My Newsletter's First Issue – Why I Love Power Chords

As some of you may have noticed, I’m now writing a weekly newsletter. If you’re interested in subscribing, you can learn more here, or just scroll down on the main blog page and find the form in the right-hand column. I hope you’ll check it out. I’m really psyched about it.

When I think that the content of the newsletter might inspire some discussion, I’ll post it in my blog so that people can leave comments. Here’s the first issue—hair combed, backpack on, lunchbox in hand:

Dear Musicians,

I love power chords. They’re so easy to play, yet so useful, that some guitarists spend a lifetime playing little else (not that I would recommend this). If a jazz chord is a Shakespearian love sonnet, then a power chord is a big, wet kiss.

Here are more reasons to love power chords:

1. Beginners can play them using just one fingering. To change chords, just scoot up and down the neck. Stick to power chords with a root note (the lowest note) on the 6th string at first—they’re easier. And if you lower your 6th string to a D (called drop-D tuning), you can play power chords with one FINGER by barring the 6th, 5th, and 4th strings.

2. Power chords sound great with lots of distortion. “Normal” major and minor chords have three kinds of notes: A 1st, a 3rd, and a 5th (they’re called triads for this reason). These notes normally sound lovely together, but when you crank up distortion, the 3rd creates all this muddy dissonance. Power chords have no 3rd—they’re made of just 1sts and 5ths, which is why they’re notated with a 5 (as in A5 or G5).

3. Power chords are neither major nor minor. If the keyboard player is playing Am, you can play A5. Now she’s switching to an A major chord? Keep chugging on A5—you need to save energy for that 10-minute solo coming up…

4. Power chords aren’t just for long-tressed hessians. They were the first kind of harmony, after the octave, to be accepted by composers of Gregorian chants.

Don’t know a power chord from a Power Ranger? Here’s some tablature. The notes in parentheses are optional.

Power Chords Tablature

Here’s more information on power chords.

Comments 29

  1. Hi Marc! Good to hear from you.

    Eric, that’s a great discussion topic. Is your position that power chords have stunted “popular” guitarists’ musical development?

    I don’t listen to commercial radio, and don’t have a TV, so I’m kind of out of the loop concerning “popular rock music.” My perspective is that rock—or at least the contemporary styles I listen to like alt-rock, alt-country, singer-songwriter stuff—is flourishing because of services like iTunes and websites like I can’t help but think of someone like Sufjan Stevens, who I was just turned on to earlier this year. Definitely wouldn’t call him stagnant, but he probably cut his teeth on power chords.

    When I think of stagnant music, I think of a band like Nickelback, who I don’t really care for. But it doesn’t really bother me that they’re popular–I’d personally rather my favorite musicians not become huge, because I enjoy seeing live music in small clubs. Of course, I want them to make a decent living, but I think Sufjan’s doing OK…

  2. Hi Rob, nice to hear from you. I just wanted to say… power chords and tab are easy/fun, and are great for beginners for that reason. However, to really grow as a musician, I recommend not becoming too hooked on either one.

  3. Hey Terry,

    Good to hear from you too! I would certainly agree with you, though from my experience, guitar students tend to get bored of just playing power chords. So I don’t see any danger of getting “hooked”, though maybe that happens more than I realize.

    And as far as relying to heavily on tab vs. standard notation—that’s a whole new topic! One that I’ll probably address in another newsletter…

  4. A good way to look at power chords is to consider them a fundamental starting & reference point. From there, a player can & should explore different voicings for those chords, and ways to taylor them.

    Getting into alternate tunings for awhile really helped me expand my chord approach in standard tuning, because I became more interested in exploring new ways to voice chords.

    If you don’t sound interesting to yourself, then use your imagination more. Standard forms and formulas are essential, but your imagination with chord voicings- as well as melody- makes the difference and keeps it interesting. It’s about creativity.

