Power chord

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power chord
Component intervals from root
perfect fifth
E5 power chord in eighth notes
play (help*info) Power chord on E.svg
E5 power chord in eighth notes Loudspeaker.svg play  

A power chord Loudspeaker.svg Play   (also fifth chord) is a colloquial name for a chord in guitar music, especially electric guitar, that consists of the root note and the fifth, as well as possibly octaves of those notes. Power chords are commonly played on amplified guitars, especially on electric guitar with distortion. Power chords are a key element of many styles of rock [1] and especially in heavy metal, and punk rock.

Colloquialism or colloquial language is the linguistic style used for casual communication. It is the most common functional style of speech, the idiom normally employed in conversation and other informal contexts. Colloquialism is characterized by wide usage of interjections and other expressive devices; it makes use of non-specialist terminology, and has a rapidly changing lexicon. It can also be distinguished by its usage of formulations with incomplete logical and syntactic ordering.

Chord (music) harmonic set of three or more notes

A chord, in music, is any harmonic set of pitches consisting of multiple notes that are heard as if sounding simultaneously. For many practical and theoretical purposes, arpeggios and broken chords, or sequences of chord tones, may also be considered as chords.



When two or more notes are played through a distortion process that non-linearly transforms the audio signal, additional partials are generated at the sums and differences of the frequencies of the harmonics of those notes (intermodulation distortion). [2] When a typical chord containing such intervals (for example, a major or minor chord) is played through distortion, the number of different frequencies generated, and the complex ratios between them, can make the resulting sound messy and indistinct. [3] This effect is accentuated as most guitars are tuned based on equal temperament, with the result that minor thirds are narrower, and major thirds wider, than they would be in just intonation.

Distortion (music) form of audio signal processing giving "fuzzy" sound

Distortion and overdrive are forms of audio signal processing used to alter the sound of amplified electric musical instruments, usually by increasing their gain, producing a "fuzzy", "growling", or "gritty" tone. Distortion is most commonly used with the electric guitar, but may also be used with other electric instruments such as bass guitar, electric piano, and Hammond organ. Guitarists playing electric blues originally obtained an overdriven sound by turning up their vacuum tube-powered guitar amplifiers to high volumes, which caused the signal to distort. While overdriven tube amps are still used to obtain overdrive in the 2010s, especially in genres like blues and rockabilly, a number of other ways to produce distortion have been developed since the 1960s, such as distortion effect pedals. The growling tone of distorted electric guitar is a key part of many genres, including blues and many rock music genres, notably hard rock, punk rock, hardcore punk, acid rock, and heavy metal music.

An audio frequency or audible frequency is a periodic vibration whose frequency is in the band audible to the average human. The SI unit of audio frequency is the hertz (Hz). It is the property of sound that most determines pitch.

Major chord chord having a root, a major third, and a perfect fifth; e.g. C–E–G or F–A–C

In music theory, a major chord is a chord that has a root, major third, and perfect fifth. When a chord has these three notes alone, it is called a major triad. For example, the major triad built on C, called a C major triad, has pitches C–E–G:

However, in a power chord, the ratio between the frequencies of the root and fifth are very close to the just interval 3:2. When played through distortion, the intermodulation leads to the production of partials closely related in frequency to the harmonics of the original two notes, producing a more coherent sound. The intermodulation makes the spectrum of the sound expand in both directions, and with enough distortion, a new fundamental frequency component appears an octave lower than the root note of the chord played without distortion, giving a richer, more bassy and more subjectively 'powerful' sound than the undistorted signal. [4] Even when played without distortion, the simple ratios between the harmonics in the notes of a power chord can give a stark and powerful sound, owing to the resultant tone effect. Power chords also have the advantage of being relatively easy to play (see "Fingering" below), allowing fast chord changes and easy incorporation into melodies and riffs.

Just intonation

In music, just intonation or pure intonation is the tuning of musical intervals as (small) whole number ratios of frequencies. Any interval tuned in this way is called a just interval. Just intervals and chords are aggregates of harmonic series partials and may be seen as sharing a (lower) implied fundamental. For example, a tone with a frequency of 300 Hz and another with a frequency of 200 Hz are both multiples of 100 Hz. Their interval is, therefore, an aggregate of the second and third partials of the harmonic series of an implied fundamental frequency 100 Hz.

In music theory, an interval is the difference in pitch between two sounds. An interval may be described as horizontal, linear, or melodic if it refers to successively sounding tones, such as two adjacent pitches in a melody, and vertical or harmonic if it pertains to simultaneously sounding tones, such as in a chord.

