While most of us appreciate the nuances of full chords, sometimes you just want the aggressive, in-your-face character of a power chord. Common in rock, punk, and metal, these simply-shaped chords are amazingly easy to switch between. If you're ready to mix up your playing and make some noise, check out these easy and fun-to-play power chord songs.
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10 Easy Power Chord Songs to Learn Today
For the uninitiated, power chords are simplified chord shapes with a uniquely powerful sound. Typically, open chords contain a root note, the third of that note, and the fifth of that note. However, power chords contain the root and the fifth -- that's why they contain the number "5." For example, the C power chord is written as "C5."
Power chords also contain the octave of the root note, so C5 contains C (the root), G (the fifth), and another C (an octave higher than the root). Thanks to their simple shapes, power chords make it easy to play quickly up and down the neck. Here are 10 easy songs that use power chords.
1. The Ramones -- "Blitzkrieg Bop"
"Blitzkrieg Bop" is a simple three-chord, two-minute song that helped rocket the Ramones to fame. The band wrote it as a tribute to their fans.
This music video gives you a sense of the contagious energy it could (and did) inspire at shows. If you're new to power chords, this is a great song to start with -- you only need A5, D5, and E5.
Before we jump into how to play each one, here's an important piece of music theory related to power chords -- since (as we mentioned above) they contain no thirds, power chords are neither major nor minor. And when playing power chords that start at the low E string like we're doing here, you only need to play three strings.
For A5, the root note is A, which on the low E string is found at the fifth fret. Place your index finger here. Then, place your ring finger on the A string at the 7th fret and your pinky finger on the D string at the 7th fret. Remember this -- this is the basic power chord shape and the one we'll be using the most. There are other voicings for each power chord, too, but this is the easiest to master first.
For D5, slide this shape down to the 10th fret, making sure to keep your index, ring, and pinky finger in the same shape, The E5 power chord is a bit different. We need the low E string to be open, so just hold down the A string and the D string at the second fret (like you're playing an Em open). That's it! And once you've gotten the hang of power chords, they're easy to translate to other songs as well.
2. Green Day -- "21 Guns"
Green Day's frontman, Billie Joe Armstrong, almost exclusively uses power chords in his songs. This makes his catchy songs easy to write and easy to play. And it's a useful reminder that great music doesn't always come from complex chords and intricate rhythms -- sometimes it's the raw power that matters most. "21 Guns" is from the band's album 21st Century Breakdown. Check out the interesting music video here (below - left).
The acoustic intro to "21 Guns" might be mellow, but it soon gives way to a distorted power chord progression. This useful video (above - right) will show you how to play them. And if you're looking for a challenge or just want to make sure you can play the whole song, this lesson will also take you through the solo.
3. Black Sabbath -- "Iron Man"
You might be surprised to learn that this Black Sabbath song isn't about the comic book hero. Instead, it's a unique science-fiction odyssey about an unlikely hero who journeys forward in time to witness the apocalypse. It's much more lyrically complex than you might expect, and it certainly makes for an interesting lyrical analysis. Check out the psychedelic-inspired music video here.
There are a few ways to play "Iron Man" and still sound great. This site recommends using E (not the power chord), B5, D5, E5, G5, A#5, and A5. For an extra challenge, practice playing the iconic riff you hear in the intro and throughout the song!
4. Bikini Kill -- "False Start"
Bikini Kill was one of the bands at the forefront of the riot grrrl era, although they're still playing and performing today. This song (which you can hear below) comes from their album Reject All American. It's a great power chord song to move onto once you've mastered two-chord and three-chord songs. This site recommends using A5, B5, C5, D5, C#5, and G5. This power chord song features a dynamic bass rhythm too, so if you're a bassist, you might want to give it a shot!
5. Nirvana -- "Smells Like Teen Spirit
Rumor has it that this song is named after graffiti written by Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill on the wall of Kurt Cobain's hotel room. Regardless of the origin, this is one of the most iconic Nirvana songs. You can check out the music video here.
Even if you're very new to guitar playing, this is one of the easiest power chord song examples out there. This chord sheet recommends placing a capo on the first fret and then playing E5, A5, G5, and C5.
If you like this song, it's worth checking out the rest of Nirvana's discography. There are plenty of other power-chord-friendly songs to learn!
