Learning the guitar often entails navigating through a labyrinth of chord shapes, strumming patterns, and TAB reading. However, unlocking the potential of guitar playing might require fewer skills than you think. Enter power chords — the game-changing cheat code for elevating your guitar prowess.
What are Power Chords?
Power chords, with their inherently cool name, consist of just two notes, demanding only two fingers on the fretboard. Unlike the complexity of open chords or barre chords, power chords empower guitarists to produce music with relative ease.
But, fear not! Despite the apparent simplicity, power chords are not mere shortcuts. By definition, a chord involves two or more notes, making power chords a legitimate and impactful component of guitar playing.
Routes, 5ths, and Octaves
Delving into the science behind power chords, we find the need for a root note followed by the 5th degree of that note. For instance, the ‘G5’ on TABs designates the root note G followed by its 5th, which is D. Executing this on the fretboard involves pressing the 3rd fret of the low E string and the 5th fret on the A string with your index and ring fingers, respectively.
To enhance the sound further, adding an octave — the 8th degree of a scale — introduces another layer to the power chord. Using the example of G, D, and another G, the octave would be played on the D string at the 5th fret.
E and A Strings
Fretboard theory takes us deeper into the versatility of power chords. Knowing how to play a power chord is excellent, but understanding which one to play requires a more profound exploration.
Power chords are determined by the root note. Whether it’s F, Bb, D, Eb, or any of the twelve notes, each can be played on both the E and A strings across the fretboard. An understanding of where these root notes lie is crucial.
For instance, starting from the 1st fret on the E string gives you F, F#, G, G#, A, Bb, B, C, C#, D, Eb, and E. Similarly, from the 1st fret on the A string, you have Bb, B, C, C#, D, Eb, E, F, F#, G, G#, and B.
Putting it Into Practice
Now that we understand the basics, let’s see how power chords come to life in musical pieces. “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks, often considered the origin of power chords in popular music, uses a straightforward riff in the key of G, alternating between F and G power chords. The iconic opening bars of this classic riff are a testament to the simplicity and impact of power chords.
Taking it up a notch, let’s explore Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” This Metal masterpiece utilizes power chords with added distortion and attitude. While employing palm-muted chugs and gain for a robust sound, James Hetfield employs the fundamental power chords with the added octave for depth.
Conclusion: Minimal Effort, Maximum Return
In essence, mastering power chords on the guitar opens doors to a world of musical possibilities. Once the index and ring finger shape are mastered, every power chord across the fretboard becomes accessible. Additionally, when faced with a challenging barre chord, more often than not, a power chord can come to the rescue. Consider this your musical shortcut, and you’re welcome.