SMG Guitar Lesson #30: How To Invert Power Chords!

Power Chords have been around longer than you might think!

Fifth chords, or Power Chords as they are more commonly known, are the only type of chord in two-part harmony consisting of a root note and a fifth interval. Fifth chords lack the presence of a third or minor third interval and are therefore considered neither major nor minor chords, making it possible for them to easily be substituted for either. Because of their rugged simplicity, bold sound, and broad application, they are often used to add strength and support to a musical composition.

Power chords became an integral part of popular music in the 1950’s and 60’s with artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, Link Wray, and The Kinks, being among the first to incorporate them into early rock music. Over the course of five decades, they became such a signature of rock music that its difficult for most people to imagine that the history of the ‘power chord’ dates back long before the electric guitar.

In fact, fifth chords were used in the most powerful passages of Beethoven (1770-1827), the end cadences of madrigals by Monteverdi (1567-1643), were popular in Gregorian and medieval music, and even date back to ancient times. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras (580-500B.C.)  referred to fifth harmony as diapente in his teachings on music and even recommended tuning stringed instruments in fifths because of the desirable sound. So it’s safe to assume that people have always thought that fifth chords rock!

Another common misconception about power chords is that there is only one shape in which they can be played. If you’ve played the guitar for any length of time, you’ll know the generic power chord shape I’m referring to. However, just like any chord, fifth chords can be inverted any one of five octave positions. All you need to do is find a root and fifth interval in any octave. Fifth chords played in a lower octave tend to have a driving and rugged sound while those in a higher octave tend to have a rich and ambient sound.

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Here’s a chart of all the different movable shapes power chords can have. The five octave positions are labeled P1-P5. The root note in each shape is represented by a square. Notice there are often multiple ways to play a chord in each octave position.

Below is a tabbed exercise for learning to play power chords in each of the five octave positions. In this example, the root note of each fifth chord is a G:

 

If you’ve found this lesson to be helpful, you can get your copy of my full program on chord inversions, complete with audio examples, right HERE

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