Disclaimer: This is not a substitute for learning Music theory. It is meant to help you hit the ground running and keep guitar playing exciting for you.
This article introduces the Power Chord and provide 4 exercises to help you become proficient at playing them. This tutorial assumes that you know how to tune a guitar. I’ll cover a very, very small part of Music theory. Don’t worry the first part, Chords, is just there to help explain how power chords relate to normal chords.
String Names and Numbers
To make it easier to follow the exercises I've included the string names and numbers.
Strings are numbered from bottom (thinnest) string #1 to top (thickest) string #6
#6 E ----------- Thickest string
#5 A -----------
#4 D -----------
#3 G -----------
#2 B -----------
#1 E ----------- Thinnest string
In music and music theory a chord is three or more different notes that are sounded simultaneously. In western music the basic 3 note chords are known as Major Triads, and Minor Triads. A Major triad is made up of the root note, the 3rd note in the scale and the 5th note in the scale. For example a G chord is made of:
Root (1st) note: G
3rd note: B
5th Note: D
This is the easiest place to start when you are teaching yourself to play the guitar. A power chord is an abbreviated version of the full triad chords playing only the root and fifth notes of the scale as a chord. This is not strictly a chord as it only has two notes.
Start by putting your first finger (pointer) on the thickest string (#6, called the low "E" string) just behind the 3rd fret (normally there is a dot on the fret board between 2nd and 3rd frets. If you pluck that and you have a tuned guitar in your hands you will be playing a "G" note.
Next put your third finger (ring) two frets up on the next string down, #5, on the next dotted fret. If you pluck that you will hear a "D" note, but more importantly it is the řth" note in a "G" chord:
Root note: G (low E string, 3rd Fret)
5th note: D (A string, 5th fret)
With your first finger on the "G" and your third finger on the "D" strum both strings. These two notes should sound good together, if they don't break out your tuner and try again. If they sound good together we are doing well. Some folks call that the power chord, but I like to add a repeat of the root note into the act, it's good practice for strength and sounds fuller.
The way to do that is to have your fingers as I described earlier, but instead of arching your third finger, lay it flat across the "D" #4 string at the 5th fret so that you are pushing the 4th string down as well. This note is also called "G", but it is an octave higher than the note your first finger is holding down on string #6, and will add a lot to the sound.
Root note: G (E #6 string, 3rd Fret)
5th note: D (A or #5 string, 5th fret)
Root note (octave): G (D or #4 string, 5th fret)
Two things of note at this point;
One: It takes strength to hold the strings down hard enough to not get a buzzing sound. Just like lifting stuff, you need to work up to it, don't get frustrated when your finger strength gives out. Keep trying.
Two: It takes practice and precision to only play the strings you want to play without hitting the others.
Exercise 1 :
Play your new "G" chord until you can play it without buzzing and without hitting extra
Goal: At this point you need to get your strength and picking together so you can hit your new "G" chord solid every time without buzzing or extra notes. Get to work!!!
Once you get this part down, the really cool part is that you can move it anywhere on the neck and it works.
Move your hand keeping your fingers in the same shape at the same distances, move up to the next set of dots so now your first finger is on the second dot or the fifth fret. This should put your third finger on the seventh fret. Your first finger is on an "A" your third finger is pushing an "E" and laying across the octave "A" same as we did with the "G" chord, only now we are playing an "A" chord.
Root note: A (E #6 string, 5th Fret)
5th note: E (A #5 string, 7th fret)
Root note (octave): A (D #4 string, 7th fret)
Exercise 2 :
Move back and forth between the two chords you now know ("G" & "A") playing each four times and moving to the other counting 1,2,3,4 in your head. No lie, this will hurt in the beginning, after a while you will develop calluses and it will hurt less.
Goal: To be able to switch smoothly back and forth between your two new chords without buzz or extra strings.
Once you get that down solid let's try moving to the next set of strings down. Starting in the "G" chord position move each finger to the next string down. Now your first finger should be on the #5 string on the first dotted fret and your third finger should be on the #4 and #3 strings on the second dotted fret. Now you are playing a "C" chord:
Root note: C (A #5 string, 3rd fret)
5th note: G (D #4 string, 5th fret)
Root note (octave): C (G #3 string, 5th fret)
Here is the tricky part; you need to pick or strum the #5, #4, & #3 strings without hitting the #6 string. This will take a lot of time to get right, don't get frustrated, just keep trying till you get it solid.
Same as you did on the first set of strings, move your fingers up the neck to the next set of dotted frets. This should put your first finger on the "D" root note and your third finger is playing the 5th "A" and the octave of the root "D".
Congratulations!! You now know four power chords: "G", "A", "C", & "D"
Exercise 3 :
Starting with exercise 2 "G" to "A" play each 1, 2, 3, 4 count four times each, then move to the "C" on the next set of strings and play 1, 2, 3, 4, then move to the "D" and play it four times. After playing each 1, 2, 3, 4 count four times each move back to the "G" to "A". Keep doing this until your fingers bleed and hurt like heck (just kidding of course... kind of).
Goal: To be able to switch smoothly back and forth between your two new chords without buzz or striking extra strings.
Exercise 4 :
Get creative, once you can do the pattern I suggested, try making up your own. A box pattern (G, A, D, C repeated) or an X pattern (G, D, A, C repeated) for example. Whatever sounds good and encourages you to keep going. Move the whole pattern to different positions on the neck.
Goal: To be able to play your new "Power Chord" anywhere on the neck smoothly and without buzzing or extra notes.
You can now play Power chords! You have practiced smooth, accurate chord changes while keeping time and hopefully learned just a little music theory too. Till next time...
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About John Nightwolf
John plays a Regal acoustic Bass, an Ibanez 4string, and a Schecter 5string. Hartke Amp with a Genz Benz cabinet.
He has played for Witch, Intox, Stressmonkey and Two and a Half WeeKs over the years.
John Nightwolf is a member of the Songstuff music community.