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Power Chords and Rhythm (Guitar Lesson)

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Dennis Hodges

Power Chords and Rhythm

Dennis introduces power chords and basic rhythm concepts. Both subjects are very important to the metal genre.

Taught by Dennis Hodges in Metal with Dennis seriesLength: 22:00Difficulty: 1.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (00:32) Lesson Introduction In this lesson, Dennis introduces you to power chords. These chords receive their name from the aggression and energy that they convey. Dennis explains the music theory behind power chords and demonstrates them within a practical metal context.
Chapter 2: (03:10) Power Chords!! Music Theory

When a musician refers to a power chord, he or she is typically referring to a specific interval played simultaneously. An interval is the musical distance between two notes. In the last lesson, you learned about half steps and whole steps. If you combine half steps and whole steps, other intervals are formed. Usually, when someone is referring to a power chord, he or she is talking about an interval called a "perfect fifth." The perfect fifth interval is comprised of 7 half steps. It is important to realize that there is one other type of fifth interval. The diminished fifth is one half step smaller than the perfect fifth.

Some guitarists consider a power chord to be any combination of two intervals. For example, many players refer to a low root note combined with a major third above as a major power chord. To provide another example, you may hear guitarists referring to the "diminished power chord." This is simply a root note combined with the diminished fifth interval above it. J Yuenger of White Zombie fame popularized the title "skronk chord" in reference to this power chord's strange, evil sound.

Dennis demonstrates a trick that enables you to find the perfect fifth above almost any natural note. Although this hand counting method is useful in some situations, it does not work for every given root note. This trick only works with the following root notes: A, C, D, E, F, and G. This trick does not work from B to F, because these two notes represent a diminished fifth interval. Also, the trick does not work for root notes that contain either a sharp or flat. When it comes to spelling power chords built from these roots, you must know and understand all of the information presented on the circle of fifths.

Playing Power Chords

In the metal genre, power chords are most frequently played with the lowest note on either the seventh, sixth, or fifth string. These power chords produce the most aggressive sound. Dennis begins by demonstrating an A5 power chord. (The "5" is written after the root note to indicate the perfect fifth interval.)

To play this chord, place your first finger on the 5th fret of the low E string. The perfect fifth interval will always be found up two frets on the fifth string. From the hand trick, you know that the perfect fifth above A is the note E. Most guitarists choose to play the fifth with the third finger. However, guitarists such as Kirk Hammett and Dimebag Darrell have been known to play power chords with the first and pinky fingers.

Repeat the same process Dennis walked you through with A and G to determine the perfect fifth above all 12 notes in the chromatic scale. If you get stuck, reference the "Supplemental Content" section for some extra help.
Chapter 3: (03:43) More Power Chords Dennis provides some tips on switching back and forth between power chords. When switching between two power chords on the same string, be careful that you do not over or undershoot a fret. For example, when switching from a G5 power chord on the sixth string to an A5 power chord on the same string, it is very easy to overshoot the 5th fret with the first finger.

Also, in addition to switching back and forth between chords with the root on the same string, it is very important that you master switching back and forth between sets of power chords on different strings. Dennis briefly alludes to an exercise that helps with this process.

Note: Open the "Supplemental Content" tab for tablature to this exercise.
Chapter 4: (05:58) Basics of Rhythm When playing in a band, many young players have a very flawed concept of rhythm. Many of these players say, "I'll just let the drummer keep the time." In any ensemble situation, this mindset isn't going to cut it. Every member of the group must have perfect metronomic timing in order to keep the overall groove steady. What if the drummer has bad time? Or, the drummer may normally play well, but he/she may be playing the rhythms in a certain section incorrectly. In these situations, you the guitarist must set everyone straight.

Be sure to check out Brad Henecke's lessons on rhythm and timing. In this scene Dennis elaborates on some rhythmic exercises from Brad Henecke’s Phase 2 Speed and Technique lesson series. He also demonstrates some new rhythmic exercises for additional practice. For more rhythm exercises, please visit Matt Brown's Phase 2 series pertaining to reading music and rhythm.

Whole Notes

A whole note lasts for a whole measure of 4/4 or "common time." A measure of 4/4 time is comprised of four equal beats. Therefore, a whole note receives four beats. Count "1, 2, 3, 4" when playing a whole note in this time signature.

Exercise 1

This exercise consists of a few basic power chords. Both the G5 and A5 power chords are held for a whole note each. Although this exercise is simple, do not neglect its importance. Many beginners think they can play such progressions with ease. However, when a metronome is turned on, each whole note is cut short. Rhythm is the most important aspect of music. For this reason, you must practice with a metronome as much as you can possibly stand it. If you make a mistake, simply keep going. Keeping the rhythm intact at all times is your highest priority.