  5. I spent the better part of a year struggling with open chords, not really knowing about power chords (I was self teaching with the help of the internet and some books). It was a very frustrating experience to say the least. I wish I would have known about these power chords, so even after practicing, I could fool around and turn up the distortion to rock out.

    Anyways, I’m glad those days are over!

  6. Hi Joe (or anyone else qualified to answer/discuss) – was wondering how you play now, after developing without power chords ?

    I’m of the opinion that everything is valid or a tool. But some tools just do too much of a satisfying job. Like hammers & drills we love to use them to demolish and do big jobs in one go. But we can find the mediocre small and attention stealing intricate jobs more tedious.



  7. Developing with open chords was good after awhile because it really strengthened my hand and gave my fingers some flex. I found that playing single notes with my fingers became easier because my hand could stretch better. Um, it was very frustrating early on. Learning on an acoustic made it even harder, becuase the strings are thicker. I finally just got an electric, and after using an acoustic, it is like butter in comparison.

    Open chords are cool I think becuase they produce a big full sound. Learn a good strum pattern, and go through a progression. When I started taking lessons, my teacher was surprised I had learned a good number of open chords on my own.

  8. power chords and open tunings are the mainstay of Jack White’s songs. Stagnant? I don’t think so- in fact, he may be the only real “rock and roll” musician left.

  9. I hate to admit I am a self taught modern/alt rock guitarist, who self taught himself guitar to play music which after learning tab I found was 95% powerchord bassed, I find after having rellied on the bottom end chord wise (sound wise, I mean like low end of the fret board) and not needing to develop more than this I’ve developed a problem where I have problems fretting much passed the 15/16th fret on a Les Paul (I can reach 16 comfortably sitting, but when really rocking your always going to stand, jump about, go crazy), is there anything I can do to sort out my fretting technique for my power chords?

  10. Hey, i was just wondering if you could maybe get some more colbie caillat songs … like realize and capri cause they are my favorite song and i can’t find the tabs anywhere… if you could that would be amazing because the songs on your site have taught me alot…

    thank you so much

  11. I would be probably one of your older contacts who has picked up his guitar after quite a few years.Thankyou so much for your obvious passion for guitar music as it has helped me loosen up my fingers and I am having heaps of fun re-learning. It is so cool rediscovering the fun and satisfaction I used to get as a teenager playing the old “gat” again.
    Love the selection of songs you have listed.

  12. A question I haven’t seen answered anywhere really. I have played on and off for quite some time, but I have only played with other players for short periods of time. Fisrt when I first started I had a few freinds that would noodle around with me, but that group gradually moved away and moved on. Then again a few yers later, but that was with somebody I got started so he had some of the same flukiness I did, although he had a great voice so we really had some fun. The point is though that I don’t really know how to play with others. Are there any good tips to get started playing with new people?

  13. Hi
    I am so desperate…looking for sheet music to Van Morrisons: Someone Like You. I thought maybe you had it in Tab??? I am looking for piano score…can u help….PLEASE

  14. I am so glad I found this web site. I am an older beginner and taking classical guitar . I am trying to teach myself some songs that I can strum too. This is very helpful. I do not live close to you so unfortunaltey I am unable to take lessons from you. But you sound like a great teacher.
    Thank you for sharing this music with us.

  15. Hi Rob: It is a great pleasure for me to download the tabs you have provided. Thank you so much. I am a great fan of Carlos Santana. Do you have the tabs for “Black Magic Woman”? I am sort of between beginner and intermediate type of player. I know most of the chording, it’s the solos that I am having difficulty with. Cheers.

  16. Hey Rob I have been playing guitar for over thirty years and took private lessons from a GIT graduate. I would love for you to go over arpeggios, how they ahe built in structure and how to use them in a more heart felt blues context. I dont find much use for them except in classical and metal. Oh great web site by the way.

    1. Awesome, Abdul, thanks! Sure, you can play pretty much any song using just power chords. Whether they’ll sound great or just so-so depends on the style of the song. Trust your ears.


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