Ever wondered how your guitar heroes sound SO huge when striking chords? This lesson will take you through the essentials in how to play guitar power chords!
In this free guitar lesson you will learn:
- 4 essential lessons that show you how to use guitar power chords.
- How to play 24 chords off of one chord shape.
- 3 must-know riffs which use guitar power chords.
- The n01 secret to turning open chords into guitar power chords.
What are guitar power chords?
Guitar power chords are chords which use just two notes. They are used predominantly in rock and metal music due to there strong and powerful sound.
Other names for power chords?
Guitar power chords are often seen with a ‘5’ written after them, like this ‘C5′ or ‘F5’.
Whether it’s called a ‘C Power Chord’ or ‘C5’, they mean the exact same thing.
How do I play guitar power chords?
Guitar power chords use similar techniques as regular guitar chords.
For this part of the article, we’re going to use a C5 chord. Let’s learn how to play this chord:
(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)
Guitar Power Chords – Use Your Finger Tips
Just like normal chords, make sure when you play guitar power chords that you use the tips of your fingers, NOT the flat fleshy part of your finger.
By doing this, you get a nice clear sound to your note.
One common problem that guitarists make is, that certain parts of the fingers will block other strings. This can often lead to chords sounding cluttered.
If you use the tips of your fingers, you will avoid this.
Here’s what your C guitar power chords should look like:
Guitar Power Chords – Use The Correct Fingers
When playing power chords you must use the correct fingers.
Make sure that you use the:
- 1st finger on the root note.
To learn more about root notes, go here: What Is The Root Note of A Chord?
- The 3rd finger on the 5th note of the chord.
This stretch may take a while, so make sure you take your time with this, don’t force it! If you’re really struggling to reach with your third finger, you can use the fourth finger instead.
Guitar Power Chords – Muting The Strings
When you play power chords, you MUST mute the strings that you aren’t playing with the fleshy part of your first finger.
Imagine striking a huge power chord through a load of distortion, and then suddenly you get some open strings ringing out. It doesn’t sound great, especially if those ringing open notes aren’t in the right key.
To learn how to mute power chords, watch this video:
Iconic Riff #1 ‘All Day And All of The Night’ by The Kinks
This is a classic riff from 1960s rock band, ‘The Kinks’ and is a great example of how huge a guitar can sound with power chords.
This riff is heard at the start of the tune.
Not only is this riff fantastic to learn on guitar because it sounds great, it also gets your fingers flying around the fretboard.
Here’s the tab:
Make sure when you play this riff that you take it slow! Moving guitar power chords around the fretboard can be tricky. Playing each chord with care will help you nail this riff in no time.
As this riff uses the main power chord shape, it’s just a matter of moving the shape to the right root note.
In this case, the chords you will be playing are F5,G5 and Bb5.
Iconic Riff #2 ‘All The Small Things’ by Blink 182
This pop punk hit from blink 182 is a fantastic example of how you can use guitar power chords to create definition and power in a song.
This riffs kicks in around 18 second mark. Check it out here:
This riff actually uses a similar concept to ‘All Day And All of The Night’ by The Kinks.
To change the riff, you simply move around a few root notes to get a different chord.
In this case, the root notes you will be targeting will be C, G and F. So this means that the guitar power chords are C5, G5 and F5!
Here’s the tab:
Be careful when playing this riff, playing it consistently can be tough. Make sure each power chord sounds as powerful as the next.
Iconic Riff #3 ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zeppelin
This riff is one of our favourite, it sounds massive and is great fun to play.
Jimmy page starts this riff right at the beginning of the song and it sounds epic.
This riff is a little bit tricker than the previous riffs, as we have to switch between playing single notes and power chords.
Here’s the tab:
Want to learn more iconic rock riffs? Check out 50 of the greatest guitar riffs of all time in this article by NME:50 Greatest Guitar Riffs Of All Time – NME
Learning Guitar Power Chord Shapes
Even though learning power chords can be a little tricky, once you have the technique down, it’s a breeze!
You will have noticed from playing those riffs that the beauty of power chords is that, once you’ve learnt one, you can transfer this shape all over the fretboard.
You just need to know where the root notes are on the E (6th string) and A string. (5th string.)
Root Notes on the E String
The notes on the E string are:
Now all you need to do is apply the power chord shape to each root note.
For example, if you play a power chord shape on the 1st fret of the E string (6th string). You’ll be playing a F power chord, like this:
To play this chord you:
- Place your first finger on the 1st fret of the E string. (6th string.)
- Place your 4th finger on the 3rd fret of the A string. (5th string.)
- Strum the E (6th string) and A string (5th string) together.
Now lets try playing a different chord with a different root note.
Move that shape up to the 3rd fret, that note is a G.