To internalize the click of the metronome, tap the beat with your foot, and count each beat aloud while you play. Combining multiple brain functions will improve your rhythmic feel more efficiently.

When trying something new such as playing along with a metronome, repetition is key. Don't quit an exercise right after you have mastered it. Rather, continue to play it until it becomes effortless. Don't move on to the following exercises until you can play this one consistently perfect with the metronome.

Exercise 2

The simple progression featured in this exercise shows up in countless metal classics. It can be found in both "Paranoid" and the "Trooper." Lessons pertaining to these songs can be found in JamPlay's Phase 3 section.
Chapter 5: (03:22) Half Notes A half note is worth half the value of a whole note, or two beats. A half note is indicated in notation by an open note head with a note stem attached to it.

Exercise 3

This exercise consists of B5 and C5 power chord held for two beats each. Play this exercise at a variety of metronome settings.

Exercise 4

This progression features the following chord changes: A5, G5, F5, back to G5. This is the exact same progression demonstrated in the previous scene. This time around however, the progression is played in the key of A natural minor, and the chords change more rapidly. If you are having problems playing power chords this low on the fretboard, practice some basic finger dexterity and flexibility exercises. Then, return to playing this exercise. You may find the stretch between the first and third fingers a little bit easier as a result of this practice.
Chapter 6: (05:05) Quarter Notes A quarter note receives one quarter of the value of a whole note, or one beat.

Dennis demonstrates a very economical way to switch between the open E5 and F5 power chord at the first fret. Use the middle finger to fret the note B within the E5 chord. Then, use the standard power chord grip for F5. This is a very common chord movement in the metal genre. This fingering allows you to switch between these chords effortlessly. Economy of motion is paramount when playing fast. You also will not tire as easily. Almost all great rhythm players are advocates of this economical chord fingering including Dave Mustaine, James Hetfield, Dimebag Darrell, Scott Ian, J Yuenger, etc. It is also possible to use a more economical fingering when switching between open E5 and G5 at the third fret. Simply fret the note B in the E5 chord with the first finger. Then, fret the G5 chord with the second and fourth fingers.

Exercise 5

An E5 chord is played in quarter notes followed by an F5 chord played in quarter notes. The pick should make contact with the strings at the exact time that the metronome clicks.

Also, practice this exercise playing chords with roots on the 5th string. Finally, play the same exercise one octave higher on the low E string.

Exercise 6

This progression consists of E, G, C, and B power chords. Each chord receives four quarter notes. The Roman numeral analysis of these chords are i, III, VI, V (key of E minor). This chord progression is very common in the metal genre.

Exercise 7

Dennis provides you with one final power chord progression. Once you have mastered the exercises in this lesson, you will be ready to take on some basic metal riffs such as "Iron Man" or "Smoke on the Water."

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

BlazingFuryBlazingFury replied

Awesome lesson...

Amy99Amy99 replied

Not bad... :-D

Southern CashSouthern Cash replied

My man!

tscoolberthtscoolberth replied

still a great lesson!

insanemonkayyinsanemonkayy replied

Hey Dennis is it bad that I use my index and pinky for power chords?

hurteaud26hurteaud26 replied

i wouldn't say its bad, but if you use your ring finger instead, it frees up you pinky so you can add notes for different sounds

metal666metal666 replied

I have noticed james hetfield uses index and pinky for a power chord. Even for a three string power chord he bars two strings with pinky. I guess its easier to play that way when you are wearing guitar as low as he does on stage.

dennis.hodgesdennis.hodges replied

that's absolutely the reason why.

fadingdimensionfadingdimension replied

i notice you play the power chords with your index and ring finger... i've always used my index and pinky instead. is this a bad habit?

drey770drey770 replied

TOo hard give up!

pax metallumpax metallum replied

I've known about Power Chords for a while now and I think I have good internal rhythm, but I got a lot of great insights out of this. Particularly the part about Economy of Motion, most of my shit thus far has had lotsa arm motion, shifting power chords up and down & such w/melodic scale type stuff. I thought it a bit slow paced since I've been playing for a year but this helps a lot. These lessons kick ass, props on the Cowboy Chord bit! Dennis is a hilarious teacher

bourque1bourque1 replied

These lessons kick ass

bourque1bourque1 replied

These lessons kick ass

sinr764sinr764 replied


jerfos25jerfos25 replied

Can anyone offer advise on getting my strings to stop squeaking so bad as I shift up and down the neck.

