Power-chords are cool. It’s in the name. They’re powerful and chordy (if that’s a word) and they get the job done sufficiently. That said- I’m about to slate them completely.
Power-chords are 5th chords. They consist of a root note (let’s say C) a fifth (so G) and the root note again (C). That’s great and all, but it’s also mind-numbing-ly simple. The thing about powerchords is that they are very emotionally neutral. They serve the purpose of providing chord progressions for electric guitars without involving too many notes and sounding extremely grungey- but that’s it. They are not major or minor chords. They carry no particular emotions with them, they just sit on the fence between happy chords (major) and sad chords (minor).
Now let me just contradict myself again by saying that labelling Major and Minor as “Happy” and “Sad” is kinda wrong… sort-of. It is a GENERAL rule that Major chords sound happy and Minor chords sound sad but it can’t ALWAYS be applied. Some of the saddest songs of all time have been written in major keys. Just think of them as different.
MAKING YOUR POWER-CHORDS SOUND MAJOR AND MINOR
Because Powerchords are Indeterminate Chords (carrying no major or minor qualities) then there are ways that you can give them some extra emotion. The main is to use thirds. Thirds are the note interval that most obviously gives a chord some feeling. They come in Major Thirds and Minor Thirds.
A Major Third is 4 semitones above the root note of a chord. So for example if we take a C chord- it’s Major Third note would be an E (4 half-steps up from C- C#, D, D#, E). The Major Third generally gives the chord a happy and uplifting feel. The easiest way to add one to a powerchord would be to play a standard 3-note powerchord (Root, Fifth, Root) and add it after the higher root note. This is most easily done with powerchords that have their root note on the A string. So for example to make a C Major Powerchord you would fret the 3rd fret on the A string, then the 5th fret on the D, G and B strings. The resulting notes would be C,G,C and E. This can be fingered in different ways that suit different people, my personal favourite way to fret the root-string with my index finger, and the 3 higher-up strings with my middle, ring and little fingers (in order).
A Minor Third is 3 semitones above the root note of a chord. So for example if we take a C chord again- it’s Minor Third note would be a D# (3 half-steps up from C- C#, D, D#). The Minor Third tends to give the chord a sad and melancholy feel. The easiest way to add one of these to a powerchord would once again be to play a standard 3-note powerchord (Root, Fifth, Root) and add it after the higher root note aswell. This can be easily done with powerchords with their root notes on the E-string a A-string (due to the change in string intervals from G-string to B-string).
So for example to make a C Minor Powerchord you would fret the 3rd fret on the A string, then the 5th fret on the D and G strings, and the 4th fret on the B string. The resulting notes would be C,G,C and D#. The easiest way to finger this one is to use the standard powerchord fingering and use your free middle finger to add the Minor Third on the B-string. So in this case you would fret the A-string with your index finger, the D and G strings with your ring and little fingers, and then the B-string with your middle finger.
These Major and Minor-Thirds can be added on E-string Powerchords too, albeit a bit more awkwardly. You just need to take the different string intervals into account and apply the aforementioned interval rules. This is because the jump from your D string to your G string is 5 semitones- whereas your G string to your B-string is 4 semitones. This is why these fingerings constantly vary.
E-string Major powerchords require the standard power-chord hand-shape with the added middle finger to fret the G-string. E-string Minor powerchords require a handshape similar to a barre chord.
If by any chance you’re playing in a Dropped Tuning such as Drop D, adding thirds will be a walk in the park for your top-string chords, due to their simple and vertical nature.
I know it sounds complex but it’s very easy! Good luck with these chords!
Although not particularly recommended for distorted guitar; you don’t have to rule out open chords completely. Although some of them (E Minor for example) might sound grungey and thick, other chords such as the D chord (which only uses 4 strings) are much more usable with distortion. Lots of Alternative Rock Bands are known for distorting open and full chords.
PERFECT FOURTH DOUBLE STOPS
Perfect Fourth Double Stops are Double Stops with a Perfect Fourth Interval.
Surprising- I know.
These Double-Stops are good for Metal and Rock rhythm guitar parts due to their heavy-sounding nature. Megadeth and Iron Maiden are just a couple examples of bands that use these chords in their riffs and rhythm sections.
Double-stops consist of 2 notes on 2 adjacent strings. For most the strings on the Guitar, the notes are on the same frets (because a perfect fourth is 5 semitones up from the root- the same as most string intervals). So for example if playing a C Perfect Fourth Double Stop, you would fret the 3rd fret of the A-string, and the 3rd fret of the D-string. The resulting notes would be C and F. If you wanted to, you could add a higher version of the root note (C in this case) to make it similar to a powerchord’s shape (though fretting would be a bit more awkard, and it technically wouldn’t be a double-stop anymore!).
Inverted Chords do what they say on the tin. They are chords that have been inverted. This means that the notes of the chord are the same but they are being played in an upside-down or unfamiliar order.
This is most easy to demonstrate with Triads. For those who do not know- Triads are chords with 3 notes (hence the: “tri”) and they consist of the root, the third (it can be major or minor) and also the fifth. A C Major Triad- for example- would consist of the notes C, E and G. If played in order, this would be played as: 3rd-fret on the A-string (C), 2nd-fret on the D-string (E) and open G-string (G). If you were to invert or re-order these notes, you might play something like- open E-string (E), 3rd-fret on the A-string (C), 5th-fret on the D-string (G). This really is only to play around with depending on your chords!
HIGHER/ LOWER POWER-CHORD POSITIONS
If you learn Powerchords by their fret numbers rather than their Chord Names- then shame on you! It pains me to hear that aspiring guitarists don’t know what notes are in their Power-Chords!
Anyway, the point is that you can still play powerchords in a higher octave- albeit quite highly up the fret board. Powerchords can be played quite highly up the fretboard, most easily with their root-notes on the A-string. Playing the same chord an octave higher can give some interesting variations. For example instead of an E5 with it’s root as the open e-string, you might play an E5 with it’s root as the 7th fret of the A-string. These “high-up” powerchords have a much different timbre to them and are commonplace in punk-styles and rock riffs alike.
Although they aren’t technically chords- octaves are common in electric guitar. Perhaps the most famous use of octaves are in the riffs to “Zero” and “Cherub Rock” by the Smashing Pumpkins, as well as countless pop-punk bands.
Octaves literally consist of the root note, and then the root note again but an octave higher! I like to think of them as “empty” powerchords because the hand-shapes are the same but instead of fretting the Fifth-note inbetween you just mute the string by lightly touching it with your fretting fingers.
So for example, a C Octave would be played by fretting the 3rd fret of the A-string (C), muting the D-string (often noted in tabs with an: “x”) and then fretting the 5th fret of the G-string (C).
Octaves are often used to accompany power-chords by a separate guitar. So for example a lead guitarist might play the fifths of the rhythm guitarist’s powerchords. So a rhythm guitarists E5 powerchords might be accompanied by a lead guitarists melody part that is centered around a B Octave (the E chord’s perfect fifth).
These are just a few examples of some of the chords you can use as alternatives to power-chords. I’m not at all knocking power-chords but it’s always good to give your playing some variation!