The Power Chord – A Rock Guitar Lesson

The true power of a distorted rock guitar power chord.

I remember it well. The guitar player magazine that ended my first marriage. It was an ad for the Art SGX 2000, a new guitar multi-effects processor with a valve preamp and digital effects.

It only took three words for me to know I just had to have it. Wanna know what they where?

Sure, they mentioned all the features, but that wasn’t what hypnotized me to buy the thing, it was those three words in bold and larger than the rest of the writing that stood out at the bottom of the page.

“Pure Heartstopping distortion!”

Isn’t that what every rock guitarist wants?

If you’re just getting started learning how to play rock guitar, there’s nothing more motivational than having a great distortion sound to crank out those power chords.

Power chords are the foundation of most rock rhythm guitar.

So what is a power chord?

A power chordis made up of the root note of a chord, and the 5th, so seeing as it’s only really two notes, it doesn’t really qualify as a chord.

The cool thing about power chords is that you don’t have to worry about majors and minors, seeing as it’s actually the 3rd note in a chord that determines whether it’s major or minor.

I see I’m going to have to explain myself further.

What is a third and a fifth? and for that matter, what’s a root note?

The root note is the lowest sounding note of a chord and it’s the one used to name the chord, so if you’re playing an F, then you know that the lowest sounding note of that chord is an F, simple enough.

To understand what a 3rd and a 5th is, you need to know the note intervals of the major scale. No need to panic, it’s quite simple.

If you’re playing a G, for example, the scale that tells you what the third and fifth are, is the G major scale.

I just need to add here that if you’re not too interested in the theory, and you just want to play the things, I’ve put a page up on my main website, and it’s simply titled Power Chords

But I would stick around a bit cos this is good theory to know. Okay, back to the G major scale.

All major scales follow the same pattern, and that is, going from the root note, or Tonic, which in this case would be the G note, the second note would be a whole tone up, in this case A, the third note would be a whole tone up again – B, then the fourth note would be a semitone up C and the fifth note would be a D, which is a whole tone up. The sixth note would be a whole tone up which is E, the seventh note would again be a whole tone up which is F sharp, and then the octave, which is a semitone up again, is G.

So in terms of the guitar, a whole tone = a 2 fret interval, and a semitone = 1 fret interval

so in terms of the guitar fretboard, the major scale goes 2 frets, 2 frets, 1 fret, 2 frets, 2 frets, 2 frets, 1 fret. And in terms of 3rds and 5ths and 7ths and all that, it’s simple 1234567 and so on.

If you’re playing a major chord, the notes that make up a major chord are the root, third and fifth of whatever major scale the chords root note is.

In the G example, the notes that make up the G major chord are G, B, and D, but if you’re playing a G Power chord, you only play G and D.

Here are some pictures that show where the third and 5th are in relation to the root note. These three notes are called Triads.

G major triad


Now the really cool thing about the guitar is that everything works in patterns, or shapes if you like.

If you were to look for the A major Triad, the shape remains the same, you just move it up 2 frets, and so on for any other Major Triads, basically following the root notes on whichever string you’re playing the power chord.

Okay, so now you definitely know where to find the third and the fifth on your guitar.

Sorry I had to take you on that major detour (Pardon the pun) just so you could understand what I mean when I say power chords are made up of the root and the 5th.

The most commonly used power chord in rock music.

This would be power chords made up of the root note, the fifth, and the octave. The added octave just makes it a little fuller sounding. Here’s a picture of a G power chord to illustrate the point. You don’t play the 1st, 2nd and 3rd strings.

G power chord The G power chord could also be called a G5 chord

An F power chord could also be called F5 and so on

Just to hammer home a point, all the power chords played on the E, or 6th string will keep the same shape, so an F5 power chord for example is simply two frets down, towards the nut, that is.

You’ll notice that I’ve included the octave of the root note in the power chord, that’s the 4th finger. Technically speaking, you don’t have to play the 4th finger but it gives a bit more oomph! to the chord.

There are many more places on the fretboard where power chords can be played, so now that you’ve got a better understanding of what makes a power chord, at least I hope you’ve got a better understanding of power chords, you should pay a visit to my main page on power chords at


  1. Dave says:

    Wow – I have to say I love power chords. They’re a really cool cheat if you want to play rock songs quickly.

    One thing I do is “translate” power chords into barre chords if I want to play a power chord song on an acoustic guitar.

    So if the chord is F5 I play F major or minor on the acoustic depending on the sound I want.

    I know it’s not theoretically brilliant but it sounds kinda cool…

  2. Music theory helps a lot with guitar when you start getting into more advanced lessons, but sure, you don’t need that much of it to play power chords.
    Anyway, now that you have a little, you can experiment by playing around with octaves and thirds etc.
    It’s still good to know.

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