Essential Metal Chords

Power Chords On The E String

To start things off, you’ll take a look at the most common ingredient in metal rhythm guitar playing – power chords.

Power chords are absolutely essential in heavy metal, and as a rhythm player you must be able to play them confidently, all over the guitar neck.

Power chords are made up of just two notes – the root note and a perfect fifth above it.

Thankfully, playing power chords is quite easy and I’m going to give you some pro tips to make sure you’re doing it the right way from the beginning.

Starting with the power chords that are on the low E string, the first essential chord you must know is the E5 chord.

The two notes in this chord are the open E string (the root note) and the B note (the fifth) on the second fret of the A string:

Essential Metal Chords - E5 Power Chord Left-Hand Position

As you can see, I’m using my first finger on the second fret of the A string.

Notice how my finger is quite straight. It isn’t as bent as it would normally be with a basic open chord like C Major here:

Essential Metal Chords - C Major Chord Front and Side View

With a regular chord like C Major, you bend your fingers like this to let the open strings ring out along with the fretted notes.

Compare the regular C Major chord with the E5 power chord by looking at both of them from the side view:

Essential Metal Chords - C Major and E5 Chord Side View

As you can see, with the E5 power chord it is important to lightly rest the first finger across the other strings.

This is to stop the other strings ringing if you accidentally hit them. The only place you must apply hard pressure is the A string on the second fret.

With the E5 power chord, your thumb should be in line with the third fret. This is to make sure you have a good grip on the neck. Try it out for yourself:

Essential Metal Chords - E5 Power Chord Thumb Position

You’ll know that you’ve done it right if you deliberately hit the E, A, D and G strings and only hear the bottom two strings, E and A.

Spend some time experimenting with this and getting it right. It’s very important that this chord sounds right, with no other unwanted strings.

Next, you’ll look at the other essential power chord shape on the low E string. This is the F#5 power chord:

Essential Metal Chords - F#5 Power Chord Left-Hand Position

To get to the F#5 power chord shape from the E5 chord, the movement is done in two simple steps.

The first step is to move the first finger straight up to the low E string on the second fret:

Essential Metal Chords - E5 and F#5 Power Chord Left-Hand Positions

Once you have this ready, take a look at your pinky (little) finger, as shown in the image above. You should see that it’s already in line with the fourth fret.

The second step is to place this finger on the fourth fret of the A string.

If you can’t reach it, you may have your thumb too high so be sure to check it’s at the back of the neck.

Make sure your fingers are quite straight and resting lightly on the unwanted strings underneath.

Essential Metal Chords - F#5 Power Chord Front and Side View

Check your thumb is behind the third fret as you did with the E5 chord.

If your thumb went to the side, don’t worry, that can happen at first. Just shift it back to a straight position:

Essential Metal Chords - Power Chord Thumb Correct and Incorrect Positions

Now you can play the chord. Test the chord by playing the bottom four strings (E, A, D and G) and check that only the E and A strings are ringing.

You may find that the little finger is harder to control here. If it is, don’t worry too much right now.

With some practice it’ll get stronger and easier. As long as you just aim to hit the two strings, you’ll be okay.

Why I use the pinky finger:

If you have already played power chords before you may look at the diagrams and be surprised to see that I use the pinky finger on the A or D string.

I prefer to use the pinky, as I find it lines up with the fret better.

Because of this, I find I can move around the neck more easily and with greater speed.

All of the power chord diagrams in this guide will be labeled with the pinky finger. If you feel more comfortable using the ring finger instead, that’s fine.

Experiment with both fingers and use what is best for your hands and your playing.

Here are the two chord diagrams you’ll need for your first exercise:

Essential Metal Chords - E5 and F#5 Power Chord Diagrams

To play the following exercise, you’ll need to keep your thumb pointing straight up and at the back of the neck.

To keep movement to a minimum, you can keep the thumb still throughout this particular exercise. Only the fingers need to move:

Essential Metal Chords - E5 and F#5 Power Chord Top View

Play along. You’ll need to keep each chord ringing for four beats:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 1

Once you have this exercise playing in time with the beat, add a second strum to each chord.

Now each chord will ring for two beats:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 2

The power chord shape that’s used for F#5 is very common in metal. The good news is that it’s a moveable shape.

You can move this shape to any fret on the neck and you’ll still have a power chord.

