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Shred Academy - Free Guitar Lesson by David Tan




By David Tan


What are they?

Power chords are basically chords with only two notes of the key: the first and the fifth note. Thus in some situations they are referred to with symbols of D5 and E5 etc. Technically however they are not chords as chords are comprised of at least 3 notes (if you are confused by this don’t worry, it doesn’t really matter. People call them power chords anyway).

They are usually used with distortion when wanting to give more drive to the song. An example of a genre that uses power chords as their staple is punk rock with songs like American Idiot by Green Day that is comprised totally of power chords (jokes abound that it is the only chord punk rockers know). It is especially useful if you enjoy using high gain distortion, where playing open chords will sound messy.

It would be a good idea to learn basic chords, be able to read tab and to know the names of the guitar strings (EADGBe) before reading this lesson.

Below are 3 ways to play an A power chord (which are actually all almost exactly the same)

Power Chords are Movable

The great thing about power chords is that they have the same shape regardless of where they are played (except for G and D strings. For that, look below). What key the power chord actually is, is based on the lowest note of chord. This is because the lowest note of power chords are the 1st /tonic note of the chord/key. For example, the lowest note of the A power chord is on the 5th fret of the low e string(1st string). The 5th fret on the low e string where the power chord is played is an A note.

To make it even simpler, what I am saying is that you find the 1st note of the key (A for A maj/min, B for B maj/min, C for Cmaj/min). Once you have found it on the fret board, you base your power chord shape on that.

The exception to this rule is when playing the 3rd way because your lowest note is the fifth note of the chord not the first. To avoid confusion when playing the 3rd way, look for the correct fret for the 2nd way and then just play the top two notes of the 2nd way. In other words, base playing the 3rd way on the shape of the 2nd way.
A good way to be able to play power chords when seeing any chord is to memorise the notes on the guitar fret board for the low E and A strings right up to the 12th fret. I usually do this by basing my position on the frets that have dots (e.g. the 3rd, 5th and 7th frets) . People usually play power chords on the first two strings(E and A).

The Change of Shape

Midi-Audio 1

The first bar features a sliding of a D power chord to an E power chord (notice that the 5th fret on the A string is a D note and 7th fret on the A string is an E note). The 2nd bar is using an A power chord and sliding it down to a G power chord.


Replacing Open and Bar Chords

Well, the easiest way to use power chords is to just play it! For example you have a song with a progression of Em-C-G-D and you want to play it with distortion. Instead of playing the normal open chords try playing the progression with power chords.

The beautiful thing about power chords is that the same one can be played for both minor and major. This is because the fifth note in the scale for both minor and major keys are always the same. So let’s say you have an E minor chord, if you want to play it with power chords you play an E power chord. What if you have an E major chord? You play an E power chord as well.

Power Chords as an Open Chord

An interesting concept that is usually used by acoustic guitarists and which you can incorporate into your playing is playing power chords as an open chord (however not with distortion). I usually do this with power chords on the A string. What you do is play the chord (for example the B power chord) but play the open B and high E strings as well.

Take the following example:

Midi-Audio 2

It is using a progression of B-C#m-E using the power chords and playing the open B and high E strings

Picking Power Chords

Another concept that you can try is to pick power chords note by note. Whether this is done with distortion or clean is up to you. The following example is based on E minor and is played clean. Here it is:

Midi-audio 3

It starts of with an E power chord (Bar 1), and then a F# and G power chord (Bar 2) and ends with a D# power chord (Bar 3 and 4) with and extra F# note on top.

Muting Strings

When playing power chords on the A string it is very important not to play the E string on top. To mute it there are generally two ways. The first one which I recommend is to mute it by using your index finger to slightly touch the low E string with the tip of your finger as you play the power chord.

The second way is to use your middle finger to touch the low E string while you play the power chord. However make sure your middle finger does not press it until it makes sounds. Just slightly touch it so that it is muted.

Alternatively, you can use your picking hand to palm-mute the string.


Backend system (LAMP) designed & maintained by Daniel Moxon