Rock Banjo- Power Chords

Interested in ROCK MUSIC and want to know some ways to play rock banjo?  First and foremost, this is not an easy task, to make the banjo fit rock music.  Especially because a lot of rock music depends on electrification and amplifier distortion.  However, we will do our best here.

Today I’m covering POWER CHORDS. These chords are fundamental to playing rock music on the banjo.  They are one of the most common sounds in all of rock music.

Power chords are found throughout 70’s rock music like Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, and more.  Pretty much any AC/DC song has them.  If heavy metal is your thing-check out Metallica & Megadeth.  Later you find them in alternative rock from bands such as Nirvana, SoundGarden, and more (That was my era of music growing up!).  For more modern examples, check out Imagine Dragons.

Power Chords are characterized by a heavy and darker sound. 

How to play Rock Banjo 101

What is a power chord?

A power chord is constructed by only playing the 1 & 5 of the corresponding scale.  Since this chord lacks the 3rd, you can’t tell if it is major or minor.  It is an ambiguous sound made up only of the root and it’s overtone.  That’s why they sound HEAVY.

For example, in the key of G, your G major scale is as follows

G A B C D E F#

The 1st and 5th note of the scale are G and D.

So a G power chord is made up of these two notes and these two notes only.  You’ll see in the video above I formed this on the banjo by playing the:


5th fret/4th string

7th fret/3rd string

This is how I use it for backup purposes while singing.  It’s relatively easy to play (as it only requires two fingers).  The great thing about power chords is you can just move them up and down the neck of the banjo.  You can hear an example of me doing this on my cover of Nirvana’s dumb on YouTube.

As I stated above, since it doesn’t have the 3rd, you could potentially use it over both G major and G minor (You will hear it over both in recorded examples).

Lastly, sometimes with electric guitar they DOUBLE the root.  You then have 1-5-1.  In our example it would be:

5th fret/4th string

7th fret/3rd string

5th fret/1st string

This makes it a bit more difficult to grab in fast passages. In addition, it gives the chord some brightness and you MIGHT not want that depending on the song. If I was going to do this, I’d probably just barre the 5th fret and grab the 7th fret with my ring or pinky finger.

Popular Songs where Power Chords are used.

Check out these power chord driven songs:

  • Smoke Under Water-Deep Purple
  • Iron Man
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit-Nirvana
  • Seven Nation Army-Whitestripes
  • Hell’s Bells-AC/DC
  • Symphony of Destruction-Megadeth
  • Nirvana-Polly
  • Eye of the Tiger-Survivor
  • Enter Sandman-Metallica
  • Run to the Hills-Eye Maiden
  • Rock you like a hurricane-Scorpion
  • Hit me with your best shot-Pat Benatar.

Stay tuned for more ROCK BANJO lessons.

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Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've played Banjo and Acoustic Guitar on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in six different countries.