If you take a look at the next chord shape for G5, you’ll see that it’s the same shape but one fret higher than F#5:

Essential Metal Chords - F#5 and G5 Power Chord Diagrams

To play the G5 chord shape, make sure you have the F#5 ready on the neck.

Keep your hand ‘frozen’ still, release the pressure from your fingers slightly, and shift your fingers to the third and fifth frets by moving your arm to the right.

Remember that your thumb should always be at the back of the neck and in between the two frets where your fingers are placed.

When you get to the G5 power chord, your thumb should now be behind the fourth fret.

This will enable you to get a solid grip on the neck and apply equal pressure to it with your fingers.

Essential Metal Chords - F#5 to G5 Power Chord Thumb Position

In the next exercise, you’ll move between the F#5 and G5 power chords. In the last two bars you’ll only hold each chord for two beats at a time.

Try to make the movements quickly and efficiently. The best way to do this is to keep your hand and finger movements to a minimum.

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 3

Be aware that you’ll be using these kinds of chords a lot in metal rhythm guitar playing. Work through the exercises until they’re sounding clean and in time with the beat.

Now you’ve worked through that, the next step is to combine these power chords together into one exercise:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 4

As I explained earlier, you can move the second power chord shape up and down the neck so long as you stay on the E string.

As you move up the neck to the higher frets you’ll notice that the frets get smaller, so take care with your finger positions.

The main point is to keep the fingers as close to the frets as you can without touching them.

Here’s the F#5 power chord on the second fret, and the D5 power chord on the tenth fret:

Essential Metal Chords - F#5 and D5 Power Chords

Notice how much smaller the frets are at the tenth fret! Be careful not to let your little finger slip onto a higher fret when moving up the neck.

In the next exercise I’ve included four more power chords – A5, B5, C5 and D5. They’re all located on the low E string.

Be careful when you get to the D5 chord on the tenth fret. You may find it harder to keep your thumb at the back of the neck.

If you do, one solution is to push the guitar neck out in front of you. This will give your left arm a little more space to move.

Also watch out for the A5 and G5 chords in the final bar. You’ll be jumping down five frets at first, and don’t forget they only last for two beats each.

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 5

Again, take your time with these exercises. Repeat them over and over until your movements are natural and in time.

Power Chords On The A String

In the last section you focused on playing power chords with root notes on the low E string.

You can play the same chords rooted on the A string in exactly the same way.

The first power chord you’ll learn is A5. This power chord is much like the E5 chord you learned in the last section:

Essential Metal Chords - E5 and A5 Power Chord Diagrams

As well as looking just like the E5 chord, it sounds exactly the same as the A5 you played before on the E string at the fifth fret in Exercise 5.

This shape is just another way to play the same chord. As you learn more songs, you’ll see how useful it is to have this chord in two places.

To build this chord on the neck, you should follow the same procedure as you did with the E5 chord earlier.

The only difference is that this chord is one string lower than the E5.

Remember to move your thumb to the back of the neck and behind the third fret:

Essential Metal Chords - A5 Power Chord Front and Side View

Play the A and D strings together and you’ll hear the A5 chord. Use the first finger to mute the unwanted strings below.

It’s a good idea to practice switching between the E5 and A5 power chords.

To do this effectively, all you have to do is move your first finger down one string when going from E5 to A5. This is a small and easy movement.

The other consideration to make is the ringing open E string from the E5 chord. You don’t want this to ring when you play the A5.

Now, there are a few ways you can tackle this. The easiest way is to break the rules a little with your thumb.

As you move over to the A5 from the E5, slide your thumb up over the top of the neck slightly, like this:

Essential Metal Chords - A5 Power Chord Thumb Over Neck

With a little practice you’ll find that the fleshy part of your thumb will touch the E string and this will stop it from ringing any longer.

The downside of this method is that you have to move your thumb back behind the neck again when you go to another chord.

This is another job you have to do while you’re playing. If you can avoid it, it will be better in the long run.

Essential Metal Chords - A5 and E5 Power Chord Front View

Alternatively, another way to dampen the open E string is to use the picking hand instead.

This way, the thumb can stay at the back of the neck, giving your fingers a stronger grip on the neck.

Look at the following images. The image on the left shows the picking hand before it strikes the A5 chord.

The image on the right shows the picking hand as it strikes the A string for the chord.

