Guitar Power Chords 101 (+ Cheat Sheet)

Guitar power chords are your all-purpose tool for playing and writing music.

If you know how to use them, you will get the hang of any song in no time!

In this article, I answer the most common questions on power chords. You can use the compact chords chart at the end of the article as a cheat sheet for playing, writing, and improvising music!

Know the basics of guitar power chords!

What are power chords? Are they hard to play? And what are they most commonly for?

Let me answer the most basic questions surrounding power chords so you can get started on your way to master them!

What are power chords on the guitar?

Guitar power chords are the magic ingredient for massive riffs and chord progressions.

They sound great when you play them on a turned-up amp with overdrive! (Read more about overdrive pedals here!)

Is that their only pro? – Hell, no!

You can use them to navigate the fretboard faster, learn new songs, and write your own in no time.

Are power chords hard to play on the guitar?

No, not at all! – They’re a great skill to start learning as a beginner!

Usually, you play power chords on the two lowest strings of the guitar. This way, they sound full, even though they’re technically not complete chords.

What are power chords used for?

Many genres and styles use power chords.

However, they are most popular and almost indispensable in punk or metal.

Because they are easy to play, you can alternate between chords at high speed.

Even when you can alternate between open chords fast, you can alternate between power chords even quicker!

A man playing power chords on his electric guitar through a Marshall amplifier.
(Photo by Daniel Chekalov on Unsplash)

Learn the theory behind guitar power chords!

Before you put your newly learned skill into practice, it’s good to know the theory behind guitar power chords!

How many notes does a power chord have?

A power chord consists of two notes.

The root note and the fifth note.

That’s why you can play them on two strings.

Maybe you know that the most common chords are triads.

So what’s the deal with these weird two-notes-chords?

Why are power chords called “fifth chords?”

Power chords are called “fifth chords” because they consist of the root note and the perfect fifth.

To notate a power chord, you write: “root note” + “5”.

So you would call a D power chord “D5”!

Are power chords major or minor?

Power chords miss the third note that determines if a chord is in major or minor.

That’s the reason why you notate a D power chord as “D5” and not as “D minor” or “D major.”

Put guitar power chords to practice!

Now it’s time to get your guitar ready and put everything you learned into practice!

I guarantee you: Power chords will be your favorite guitar-skill in no time!

Why are power chords so useful?

Some reasons why power chords are so usefull are:

  • You can play guitar power chords in combination with major AND minor chords
  • Power chords are the perfect tool for improving your general knowledge of the fretboard
  • You can quickly figure out the chords of a song by testing different power chords

How can you play guitar power chords?

You can play power chords in many different positions on the guitar.

I will give you a quick overview of the most common ways to play them.

Movable vs. open-position shapes

You can play power chords with open strings:

The guitar power chords A5 and E5 played on open strings.

But you can also play them without open strings.

I will focus on this shape of guitar power chords because it makes them movable across the whole fret:

The guitar power chords F5 and A#5 played on two strings.

Two string- vs. three-string shapes

The guitar power chords I showed you above were all played on two strings.

But you can also play power chords on three strings to make them sound even fuller!

 The additional note is just the root note’s octave, so it doesn’t change the chord in any way.

The only shapes you need to remember for playing movable three-string power chords on the guitar are:

The guitar power chords F5 and A#5 played on three strings.

If you want to know more about the different guitar power chords’ shapes, you can check out this article!

How can you use guitar power chords?

Power chords sound best on an electric guitar with an overdrive effect. But if you don’t have the optimal equipment, you can play them on any guitar.

Be sure to palm-mute for the best sound!

Play songs with guitar power chords!

Now that you know the basics of power chords let’s put them to practice.

I’ll show you some famous riffs you can play on the guitar just with power chords!

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

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Guitar power chords for the song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana.

You can find the tabs of the whole song here!

Black Sabbath – Iron Man

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Guitar power chords for the song "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath.

You can find the tabs of the whole song here!

Guitar power chords cheat sheet

The guitar power chords cheat sheet may be the most useful part of this article!

Why?

I’ve written down the notes on the 6th and 5th string and the standard shape for movable three-string power chords on the guitar.

With this information, you can play any power chord by taking the note and using it as a root note for your power chord!

You can use it as a cheat sheet when you quickly want to look up the power chord to any note.

Guitar power chord cheat sheet

Additionally, you can find the whole power chord library here!


Here you can learn how to write sad guitar chord progressions!


Conclusion

Power chords are a versatile tool for playing, songwriting, and improvising.

You can use the guitar power chords cheat sheet to improve your speed in finding the right power chords when you need them.

If you use them right, power chords will soon be your best friends!

Did you learn something new about power chords on the guitar? If there’s anything related to guitar power chords you want to know more about, let me know!