If you’re a guitar beginner, you have probably heard already about power chords.
Power chords are special types of chords played on a guitar. Almost all rock and metal songs use power chords.
They are essential part of rock music in general. There are lot of chord types you can play on your guitar. The simplest chord classification divides chords in two groups. Major and minor.
Now, you may get confused. Are power chords major or minor chords?
Power chords are neither major nor minor chords. A simple chord has three different notes. Root note, third note and a fifth note. Third note is the one deciding whether a chord is minor or major. Power chord has only two different notes, root and fifth. Therefore, it’s neither major nor minor.
However, in different contexts, a power chord may sound a bit more like minor, or a bit more like major. If you’re still confused, don’t worry, we’ll get into this subject a bit deeper.
Stay with me!
What Makes a Chord Major or Minor?
OK, so there are two main types of chords. Major and minor.
What makes a major or a minor chord? Let’s break down this theory.
Every chord has its root note. Root note is the note that makes the name of a chord. For example, A major chord has a root note of A. D minor chord has a root note of D.
Even more complex chords, like Cadd9 or Cdim7 has their root notes. These two examples have their root notes of C.
For every chord, you just have to look at the first letter. That letter represents the root note.
Third Note – The One That Makes Major or Minor
Third note is what makes a chord major or minor. What is a third note?
Third note is a note that is third from the root note in the scale. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
There are two main music scales. Major music scale, and minor music scale.
Third note for an A major chord, for example, is C#. That’s because C# is a third note from a root note of an A major chord. Root note of an A major chord is A. Now, let’s count the A major scale notes. There are A, B, C#, D, E, F# and G#.
As you can see, root note A is in the first place, while C# note is in the third place of that scale. Therefore, the third note of an A major chord is C#.
Minor chords have their third note half step lowered than the third note of their major equivalents.
A minor chord, therefore, has C note as its third note.
Fast and Easy Technique For Guitarists
If you’re not that interested in music theory, but still want to know what makes minor or major chords, here’s a fast and easy trick for you.
Keep this in mind:
- a major chord has its third note 4 frets away from its root note
- a minor chord has its third note 3 frets away from its root note
There fore, if someone asks you, for example, what’s the third note of an E major chord, you just have to say the note that’s 4 frets away from its root note (E note). Therefore, that third note is G#.
On the other hand, if someone asks you, for example, what’s the third note of a G minor chord, you just have to say the note that’s 3 frets away from its root note (that’s G note). Therefore, that third note is A#.
Play around with this on your guitar. You will soon notice the difference when you play different combinations of root note and third note played together.
Minor third note (the one that’s 3 frets away from a root note) sounds sadder and darker. It makes sense, since it’s the minor chord that you play.
The same goes when you play root note together with the note that’s 4 frets away (major third note). It sounds happier and brighter. Again, it makes sense, since it’s the major chord you play.
Fifth note is the note that is fifth note from the root note on the scale. Fifth note is the same for both major and minor chords that have the same root note.
That means that, for example, both A minor and A major chords have the same fifth note. That’s E note, by the way.
You can assure yourself that’s the case just by looking at A major and A minor scale. A major scale has notes: A, B, C#, D, E, F# and G#. A minor scale has notest: A, B, C, D, E, F and G. As you can see, both scales have the same fifth note – E.
Now, there’s an easier way to determine the fifth note each chord on your guitar. It’s the note that’s 7 frets away from the root note of a chord.
For example, what’s the fifth note of a D major chord? Just find the note that’s 7 frets away from a root note, D. It’s A note.
Is Power Chord a Chord?
Although power chord doesn’t belong neither to major or a minor group, it’s still a chord.
Power chords have only two different notes. They don’t have a third note. That’s why they are not minor or major, since third note is the note deciding whether a chord is minor or major.
Anyway, power chords have a root note, and a fifth note. Only those two notes. Of course, power chords are often played as three notes.
But the third note of a power chord is either a octave of a root note (therefore, the same note as root), or an octave of a fifth note (those are inverted power chords).
Are There Minor Power Chords?
Since power chords are neither major nor minor, technically there are no minor or major power chords.
But, sometimes, you have the feeling that some power chords are minor. They just sound that way. Why is that the case?
Well, that often happens when you listen to metal riffs. Metal music, in general, is using a minor scale. I can’t remember any metal song that’s in major key.
Often times you hear that E power chord at the beginning of a song. Well, it sounds like a minor chord, because the whole song is in that minor scale mood.
That’s the reason why you often feel that some power chords are minor.
But there are cases where power chords sound major. In punk, there are often major scales involved in a song. Therefore, when you listen to Blink182, or a Green Day, you get that feeling of a major chord.
What Are Power Chords Used For?
Power chords are used in rock music in general. Why are they played so often?
It’s because a regular minor or major chords sound too messy when they are played on a loud distortion.
Power chords sound way better on a distorted electric guitar. There are cases when whole major or minor chords are played on a distorted sound, though.
But, more or less, power chords are much more used.
OK, so this is the main reason. But, when I think about it, there’s another reason of heavy power chord usage in rock music.
There’s a thing called harmony, in music theory. Harmony is when more notes are played together. There are some characteristic movements of the main melody and its counterparts.
In music theory, there’s this thing called parallel fifths. It is “forbidden” to make those movements in classical music. I mean, it’s not forbidden by law, but it just sounds bad often.
Rock music emerged as a rebellion movement. It seems to me that power chords are some kind of an act of rebellion against this rule in music theory. When you play power chord progressions, the notes are actually moving in parallel fifths.
Root notes move from chord to chord, and fifth notes move along with them. That’s parallel movement that’s not so advisable in serious, classical music.
So, there’s this additional reason for a power chord to be used.
What Is an Inverted Power Chord?
Inverted power chord is the chord that has a fifth note as its bass note. Regular power chord has a root note as its deepest, bass note.
It’s actually like playing a regular power chord without a root note. Just fifth note and an octave of a root note that’s in higher pitch than the fifth note.
How Do You Form Power Chords?
There are few ways you can form a power chord. Look at the picture below.
This is a regular, non inverted power chord. To be more precise, this is an E power chord. My point finger is pressing the 7th fret on an A string. That note is a root note, E. My middle finger is pressing onto the 9th fret of a D string. It is a fifth note of this power chord, B.
Finally, my pinky finger is pressing onto the 9th fret of a G string. It is an octave of a root note, again the same note – E.
Now, look at the different way you can form a regular, non inverted, power chord.
This is the same power chord like the one in the first picture. This time, however, the finger positions are different. As you can see, the point finger is the same, fretting the 7th position of an A string, a note E.
This time, a middle finger is fretting both fifth note and an octave of a root note.
I like this way better, but the choice is yours. Some guitarists like one way, some another.
And now, let’s look at how to form an inverted power chord.
This is how an inverted power chord is formed. It’s the same power chord in question – an E power chord. This time, however, a bass note is not a root note. It is a fifth note, B.
This inverted power chord has only two notes, a deep, bass fifth note, and a root note. Both notes are fretted with one finger, a point finger.
Are Power Chords Triads?
Power chords are not triads. Triads are short chords played on three thinnest strings of a guitar. Those strings are high E, B and G.
Triads consist of a root note, third note and a fifth note. Therefore you can already conclude that power chords are not triads.
Triads have a third note. Power chords don’t have it.
I hope this article gave you some valuable information you have been looking for. If you know more about this subject after reading it, I’m more than happy about it.
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Cheers, and rock on!