Notice how the flesh of the palm comes into contact with the E string. This technique will dampen the string:

Essential Metal Chords - A5 Power Chord String Dampening

As you can see, I’ve gone into quite a lot of detail here. This is because I want to make sure you get this chord change right.

After many years of playing metal I can tell you that changing power chords cleanly and smoothly is very important as a rhythm player.

Listen to amazing rhythm guitar players like Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) and Dino Casares (Fear Factory), and you’ll hear that they’re always aiming for a precision performance.

As a style, metal music relies on all the musicians in a band synchronizing together like parts in a machine.

This means that your timing and accuracy should be the highest priority while playing.

Unlike jazz and blues styles, where being slightly off the beat can sometimes be a good thing, the opposite is true in metal.

Whatever method you choose to dampen open strings while playing, make sure you’re comfortable and that it sounds good.

Practice changing between the E5 and A5 power chords, trying both methods of dampening the E string when going to A5:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 6

Now you’ll combine the A5 with some of the power chords you learned on the E string from the last section.

For the next exercise, every chord will last for two beats. Take care in the last bar when jumping from the third fret to the second fret:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 7

The next set of exercises introduces more power chords you can play that are rooted on the A string.

You’ll start with the B5 power chord on the second fret. Going from A5 to B5 will be exactly like going from E5 to F#5 on the E string:

Essential Metal Chords - E5 and F#5 Power Chord Diagrams
Essential Metal Chords - A5 and B5 Power Chord Diagrams
Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 8

Here are two more new chords for you to play that are also rooted on the A string – the C5 and D5.

As with the A5 chord, the D5 sounds exactly the same as the D5 on the tenth fret of the E string (see Exercise 5).

Conveniently, it’s now closer to the other chords you’ve been playing, as it’s located on the fifth fret:

Essential Metal Chords - C5 and D5 Power Chord Diagrams

As you play the next exercise, take care when jumping up two frets from the C5 to the D5.

Make sure to keep your fingers ‘frozen’ in position by tensing them a little as you move up and down the neck between chords:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 9

Another power chord you should attempt to play is an E5.

You have already played an E5, but this one is an octave higher, rooted on the seventh fret of the A string:

Essential Metal Chords - E5 Power Chord Diagram Seventh Fret

Now that you’ve added another version of E5 to your power chord collection, the next exercise combines all of the power chords you’ve looked at so far.

The primary aim of this exercise is to get you moving between the chords rooted on the E and A strings.

Rhythmically, this one is a little different. The chords come in sets of three. The first two are two beats long, and the third is always four beats long.

This will give you a bit more time to move between the strings:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 10

The following exercise is the same as the last, but with the chords reversed.

Use this one to practice descending the neck with the power chords:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 11

If you’ve completed all of the exercises, you should now feel comfortable with playing these power chords all over the neck.

These exercises are at a slow speed of 60 beats per minute for a reason.

This is so that you can really work on your technique and timing when playing the chords.

As always, go back over them a few more times to make sure the timing is good and that your fingers are in the right position.

In the next section, you’ll see how you can spice up your power chord playing with some cool slide techniques.

Sliding Power Chords

If you’ve worked your way through the last few sections, I’m sure you’re feeling a lot better about power chords.

Now it’s time to take your power chord playing to the next level. You’ll do this by adding slides to them.

You may have tried using slides before on single notes, but it’s also possible to perform slides on power chords.

In fact, you can slide up to six notes on the guitar at the same time, so long as the chord shape remains the same.

When playing metal, most of the time you’ll only be sliding across a maximum of three strings at any particular moment.

Essential Listening:

Power Chord Slides from Metallica:

'Master Of Puppets' from Master Of Puppets 

Listen from 00:52 – 01:27

Click on the image to listen:

Essential Metal Chords - Metallica - Master of Puppets

The cool thing about slides is that you only have to strum the strings once to play two different chords.

So to start, take a look at how slides are notated in guitar tab:

Essential Metal Chords - Sliding Power Chords Notation

The key to reading this notation correctly is to look at the diagonal lines that appear between the two power chords on the tab.

In the first example on the left, the lines are going upward to the right. This tells you to slide up to a higher fret.

The second example on the right shows the diagonal lines going downward to the left, meaning you need to slide down to a lower fret.

After figuring out the direction, you just need to look at the starting and ending frets and you’re ready to play.

Now that you’re more comfortable with the power chords, the following examples will get you sliding between them.