Fundamental frequency Lowest frequency of a periodic waveform, such as sound

The fundamental frequency, often referred to simply as the fundamental, is defined as the lowest frequency of a periodic waveform. In music, the fundamental is the musical pitch of a note that is perceived as the lowest partial present. In terms of a superposition of sinusoids, the fundamental frequency is the lowest frequency sinusoidal in the sum. In some contexts, the fundamental is usually abbreviated as f0, indicating the lowest frequency counting from zero. In other contexts, it is more common to abbreviate it as f1, the first harmonic.

Since the fundamental is the lowest frequency and is also perceived as the loudest, the ear identifies it as the specific pitch of the musical tone [harmonic spectrum]....The individual partials are not heard separately but are blended together by the ear into a single tone.


In a triadic context chords with omitted thirds may be considered "indeterminate" triads.
Play (help*info) C indeterminate chord.png
In a triadic context chords with omitted thirds may be considered "indeterminate" triads. Loudspeaker.svg Play  

Theorists are divided on whether a power chord can be considered a chord in the traditional sense, with some requiring a 'chord' to contain a minimum of three degrees of the scale. When the same interval is found in traditional and classical music, it would not usually be called a "chord", and may be considered a dyad (separated by an interval). However, the term is accepted as a pop and rock music term, most strongly associated with the overdriven electric guitar styles of hard rock, heavy metal, punk rock, and similar genres. The use of the term "power chord" has, to some extent, spilled over into the vocabulary of other instrumentalists, such as keyboard and synthesizer players.

Classical music broad tradition of Western art music

Classical music is art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western culture, including both liturgical (religious) and secular music. While a more precise term is also used to refer to the period from 1750 to 1820, this article is about the broad span of time from before the 6th century AD to the present day, which includes the Classical period and various other periods. The central norms of this tradition became codified between 1550 and 1900, which is known as the common-practice period.

Dyad (music)

In music, a dyad is a set of two notes or pitches that, in particular contexts, may imply a chord.

Hard rock is a loosely defined subgenre of rock music that began in the mid-1960s, with the garage, psychedelic and blues rock movements. It is typified by a heavy use of aggressive vocals, distorted electric guitars, bass guitar, drums, and often accompanied with keyboards.

Power chords are most commonly notated 5 or (no 3). For example, "C5" or "C(no 3)" refer to playing the root (C) and fifth (G). These can be inverted, so that the G is played below the C (making an interval of a fourth). They can also be played with octave doublings of the root or fifth note, which makes a sound that is subjectively higher pitched with less power in the low frequencies, but still retains the character of a power chord.

In music theory, the word inversion has distinct, but related, meanings when applied to intervals, chords, voices, and melodies. The concept of inversion also plays an important role in musical set theory.

Another notation is ind, designating the chord as 'indeterminate'. [5] This refers to the fact that a power chord is neither major nor minor, as there is no third present. This gives the power chord a chameleon-like property; if played where a major chord might be expected, it can sound like a major chord, but when played where a minor chord might be expected, it sounds minor.

Chameleon family of reptiles

Chameleons or chamaeleons are a distinctive and highly specialized clade of Old World lizards with 202 species described as of June 2015. These species come in a range of colors, and many species have the ability to change color.


Power chords can be traced back to commercial recordings in the 1950s. Robert Palmer pointed to electric blues guitarists Willie Johnson and Pat Hare, both of whom played for Sun Records in the early 1950s, as the true originators of the power chord, citing as evidence Johnson's playing on Howlin' Wolf's "How Many More Years" (recorded 1951) and Hare's playing on James Cotton's "Cotton Crop Blues" (recorded 1954). [6] Scotty Moore opened Elvis Presley's 1957 hit Jailhouse Rock with power chords. [7] Link Wray is often cited as the first mainstream rock and roll musician to have used power chords, with "Rumble" (recorded 1958). [8] [9] [10] [11]

The Who's Peter Townshend "windmill" strum Pete Townshend Windmill-(jha).jpg
The Who's Peter Townshend "windmill" strum

A later hit song built around power chords was "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks, released in 1964. [12] This song's riffs exhibit fast power-chord changes. The Who's guitarist, Pete Townshend, performed power chords with a theatrical windmill-strum, [13] [14] for example in "My Generation". [15] On King Crimson's Red album, Robert Fripp thrashed with power chords. [16] Power chords are important in many forms of punk rock music. Many punk guitarists used only power chords in their songs, most notably Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein and Johnny Ramone.


