Understanding Power chords
These chords are widely used in rock music, and especially more heavy rock and grunge styles. Technically they are not complete chords, as there is no 3rd interval present, just the root note and a fifth. Consequently, you'll see them described as "5" chords.
The most basic shape is shown first - starting in fret 7 - an E5 shape. Probably the most common chord, it's easy to play as it's high up the fretboard where the frets are smaller. Move this shape down 2 frets for a D5, down another 2 for a C5, down 1 for B5. Learn these first before moving on.
Next shape is the same chord, but with the root note duplicated. This gives a full sound, and is generally the one to use. This chord is used in Black Sabbath songs, lots of Nirvana songs, You Really Got Me by the Kinks. Also, it's essential for playing Layla by Eric Clapton.
Fingering - don't use your second finger. Most players have a weak little finger initially, and using this chord shape will take it to the gym. There will probably be real benefits to the rest of your playing if you use these chord shapes. One thing you shouldn't do though is abandon the full major and minor barre shapes altogether.
The reason these chords are used so much is because they suit amp distortion. A six-note chord will break up and sound too muddy with gain or amp distortion, but 5 chords have more clarity and definition. So although they will work on acoustic guitar too, it's on electric guitar that they are usually used. Another advantage is that you can slide this shape around the neck very quickly for rapid chord changes. The rhythm used is often 8th down strokes, count 12345678 on each chord.
These shapes are either root 6 or root 5 - in other words the tonic or naming note is on strings 6 or 5. If you don't know the note names on these strings, learn them now. Check out my other hubs for more info - the sequence is always the same, E, F, F sharp, G, G sharp, A, etc. The notes follow the alphabet sequence, but sharps and flats complicate this - not too much, but enough to be a pain. Just remember there is no flat or sharp between E and F, B and C - all the others have them.
Palm muting is important with these chord shapes. Rest the right hand slightly on the strings, close to the bridge. Don't press down too much, just enough to make contact. You should now have a good sound for rock, metal or grunge guitar, a slightly muffled sound that is also good for blues. Any unwanted strings should now be easy to block off and for any hi-gain electric guitar you'll have more control over the sound.
Try these chords for the Hendrix version of All Along The Watchtower - C sharp 5, B5, A5, B5. The added open strings on the B5 work really well, and I think on the original recording these were played on an acoustic 12-string. Part of the reason this version is so different from the original Dylan version is the key change, with open strings opening up the sound. Also, some great solos which are some of the best recorded by Hendrix (or anyone else since.)
Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on February 22, 2010:
Hi Russ, thanks a lot.
Russ Baleson on February 22, 2010:
Hi Jon, yet another useful hub. Thank you! Russ