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Power Chord

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In music, a power chord is a bare fifth usually played on electric guitar. Traditionally the term chord is understood to mean three or more distinct notes, however this usage is well-accepted amongst guitar players. Therefore, many non-guitar players would consider a power chord to be a dyad or simply a harmonic interval. However, a power chord is conceived of and intended to be a minor or major triad with the third degree omitted, oftentimes with octave doubling.

Although the use of the term power chord has, to some extent, spilled over into the vocabulary of other instrumentalists, namely keyboard and synthesizer players, it remains essentially a part of rock guitar culture and is most strongly associated with the overdriven electric guitar styles of hard rock, heavy metal, punk rock, and similar genres. When the same interval is found in traditional and classical music, the harmonic interpretation will be much more varied, not necessarily implying a triad with the third degree omitted.

Power chords are sometimes notated 5, as in C5 (C power chord), in which case it specifically refers to playing the root and fifth of the chord, in this case C and G, possibly inverted, and possibly with octave doublings.

Performance techniquesEdit

Power chords are often performed within a single octave, as this results in the closest matching of overtones. Octave doubling is sometimes done in power chords. Power chords are often pitched in a middle register. If they are too low, they tend to sound unclear and boomy. When played too high they lack depth and power.


Shown are four examples of an F5 chord. A common voicing is the 1-5 perfect fifth (A), to which the octave can be added, 1-5-1 (B). A perfect fourth 5-1 (C) is also a power chord, as it implies the "missing" lower 1 pitch. Either or both of the pitches may be doubled an octave above or below (D is 5-1-5-1), which leads to another common variation, 5-1-5.

Pete Townshend of The Who is famous for his use of power chords. Won't Get Fooled Again and Baba O'Riley are both good examples of the sound produced.


On a standard tuned guitar, power chords with the bass note on the sixth or fifth string are played with one or two fingers pressing the next two higher strings two frets higher. If the bass note is on the fourth string, the little finger plays the note an octave above the bass three frets higher than the bass note. (Obviously a bare fifth without octave doubling is the same, except that the highest of the three strings, in parentheses below, is not played. A bare fifth with the bass note on the second string has the same fingering as one on the fifth or sixth string.)

E5 F5 A5 B5 D5

E5 G5 A5 B5 C5

An inverted bare fifth, i.e. a bare fourth, can be played with one finger, as in the example below, from the riff in Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple:

G5/D Bb5/F C5/G G5/D Bb5/F Db5/Ab C5/G


Another common variation is to add a low fifth to a standard (1-5) power chord


With the drop D tuning, power chords with the base on the sixth string can be played with one finger, and D power chords can be played on three open strings.

As can be seen, they almost never comprise of more than 3 strings in order to maintain the alternating dominant and recessive notes.

D5 E5

Occasionally, open, "stacked" power chords with more than three notes are used in drop D.


First hitsEdit

Power chords were introduced by Link Wray in his hit 1958 instrumental "Rumble". Wray discovered the power chord during an improvised show in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Before "Rumble", electric guitars were commonly used to produce clean sounds and jazz chords. Wray pioneered electric guitar distortions, like overdrive and fuzz, and was the first guitarist to use power chords to play a song's melody.

The first hit song built around power chords was "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks, released in 1964 (Walser 1993, p.9):

The Kinks' "You Really Got Me" guitar riff

Early heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath and Deep Purple also helped to popularize power chords.

Pete Townshend, having been influenced by Link Wray, is often credited for introducing the term and the power chord in general and is an avid user of them.



See also Edit

External links Edit

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