Apply a strong, firm pressure with both fingers on the neck as you perform the slide between the frets.

Avoid bending the strings as you slide. If this happens, you’re ‘pulling’ the strings down toward the floor.

The solution is to focus on applying pressure directly onto the neck as you slide up or down.

This is very important, and will keep the notes of the chord consistently in tune.

Essential Listening:

Power Chord Slides from Slayer:

'Postmortem' from Reign In Blood

Listen from  00:00 – 00:22

Click on the image to listen:

Essential Metal Chords - Slayer - Reign in Blood

I’ve made the tempo faster here, which will encourage you to slide with a little more speed and pressure on the strings.

Remember that you only need to strike the strings once. This strum will always be on the first chord on the left.

The first slide will be between F#5 and G5 on the low E string. I’ve also included downward slides, so watch out for them, too:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 12

Your next step is to slide between chords that are two frets apart. I’ve written the following example to demonstrate this.

Take care when jumping back from the fifth fret to the second fret to get to the open-string E5 and A5 power chords:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 13

Make sure you go over the last few exercises until they are sounding right and in time with the beat.

Essential Listening:

Power Chord Slides from Megadeth:

'Recipe for Hate... Warhorse' from The World Needs A Hero 

Listen from 03:24 – 03:47

Click on the image to listen:

Essential Metal Chords - Megadeth - The World Needs A Hero

The next example involves sliding in one direction and then immediately in the opposite direction.

Because of these slides, at various points in the exercise you’ll play four power chords with only two strums:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 14

If you can handle these exercises, now you can try combining the one-fret slides with two-fret slides.

Pay attention to the fret numbers here as well as the slide directions:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 15

Finally, apart from going over these examples a few more times, I’d recommend you try another experiment that doesn’t require tab or a backing track.

Make a power chord anywhere on the neck and practice sliding from this power chord to any other fret on the same set of strings.

It could be four, five or even twelve frets, higher or lower – it’s up to you.

The key here is to experiment on your own and get to know how it feels sliding up and down the guitar neck.

As a general tip, you should apply this method of experimentation with any new guitar technique you come across.

Next, I’ll show you how to find any power chord that you could ever need on the guitar neck.

How To Find Any Power Chord

One of the most important aspects of playing metal rhythm guitar is your ability to locate and play power chords.

Power chords don’t just provide the harmony for metal songs; they’re used in riffs, too.

Knowing where they all are at any moment will give you a big advantage as a metal rhythm guitar player.

Not only this, but knowing where they are on the neck will boost your chord knowledge in general, speeding up learning other songs in different styles.

Chord diagrams are great, but what if I told you there was a way to find any power chord without chord books, diagrams or tablature?

What if I also told you that it was easy to learn?

Sounds good, right? Let’s get started.

The first thing to learn is that power chords have a root note. The root note of a B5 chord is a B note. The root note of a C#5 is a C#, and so on.

You can also think of the root note as the note that the chord is named after.

In the power chord shapes you’ve looked at so far, the root notes are always on the lowest string of the chord.

To illustrate this I’ve given you two examples here. There’s a G5 on the low E string and a D5 on the A string.

The root notes are highlighted as a red dot:

Essential Metal Chords - G5 and D5 Power Chord Diagrams

Now you know where the root notes are found on the power chords, the next step is to know where the root notes are on the neck.

This is the key to finding any power chord you want.

You may be thinking that knowing the name of every note that lies on the E and A strings is a difficult task with up to twenty-four frets!

In reality, it is incredibly easy. I’ve shown all of my guitar students this method before and not one of them has struggled with it yet.

Do you know the names of all of the notes in music? If you do, you’re already halfway there.

If you don’t, here’s a quick and easy way to learn them.

I’m going to use a little bit of music theory here.

If you don’t have any theory knowledge, don’t worry because I will explain it to you in a very simple way.

In music there are twelve notes. There are seven regular notes that are named C, D, E, F and so on. Then there are the five sharp/flat notes like F#, Db and A#.

Once you get to the note G, the musical alphabet starts again and goes back to the note A.

Forget all about the sharp/flat notes for a minute. They are easy, but you’ll work on the regular notes first.

Here’s a diagram showing all seven of these notes starting from E, which is the lowest note on guitar:

Essential Metal Chords - Musical Notes

All of the notes are two frets apart from each other except two pairs of notes.