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.


Shown above are four examples of an F5 chord. The letter names above the chords only indicate which different voicing is being used. These letter names should not be mistaken for the chord names typically used in popular music (e.g., C Major, B minor, etc.) 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 (not shown).

Spider chords

Spider chord on D and B
Play (help*info)
. The "web" of lines in the tab between each successive fret shows the fingering order (5-6-7-8 fingered 1-2-3-4 on strings 5-6-4-5). Spider chord on D.png
Spider chord on D and B Loudspeaker.svg Play  . The "web" of lines in the tab between each successive fret shows the fingering order (5-6-7-8 fingered 1-2-3-4 on strings 5-6-4-5).

The spider chord is a guitar technique popularized during the 1980s thrash metal scene. Regarded as being popularized and named by Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, it is used to reduce string noise when playing (mostly chromatic) riffs that require chords across several strings. The chord or technique is used in the songs "Wake Up Dead", "Holy Wars... The Punishment Due" and "Ride the Lightning". [17]

   D5 Bb5 e|-------| B|-------| G|-------| D|-7-----| A|-5--8--| E|----6--|    3      <    1  4   <--Spider chord fingering       2   < 

As seen in the above tab, the two power chords may be played in succession without shifting, making it easier and quicker, [17] and thus avoiding string noise. The normal fingering would be for both chords, requiring a simultaneous shift and string change. Note that the two power chords are a major third apart: if the first chord is the tonic the second is the minor submediant. The spider chord fingering also allows access to a major seventh chord without the third: [17]

    AM7 e|------| B|------| G|------| D|--6---| A|--7---| E|--5---|     3     4     2 

The spider chord requires the player to use all four fingers of the fretting hand, thus its name. This technique then allows one to run down the neck playing either of the two chords. [17]


Perhaps the most common implementation is 1-5-1', that is, the root note, a note a fifth above the root, and a note an octave above the root. When the strings are a fourth apart, especially the lower four strings in standard tuning, the lowest note is played with some fret on some string and the higher two notes are two frets higher on the next two strings. Using standard tuning, notes on the first or second string must be played one fret higher than this. (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.)

G5A5D5E5G5A5D5A5 E||----------------------------------------------(10)---(5)----| B||--------------------------------(8)----(10)----10-----5-----| G||------------------(7)----(9)-----7------9------7------2-----| D||----(5)----(7)-----7------9------5------7-------------------| A||-----5------7------5------7---------------------------------| E||-----3------5-----------------------------------------------|

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

G5/DBb5/FC5/GG5/DBb5/FDb5/AbC5/G E||------------------------|----------------------| B||------------------------|----------------------| G||*------3---5------------|-------3---6---5------| D||*--5---3---5------------|---5---3---6---5------| A||---5--------------------|---5------------------| E||------------------------|----------------------|
|-----------------------|---------------------|| |-----------------------|---------------------|| |------3---5---3---0----|--------------------*|| |---5--3---5---3---0----|--------------------*|| |---5-------------------|---------------------|| |-----------------------|---------------------||

Another implementation used is 5-1'-5', that is, a note a fourth below the root, the root note, and a note a fifth above the root. (This is sometimes called a "fourth chord", but usually the second note is taken as the root, although it's not the lowest one.) When the strings are a fourth apart, the lower two notes are played with some fret on some two strings and the highest note is two frets higher on the next string. Of course, using standard tuning, notes on the first or second string must be played one fret higher.

D5E5G5A5D5A5D5G5 E||-----------------------------------------------5------10----| B||---------------------------------10-----5------3------8-----| G||-------------------7------9------7------2-----(2)----(7)----| D||-----7------9------5------7-----(7)----(2)------------------| A||-----5------7-----(5)----(7)--------------------------------| E||----(5)----(7)----------------------------------------------|

With the drop D tuning—or any other dropped tuning for that matter—power chords with the bass on the sixth string can be played with one finger, and D power chords can be played on three open strings.

