minor.


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