6. The White Stripes -- "Seven Nation Army"
"Seven Nation Army" is most famous for its iconic riff. And if you're looking to expand your guitar skills, it also involves some palm muting as you can see in this video tutorial (If you haven't quite mastered palm muting, don't worry -- take your time!).
Many guitarists use an octave pedal to get a bass sound for the riff, but don't worry if you don't have one -- even without the bass tone, the riff is a lot of fun to play.
If you're intimidated by the idea of playing a riff, don't worry -- the power chord structure in this song essentially follows the riff (you just turn each note into a power chord). You can check out the music video for "Seven Nation Army" here.
Part of using the power chord shape is fully harnessing the benefit of rhythm. After all, since you can't make a power chord into a major or minor chord, the subtlety in your playing needs to come from the technique. It might be helpful to play along with a recording of the song, at least until you internalize the rhythm.
7. Deep Purple -- "Smoke On The Water
Of all the power chord song choices on our list, this might be the one that sounds best with some distortion. If you haven't heard "Smoke on the Water," you can check out the music video here.
The song was inspired by a casino fire that occurred when Frank Zappa's band, the Mothers of Invention, were performing. The casino was in Switzerland by Lake Geneva, and Deep Purple members watched as dark smoke rose over it -- that's what inspired the song and its title.
Veteran guitarists might be sick of hearing the song, but the fact remains that this is one of the best learning songs for beginners. To learn how to achieve the sound of this famous son's main riff, check out this helpful video tutorial.
8. Joan Jett -- "Crimson And Clover"
Joan Jett didn't write "Crimson and Clover," but her rendition became extremely popular. Though the chord progression is simple, this is a song that really packs a punch. It's also ideal for newer players to learn -- the verses involve slower chord changes, while the up-tempo chorus lets you practice switching more rapidly between power chords.
This video tutorial takes you through how to play the iconic song. You can also find the tab for "Crimson and Clover" here.
As you can see, the main power chords you'll need are C5, G5, and F5. It's easiest to play C5 with your basic power chord shape and your index finger on the 8th fret. If you prefer, you can play further up the neck at the third fret -- just drop the shape down so your index finger is on the A string. You can then play G5 with your index finger on the low E string at the third fret, and play F5 with your index finger on the first fret.
9. Pat Benatar -- "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"
If you're starting to get the hang of power chord playing and are ready to start practicing faster chord changes while maintaining a steady rhythm with your picking hand, try learning this one. (If you haven't listened to it before, you can listen to it here.).
Since it involves some relatively quick movements up and down the neck, be sure to practice this song slowly with good technique before playing faster. It's tempting to rush into playing at full tempo, but do your best to resist -- more often than not, this just leads to fast playing with sloppy technique. This video lesson gives you a sense of how to play the song.
"Hit Me With Your Best Shot" involves different rhythms for the verse and chorus. If you're a new guitarist, don't be afraid to break up the song -- work on the intro, then master the chorus, and then go on to a verse (feel free to mix up the order). This is a great classic to practice, and it will certainly move your guitar skills along.
10. Blink 182 -- "All the Small Things"
If you want to be transported back to early 2000's nostalgia, listen to Blink 182's famous "All the Small Things." This catchy punk song is a bit of a departure from the mostly rock songs on our list, but if you listen (check out the video here), you can hear the power chords in action. Here's a brief video lesson outlining the chord progression.
It starts with C5, which is rooted at the A string on the third fret. This tutorial includes some slightly different power chord shapes that don't start on the low E string. These can be tough to play, largely because you often have to mute or avoid playing strings both right above and right below the chord shape. So if you're new to the power chord world, you might want to save this one for a little later.
Want Some Help?
Becoming a guitarist is certainly a kind of odyssey, and it can help to get some guidance along the way. Whether you want to understand power chord theory better, improve your lead guitar abilities, or just become a well-rounded musician, there are plenty of guitar books and learning pages out there that can help.
These sites offer more than your everyday guitar teacher -- you can take lessons that focus on specific skills (like palm muting), learn from song tutorials, and even take courses in selected genres. And perhaps best of all, they help you make sure you're following an organized learning program that will prime you for success as a guitarist.
Hopefully, our list has inspired you to learn a power chord song or two. These songs are perfectly beginner-friendly, too -- thanks to power chords, you can take just two or three notes to create a catchy melody. But what do you think? Did we leave out one of your favorite songs? Let us know in the comments, and please don't forget to like and share if you found our list helpful!