Power Chords & Barre Chords

Garage rock was one of the primary influences on punk rock, and a punk staple is also an essential technique in garage rock – the power chord. This is a more focused, punchy version of a chord played in a single shape which can be moved up and down the fretboard. These are also related to barre chords, which are also moveable. These are vital for playing many garage rock songs; otherwise you’ll soon get tied up switching between all of the “open” chord shapes you’ve just learned when you should be rocking out.

Power Chords

Although barre chords are more commonly used in garage rock, power chords are much simpler and produce a pretty similar effect. Musically, it’s a normal chord stripped of the fourth altogether, removing the emotional connotations and creating a weapon for no-frills rock. Here’s the basic shape:

The best thing about power chords is that they’re completely moveable. The G version shown above has your index finger at the third fret of the E string, which is a G note. This always tells you which chord you’re playing, so if you move it two frets further up (to the fifth fret) you’re playing an A. The fret between those is a G#/Ab (these are the same thing). Remember, there is no sharp between B and C or E and F. You can also play power chord shapes on the A, D and G strings. This means if you move the G power chord shape down by one string, it becomes a C power chord.

Try to play a garage rock style riff with power chords. You can use a progression from the last lesson, such as C, G, A, to see how it sounds. If you want to play an E power chord, it’s just like an E minor, except you don’t play the three higher strings. You can also play an A with the open A string and the second fret of the D and G strings.

More on the power chord: http://www.guitartricks.com/guitarglossary.php?term=Power%20chord

Barre Chords

The great thing about power chords is that you can move them around, but the loss of the fifth means that there is no emotion contained within them. Although power chords can work with garage rock (and often does with more modern acts), classic artists like the Seeds still use majors and minors. The way to combine these two approaches is using barre chords. They’re a little more difficult to play, but they’re the most challenging thing you’ll have to do to get the garage rock sound.

They’re easy to understand if you think about how power chords work. Think about E minor – to turn it into a power chord, you simply don’t play the higher three strings, because the open G string is the flat third, which makes it sound sad. To play the F power chord, you move the two fretted notes up by one, and replace the open low E string with the first fret (moving this up by one too). Barre chords just bring those extra notes back in, so they look like this:


To play a major chord in the six-string form, you place your second finger down on the G string, making the shape look more like the five-string minor shape. To play a five-string major, you flatten your ring finger down across the D, G and B strings two frets higher than your index finger. It’s like a power chord shape with one extra note covered on the B string. The only difficult element of playing these is getting used to flattening your finger down across all of the frets, so you can practice this separately if you’re struggling. Just fret all of the strings with your index finger and see if all the notes sound out.

This basically means you can play pretty much any chord in either stripped down or barre chord form. So if wanted to learn a riff based on G# and F#, you could do it easily without having to learn some new, complicated chord shapes. To play a seventh barre chord, take the major shape and make a simple change. For six-string shapes, take your ring finger off the D string, and play the note fretted by your index instead. In five-string shapes, you do the same with the note on the G string, so it’s easier to push the notes on the D and B strings down with your ring and pinky fingers.