During the 1990s, punk music experienced a rebirth, as bands like Green Day and Blink 182 hit the big time with an aggressive, rebellious and up-tempo rock style that made everybody remember how cool the Ramones and the Sex Pistols were a generation before.
Aside from the heavily distorted electric sound and raucous nature, what made punk music so alluring for many aspiring musicians was how seemingly simple it was to play.
While a lot of it had interesting melodic hooks, it was largely driven by the power chord, which is a two-fingered guitar chord shape that players can move all around the neck. Basically, you just needed to know one shape and how to place it in the correct spot for each new chord change.
Interestingly, nobody ever seemed to admire those punk players for knowing how to move power chords all over the neck, which isn't necessarily complicated, but tends to be a skill that most guitar players never master.
Even if you're not interested in punk, knowing how to get around the fretboard like a punk player will serve you well whether you're learning to play pop, jazz, country or any other style of music. It'll also give you more options as you learn or get better at your guitar soloing.
Power chords are as basic as it gets when it comes to chords, and they're really flexible in that you can play the same shape for major and minor. So, whether you need to play a C major or C minor chord, you would play the C power chord for either.
Power chords "imply" the full chords depending on all the chords in the song, meaning that if you are playing chords from the key of C, your C power chord is going to sound more like a C major chord, but if you were playing in the key of Eb, it will sound more like a minor chord.
There are two types of power chords: the E-string power chord and the A-string power chord. Shape-wise, they're the same; the only difference between them is which strings they're on.
To make an E-string power chord, put your index finger on the top string (the low-sounding E) of the third fret. This note is what's called your root note, and will define which power chord you're playing.
Complete the chord by putting your ring finger on the A-string at the fifth fret. Don't play any other strings other than the E and A string. In fact, mute them by letting ring finger drape down on them without pressing.
This is a G power chord because the note on your index finger is a G. Before we learn the A-shape power chord, let's learn why we named it the G power chord.
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Each note on the guitar fretboard has a letter name attached to it, sort of like a musical alphabet. The musical alphabet is called the chromatic scale, and one of its major functions for guitar players is to help them get around the fretboard.
Here's the chromatic scale:
A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab REPEAT
There are a few important things to know about the chromatic scale:
On the guitar, each fret represents a note of the chromatic scale depending on which string you're on, so if you're on the low E string, E is open, F is on the first fret, F#/Gb is on the second, G is on the third, which was where we put the index finger of our power chord.
If you move the whole power chord shape up one fret toward the sound hole, your index finger will be on the fourth fret of the E string and your ring finger will be on the sixth fret of the A string. That's a G#/Ab power chord. Now, move the whole shape down toward the tuners two frets, so your root note is on the 1st fret of the E string. That's an F power chord.
To make an A-string power chord, move the whole shape down a string. So, to play a C power chord, put your index finger on the third fret of the A-string (because A is the open note, A#/Bb is the note on the first fret, B is on the second and C is on the third) and your ring finger on the fifth fret of the D string.
As with the E-string version, mute the strings beneath the chord with your ring finger. With this version, you'll have to mute the E string as well, and it's common to do that with your middle finger.
Practice moving around the fretboard first with a chord progression: C, Am, F, Dm, G, C (four beats each), and then with songs. Remember, whether you're playing an A or Am, the chord formation is exactly the same.
You shouldn't always have to play songs like this, but it's a great way to learn how to get around the fretboard.
Knowing how to get around the fretboard is an essential skill, whether you want to learn pop, R&B, jazz or any other style of music. While music theory has a harsh reputation for being difficult to learn, our goal is make it less complicated, so you can be a more dynamic guitar player. If you're interested in taking guitar lessons through The Approachable Music Project, we're located in South Minneapolis and near St. Paul through Ford Parkway and Highway 62. Send us a message to schedule or learn more information.
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