jr464hcjr464hc replied

I love ernie ball super slinky with the coating, but there is also a product called "Fret Eaze" (or something similar) that lubricates strings and also reduces sting talk

ivan_cortes16ivan_cortes16 replied

I use Elixir Nanoweb guitar strings to reduce string noise. They are pricey but I love how they feel and they can take serious beatings before you need to change them

brandonl15brandonl15 replied

great lesson!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

jzcodejzcode replied

What in the H is a Cowboy Chord???

gabe879gabe879 replied

what he refers to as cowboy chords are open string chords used mostly for acoustic guitar.

kevinacekevinace replied

Yeah "Cowboy Chord" implying that most country songs are open chords as opposed to a power chord (no open strings).

hereticsound666hereticsound666 replied

im having gratuitous amounts of fun with this lesson on my new strat with a trem i bought today.

hereticsound666hereticsound666 replied

which makes two guitars for me one sss strat with a humbucker mode at the bridge, and a hh washburn that has a beastly sound.

crystalforge66502crystalforge66502 replied

the prize of knowledge! ha

redingtonredington replied

Great lesson Dennis.

darklife666darklife666 replied

nice lesson

gromlomgromlom replied

Is it just me or does anyone else spend like 2 hours or more on each lesson becuase they get adhd side tracked playing everything they teach Another great job :]

sinr764sinr764 replied


tayebtayeb replied

this guy is freakin hilarious hahahahah,

selkyselky replied

Got a question about power chords, these chords take the firs and the fifth of a scale right? But what does the number 5 in the A5 chord mean? This number is on every chord in this lesson. Second question is: Lots of people say the minor pentatonic scale is the best scale for metal, why is this. I can make power chords out of the C major scale only with complete different notes. Still i assume this is correct right? Great lesson :D, but those questions keep spinning in my head :P

selkyselky replied

got the answer on the fifth, dumb me :P

adris8adris8 replied

"Sounds like Three Blind Mice, don't know where that came from." Haha. Great lesson Dennis :D

0427owen0427owen replied

another good lesson cheers

roauraroaura replied

exelente me gusto mucho esta lecccion

diljotdiljot replied

hey denis! i was wondering which guitar effects pedal do you use? Is it a metal medal or a sinple distortion pedal?

midnight dawnmidnight dawn replied

Fantastic lesson, learned a whole lot. Thanks Dennis =D

xtremeswolfxtremeswolf replied

great lesson

hoovsterhoovster replied

I almost choked when he said sing and play at the same time because singers and players are always needed.... OMG ROFLMAO....

sirshelleysirshelley replied

were should I start..? I like playing guitar again:P, I've learnt more i two lessons than in two years, I'm finally tarting to learn how music work,just wan't to say thanks

sirshelleysirshelley replied

(sorry about the typos) ^^^

rtwoleslaglertwoleslagle replied

it was mary hada little lamb.

tranaeustranaeus replied

haha three little mice is so brootal D: great lesson! Keep them coming!

ibanezfan93ibanezfan93 replied

Dennis i have a little problem with the power cords, and this is what confuses me the most about them. their are multiple E's and multiple A's and i just dont know which note people are talking about when they say " play A5 or C5", i don't know if there talking about the A5 on the 6 or 5 string or any other string. so if you can answer that question in an easy way to understand then i will finally get power cords thing better.

J.artmanJ.artman replied

Ibanezfan93; Generally fellow musicians will tell you which note to play. For example - "Okay, now play the A5 Powerchord on the E-string". When it comes to learning a song by ear, its gonna be obvious which octave note you are gonna be playing. But, if your jamming with some friends, just ask them if your not sure.

mattmc12001mattmc12001 replied

First guitar lesson that i took that made me laugh more than once. Great job dennis cant wait to do more

brno32brno32 replied

how do flats/sharps fit into power chords?

lcrscr675lcrscr675 replied

when ever i play power chords i tead to flick off the watchers?

jc110188jc110188 replied

Three blind mice = METAL

vanslash1010vanslash1010 replied

awesome lesson. keep on rocking dennis and more LESSONS!!!

kevinengle2000kevinengle2000 replied

great lesson i want more

jlaakerjlaaker replied

Hello Dennis, I have a question. When you change from the e5 open power chord to the f5 power chord do you lift the middle finger off, or do you keep it down? Or does it matter either way?

dennis.hodgesdennis.hodges replied

if I'm going right back to the E5 I'll keep the middle finger down, but if I'm staying on F5 it's free to do whatever (just try not to flip off the audience)

indecentangelindecentangel replied

Excellent teacher!

