Power chords are an integral part of rock and blues guitar playing. After learning open-position and barre chords, mastering power chords is the next important step toward becoming a great rock and blues rhythm player. No one knows where the name “power chord” comes from; but try playing one with a loud amp and you'll get an idea of why “power” is so fitting. Power chords are like barre chords because they are both movable chord shapes. Once you know the shape for a power chord, all you have to do is slide it around the guitar to make riffs. FIGURE 2-9 shows a power chord shape on the low E string and low A string.
Notice how the shape is the same on both strings. This makes power chords very easy to move around, you end up locking your fingers into that shape and sliding your hand around the neck.
Power chords are commonly found on the low E and low A strings. Since they only use three fingers, and don't have the complexity of barre chords, power chords can be moved around the guitar with ease. Power chord names follow the same rule other chords follow—the lowest note names the chord. In a power chord the lowest note will always fall on your first finger. Power chords are also called fifth chords. The standard symbol for a C power chord is C5. This type of notation helps distinguish it from the standard major and minor chord symbols. Power chords are neither major nor minor; they are in a category all their own.
Some well-known songs that include power chords are:
• “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana)
• “Welcome to Paradise” (Green Day)
• “Stairway to Heaven” before the solo (Led Zeppelin)
• “Purple Haze” (Jimi Hendrix)
• “Ironman” (Black Sabbath)
Once you feel comfortable, it's time to start applying power chords to music. Try to play as many of your favorite songs as you can with power chords. By playing guitar parts, you will gain a lot of insight into how guitar parts are created.