Transposing Power Chords to Other Keys
How do we go about transposing power chords to other keys? It’s great knowing the six power chords for the key of G – but what about the key of A? Key of E? A flat?
Once we know the power chords in one key- say the key we have learned them in, the key of G – we can play them in any key, relatively easily.
The reason is that our power chords have no open strings. All notes are fretted. We can move them around to any of the twelve keys.
The only difficulty is knowing which chord.
For that, you have to understand which of your fingers forms what’s called the root note of the chord.
Let’s start with the G5 power chord
The chord name “G5” tells you two things: It tells you that it is a ‘five’ chord, so it is a “power chord” which tells you the internal structure of the notes (root and fifth).
The “G” tells you the root note, in this case the note G.
The root note of these power chords is on our first finger.
The G5 root note is on the bass E string (string six) at the third fret, under our first finger.
If we use this shape (the G5 power chord shape), and move it to any position along the E string, we find out what the root note is by knowing what note is under our first finger on the E string.
Using your fretboard markers
It’s good to know what all the twelve notes are along all the frets of the E string.
But a good way to start – particularly as a live player, likely to be stood up, not able to see your fingers so well – is to learn the notes on the fretboard dot markers.
Most guitars have top markers on them. They’re always in the same place. They are the little black dots at the top/side of the neck that you can see as you look down on the guitar from behind the neck, when standing up.
For the E string, these mark out
- third fret – note G
- fifth fret – note A
- seventh fret – note B
- ninth fret – note C# (also called Db)
- twelfth fret – note E
You get repeats as well. The next marker will be at the fifteenth fret, which is really just the back to the third fret note G, only an octave higher up.
Sharps and Flats – the notes in between
To find the notes in between, consider the third fret marker G and the fifth fret marker A. This tells us all we need to know about what are called “enharmonic notes” as well.
If you start from the G at the third fret, and you move one fret up, you make the sound more “sharp”. So you’ve gone from the note G to a “sharper G”. So this note, on the fourth fret of the E string, is called “G sharp”. It’s a G “made sharp”.
But if you start on the fifth fret, from note A, then move one fret down to the fourth fret, you have made the A sound “flatter”. You have made A “flat”.
So this fourth fret note is also called “A flat” as well as “G sharp”. Two different names for the same musical note. The tech term for this is an “enharmonic note”.
That might make some sense of this weird thing about “why do some notes have two different names?”. It comes from the idea that the fourth fret note can be considered either a sharper version of the G below it, or a flatter version of the A above it.
There are some conventions as to which one you pick to write on a sheet music score, but we don’t really need to know them here. Whenever you see G# or Ab, they refer to the same thing.
You can work out what to play from the note name behind it. If a chart says “G#”, then start from the G and sharpen it (up one fret). If it says Ab, start from the A, then flatten it (one fret down).
Transposing Power Chords to Other Keys
From here on, we can play not only our power chord Ab5 (using the same shape as we used for G5), but all our fingering movement patterns.
To play a “1-4-5” pattern in Ab, we start by finding Ab power chord (start with an A, down one fret). Then our 1-4-5 pattern as we learned for G5-C5-D5 applies from here. We start on the Ab5, we move our fingers one set of strings toward the floor for Db5, we move that shape two frets up for Eb5 and so on.
That’s the beauty and the power of these power chord shapes, and the way the guitar works. Once you’ve understood the idea that the relative motions and patterns are the same, and that you have a simple (ish) way to know where the root notes are, relative to the fret markers, you have a powerful tool for moving around.
So you learn a few patterns, you learn the six chords in a key – just one or two shapes – and you can play any power chord in every key.