CONSIDER THE COMMON POWER chord: Most of us already know how to manipulate these parallel perfect fifths (root+5) and their related perfect fourth inversions (5+root) into power chord riffs and rhythm figures based on their root notes (Think “Smoke on the Water”). But what happens if we maintain those same intervals and change up the bass notes beneath them? We get an extremely versatile and valuable way to construct virtually any chord sound, that’s what! Power intervals present a great way to create major seventh, minor seventh, suspended, and altered power-chord voicings that will cut through any amount of distortion like a hot knife through butter.
Bar 1 in Fig. 1 shows five C5 fingerings using root+5 and 5+root configurations, as well as several alternate versions on adjacent string groups. Playing these over a C bass, as shown in bar 2, produces the common power chords we all know and love. Things begin to get interesting in bar 3, where we change the bass note to D and transform the same intervals into C5/D, D7sus4 (root+4+b7), or Gsus4 (5+root+4) depending on your perspective and current musical context. Thoroughly examine each of the next five measures and you’ll discover formulas for generating the following power-chord voicings: C5/E, a.k.a. a C triad with the 3 in the bass (bar 4); C5/F, a.k.a. Fsus2, Fadd9, and Csus4 (bar 5); C5/G, a.k.a. a C5 with the 5 in the bass, or Gsus4 (bar 6); C5/A, or Am7 (bar 7); and C5/B, a.k.a. Cmaj7 with the 7 in the bass (bar 8).
Fig. 2 presents the same C5s played over the remaining minor and altered bass notes relative to the key of C. Follow the same course of exploration and you’ll find a very Mahavishnu-esque C5/Db, a.k.a. Dbmaj7b9, Eb13 with the b7 in the bass, and A7#9 with the 3 in the bass (bar 1), C5/Eb, a.k.a. Eb6 or Cm with the b3 in the bass (bar 2), C5/F# (or /Gb), a.k.a. C7b5 or F#7b5/Gb7b5 (bar 3), C5/Ab, or Abmaj7 (bar 4), and C5/Bb, a.k.a. Bb6/9 or C7 with the b7 in the bass (bar 5). Transpose all of the previous voicings to every key, play them straight up or arpeggiated, and try dropping some into your favorite progressions at will. You can play any of the previous power intervals as written (this works better with lower gain tones), or let your bassist cover the bottom while you crank up the fourths and fifths. Get to know them and get workin’!
Jesse Gress is the author of The Guitar Cookbook: The Complete Guide to Rhythm, Melody, Harmony, Technique & Improvisation [Backbeat].