Power chords are essentially double stops, or partial chords. True chords have at least three different notes. Power chords contain only the root and 5th note of a scale. But because they are used like chords they are considered chords. They are usually notated as a 5 chord. For example, a C Power chord is usually notated C5. There are both two and three string versions of the Power chord. The three string version simply adds the octave of the root note. Here are the chord diagrams for both the 2 and 3 string versions of an F5 Power Chord:
Notice the strings with the X over them. Those are muted (not played.) In the third version the 5th note (C) is the lowest pitch note and the root note (F) is the highest pitch note. This is called an “inverted” power chord.
MOVEABLE CHORD DIAGRAMS
Power chords are “moveable” chords. This means the fingering (or shape) of the chord can be moved up and down the fretboard to create new chords. Let’s look at a Power (Fifth) chord shape to see how this works. The example at right is the two string Power chord shape you just learned. Its root note is on the 6th string. A root note is the note a chord is built on and gets its name from. Power chords are built using the root (1st) and 5th note in the Major Scale.
The fingering of the chord is shown in the chord diagram. The string the root note is found on is shown above the diagram. The table beneath the chord diagram has two columns. The left column shows the fret number and the right column shows what chord you are playing starting at that fret. If you play this chord shape at the 1st fret it will be an F power chord because the (root) note at the 1st fret on the 6th string is an F.
If you play the chord shape at the 3rd fret you have a G power chord. If you play the chord shape at the 5th fret you have an A power chord, etc.
The order the chords move up the neck is based on the Chromatic Scale. The order of the Chromatic scale never changes so once you learn it, it is easy to find (count up to) any moveable chord.
POWER CHORD DIAGRAMS
Here are chord diagrams for the Fifth (Power) chords.
I have listed chords using flat symbols, but remember that any flat chord has an equivalent sharp chord: a Gb5 chord is also called an F#5 chord; an Ab5 chord is also called a G#5 chord; a Bb5 chord is also called an A#5 chord; a Db5 chord is also called a C#5 chord; and an Eb5 chord is also called a D#5 chord.
Because power chords only have the root (tonic) note and 5th note in the major scale, and not the 3rd note, they can be substituted for any Major or Minor chord. This is because the 3rd note is the note that determines whether a chord is major or minor.
Here is a three chord progression that starts with Open chords and then substitutes 6th string root Power Chords for the open chords. The A5 works for the Am, the F5 works for the F, and the G5 works for the G.
Notice how Power chords work equally well for major or minor chords. Electric guitarists often play power chords while an acoustic guitarist is strumming open chords. This is a common way to create two different guitar parts that compliment each other.
Now try a second progression using 5th string root Power Chords. Repeat the progression several times.
Here a third progression using 3rd string root Power Chords. Try playing these chords using one finger to hold down both strings. I put the correct fingers to use below the chord. Repeat this progression several times also.
Here is a song that uses two string Power chords and an eighth note rhythm. Strum it using all down strums for a driving rhythm feel. If you are playing electric guitar, use an overdriven or distorted amp tone.
This song uses three string Power chords. Repeat it several times when practicing.
Power chords are common in rock and pop music and are usually used with an overdriven (or distorted) guitar tone. Because they are played on the lower strings and provide a fat, bass heavy tone, they earned the nickname “power chords.”