Power chords consist of the tonic (i.e. the root of the chord) and the fifth note in the scale, which makes it to a two-note chord. Therefore, the power chords are named with a five, such as C5 and D5. The power chords are frequently used in music styles like rock, heavy metal and punk rock. Yet simple to play, they deliver a full and intensive sound. And the best result is given when you're plugged in with an electric guitar to an amplifier with distortion. Also, using palm muting will bring a cool sound.
E5 with distortion
Power chord shapes
As you can see in the shapes diagrams below, the power chords can be played with two or three fingers (shape 2 can also be played by two fingers if the ring finger bar two strings). Only two notes are involved in both cases, but in the second shape you play the tonic note twice, in different octaves.
= Index finger
= middle finger
= ring finger
= little finger
= don't strum
Shape 1 includes the root and the fifth while shape 2 uses the root note twice, the second time one octave higher. There is no right or wrong in this case, it is up to your own taste and what sounds best in a specific arrangement.
As with barre chords, the power chords are movable. You can use the same shapes as showed above all over the fretboard. The only exception is playing a power chord including the fifth string (B-string):
The next tab picture shows you where to find each power chord on the right fret and root strings according to the notes of the guitar.
With the help from the diagrams and the tab we looked at you should be able to play power chords with any root note you wish. See also the fretboard overview for more details.
Examples of common 5th chords
See more diagrams in power chords chart.
Power chord progressions
It is relatively easy to come up with progressions once you have learned the shapes. Just to give a few examples:
G5 - D5 - E5 - C5
G5 - C5 - B5 - D5
D5 - F5 - G5 - A5
A5 - C5 - G5 - F5
B5 - F#5 - G#5 - D#5 - E5 - B5 - F#5
A famous guitar riff that you could play solely with power chords is the intro to "Smoke on the Water":
A5 - C5 - D5 - A5 - C5 - Eb5 - D5 - A5 - C5 - D5 - C5 - A5
It is neither major or minor when we are playing power chords. It may sound strange, but it depends on that there is no third, only root and fifth.
It is actually a great thing is that you don't need to consider major/minor. When you are looking for progressions with more different chords it will for the most times sound good transforming minor chords to power chords as well and play the typical progression you may be used to play with open chords and treat both major and minor neutrally. C - Am - Dm - G can for example be played as C5 - A5 - D5 - G5. More examples:
A5 - E5 - C5 - D5
Eb5 - C5 - G5
G5 - E5 - C5 - D5
A shape sometimes used together with power chords is this one. Some refer the chord below as a "minor power chord", but it is actually a major.
This shape is part of barre chord and could be useful in a situation there you want some kind of "major sound" between the power chords. If you want a minor sound that goes well with an electric guitar with overdrive, you can sometimes solve if depending on the circumstances. For example, Em could be played as 0200xx instead of 022000.
Not chords at all?
In some reasonings, power chords, are disqualified altogether in definition of chords being more correctly described as intervals. This can be discussed from different perspectives, but more important is that they function as chords. A chord written as A(no3), an A triad with the fifth omitted, is the same as an A5.
Inverted 5th chords
Sometimes it can be effective to invert the order of tones by making the fifth to the bass note. This is common with chords played at the two middle strings and are related with so-called double stops.
Power chord could be played with an alternative bass note not belonging to the original chord.
These shapes are not including the root, instead it is only implied.
Suggestion of progressions:
E5 - E5/D# - C#5 - B5 - A5
E5 - E5/D# - C#5 - A5 - A5/G# - F#5
G5 - C5/B - C5 - D5/C# - D5
B5 - B5/A# - G#5 - F#5
A5 - F5 - F5/E - F5 - G5 (Dio - "Rainbow in the Dark")
Notice that it may sound better if the second octave tone is omitted (in other words: the "Shape 1" is preferred over the "Shape 2" illustrated above), when using an alternative bass note like this. But to be theoretical correct X25XXX should be seen as a C5/B voicing with an implied C root or rather an inverted G5 whereas X255XX is correctly called C5/B. X25XXX is still named C5/B here because it better fits the context.
More power chords with alternative bass note:
D5/F# (G5/F#) : 25XXXX
In a progression: E5 - D5/F# - G5
E5/G# (A5/G#): 47XXXX
In a progression: B5 - E5/G# - A5
E as a pedal tone: E5: 079XXX, D5/E: 057XXX, C5/E: 035XXX
In a progression: E5 - D5/E - C5/E
Another method for slash power chords is to include four notes. When, for example, F5/C could be played as 88 10 10 XX.
"Augmented power chords"
Augmented power chords aren’t a formal name, but tells what it's all about. An idea to variate the sound and create suspension is to combine a regular power chord with 5th chord with a raised fifth.
The name may seem illogical, but it's consistent.
The idea is to play D5 - D5(#5) or E5 - E5(#5) in a sequence.
Power chords with open strings
Besides the presented shapes above, power chords can be played in other ways, with non-movable shapes that include open strings. Some examples:
E5: X79900 / 079900
Chords like these can also be used in other styles, including fingerpicking arrangements.
Power chords with muted strings
Another way to play power chords with an alternative bass note is with a muted string in-between:
An alternate chord shape
A musician often strives for some kind of variation. For open chords you can alternate with sus chords, but this is not the case for the fifth chord. But there is a kind of "sus-chord" that you can use in this context also:
You play this chord shape by holding your index finger over the two lowest strings and release the finger from the second string. When you could alter between a power chord and this alternative (what happen in theory is that we change from tonic, fifth, octave to tonic, fourth, octave).
See also Punk chords.