Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Power Chords…Part 1

You gotta love power chords: using an easy to play two-note shape you're more or less instantly able to sound like a rock god. In this lesson I cover the two most common, most essential ways of playing power chords. 

Play the two note shapes with your first and third fingers. For the 3 note shapes either play the extra note with your little finger, or flatten your 3rd finger down to play both notes. The first option is probably a bit easier and cleaner sounding to start with. By moving these basic shapes up and down the neck you should be able to play all 12 possible power chords with either a 6th or 5th string root.


6th String Root Power Chord Names

The chords take their name from the root note that you play with your index finger on the low E string. It's a good idea to try and learn these notes.  Luckily, it's easy enough to work them out. Just count up your musical alphabet (which runs from A through to G, then repeats) starting with F at the first fret. Remember that sharps (#) or flats (b) are found between all of the notes except between E and F and  between B and C (what are known as naturally occurring half steps).

  • 1st fret F
  • 2nd fret F# or Gb
  • 3rd fret G
  • 4th fret G# or Ab
  • 5th fret A
  • 6th fret A# or Bb
  • 7th fret B
  • 8th fret C
  • 9th fret C# or Db
  • 10th fret D
  • 11th fret D# or Eb
  • 12th fret E
  • 13th fret F

For example, if we play our power chord shape with our 1st finger at the first fret we have an F power chord, sometimes referred to (particularly in sheet music) as an F5. If your first finger is at the 11th fret you'll be playing a D#5 or Eb5 (with sharps and flats, the names are interchangeable and refer to the same chord).


5th String Root Power Chord Names

This works in exactly the same way except the root note the chord is named after is now found on the 5th string. 

  • 1st fret A# or Bb
  • 2nd fret B
  • 3rd fret C
  • 4th fret C# or Db
  • 5th fret D
  • 6th fret D# or Eb
  • 7th fret E
  • 8th fret F
  • 9th fret F# or Gb 
  • 10th fret G
  • 11th fret G# or Ab
  • 12th fret A
  • 13th fret A# or Bb


One thing I should perhaps have stressed more in the video is the importance of playing these chords really cleanly. (Unless of course you're playing in some slacker-indie type band and a bit of messiness is, like, your thing.) For maximum effect you just want to hear the notes in the chord - you don't want any extra notes or stray open strings creeping in and muddying the sound. You should generally keep your pick attack focussed on the two or three strings used in each chord. You should also try and keep the other strings muted, so that if you do hit the other strings, either accidently or deliberately, they won't be allowed to ring out. For both the 6th and 5th string root shapes it's a good idea to let the underside of your index finger rest lightly on the higher strings to keep them muted. In addition, when playing 5th string root shapes you'll need to mute the low E string by lightly touching it with the tip of your index finger. If you've got your muting sorted out you'll find you can be as agressive and flamboyant as you like with your picking hand and your chords will still remain super clean.