23 December, 2009

What's the difference between barre chords, power chords and open barre chords

I was recently asked this question. It was actually just the difference between barre chords and power chords. I added in "open barre chords" because to me, it's also important to know what they are.

First of all, I did a google search but couldn't find the term "open barre chords", so I guess I just invented another term. Not to worry, I'll explain later in this post what I mean when I say "open barre chord".

Okay, I think by now, you should know what a barre chord is, and how to play a barre chord. If not, you can read about it here and here. So now, let me explain what a power chord is then. A power chord is almost like a barre chord. The only difference is that you don't strum all 6 strings (if you're playing on the 6th string), or 5 strings (if you're playing on the 5th string). Instead, you strum only the 6th, 5th and 4th string (if you're playing on the 6th string) or 5th, 4th and 3rd string (if you're playing on the 5th string.)

I will use two chords as an example. Let's use the example of a power chord A (on the 6th string), and a power chord D (on the 5th string):

("X" means you do not strum those strings)

So, if you play the above, you will get an A and a D power chord respectively. An interesting thing to note about the power chord is that it can be used regardless whether the note is a major or a minor. So, that means if you're playing a song in the key of G (you have an Am in the family of G), you just need to play the above power chord A. You don't have to play an Am (there is no power chord Am anyway).

Generally, power chords are used by electric guitar players. They also add effects to it such as distortion, and it sound pretty nice, especially for rock or heavier song.I would not suggest you to use them in acoustic songs - unless you want the song to sound heavy.

Next, I'll talk about what an open barre chord is. I will also show you two examples. One of them on the 6th string, and the other on the 5th string:

Okay, notice the difference between the open barre chord and a standard barre chord? Your index finger doesn't have to barre the whole fret. You let the other strings ring. I kind of use these chords quite often in my videos as well because I find it has a really nice sound as compared to a standard barre chord.

One thing to note about this open barre chord is that it does not sound nice on all chords. The chords where it sounds nice are:

6th string - F# (2nd fret), A (5th fret),
5th string - B (2nd fret), C# (4th fret), E (7th fret)

Of course you could try the other frets, but some of them just sound terrible.

I hope this post has made it more clear the difference between a barre chord, power chord and open barre chord.


S7 said...

Hey, i recently came across your site and your youtube videos, its been very useful and interesting. your doing a great job, thanks for sharing and you making it easy for others to understand! cheers!

Tom said...

Thought you might find this useful. It might seem useless at first, but please read the whole comment.

Your version of F# is a little difficult to define. It's like F#sus4, but keeping the third in there. That makes it sound slightly "wrong", (but sometimes that's a good thing).

However, if you find that you would like to turn that "slightly wrong" sound into the same type of sound as your B open barre chord, all you need to do is raise that third a semitone.

In other words, when you want F# with that nice sus4 sound, but without the "slightly wrong sound", try changing the shape of your F# chord a little. Instead of 2 4 4 3 0 0, use this fingering: 2 4 4 4 0 0.

Also, these are the technical names of your other chords. So that if you want to use those sounds in other keys, you can look them up on a chord chart online. (http://www.guitartips.addr.com/guitarchords.html)

When you play your open barre chords; A is actually Aadd9 (or A2), B is Bsus4, C# is C#m7, and E is E5.

[E5 is effectively a power chord, missing the 3rd note, so it's not major or minor.]

Hope you find that useful.

daniel said...

hi Tom,

thanks for the information. That's quite a lot of theory behind that. Something which I'm still very weak in. Hence, I often don't know the proper names of the chords I play. Thanks again for explaining

Tom said...

No problem, I like what you're doing with the instructional videos. It would be nice to see what you would do with some of the traditional hymns I think.

The main reason I gave you all that info was so that, for example: you want to use that B open barre chord sound, but you are in a different key, so you want that sound with a different chord. Now that you know it is a Bsus4 chord, you could look up Asus4, Esus4, Dsus4 etc etc. So you can get that sound for any key you want.

I just noticed that I did make a mistake with your F# chord though, it confused me a little. If you play it the way I suggested, it will become F#7sus4, not F#sus4.

I just hope you can use that to help you figure out those nice sounding chords, for other keys.

Maria said...

Always very helpful, Thank you!