I'm trying to play various songs using only power chords. I'm curious to know how could I play the minors and the 7th chords using the power chords. Right now, all I do is use the drop-D tuning and use the fat three strings to play the chords. When ever I need to play a major or minor or even the 7th chord, I use the same chord. My question is,

Is it possible to play the minors and 7ths differently(producing distinguished sounds) using power chords, or do all the variations generalise into a single power chord?

  • 4
    Power cord is usually 1 and 5. Major and minor chords need a third to define them Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 14:10

4 Answers 4


Simple answer - no. Power chords are made up from 1 and 5 of any major or minor scale. It doesn't matter which, because the two notes will be the same for each key. Trouble is on guitar, there's no space to put the defining 3 or 7 in between - you've used up the bottom 2, sometimes 3 strings.

I say defining because 3 tells if a chord is major or minor. Power chords - 5ths - just don't do that.In E-shaped barre chords, the 3rd string usually provides the 3rd of the chord, so no longer are you playing a 'power chord'.

It's time to play 'proper' chords, by the sound of it, using at least three different note names, spread out over the frets, sometimes doubled. When you're o.k. with majors and minors, move on to 7ths - there are 3 main 7ths to play, dominant, with a major 3 and b7; minor, with a minor 3 and b7; and major, with a major 3 and major 7. You'll maybe wonder why you thought power chords could be the answer to everything, as by then, you'll hear some great harmony, and sound like a muso!


Power chords are used in connection with distortion, and distortion produces frequencies that are not there to start with. That's why a power chord does not sound all that impressive when played through a clean amp.

Now if we are talking about a pure fifth, the frequency of the fifth is 3/2 that of the base frequency, and the frequency difference then is 1/2 of the base frequency, an octave below. So the fundamental frequency of the resulting signal is an octave below what you play, but due to the distortion, it has a number of overtones. The first two overtones are the fundamentals you started with, then an octave above your lower fundamental, then a pure major third above that, another fifth, and then a seventh. And then stuff gets fuzzier.

So assuming strong distortion, the main motivation for power chords, you already have the character of a major chord, and the character of a seventh chord wrapped into your sound.

That means that a seventh is sort of redundant (and the distortion seventh you hear is a bit lower than a proper seventh anyway so they'd clash), and a minor chord is really going to mess and muddy up what you already have there sound-wise.

So if you want that kind of differentiation, turn your distortion down until power chords sound boring and use full chords instead.

  • The frequencies are there to start with, as overtones or harmonics. It's just that they are enhanced by the distortion, and so are more easily heard, I believe. The problem with more than the 5th interval is that each extra note produces its own overtones, which makes it all sound pretty muddy, when overdriven.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 16:41

Your question undertone that you doesn't know how chords are constructed. Chords are build on the top of scales.

When you play a major scale note by note, if you keep the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes, and play them together, you'll get a major chord. Do the same thing using a minor scale, you'll get a minor chord. If you do that on a piano, you'll quickly see that 1st and 5th are the same whenever you play major or minor, whereas the 3 will be different. In this sense, you can say that the 3 "determines" if you play a major or minor chord.

The problem (in your case) with power chords is that they only have 1st and 5th. 1 on E string, 5 on A string and 1 (+1 octave) on the G string. Which means that you cannot know if you are playing a major or minor.

The same stands for 7th (and major 7th) chords. Play your scale note by note and add the 7th note.


I'm curious to know how could I play the minors and the 7th chords using the power chords.

Can I assume that you're starting from the assumption that you can replace a power chord with a major chord?

If I'm right, ask yourself - why do you think that? It's not usually the case that a power chord sounds exactly like a major chord built on the same root note. So we're not using a power chord because it is a way of playing a major chord - we're using it instead of a major chord.

If a song has a chord progression C - C - F - G (all those chords being major), and instead we play C5 - C5 - F5 - G5, then it doesn't sound the same. However, you still have a sense of the same harmonic movement that the original chord progression has. So the power chord version will 'work', and be recognisable as the same song if you sing the melody over the top.

Now, let's consider the chord progression C - F - G - A minor - F - G - C. What happens if we decide to play C5 - 5F - G5 - A5 - F5 - G5 - C5 as a substitute? It's possibly subjective, but to me it's a similar result as before : The A5 power chord works fine as a substitute for the A minor chord, and in fact in my head I hear it as a minor chord, possibly due to my expectations of how harmony works in C major. So (subjectively) you can use power chords as a substitute for minor chords.

What about sevenths? Well, try playing a song with this variation of the 12-bar blues progression:

 C                          F                         C       C7
 I wanna play the blues,    but I only know the power chords                 

 F                          F7                        C       C7
 Yeah, I wanna play the blues,    but I only know the power chords    

 G                               F                                  C      G7
 Well, that root and that fifth  is all my stiff little fingers can afford...

Now try playing (and singing!) it with just power chords - C5, F5, and G5. Does it sound the same? Again, no. Is it recognisable as basically the same harmonic motion and song? To a large extent, to most listeners, yes I think it will be. So again, you can use power chords as a substitute for seventh chords.

Is it possible to play the minors and 7ths differently(producing distinguished sounds) using power chords, or do all the variations generalise into a single power chord?

Simplistically (and somewhat subjectively) speaking, you're on the right lines when you say they generalise to a single power chord. That doesn't mean that a power chord is just the same as (or as good as) playing a major, minor, or seventh, but in many contexts, it will do the job in the context of a song.

  • 1
    There must be thousands of songs out there that would lose an awful lot by being played exclusively with power chords.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 15:12
  • Yeah, I will keep that in mind @Tim ... I usually play with proper chords. I was just figuring out other ways to play the same song.. My lack of musical knowledge made me ask such a question :) .
    – Cherubim
    Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 15:31
  • @Tim I don't think many would argue with you there - I certainly wouldn't - and I tried to be careful not to imply otherwise in my answer. All I'm saying is that the same logic that allows one to consider using a power chord in place of a major chord remains subjectively valid IMO for a minor or seventh chord. That won't necessarily mean it will 'work' musically (but that's true even with major chords). Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 15:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.