The Power Chord

power chord on keyring
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Other Names:

Open Fifth

Symbols & Abbreviations:

5

Scales:

Diatonic, Melodic Minor, Octatonic

Set Class:

(05)

This chord is the emblem of punk for so many reasons: it’s tonally open-ended (without a third, it’s neither major nor minor), it’s easy to play on guitar even while thrashing around, and, most importantly, it packs a punch. The standard guitar voicing is clipped straight out of the overtone series; add distortion and a stack of amps, and you’ve got a formula for power. It’s used, sometimes as the only chord type played by the rhythm guitar on a given song, in just about every punk and post-punk genre. Among many examples, listen to the first chords of The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK” and Green Day’s “Basket Case.” But this chord’s history goes back much farther than punk. In the Middle Ages, monks sang in a style called “parallel organum” at a fifth below, which was quite similar in concept even though it couldn’t be more different in result. The “openness” of the Perfect Fifth sound has also become a symbol of the US landscape thanks to works of Aaron Copland such as “Appalachian Spring.” 

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