3 chord songs

There are countless songs in allmost all genres, that use only three chords. Learning three-chord songs is an important step to becoming a good chord player. In this lesson we will look at some easy 3 chord songs and how they are built. I will go in to some theory and how to change the key of the songs. If you think it's too much at once, just skip the theory bit and just start out playing these songs. I've also made a list of other 3 chord songs for you to find out for yourselves.

When practicing these songs, don't focus on strumming, just keep a steady pulse and play downstrokes. It is better to practice strumming separately and focus on the chords and switching between them, for now.

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The first song is Twist and Shout by The Beatles. It is built on the 1st, 4th 5th chord in the key of D, that is D, G and A. It is extremely common that songs are built on these three chords, I, IV and V in different keys. I will explain this theory in more detail later but in short, it means that D is the first chord, G is the 4th and A is the 5th chord in this key. Here it is:

Twist and shout

D          G           A          A


D          G           A          A
                             well shake it up
                            
D          G           A          A
baby, now (shake it up baby),     twist and 

D          G           A               A 
shout     (twist  and  shout) c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon

D          G           A               A
baby, now (c ' mon ,   baby) c'mon and work it on

D          G           A          A
out       (work it on  out) Well, work it on 

D          G          A                 A
ou--t     (work it on out) You know you look so

D          G          A                  A
good      (look  so   good) You know you got me

D          G          A                    A
goin'now  (got  me    goin') Just like you knew you

D             G        A            
would (like I knew you wooould)

The next 3-chord song in this lesson is My Bonnie, an old traditional song (also played by The Beatles). Let's start out playing this song in the same key, with the same chords as Twist and shout (though in different order I, IV, I, I, I, V and so on):

My Bonnie

   D	       G	    D         D 	      D        A
My Bonnie lies over the ocean, my Bonnie lies over the sea,

   D	       G	    D        G	           A         D
My Bonnie lies over the ocean, O bring back my Bonnie to me. 

Chorus: 
D           G             A                       D
Bring back, bring back, O bring back my Bonnie to me, to me:
 
D           G             A                       D
Bring back, bring back, O bring back my Bonnie to me.

If we were to play this song in another easy key, let's say G, then it would look like this:

   G	       C	    G         G 	      G        D
My Bonnie lies over the ocean, my Bonnie lies over the sea,

   G	       C	    G        C	           D         G
My Bonnie lies over the ocean, O bring back my Bonnie to me. 

Chorus: 
G           C             D                       G
Bring back, bring back, O bring back my Bonnie to me, to me:
 
G           C             D                       G
Bring back, bring back, O bring back my Bonnie to me.

It's still the I, IV, V-chords, the same relation between the chords, but in the key of G instead of D. It's great to practice playing these simple songs in different keys, to get to know the I, IV, V-chords better.





Let's try one more song using the I, IV, V chords, Bad moon rising, by Creedence also in the key of D:

Bad Moon Rising

D       A   G    D
I see A bad moon rising

D     A       G      D 
I see trouble on the way

D     A     G          D
I see earth quakes and lightning

D     A   G       D
I see bad times today

(chorus)
G
Don't go around tonight, its
 
D
bound to take your life

A        G               D
Theres a bad moon on the rise
(repeat)

In the verse of this song the chords come in the order I, V, IV, instead of I, IV, V that we saw in Twist and Shout. Now try and see if you can play Bad moon rising in the key of G.


More theory

For anyone who didn't get the whole I IV V theory bit, here comes a more detailed explanation. Here is a D major scale:

    D   E   F#  G   A   B   C#

These are all the notes in the key of D. These are also the roots of all the chords in this key. So if we make all these notes into chords (triad chords), it will look like this:

    D   Em  F#m G   A   Bm  C#dim
    1   2   3   4   5   6   7
    

So the 1st 4th and 5th chords in the key of D are D, G and A. The first chord is allways the same as the key your in, D in this case. The 5th chord (in this case A) is also called the dominant and it's very common to add a 7 to this chord, making it an A7.

Now try to figure out the I,IV, V chords in the key of C. Here is the scale:

 
    C    D    E    F    G    A    B

and the chords:

    C    Dm   Em   F    G(7) Am   Bdim
    1    2    3    4    5    6    7

The first chord is of course C, the 4th is F and the 5th is G or G7.

Now try to practice playing the 1st 4th and 5th chords (I IV V) in different keys. For the more "unusual" guitar keys, you will need to play more barre chords. Once you've learned barre chords though, it's very easy to change the key.

More three-chord songs

On the next page you will find a list of more 3-chord songs. Many of them are built on the I, IV, V chords so see if you can use your ears to figure out how to play them. Have fun!

Go to the next page and see the list of 3-chord songs->

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