A simple chord shape consisting of the root note and its fifth, often played on the lower strings of the guitar.
Power chords are a staple in many music genres, such as rock, punk, and metal, due to their simple structure and powerful, resonant sound. A power chord typically consists of just two notes: the root and the fifth, which can be played as a two- or three-note shape on the lower strings of the guitar. Because power chords lack a third, they are neither major nor minor, giving them a more neutral and versatile quality that can easily fit into various harmonic contexts.
Power chords can be played using various techniques, such as palm muting or alternate picking, and can be easily moved up and down the fretboard to create riffs and progressions. Mastering power chords can greatly simplify a guitarist’s approach to playing chords and provide a solid foundation for more advanced techniques and harmonic concepts.
Check out these Licklibrary guitar Lessons and Courses to learn more about guitar power chords.
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Power Chords in Rock Guitar: 15 Iconic Songs That Use Them
Power chords, also known as fifth chords or 5-chords, have been the foundation of rock guitar music for decades. These simple, two-note chords capture the raw energy of rock and roll, and have been used in countless iconic songs. Here, Licklibrary presents 15 well-known songs that feature power chords, showcasing the guitarists and bands that helped shape the sound of rock.
1. “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple
Guitarist: Ritchie Blackmore
An undeniable classic, “Smoke on the Water” features one of the most recognisable power chord riffs in rock history. Ritchie Blackmore’s distinct guitar sound drives this 1972 Deep Purple hit.
Learn to play Smoke On The Water here
2. “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks
Guitarist: Dave Davies
The Kinks’ 1964 breakthrough single, “You Really Got Me” is driven by Dave Davies’ power chord riff. His aggressive playing and guitar distortion were groundbreaking for the time, influencing future generations of rock musicians. “You Really Got Me” was later covered by Van Halen
Learn to play the Van Halen version of ‘You Really Got Me’ here
3. “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath
Guitarist: Tony Iommi
Tony Iommi’s monstrous power chord riff in “Iron Man” helped solidify Black Sabbath as heavy metal pioneers. Released in 1970, the track remains one of the band’s most popular songs.
Learn to play ‘Iron Man’ here
4. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
Guitarist: Kurt Cobain
The 1991 hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” served as Nirvana’s entrance into the mainstream. Kurt Cobain’s explosive power chords embodied the grunge movement, with the song’s riff becoming an anthem for a generation.
Learn to play ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ here
5. “All The Small Things” by Blink-182
Guitarist: Tom DeLonge
“All The Small Things” is a pop-punk classic driven by Tom DeLonge’s catchy power chord progression. Released in 1999, the song catapulted Blink-182 to international stardom.
6. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash
Guitarist: Mick Jones
The Clash’s 1982 hit, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” features a catchy power chord riff courtesy of guitarist Mick Jones. The song remains a staple of punk rock playlists.
7. “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes
Guitarist: Jack White
The infectious power chord riff in “Seven Nation Army” helped The White Stripes break into the mainstream in 2003. Jack White’s minimalist approach to guitar playing became a signature of the band’s sound.
Learn to play ‘Seven Nation Army’ here
8. “Basket Case” by Green Day
Guitarist: Billie Joe Armstrong
Green Day’s 1994 hit, “Basket Case,” is driven by Billie Joe Armstrong’s high-energy power chord progression. The song propelled the band to international fame and solidified their place in the punk rock scene.
Learn to play ‘Basket Case’ here
9. “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream
Guitarist: Eric Clapton
“Sunshine of Your Love” features Eric Clapton’s bluesy power chords in the forefront. Released in 1967, the song is a defining moment for the supergroup Cream.
Learn to play ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ guitar lesson here
10. “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Guitarist: Joan Jett
Joan Jett’s 1982 cover of “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” features a memorable power chord riff that became synonymous with the song. The track remains a rock anthem and showcases Jett’s prowess as a guitarist.
Learn to play ‘I Love Rock n Roll’ guitar lesson here
11. “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”
Pat Benatar’s 1980 hit, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” is driven by Neil Giraldo’s catchy power chord riff. The song helped solidify Benatar’s status as a rock icon and is still a fan favorite today.
12. “My Generation” by The Who
Guitarist: Pete Townshend
The 1965 classic “My Generation” by The Who features Pete Townshend’s powerful use of power chords. Townshend’s aggressive playing and distinctive windmill strumming technique have left an indelible mark on rock guitar.
Learn to play My Generation here
13. “Rock You Like a Hurricane” by Scorpions
Guitarist: Matthias Jabs
“Rock You Like a Hurricane” is a quintessential 80s rock anthem driven by Matthias Jabs’ power chords. Released in 1984, the song became one of the Scorpions’ signature tracks.
Learn to play ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’ guitar lesson here
14. “Helter Skelter” by The Beatles
Guitarist: Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney’s distorted power chords in “Helter Skelter” gave the 1968 song a raw, gritty edge. Though the song is often overshadowed by The Beatles’ extensive discography, it’s considered one of the early precursors to heavy metal and punk rock.
15. “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead
Guitarist: Phil Campbell
Motörhead’s 1980 classic, “Ace of Spades,” features Phil Campbell’s relentless power chords, fusing punk rock energy with heavy metal aggression. The song remains a defining moment in the band’s career.
Learn to play ‘Ace of Spades’ guitar lesson here
These 15 examples represent just a small fraction of the countless songs that have used power chords to create memorable riffs and anthems. Power chords have played an essential role in shaping the sound of rock guitar, and their simplicity and versatility ensure that they will continue to be a staple in rock music for years to come.