D5E5 E||---------------- B||---------------- G||---------------- D||--0-------2----- A||--0-------2----- D||--0-------2-----

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

E||--------------------------5--- B||--3-------5-------7-------3--- G||--2-------4-------6-------2--- D||--0-------2-------4-------0--- A||--0-------2-------4-------0--- D||--0-------2-------4-------0---

See also


  1. "Glossary of Guitar Terms" Archived 2007-11-15 at the Wayback Machine , Mel Bay Publications, Inc. "A chord consisting of the first (root), fifth and eighth degree (octave) of the scale. Power chords are typically used in playing rock music."
  2. Doug Coulter (2000). Digital Audio Processing, p.293. ISBN   0-87930-566-5. "Any non-linearity produces harmonics as well as sum and difference frequencies between the original components."
  3. "Distortion – The Physics of Heavy Metal" Archived 2009-11-28 at the Wayback Machine , BBC
  4. Robert Walser (1993). Running with the Devil , p.43. ISBN   0-8195-6260-2.
  5. 1 2 Benjamin, et al. (2008). Techniques and Materials of Music, p.191. ISBN   0-495-50054-2.
  6. Palmer, Robert (1992). "Church of the Sonic Guitar". In DeCurtis, Anthony (ed.). Present Tense: Rock & Roll and Culture. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. pp. 13–38. ISBN   0-8223-1265-4.
  7. "4 Guitarists Who Changed Southern Music (Part 2): Scotty Moore". porterbriggs.com. 8 January 2018. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 3 May 2018.Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  8. The Mojo Collection. Canongate. 2007. p. 242. ISBN   978-1-84767-643-6.
  9. Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2002). All music guide to rock: the definitive guide to rock, pop, and soul. Hal Leonard. p. 1243. ISBN   978-0-87930-653-3 . Retrieved 8 March 2012.
  10. McLellan, Dennis (22 November 2005). "The Mojo Collection". Los Angeles Times . Archived from the original on 9 March 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2012.Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  11. "Link Wray: Father of the Power Chord". NPR . 21 November 2005. Archived from the original on 5 March 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2012.Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  12. Walser, Robert (1993). Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press. p. 9. ISBN   0-8195-6260-2.
  13. Denyer (1992 , "The advanced guitarist; Power chords and fret tapping: Power chords", p. 156)
  14. Denyer (1992 , "The Guitar Innovators: Pete Townshend", pp. 22-23)
  15. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-12-05. Retrieved 2013-06-14.Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help); Cite web requires |website= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. Tamm (2002 , Chapter Twelve: Chapter Twelve: Objective Art; Fripp's musical legacy: Melody ): Tamm, Eric (2003) [1990], Robert Fripp: From crimson king to crafty master (Progressive Ears ed.), Faber and Faber (1990), ISBN   0-571-16289-4, Zipped Microsoft Word Document, archived from the original on 21 March 2012, retrieved 25 March 2012Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  17. 1 2 3 4 "Video Question: Spider Chords" Archived 2010-07-06 at the Wayback Machine , JamPlay.com.

Related Research Articles

The bass guitar is a plucked string instrument similar in appearance and construction to an electric or an acoustic guitar, except with a longer neck and scale length, and typically four to six strings or courses.

Guitar Fretted string instrument

The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that usually has six strings. It is typically played with both hands by strumming or plucking the strings with either a guitar pick or the finger(s)/fingernails of one hand, while simultaneously fretting with the fingers of the other hand. The sound of the vibrating strings is projected either acoustically, by means of the hollow chamber of the guitar, or through an electrical amplifier and a speaker.

Musical tuning umbrella term for the act of tuning an instrument and a system of pitches

In music, there are two common meanings for tuning:

Harmonic component of a wave whose frequency is a multiple of the fundamental frequency

A harmonic is any member of the harmonic series. The term is employed in various disciplines, including music, physics, acoustics, electronic power transmission, radio technology, and other fields. It is typically applied to repeating signals, such as sinusoidal waves. A harmonic of such a wave is a wave with a frequency that is a positive integer multiple of the frequency of the original wave, known as the fundamental frequency. The original wave is also called the 1st harmonic, the following harmonics are known as higher harmonics. As all harmonics are periodic at the fundamental frequency, the sum of harmonics is also periodic at that frequency. For example, if the fundamental frequency is 50 Hz, a common AC power supply frequency, the frequencies of the first three higher harmonics are 100 Hz, 150 Hz, 200 Hz and any addition of waves with these frequencies is periodic at 50 Hz.

An nth characteristic mode, for n > 1, will have nodes that are not vibrating. For example, the 3rd characteristic mode will have nodes at L and L, where L is the length of the string. In fact, each nth characteristic mode, for n not a multiple of 3, will not have nodes at these points. These other characteristic modes will be vibrating at the positions L and L. If the player gently touches one of these positions, then these other characteristic modes will be suppressed. The tonal harmonics from these other characteristic modes will then also be suppressed. Consequently, the tonal harmonics from the nth characteristic modes, where n is a multiple of 3, will be made relatively more prominent.