These other two pairs are one fret apart and are shown here with the curved lines underneath them:

Essential Metal Chords - Musical Notes with Semitones

So, from this diagram you can see that there is only one fret between E and F and there is also only one fret between B and C.

E and F

B and C

Remember these two pairs are one fret apart, and the rest is easy.

Write it down, stick it on the wall – do whatever you can to remind yourself of this on a daily basis.

All the other notes are two frets apart, shown here with the triangle-shaped lines above them:

Essential Metal Chords - Musical Notes with Tones and Semitones

Why did I start with the E note? This is the lowest note on the guitar; more specifically, it is the lowest note on the low E string.

You can find every regular note on the E string by yourself now. Just remember this rule:

There is only one fret between E and F, and between B and C.

All the other notes are two frets apart.

Look at this diagram of the guitar neck and you will see exactly the same pattern:

Essential Metal Chords - Notes on the Low E String

The pattern continues in the same way all the way up the string until you run out of frets.

The following exercise shows how you can practice this each day to learn where the notes lie on the neck.

Only use the first finger for this exercise. It can become confusing if you start using other fingers:

  1. You don’t need the fretboard diagram, just look at your guitar for this.
  2. Start thinking of the open-string area behind the nut as ‘fret zero’. This is the note E.
  3. There is only one fret between E and F. Go up one fret to play the note F.
  4. The following notes G, A and B are all two frets apart. Play these notes and stop when you get to B.
  5. There is only one fret between B and C. Go up one fret to play the note C.
  6. The following notes D and E are two frets apart. Play these notes and stop when you get to E.
  7. Repeat steps 3–6 until you get to the highest fret on the low E string.

Do this a few times and you won’t even need to read that sequence. Very quickly, you’ll get to know it automatically.

What’s great about this exercise is that you only need to look at the guitar while you’re doing it and you’re increasing your knowledge of the fretboard.

The exact same process can be used for learning the notes on the low A string:

Essential Metal Chords - Notes on the A String

The only difference with practicing these notes is that you’ll start on the note A. Remember that ‘fret zero’ is now the open A note.

As there are two frets between A and B, you’ll find that the note B is on the second fret.

Practice learning the notes on these two strings over the next few days in this way and you’ll find that it’s quite easy.

Now, back to the power chords. As I showed you earlier, the root note of the power chord is on the lowest string for the chord.

Let’s say you want an A5 power chord for a song you’re learning.

Work your way up the E string until you get to the note A. Now you have the root note, all you have to do is build the power chord shape on top of it:

Essential Metal Chords - A5 Power Chord on the Guitar Neck

The same process is done for power chords with root notes on the A string.

If you wanted an F5 power chord, for example, you’d work your way up to the F note on that string and then build the chord shape:

Essential Metal Chords - F5 Power Chord on the Guitar Neck

In time, and with a bit of practice, you’ll know where all the power chords are instantly, on both strings.

Play along with the audio demo in the next exercise. At first, you’ll only play the power chords on the E string.

Instead of giving you tab, I’ve just set out a sixteen-bar sequence of power chords. Your task is to find and play each power chord once per bar.

The first exercise is quite easy, if you’ve already taken some time to learn the root notes.

I’ve made the exercise deliberately slow so that you have time to look ahead for the next chord and play it in time.

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 16

If you found that difficult to follow, spend some more time learning the root notes on the E string and then try again.

The next exercise is more challenging, as you’ll be jumping around a bit more than before:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 17

If you can easily find and play these power chords, well done! Now you’ve boosted your knowledge of the neck dramatically.

It gets even better now because you can do exactly the same thing for power chords on the A string.

If you need to remind yourself of the notes on the A string, that’s fine; do that over and over until you’re comfortable with them.

Play along with the next exercise, only using power chords on the A string:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 18

As before, you can now try the next exercise where you’ll have to jump around the A string a bit more to find the chords:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 19

I can’t stress this enough – play through these exercises until you’re confident with them.

Everybody learns at different rates and this is not a competition. Taking your time to absorb this information is the smart thing to do.

Sharps and Flats

If everything has gone as planned, you’ll now be able to find any of the regular notes on the E and A strings and turn them into power chords.

If that’s the case, then great, keep reading. If not, go back until you are happy and then come back here when you are ready.

Earlier, I said you’d work with the regular notes first. So what about the other notes?

These notes are the sharps and flats.