VinnyBVinnyB replied


flyrerflyrer replied

Dennis Great lesson set I've much enjoyed!!!!!!!!!!! Russ

cookjcookj replied

wish you would be locked up in jamplay recording room for as long as it will take you dennis, to crank out 10 more lessons quickly....lol you really rock dude and thanx alot as well.

kevinacekevinace replied

Yep! More on the way soon!

cdawsoncdawson replied

Filming again Friday!

toolfan88toolfan88 replied

This metal series is like a drug. i want more!

Metal with Dennis

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Get ready to rock in this metal lesson series with Dennis Hodges. From 80's Metal to modern Dennis loves it all.

Basics of MetalLesson 1

Basics of Metal

Dennis covers important guitar basics such as note names and technical exercises.

Length: 33:00 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Power Chords and RhythmLesson 2

Power Chords and Rhythm

Dennis introduces power chords and basic rhythm concepts. Both subjects are very important to the metal genre.

Length: 22:00 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Essential Techniques 1Lesson 3

Essential Techniques 1

Learn a variety of essential techniques commonly used in the metal genre, including palm muting, string slides, and chord slides.

Length: 36:52 Difficulty: 2.0 FREE
Essential Techniques 2Lesson 4

Essential Techniques 2

Metal lesson 4 brings you some info on hammer-ons, pull-offs, trills, bending, and the infamous pinch harmonics.

Length: 45:25 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Left Hand OverloadLesson 5

Left Hand Overload

Dennis delivers left hand techniques and exercises, with topics including spider walking / riffing, octaves, stretching and 4 practice riffs.

Length: 62:36 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Rhythm and TimingLesson 6

Rhythm and Timing

While using a metronome, Dennis covers essential techniques and exercises to obtain great rhythm and timing.

Length: 35:00 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 7

"Metal Poisoning"

Written just for JamPlay and his Metal series, this song will allow you to put all your techniques to use in a musical manner.

Length: 28:54 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Time Signatures Part 1Lesson 8

Time Signatures Part 1

In this lesson Dennis teaches the following common time signatures: 3/4, 4/4, 6/8, 9/8, and 12/8. Dennis explains each signature and provides a short example for illustration.

Length: 33:12 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Time Signatures Part 2Lesson 9

Time Signatures Part 2

This time around Dennis explains odd time signatures. Similar to Part 1, he uses a musical example to illustrate each new signature.

Length: 45:07 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Rhythm Pt. 2Lesson 10

Rhythm Pt. 2

Dennis continues his metal series with part two of his look at rhythm and timing.

Length: 56:24 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Right Hand OverloadLesson 11

Right Hand Overload

This lesson is the long lost sibling to "Left Hand Overload."

Length: 52:11 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Dennis Hodges

About Dennis Hodges View Full Biography For better or worse, Dennis Hodges cannot stop playing music, and (he hopes) will never stop playing music.

Growing up in Flint, Michigan, Dennis had a tremendous passion for drawing. He couldn't stop copying moves from bands he saw on MTV, though, and it didn't help that his parents filled the house with Santana, Stevie Ray, and Allman Bros. (on real records, no less!) so it wasn't long till he got his first guitar. It was junk. Within a few weeks his parents traded in a poor acoustic for a less junky 3/4-size electric.

Dennis started lessons right away at the age of 8. He still remembers hating it for awhile, and not taking it seriously until he was 12. He is thankful his parents forced him to practice early on and kept paying for lessons, even though rational thinking should have stopped them after a year.

Around this time drawing became less important, and guitar consumed all his attention. After 6 years of lessons he parted ways with his teacher and, after trying out two others with no results, decided to continue alone. His nerdistic tendencies paid off, as he put in hours working on picking and left hand exercises and learned as many Randy Rhoads and Kirk Hammett solos as he could.

Luckily, there were playing opportunities at school talent shows and church. Dennis was playing bass at his church when he was 13, helping to hone his performance skills in a group setting.

In high school, Dennis joined the marching band on sousaphone for all 4 years. It was as awesome as you could expect. He was also fortunate enough to be in several different metal bands, still play at church, and get the incredible opportunity to play guitar for many local community theaters. This kept his sight-reading in shape and gave him an appreciation for different styles of music (and paid pretty well, from a high schooler's perspective).

In 2001, Dennis came to Bexley, Ohio to study guitar at Capital University with Stan Smith. His studies emphasized jazz and classical guitar. Here his metal past merged with a deeper understanding of the instrument and music in general, and the basis for most of his teaching style was set in motion.

Dennis now plays guitar for Upper Arlington Lutheran Church every Sunday, for St. Christopher in Grandview, Ohio, with the youth group, and also plays for touring Broadway shows that stop in Columbus. Occasionally, he plays weddings and private parties, and he is starting a new cover band with some friends, called Dr. Awkward. He is blessed to have his understanding and supportive wife Kate, and is glad to be at JamPlay!

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