A lot of you may well have heard of power chords and are wondering what they are and how they can be used. Power chords are used widely in rock music but despite their wide us are very, very easy to play. Once you have learnt the one shape you’ll find that you’ll be able to play almost any rock song in a simple way. In fact, a lot of rock songs only feature power chords. The ease of use and the fact that they are used so much makes them a great first step for anyone who is new to playing guitar.

I think of power chords as an extended way of playing root notes. You simply play the root note you desire, add a 5th from the major scale, and then an octave on the top. This gives you a very simple three note chord that can be used anywhere on the neck to give you a power chord in any key.

Take a look at the diagram below to see what notes are included in a power chord:

When playing a power chord, the first thing you have to do is decide whether you are going to play the chord using a root note on the 6th string, or the 5th string. This choice means you have two variations of the shape available to you. Of course, you can play a power chord using a root note from any string on the guitar but these are the main two options. Below are two diagrams showing you what the power chord shape looks like. On the left the shape is using a root note from the 6th string. On the right, the shape is using a root note from the 5th string.

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As explained above, using a power chord is a bit like extending a root note. At least, this is how I think about power chords, as you are simply adding a 5th and an octave to give you an extra thick sound, in comparison to a single root note. As you’ll find out, the sound of a power chord doesn’t really differ much from that of a single root note, only in that it sounds a lot thicker and fuller. If you are new to the guitar, you may find playing power chords a bit of a stretch to start with. With a little bit of regular practice you will soon get used to them….they really aren’t that tricky!

Power Chord Practice Exercise

To start with, try practicing the power chord exercise below. This should get you used to playing the shape and moving it about across the neck. As per usual, take a look at the video to see how the exercise is played:

Baring that in mind, below are a selection of riffs to get you started playing power chords within some tunes. The first TAB example is the riff comprising of single root notes, the second TAB example shows you the same riff but this time using power chords. This way you can see the difference between the two.

This first example uses power chords only taking root notes from the 6th string:

Smoke on the Water

Root notes only:

Power chords:

The next example uses power chords using both root notes from the 6th string, and the 5th string:

Smells like Teen Spirit

Root notes only:

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Power chords:

image credit – J.Bodas