A power chord is made up of two notes – the root (1) and 5th notes of a major scale. Because it only contains two notes, it is debatable as to whether or not a power chord actually ranks as a chord (an interval might be a more apt name). Even if it is just a fleshed-out interval, a power chord is cool because of its lack of notes. The 3rd note that most chords have is missing from a power chord. That means it is neither major nor minor because the 3rd interval tells your ear whether to hear “sad” or “happy.” That means a C5 (“5” is shorthand for “power chord”) could work in the place of a C or Cm.
The bummer about playing a power chord on ‘ukulele is that you can’t play many of the low notes that guitarists often use. Because of those low notes, a guitarist can make power chords sound huge. The lowest power chord you can pull off on an ‘ukulele with a low-G is a C5 on the open C and G strings. So if you were expecting to play “Enter Sandman” and have it “chug”…maybe you should take up guitar. But still, power chords are well worth learning because of their wide-open tonal options.
Sidetrack: When guitarists use lots of distortion, normal major and minor chords start to sound really muddy and out-of-tune. So instead, they use power chords to avoid dissonance. “Iron man” by Black Sabbath? Power chords. “Back in Black” by AC/DC? Power chords. “Holiday” by Green Day? Power chords.
Just like with other chords, you build from a major scale. Take the 1st and 5th notes:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
C D E F G A B C
…And you end up with a 5th interval – C and G in this case. This interval by itself is a power chord, but you can also double any notes that you like to fill things out (‘ukulele players don’t like wasted strings for some reason). So take the C and G notes, find them on the fretboard and you end up with something like: 0033 – a C5 chord.
Here are some of the main power chords. Since they are so easy to figure out, I only did a few, but the different shapes and layouts should help you connect the dots.