An example of a sharp note would be an F#. The ‘#’ symbol means sharp.

An example of a flat note would be an Ab. The ‘b’ symbol means flat.

I know what you might be thinking at this point:

‘So now I have learned all of the regular notes on the neck, you’re saying I have to learn ANOTHER bunch of notes?!’

Well, yes … and no.

Thankfully, this is very easy, so you don’t have to worry about it at all.

Think about what you’ve learned already. You’ve already learned where all the regular notes are. This is the important part and you’ve already done it.

A sharp symbol (#) just means to take the regular note and move it up one fret.

A flat symbol (b) just means to take the regular note and move it down one fret.

Finding the sharp and flat notes means you only have to go up or down one fret from a regular note.

Even better news – there are no sharps or flats between E and F or B and C.

You already knew this anyway because there’s only one fret between these pairs of notes.

Take a look at the diagram from earlier. I’ve now added the sharp notes to the previous diagram:

Essential Metal Chords - Musical Notes with Sharps Added

The first exercise you’ll play illustrates how all the regular notes fit with the sharp notes.

If you see a G#5, for example, this means you need to find a regular G5 and play one fret higher.

All you have to do is play through the exercise using the power chords and you’ll see how the sharp notes fit between the regular notes.

I recommend that you say the note names out loud as you play (just the note, not the full chord name).

This will help you learn the sequence of regular and sharp notes:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 20

Now that you’ve played through the sharp notes, you can also go through the flat notes.

The diagram below is the same as before, but this time it contains the flats in place of the sharps:

Essential Metal Chords - Musical Notes with Flats Added

This diagram might confuse you because now you’re seeing a different set of notes. That’s okay and is perfectly normal.

Don’t worry about it, because very soon you’ll see how the sharps and flats can actually have the same meaning. You’ll get to that in just a minute.

For now, just look at the diagram and you’ll see that the flat notes are one fret lower than the regular notes.

You can take the same approach with the flat notes as you did the sharps. This time you’ll start at the twelfth fret and work your way down the neck.

As before, say the names of the notes out loud as you play:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 21

Remember earlier I said that the sharps and flats can mean the same thing? If you take a look at the diagram below, you’ll see what I mean:

Essential Metal Chords - Musical Notes with Sharps and Flats Added

Whether a note is a sharp or a flat depends on which way you look at it, as they can mean the same thing. An F# is exactly the same note as a Gb.

That’s why I put the flats underneath the sharps on the diagram, to show you that they’re the same note.

To prove it, do this exercise:

Play an F5 power chord on the low E string. Playing a power chord one fret higher will give you an F#5.

Now go up one more fret to a G5 power chord. Playing a power chord one fret lower will give you a Gb5.

So now you see how an F#5 and a Gb5 are both exactly the same chord, you can find any power chord you want on the guitar!

The final two exercises in this section will get you finding power chords all over the neck.

Play these power chords on the low E string. Again, the tempo is slow to give you time to prepare for each chord:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 22

The final exercise is the same, but this time play the power chords on the A string:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 23

You don’t need a chord book, tablature, notation or anything else. All you need is knowledge of the regular notes to find any power chord.

From now on, any song that contains power chords will be easier for you to learn, no matter what style of music it is.

Because of the importance of power chords in metal rhythm guitar, you’ll thank yourself for working through this section.

More Power Chord Voicings

The two main power chord shapes you’ve played so far are the ones that are used 90% of the time in metal.

However, these aren’t the only ones you should know. There are a few more essential shapes that I’ll cover here.

The first one you’ll look at is almost identical to the second shape you made earlier.

Here is the regular G5 power chord from before, and then on the right is a slightly different version.

Essential Metal Chords - G5 Power Chord Diagram

This version of G5 has another root note (G) on the D string with the pinky finger. This extra note makes the chord sound bigger.

Because the pinky finger is no longer on the A string as before, the ring finger is there to take its place.

This chord shape is very common. You will find it turns up all the time in many of your favorite rock and metal tracks.

When building this shape on the neck, you’ll find that the pinky finger will sit underneath your ring finger to allow it onto the same fret.

The same shape is used with power chords on the A string, too:

Essential Metal Chords - C5 Power Chord Diagram

You can also apply the same concept to the two open-string power chords E5 and A5:

Essential Metal Chords - E5 and A5 Power Chord Diagram

As a rhythm guitar player, I find that this power chord voicing can be really useful in three main situations.

