What are Power Chords and Why Use Them?

Guitar playing has some major similarities across all genres. After all, much of it came from the blues. But still, some techniques have been born from specific genres and taken the world by storm. When most people think of serious guitar music, they think of Rock music. 

This makes sense to me, rock music really shows off what the guitar is capable of. As a teacher to many students over the past 10+ years, I know how intertwined rock is with the guitar. Why is that?

So many reasons, but one of the main ones is around a unique type of chord called the power chord. The power chord is aptly named: POWER. Mastering these chords isn’t that hard, in fact, they’re simpler than many other chords in some ways. But the powerful sound you can put out with them sounds anything but easy. Today, I want to talk a little about these chords and how it can change your playing. 

What Are Power Chords?

Power chords are also called fifth chords. Most of the time, chords are built from three or more notes. For example, a G major chord uses the notes: G, B, and D. 

Power chords remove the thirds, or middle notes, and limit it to the root and fifth above. In this case, a G power chord would be built on G and D only. Technically speaking, this would make them dyads instead of true chords, but it doesn’t sound as exciting, does it?

Power chords will most often use the fifth and double some of the notes. Even though a G power chord uses only G and D, it will double those notes, so you still use more than two strings. 

Why Is It Called A Power Chord?

It’s called a power chord because the open fifth sound allows for more projection and a solid sound. Adding other notes makes the chords more complex-sounding, but the power chord is simple and powerful. They just sound beefy.

Why Use Power Chords?

Rock guitarists use power chords for different reasons. I mentioned the beefy sound above. Reducing notes gives more power to the ones still there. By removing the middle notes, the chords also gain some mystery. They sidestep the “happy” or “sad” feelings given by the standard major and minor chords

It also evolved out of necessity. This sounds less glamorous, but it’s true. As rock bands added more effects and distortion to their sound, they noticed the chords sounded bad using some effects. The notes ended up clashing with one another. 

The solution was to take notes out. By removing all but the root and the fifth, the distortion and effects still sounded good, opening up new worlds of sound. 

A Few Simple Power Chords To Practice

As with all chords, some power chords are easier to play than others. Here are a few of the easier ones to get you started. Practice these until they’re comfortable under your fingers, and see if it’s something you want to continue learning about. 

Simple E Power Chord:

  • Pointer finger on the 5th string, second fret
  • Play only the 5th and 6th strings

Simple A Power Chord:

  • Pointer finger on the 4th string, second fret
  • Play only the 4th and 5th strings (6th is optional)

Simple D Power Chord:

  • Pointer finger on the 3rd string, second fret
  • Play only the 3rd and 4th strings (5th is optional)
  • If you add ring finger on the 2nd string, third fret, you can play this too

I hope you enjoy exploring the power of power chords (pun intended). Throwing these chords into your songs will make your playing sound stereotypically rock, especially on electric guitar. Speaking of rock guitar, Carlos Santana is a master of Classic Rock. It would normally cost hundreds and thousands to learn from him directly, but Masterclass lets you do it for a fraction of the price. 

Check out Carlos Santana’s Masterclass guitar and rock video lessons.







Guitar Power Chords

What are Power Chords and Why Use Them?
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What are Power Chords and Why Use Them?