In this instructable you will learn how to play the traditional power chord. This is the crutch that nearly all of rock music rests upon. The ability to transition quickly between different chord notes is a wonderful tool for any beginning guitarist.
Step 1: Learning the Important Parts of Your Guitar
There are many parts that I will refer you to in order to achieve the infamous power chord. The headstock (the home of the tuning pegs), the fret board (where you will press your fingers on strings to play different notes), the body (where the rhythmic strumming happens), and the neck (which houses the fretboard) are all of the truly important parts. There are many other less important parts to know for this instructable like the nut, the tailpiece, the pick guard, and many others. All of the important parts are shown above.
Step 2: String Notes
The desired string notes for "standard tuning" are listed above. Though there are many different tunings, standard tuning is the usual... standard.
Step 3: Tuning Your Guitar
In order to achieve the pitch you'd like you'll need to be able to find the pitch. If you don't have perfect pitch there are many tuning apps (gStrings is the one I use) that you can use to digitally tune your guitar. They work by showing you the pitch on a dial, or gauge, when you pluck a string on the guitar. You can also use a standard tuner, many of which are available at your local music store.
All you have to do to change the pitch is pluck a string and turn the tuning peg connected to that string until the dial on your tuning app or tuner reads the desired note.
The biggest string is an E note, the next is an A, then D, G, B, and a high E.
If you can't figure it out, or you're just lazy, you could always have your local music store guitar guru do it for you. I would suggest learning it yourself because you'll probably waste a lot of time and gasoline running back and forth to the music store.
I imagine your local guitar guru will probably get tired of rolling his eyes, as well.
Step 4: Knowing Which Finger Is Which
I know it seems weird, but you'll need to know which finger is which. This is pretty simple. You have your thumb, then your first, your second, your third, and your fourth finger. This is pretty important.
Step 5: The Fret Board
The fret board consists of fret bars that divide the board into multiple note tones. They are generally referred to in order by number, though each fret and its corresponding string have note names as well. For instance, the first fret on the E string, when the string is pressed down, makes an F note when plucked.
Step 6: Reading a Chord Chart
A good chord chart will look like the one above. You should picture it as if you are holding your guitar vertically in front of you as the second picture shows. The letter and number on the top of the chart represents the chord name. Each vertical line represents a string. An X above the line means you should not play that string. An O over the line means that you should let that string ring "open", or without fretting with your finger. Each horizontal line represents a fret bar. Along the right side you will often see a fret designation ("3rd fret") which tells you where your first finger is supposed to be on the fret board. The black dots represent your fingers. The numbers inside each dot tell you which finger should be in that position.
Step 7: Holding a Pick
Many people like to use a pick when playing guitar, though it is optional. I often don't use a pick because I have developed some pretty gnarly calluses and don't necessarily need one.
The plus side to playing with a pick is that you can achieve a very clear tone, the down side is that you lose the ability to finger pick strings individually. It really is up to you, though.
To hold a pick put it between your thumb and first finger on your dominant hand with the pointed side out and the blunt side towards your palm. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Step 8: Playing a Note (step 1)
In order to achieve a clean, clear note you must know how to hold the neck of the guitar correctly. Using your non-dominant hand (mine is my left) hold the neck of the guitar with your thumb in a bowed position and your fingers on the front of the fretboard. This may take some getting used to, but don't be lazy as this will improve the tone and clarity of your notes immensely. It will also improve your ability to play barre chords in the future.
Barre chords consist of your first finger in a bar across one fret entirely and your other fingers making a chord formation. The advantage of barre chords is their mobility. Using the same chord formation you can simply change to a different fret and thereby play a different chord note entirely. Pretty useful.
Step 9: Playing a Note (step 2)
With your thumb still pressing on the back of the neck place your favorite finger on the fret board, on whichever fret and string your heart desires. Make sure to keep your thumb and finger parallel while keeping your finger as close to the body side of the fret as you can in order to reduce vibration and play a clearer note.
The picture illustrates desired fret position (close to the fret bar, but not on it).
Step 10: Playing a Note (Step 3)
While still holding your non-dominant hand's thumb on the back of the neck and pressing your chosen finger on the fret and string of your desire, as close to the body side of the fret as you can, take your dominant hand and strike one of the strings with the pointed end of the pick in order to make it vibrate and therefore play a note.
Wahoo! Your first note!
Step 11: The Power Chord
The power chord is the easiest and therefore most common chord in rock music. It requires three fingers; your first, third, and fourth. Your first finger is what denotes the root note of the chord you are playing. The root note is what gives your chord its name. For example, if your first finger is on the third fret, as shown above, you would be playing a G chord. This chord can be played anywhere on the low E string or the A string of the guitar.
Step 12: Power Chord Finger Placement
First place your first finger on the third fret of the guitar. Then place your third finger on the fifth fret of the A string of your guitar. After that place your fourth finger right next to the third finger on the fifth fret of the D string of the guitar. Press your fingers with as much strength as you can muster.
Step 13: Muting
In order to only play the strings you want to you will need to know how to mute strings. When playing a power chord it is common to use your first finger to silence the G, B, and e strings. This is accomplished by lightly resting your finger across the strings you wish to be quiet. Over time you will develop the ability to pick only the strings you wish, but muting will be useful anyway so it's not a bad thing to know how to do.
Step 14: Strumming
While you're holding your fingers in position on the strings use your dominant hand to rake the pick across the E, A, and D strings.
Viola! Your first power chord. This would be called a G5 chord if you are looking at chord charts.
Now you can play any chord you'd like simply by placing this finger formation with your first (root) finger on the note you want to play.