Chord Theory: Power Chords

This article is the first of several articles aimed to help you understand chord construction better. First, we’ll start with power chords. Before you read on, I recommend that you review the material found in these articles:

One Step at a Time
Intervals: your tape measure for music
Chord Theory: Triads

I chose to start with power chords for two reasons. Firstly, it only has two notes, making it the simplest chord that you’ll play on the guitar and its structure is the foundation for more complex chords. Secondly, it is an extremely popular chord used in rock, punk, blues, metal, alternative and many other genres. So let’s get started.

The term “power chord” is really slang for a “5” chord. A 5 chord is named after the interval that separates its two notes: the perfect fifth. The structure is very simple: find the root of of the 5 chord you want and add another note that is a perfect fifth above that root. That second note, the one that is a perfect fifth above the root, is called a “fifth.” A root and a fifth played together is called a 5 chord or a power chord.

Now that I’ve explained the interval, let’s learn where your can play it on the fretboard. Knowing how to play a 5 chord really is learning where your perfect fifth intervals are on the neck. As I’ve explained in Intervals: your tape measure for music, a perfect fifth is 7 frets away from the root on the same string:

Although it is important to understand that a perfect fifth is seven frets from the root, it doesn’t help us play a 5 chord because the two notes are on the same string at the moment. We have to figure out a way to move the fifth to an adjacent string.

Here’s how you do it. An enharmonic note – that is a note that is exactly the same – can be found on the next string beneath the current string and five frets towards the nut. Take a look:

That’s more like it. Now the fifth is on an adjacent string and it is close to the root where it can be reached easily with your fingers.

After all of this jumping around, we’ve learned a very important rule concerning chords and fretboard layout. The root and a perfect fifth above the root can be found by moving one string beneath and two frets towards the bridge:

I recommend that you simplify your life by memorizing this interval pattern: a perfect fifth is one string beneath the root and two frets towards the bridge. This interval pattern is useful for many other chords as well as a the 5 chord. The diagram above represents both the interval pattern and the chord itself. In this case, the chord is an E5, or E power chord.

I haven’t mentioned one of the key benefits to this interval pattern: it is moveable. Although my diagram shows an E5 chord, we can move the interval pattern around and create other 5 chords. For any 5 chord that only uses fretted notes, use your index finger for the root and your ring finger for the fifth. Check out my video for more details:

Next: major chords.

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit

3 responses to “Chord Theory: Power Chords

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