Power chords

Power chords consist of the tonic (i.e. the root of the chord) and the fifth note in the scale. Therefore, the power chords are named with a five, as C5, D5 and so on. As you can see in the diagram, the power chords can be played with two or three fingers. Only two notes are involved in both cases, but in the second shape (see picture below) you play the tonic note twice, in different octaves.

Shape 1

  • power chords diagram 1

Shape 2

  • power chords diagram 2


= Index finger
2= middle finger
3= ring finger
4= little finger
x= don't strum

Power chord shapes

Shape 1 includes the root and the fifth while shape 2 uses the root note twice, the second time one octave higher. It's no right or wrong in this case, it's up to your own taste and what sounds best in a specific arrangement (for simplifying matters we will from now on only use the shape including three fingers).

The power chords are frequently used in music styles like rock, heavy metal and punk rock. So simple to play but newer the less 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 once or twice in between will bring a cooler sound.

Like barre chords the power chords are moveable. You can use the same shape as showed above all over the fret board. The only exception is playing a power chord including the fifth string (B-string):

power chord dia 3

The next tab picture will show you where to find each power chord on the right fret and root strings according to the notes of the guitar.

power chord tab

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.

Power chord progressions

There 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

A5 - G5 - E5 - C5 - D5

A famous guitar riff that you could play with solely power chords is the intro to "Smoke on the Water":

A5 - C5 - D5 - A5 - C5 - Eb5 - D5 - A5 - C5 - D5 - C5 - A5

A alternate chord

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. However, there is a kind of "sus-chord" that you can use in this context also:

chord shape

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).

Power chords - major or minor?

There is actually no major or minor when we are playing power chords. It may sound strange, but it depends on that there is no third. The great thing is that you don't need to consider major/minor. That's another reason for the popularity of these chords. However, some refer the chord below as a minor power chord:

power chord dia 4
Here you add an extra note and use a third shape. This is no minor chord to be correct but can practically be used in a situation there you want some kind of "minor sound".

See also Punk chords.