An ʻukulele power chord is made up of two notes: the root (1) and 5th notes of a major scale. Since it’s so sparse, power chords are often used in place or either major OR minor chords. They also have a big open sound that’s great for rock music.
Because it only contains two notes, it is debatable as to whether or not a power chord actually ranks as a chord. Some would say that it’s more appropriate to call it an interval.
Even if it is just a fleshed-out interval, a power chord is cool because of its lack of notes. The 3rd scale degree that makes other chords “sad” or “happy” is missing from an ʻukulele power chord. It is neither major nor minor because there’s no 3rd interval to dictate the sound.
This means a C5 (“5” is shorthand for power chord) could work in the place of a C or Cm.
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.
Iron man by Black Sabbath? Power chords. Back in Black by AC/DC? Power chords. Holiday by Green Day? Power chords.
ʻUkulele Power Chord Theory
Just like when building other harmonies, you work from a major scale to create power chords. 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 an ʻukulele power chord, but you can also double any notes that you like to fill things out (ʻukulele 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.
If you want to find more power chord grips, you can look them up on The Ukulele Helper.