So now we have a G power chord.
Can you see how this is the same shape? This works for ANY root note on the low E string. (6th string.)
This time though, we have a different chord as we’ve changed our root note. We can also apply this method to the notes on the A string. (5th string.)
Root Notes on the A String
Just like the E string, on each fret of the A string, there is a new root note. So to play a power chord on the A string, we move the exact same shape over.
Let’s take a look at some of the root notes on the A string.
If you play a power chord on the 1st fret of the A string (5th string), you’ll be playing a Bb power chord.
Now let’s move this shape up to the 5th fret, from our diagram we know that the 5th fret on the A string is also a D note. So if we move our guitar power chord shape here, we now have a D power chord.
Other Ways To Play Power Chords?
Even though it’s awesome to play power chords off of the E (6th string) and A string, (5th string) this can often be quite limiting as you’re stuck to one shape.
One awesome trick you can do, is adapt your standard open chords into power chords. Let’s take a look at how we can do this
To play a normal G chord, we usually need to use 3 – 4 fingers.
Learn to play this chord here: 4 Easy Ways To Play The G Chord On Guitar
G Power Chord
To turn this into a G power chord, we’re going to remove our 1st finger which is currently on the 2nd fret of the A string.
To play this G power chord you:
- Place your 2nd finger on the 3rd fret of the E string. (6th string.)
- Place your 3rd finger on the 3rd fret of the B string. (2nd string.)
- Place your 4th finger on the 3rd fret of the high E string. (1st string.)
- Strum all the strings.
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This is a normal D major chord.
Learn this chord here: 3 Easy Ways to Play the D Chord on Guitar
To turn this into a D power chord, we’re going to place our pinky on the 5th fret of the high E string.
D Power Chord
To play a D power chord:
- Place your 1st finger on the 2nd fret of the G string. (3rd string.)
- Place your 2nd finger on the 2rd fret of the B string. (2nd string.)
- Place 4th finger on the 5th fret of the high E string. (1st string.)
- Strum from the D string. (4th string.)
This is a really cool way of getting a little bit more power out of your standard D chord.
The final chord we’re going to adapt is the C major chord. This power chord version sounds fantastic, and adds a desirable thickness when coupled with some distortion.
Here’s a standard C chord for reference:
Learn this chord here: Easy Ways To Play The C Guitar Chord
C Power Chord
Now to turn this into a C power chord, we just need to remove two notes. Those notes are the 2nd fret of the D string and the high E string.
- Place your 4th finger on the 3rd fret of the E string. (6th string.)
- Place your 3rd finger on the 3rd fret of the A string. (5th string.)
- Place your 1st finger on the 1st fret of the B string. (2nd string.)
- Strum from the E string. (6th string.)
It’s important when you play this chord that you let the G string ring out, but you don’t let the E and D strings ring out.
Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier
It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.
With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again. Click here to download your copy.
Theory And Power Chords – Why Are They Called ‘5’ Chords?
In a power chord, we only use two notes. These notes are the:
- Root note.
- The 5th.
The root note is always the first note in the chord, ie. the note that gives it its name. The fifth is five notes above that.
In a guitar power chord, we only ever use these notes.
To understand this further, let’s use the musical alphabet.
Our musical alphabet is as follows:
Now, lets add numbers to each of these letters:
In this case, we’re using ‘A’ as our root note. If we want to find out the 5th of ‘A’, we go across 5 notes.
This takes us to the note ‘E’.
Therefore if we want to play an A power chord, we only need two notes. Those notes are A and E. Now, play your open A string together with your open E string.
Voila! You’ve just played a basic open power chord, how easy was that.
What If I Want To Play Power Chords In A Different Key?
Let’s say we want to play a power chord in the key of ‘C’. This time we must start the musical alphabet from the note ‘C’. Like this:
This takes us to the note ‘G’.
Therefore if you want to play a C power chord. You must play the notes C and G together.
You can apply this theory to any of the other notes, all have to do is start from your chosen root note.
To learn more about guitar notes, go here: Guitar Notes Explained: A Guide For Beginners
Find Out What You Should Learn Next With Our Guitar Map
If you want to understand where you’re up to in your guitar journey you should take a look at our Guitar Map. It will show you what you ‘should’ know by now (and also what you need to learn next to move forward as a guitarist).
Most people find that the Guitar Map shows them how everything fits together and best of all, it will help you identify gaps in your knowledge that are holding you back.
(There is often just one piece of information that holds people back, 1 key insight that they need to know so they can continue moving forward and improving in their guitar journey.)
We made the Guitar Map so people like you can quickly identify what you don’t know, that you need to know next. We hope that makes sense!?
NOTE: The Guitar Map is now included in our free special report: 'The 7 Steps To Guitar Mastery'.
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