Often when you’re playing a song, you’ll need to play one long, sustained power chord that will ring for a bar or longer.

You can use this shape to get a big sound that rings over other instruments or guitar parts. Here’s an example. Pay close attention to Guitar 1:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 24

Another time this shape comes in handy is when playing short, accented power chord stabs.

Here’s an example. Again, listen carefully to Guitar 1:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 25

The larger-than-life power chords play perfectly in sync with the drums, giving a huge, rhythmic sound.

Finally, I suggest that you use this power chord voicing whenever you feel your rhythm part needs more emphasis.

This could be during a riff, or just for general power chord rhythm playing. Sometimes these shapes can sound very effective behind a guitar solo.

I would encourage you to experiment with these shapes in different situations to find what works best for whatever song you’re working on.

The 'Mini-Barre' Power Chord

The other crucial power chord shape you should know is the one that is performed using a ‘mini-barre’.

In case you didn’t already know, a barre chord is any chord where the first finger lies across two or more strings on the same fret.

A curved line is used in chord diagrams to represent the ‘barre’ technique, as in this example G Major chord shape:

Essential Metal Chords - G Barre Chord Diagram

The first finger takes care of the notes on the E, B and top E strings. You do this by laying the finger flat across all the strings on the third fret.

I’m not going to go into greater detail about barre chords here, but if you look at the next diagram you’ll see how the same technique is used:

Essential Metal Chords - E5 Double-Stop Power Chord Diagram

Here’s a photo to show you how your first finger should look when playing this power chord shape:

Essential Metal Chords - E5 Mini-Barre Power Chord Front and Side View

The important thing to remember here is that the root note is on the D string.

The note highlighted in red in the previous diagram shows this.

This is another moveable shape, so as long as you know the root note, you can play it anywhere on the neck.

Play the next exercise, which uses this power chord shape:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 26

Just like the other power chord shapes, you can slide between frets with this one. The next exercise will get you sliding up and down the neck.

Be sure to keep a strong, firm pressure on the neck with your first finger. This is especially important when you slide.

The extra effort required will be worth it:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 27

Beefing Up Your Power Chords

If you’re playing power chords that have roots on the A string, there’s a cool trick you can use to give them an ultra-heavy sound.

Essential Listening:

Ultra Heavy Power Chords from Metallica:

'...And Justice For All' from ...And Justice For All

Listen from 07:15 – 07:27

Click on the image to listen:

Essential Metal Chords - Metallica - ...And Justice For All

It’s surprisingly easy to do, and to illustrate this I’ll use a C5 power chord on the third fret as an example.

Essential Metal Chords - C5 Power Chord Diagram

Now take a look at the ‘beefed-up’ version:

Essential Metal Chords - C5/G Power Chord Diagram

Can you spot the difference?

Now there’s a lower bass note added to the power chord. It’s this lower bass note that gives the chord a heavier sound.

Essential Listening:

Ultra Heavy Power Chords from Slayer:

'Seasons In The Abyss' from Seasons In The Abyss

Listen from 01:14 – 01:44

Click on the image to listen:

Essential Metal Chords - Slayer - Seasons In The Abyss

In the power chord C5 there are two notes – a C (the root) and a G (the fifth). The extra note in the new diagram is another G, but one octave lower:

Essential Metal Chords - C5 and C5/G Power Chord Diagrams

It’s very easy to turn your regular power chords on the A string into these heavy versions.

As you can see from the above diagram, you just need to add the note that sits directly above the root note on the E string.

Use a barre technique to fret the first two notes and then the pinky finger for the other note. I’ve provided a photo here so you can see what it looks like:

Essential Metal Chords - C5/G Front and Side View

Play the next exercise, which mixes up some regular power chords with these ultra-heavy, beefed-up versions.

I’ve put some slides in there too, which will give you an extra challenge:

Essential Metal Chords - Exercise 28

This section concludes the exercises on power chords. If you’ve worked your way this far, well done!

I can tell you from my years of experience playing metal that spending time on these fundamentals will massively benefit your playing.

After mastering these exercises, you’re now ready to move on to every other aspect of metal rhythm guitar playing.

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Simon Revill

Simon is a guitar teacher, guitar transcriber, and music producer from the UK. As well as writing lessons on guitar and music technology, he also gives online guitar lessons via Skype.

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