You’re learning to play guitar for the first time. You say to the instructor, ‘Teach me something easy.’
Your instructor says, ‘Sure, just put this finger on this fret, that finger there, this finger over here, and do a handstand while rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time, and soon we’ll have you playing Mary Had a Little Lamb.’
‘ “… soon we’ll have you playing Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Seriously? Screw that guy!’
Seriously? Screw that guy! You want to play something that sounds awesome, and you want to play it right now. The answer lies in easy power chords.
What Do You Mean by Easy Power Chords?
I mean barred power chords. You can play these with just one finger and instantly start a mosh pit.
How to Play Barred Power Chords in a Dropped Tuning
Lay your strongest finger flat against the strings and try to push down the two or three bottom strings at the same time.
Important note: The bottom strings are the thickest ones, not the ones on the bottom of your guitar.
Pluck the three bottom strings on your guitar with your pick. If at least the two thickest ones sound good, you’re doing well enough to continue.
If they buzz or make no sound, move the finger that’s pushing down so it’s almost on top of the wire that divides fret seven from fret eight. You may also need to press a little harder.
Plug into your amp, crank the distortion or overdrive, and strum the three bottom strings at once to pulverize your neighbourhood.
The awesome thing is that you can play the same two or three strings on any fret. It will still be a power chord as long as you’re in a dropped tuning. It’s even a power chord if you aren’t pushing down on anything at all and just play those strings open!
Tips for Playing Barred Power Chords Well
Most guitarists can play these easy power chords with their index finger, middle finger, or ring finger.
Switching between your index finger and ring finger is a great way to reach for frets that are far apart.
Lightly rest your other fingers, or the lower part of your fretting finger (the one that’s pushing down), on the three thinnest strings while you play. This will stop you from accidentally playing strings you don’t want to hear.
What Songs Can I Play with These?
There are too many to list! For some specific examples that can get you sounding like a pro in no time, see Easy Electric Guitar Songs.
Why Can I Play Two or Three Strings?
A power chord consists of two notes: a root and a fifth. These two notes are the equivalent of seven frets apart on a guitar. So for a root of A (the seventh fret of the bottom string in drop D), the fifth is E (the seventh fret of the second-thickest string). You only need these two notes.
‘[A power chord played on] three strings has a bigger sound because it plays the root note in two octaves. The one with just two strings can sound heavier, since it lacks the higher pitch.’
When you play three strings on the same fret in a dropped tuning, the third-thickest string plays the same note as the thickest string at a higher pitch. So you’re playing AEA instead of just AE.
They’re both the same chord because they both have the same notes and the same root. The one with three strings has a bigger sound because it plays the root note in two octaves. The one with just two strings can sound heavier, since it lacks the higher pitch.
What Are the Names for Power Chords?
Power chords are named after the root note and have a 5 tacked on to show that you’re playing the root and the fifth. So when you play the power chord on the seventh fret in drop D, you’re playing A5. If you go down one fret, you’re playing G#5.
That’s all there is to playing these easy power chords! If you run into any trouble or have any questions, post a comment below and we’ll be happy to help you out. We’ll also be back soon with more tricks for playing guitar the easy way.
About the Author
Justin Golschneider is the Guitar Coach sub-editor. Before chopping off his hair and becoming a professional editor and writer, he played bass in the hardcore band Fractures and lead guitar in the short-lived melodeath band Steel and Crow. He lives in Burlington, Vermont.