Power Chords vs. Barre Chords

A power chord is but a fragment of a barre chord, but they are much easier to play than a barre chord. This allows you to quickly change chords, but they don’t offer the harmonic quality found in a full bar chord. So which one do you play in a given piece?

While power chords are MUCH easier to play than many barre chord formations, the power chord tends to muddy up a passage and doesn’t offer a bright consistent tone. This is the main reason that power chords are used in heavier music. As you know, power chords are most frequently used with distortion, but that isn’t always the case.


In this series, we are going to alternate between power chords and barre chords, allowing you to hear the difference between the two. This should be a simple run of power/barre chords, so even if you haven’t mastered difficult barre chords, this exercise should work just fine for you.


In this power chord exercise, the first bar is all quarter notes. All you have to do is play them as you see them. The second bar is using eighth notes. The ‘5’ notes that each chord is a power chord. The ‘5’ notes that in addition to the root, you are also using the 5th.

power chords vs barre chords exercise 1


Now we start introducing some barre chords instead of the power chords.

power chords vs barre chords exercise 2


In this exercise, the first bar is all power chords using quarter notes on the A string instead of the E string this time. The second bar uses eighth notes.

power chords vs barre chords exercise 3


Now we play barre chords instead of power chords using the same format as above:

power chords vs barre chords exercise 4

As you can see, there is quite a difference between hearing the sound of the power chord vs. the barre chord. Most often you’ll find barre chords for acoustic as power chords don’t provide the full tonal quality that most acoustic guitarists need.