String instrument musical instrument that generates tones by one or more strings stretched between two points

String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when the performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner.

Sweep picking

Sweep picking is a guitar playing technique. When sweep picking, the guitarist plays single notes on consecutive strings with a 'sweeping' motion of the pick, while using the fretting hand to produce a specific series of notes that are fast and fluid in sound. Both hands essentially perform an integral motion in unison to achieve the desired effect.

Drop D tuning

Drop D tuning is an alternative form of guitar tuning in which the lowest (sixth) string is tuned down from the usual E of standard tuning by one whole step to D. Drop D tuning, as well as other lowered altered tunings, are often used with the electric guitar in heavy metal music. It is also used in blues, country, folk, and classical guitar.

All fifths tuning Guitar tuning

Among guitar tunings, all-fifths tuning refers to the set of tunings in which each interval between consecutive open strings is a perfect fifth. All-fifths tuning is also called fifths, perfect fifths, or mandoguitar. The conventional "standard tuning" consists of perfect fourths and a single major third between the g and b strings:

Barre chord

In music, a barre chord is a type of chord on a guitar or other stringed instrument, that the musician plays by using one or more fingers to press down multiple strings across a single fret of the fingerboard.

Guitar chord set of notes played on a guitar

In music, a guitar chord is a set of notes played on a guitar. A chord's notes are often played simultaneously, but they can be played sequentially in an arpeggio. The implementation of guitar chords depends on the guitar tuning. Most guitars used in popular music have six strings with the "standard" tuning of the Spanish classical guitar, namely E-A-D-G-B-E' ; in standard tuning, the intervals present among adjacent strings are perfect fourths except for the major third (G,B). Standard tuning requires four chord-shapes for the major triads.

Guitar tunings the assigning of pitches to open strings of guitars

Guitar tunings assign pitches to the open strings of guitars, including acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and classical guitars. Tunings are described by the particular pitches denoted by notes in Western music. By convention, the notes are ordered from lowest-pitched string to highest-pitched.

New standard tuning (NST) is an alternative tuning for the guitar that approximates all-fifths tuning.

New standard tuning (NST) is an alternative tuning for the guitar that approximates all-fifths tuning. The guitar's strings are assigned the notes C2-G2-D3-A3-E4-G4 ; the five lowest open strings are each tuned to an interval of a perfect fifth {(C,G),(G,D),(D,A),(A,E)}; the two highest strings are a minor third apart (E,G).

In music, a five-fret stretch refers to a guitar chord formation such that the distance between the highest and the lowest fingered frets is five frets. This necessarily excludes open strings.

Octave mandolin

The octave mandolin is a fretted string instrument with four pairs of strings tuned in fifths, G, D, A, E, an octave below a mandolin. It is larger than the mandola, but smaller than the mandocello and its construction is similar to other instruments in the mandolin family. Usually the courses are all unison pairs but the lower two may sometimes be strung as octave pairs with the higher-pitched octave string on top so that it is hit before the thicker lower-pitched string. Alternate tunings of G, D, A, D and A, D, A, D are often employed by Celtic musicians.

Open C tuning

Open C tuning is an open tuning for guitar. The open-string notes form a C major chord, which is the triad (C,E,G) having the root note C, the major third (C,E), and the perfect fifth (C,G). When the guitar is strummed without fretting any strings, a C-major chord is sounded. By barring all of the strings for one fret, one finger suffices to fret the other eleven major-chords.

Chuck Wayne American jazz guitarist

Chuck Wayne was a jazz guitarist. He came to prominence in the 1940s, and was among the earliest jazz guitarists to play in the bebop style. Wayne was a member of Woody Herman's First Herd, the first guitarist in the George Shearing quintet, and Tony Bennett's music director and accompanist. He developed a systematic method for playing jazz guitar.

Major thirds tuning

Among alternative tunings for guitar, a major-thirds tuning is a regular tuning in which each interval between successive open strings is a major third. Other names for major-thirds tuning include major-third tuning, M3 tuning, all-thirds tuning, and augmented tuning. By definition, a major-third interval separates two notes that differ by exactly four semitones.

Regular tuning

Among alternative guitar-tunings, regular tunings have equal musical intervals between the paired notes of their successive open strings.

Overtones tuning

Among alternative tunings for the guitar, an overtones tuning selects its open-string notes from the overtone sequence of a fundamental note. An example is the open tuning constituted by the first six overtones of the fundamental note C, namely C2-C3-G3-C4-E4-G4.


Further reading