Power Chords Part 1

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A chord is three or more different notes played together,.  That's usually the one, a third of some kind (major or minor) and a perfect fifth.  This combination of three notes is generally too messy and dense to play with very much distortion.  During the rock era, the chord was simplified to exclude the third.  This saves a lot of hassle with whether the chord is major or minor, or borrowed from a parallel key.

This simple shape is incredibly powerful because it allows anyone to write a song they can play on  acranked up amp.  However, after fifty years or so, the same truncated chord voicings can become boring.

New Definition:  A power chord is any two notes that paraphrase a larger chord.

Here is a power chord primer to give you some new ideas for loud rhythm playing the chords follow a general progression of complexity.


The Basics
 

The most familiar shape of a power chord is a note and the fifth above it.
To this we add the octave.
If we remobe the original note and play only the fifth and root in the higher octave, we get the third most common voicing, used moke recognizably in "Smoke on the Water."  This interval is the perfect fourth, the inversion of a perfect fifth.

Metal bands sometimes use a "double fifth" voicing to add extra lows and dissonance to a power chord with a root on the A string.

The Next Step

Instead of using the fifth, we can get more color by making power chords from the root and the third of the chord.  HOwever, as thirds have major or minor quality, these power chords must agree with the chord they substitute.  

There are two common shapes for power chords made with thirds:  the Major and minor.

We can make two more by adding the octave of the root:

Instead of using the same voicing over and over, we can now take the chord progressions and substitute for them in different ways to create more interest and even some voice-leading.

A good example of this is the intro riff from Def Leppard's "Photograph."  It uses the inverted power chord, a major third. the regular power chord and then the inverted one again.  This creates memorable voice leading and keeps the riff compact on the fingerboard:

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