Normally a C power chord is played by using C and the G in the same octave (that is, 3rd fret of 5th string and 5th fret of 4th string). But a friend says the C power chord can be played just by barring the 6th and 5th string at 3rd fret, that is C and the lower G note.

Is that possible? Will it sound good if I play that in place of the standard C power chord?

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    E:3, A:3, D:5, G:5, is my favourite way to play this power chord :) Commented Dec 24, 2012 at 11:09
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    for what is worth, this kind of inversion is my preferred way of playing the opening riff from “Smoke on the Water”. I wouldn't have it any other way.
    – Agos
    Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 12:24

8 Answers 8


It has a different total quality, especially when you use distortion, so the only way to see if it works in your situation is to try it.

It is one of several power chord inversions you can play with; try 5th fret on E string and 6th fret on A, or 6 and 5, or 7 and 5 etc- many possibilities.

Update As an example, Faith No More have a lot of riff variants which sound broadly the same within the same song until you realise that the sequence of power chords is a different inversion each time. Listen to Surprise You're Dead a few times to see what I mean.

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    Yes, the answer to "will it sound good if I ..." is always "try it".
    – slim
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 10:25
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    Often the bass will be playing a C anyway, so you'll end up with CGC (low to high) as an ensemble.
    – Dave
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 14:01

Two notes which are a fifth apart will have a 3:2 frequency ratio. If one drops the upper note by an octave, the ratio will be 1.5:2, which in normalized form would be 3:4. When distortion is applied, frequency ratios become far more important than musical intervals.

Playing a note on a normal guitar string will actually generate many frequencies, all of which are generally very close to being multiples of the fundamental. Distortion will generally turn a set of frequencies into a broader set which may contain any frequency that is the sum of any combination of positive or negative multiples of frequencies present in the original. For example, if one fed into a distortion box a signal consisting of pure 100Hz and 111Hz tones, the output could include 200Hz, 222Hz, 211Hz, 311Hz, 122Hz (+2 x 111 + -1 x 100), 89Hz (+2 x 100 + -1 * 111), and many other frequencies. Rather a jumbled mess.

If two tones are played a perfect fifth apart, their frequencies will have a 3:2 ratio. This means that all multiples of them will be multiples of half the lower frequency (or a third the upper), and all combinations of multiples will likewise be multiples of half the lower frequency. The net effect is that feeding a power chord through a distortion box, will yield a result similar to putting a note an octave lower through some (possibly different) kind of distortion box.

If the tones are played a perfect fourth apart, their frequencies will have a 4:3 ratio. This means multiples of them will be multiples of 1/4 of the upper frequency (or 1/3 the lower). The effect will be similar to putting through a distortion box a note two octaves below the upper note, though unless one is using the middle or upper ranges on a guitar, that "resultant" tone will be too low to really be perceived as a pitch. Further, the lower of the tones will compete for "recognition" with that resultant, so the sound will be much less clear.


What you've described is a fourth.

A 5th and 4th are the same, but where the bass note is what you would normally use as a 5th.

E (7th fret, 5th string) + B (9th fret, 4th string) = E with the fifth B (7th fret, 6th string) + E (7th fret, 5th string) = E is the fourth

EDIT: (This looked fine as I was writing it, but when it was posted it doesn't seem to work... so, I'm not sure how to write tab on this)

E:7 A:7 D:9 G:9 (where the numbers are the fret, and letters are string obviously)

Just play any normal 5th chord that you would, and play the fret on the string above, and you'll see what I'm getting at.

I've also included a link to a website that shows you the same thing.


  • I think made things more confusing. B is E's fifth - because E,F,G,A,B is five notes. E is B's 4th because B,C,D,E is four notes. But if the chord I want is an E, I wouldn't describe it as B and its 4th -- I'd describe it as E and its fifth, with the fifth played an octave lower. That's because we want to keep in mind what the tonic is.
    – slim
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 14:28
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    jTab is supported here if you'd like to learn how to use it. Otherwise if you're looking for fixed formatting, put <pre> before the relevant text and </pre> after.
    – user28
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 16:24
  • It's not a forth if the root is (using the original posted example) considered the C. Isn't G the fifth of C regardless of where they are played?? Every chord can be called multiple names depending on the usage. Like most things in music, context is key. Commented Dec 24, 2012 at 11:06

Yes, you can play a 5th below the root string, but it becomes a 4th at that point. It will have a distinctly darker sound than a typical power chord so I don't know that they can be interchanged freely, but it is useful in it's own right.

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    It's not a forth if the root is (using the original posted example) considered the C. Isn't G the fifth of C regardless of where they are played?? Every chord can be called multiple names depending on the usage. Like most things in music, context is key. Commented Dec 24, 2012 at 11:07

It's an inversion and it will sound different.

In drop D tuning, barring the 6th and 5th string at the 3rd fret is a typical power chord. So it's possible that maybe your friend doesn't know anything other than drop D tuning...


If the root is the C and the other note a G then the chord described is still a fifth, in this case C5. Context is king.


It's getting too semantic!! If you play a C and a G above or below it, it's still a pwer chord (C5). The G is always a pefect 5th of C. Talking about a 4th gives a different chord - look at the chord being played in that bar - if it's a C then a G note will fit perfectly. If it's a G chord then the C note won't fit anyway.....


Yes. Megadeth, Rush, countless bands do it. The 1/4 combination is the inversion of the 1/5. It sounds lower in pitch with the 5th as the root note and subtly implies a 1st an octave below in bass frequency; but could be used as fourth or fifth depending on context.


3,5 (A,D string) = C5. 3,3 (E, A string) is G4 but also C5. With distortion and palm muting listen for the implied lower note. Bands like to do this to get heavier lower toned chords without tuning down. Try practicing the blues scale using fourths, then play it with fifths. Fifths on A string, Fourths on E. If heavy metal or punk music is what you're playing these chords are indispensable. From there test sus4s and sus2s plus their inversions. These and tritonal-quartal based chords, along with augmented 5ths will cover all your power chord needs. Example:

"The Slayer chord" (intervals 1 b5 7) E-3 A-4 D-4. Listen to it's power, unbalance, and evil. This dissonance will spice up close voiced power chord riffs. "The Stone Temple Pilots chord" (intervals 1 4 7) E-3 A-3 D-4. More melodic than the first. "The Melvins/ Sub Pop chord" (1 4 b7)

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