In musical terminology, a power chord is a truncated version of the conventional chord that musicians play on a range of different instruments. The power chord consists of only the base note of the chord, and the fifth, where the conventional chord adds the third note of the scale as well. Although this kind of chord can be played on any instrument, this modern chord variant was made for performance on “electric” instruments, principally, the electric guitar, where amplification and sound effects change the sound of the instrument.
In terms of the notes referenced above, those who want to understand the power chord need to know how chords are arranged from an octave. An octave is the eight note scale that brings a note progression full-circle. In the most common example, the key of C, an octave is the progression from C to the note above it, D, and then, moving higher by steps, to E, F, G, A, B and up to a high C, where the octave has been accomplished.
Within this described octave, each step up receives a number that corresponds to that note. For the example in the key of C, a conventional C chord will consist of the C note, the E note, and the G note. The power type of chord, on the other hand, will only include the C and G notes.
Experienced musicians point out that a power chord does sound a little different from a full chord. In the most common uses of power chords, though, the full chord doesn’t really receive the same benefit from the added note, mainly because through an amplified, enhanced sound, the truncated chord can already sound full and strong enough without an additional note present. Power chords can also be easier to play, and more versatile.
The most common example of using the power chord is with the electric guitar. Here, the player can use the bottom two strings to affect a power chord, which is easier than using the whole hand to craft a conventional chord. There’s an added benefit to the power chord on the electric guitar, in that with a full, natural open chord, the type of specific fingering structure generally used on an acoustic guitar, tends not to sound as good on an electric guitar. Open chords can sound fuzzy and overcomplicated, especially with guitar effects. The power chord, with its simpler construction, can sound better.