7 Three-Chord Songs for Beginner Guitarists

Jul 20, 2022

If you’re a beginner guitar player, it’s not unusual for you to think that famous songs are super complicated to play, and that it’s that complexity that helped make them so popular. So you might be surprised to learn that a huge percentage of the most popular songs are really incredibly simple! In fact, some of the most popular songs ever to be produced have only three chords! With that in mind, today we’re going through 7 of the most popular three-chord songs any beginner can learn!

Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd

Lynyrd Skynyrd is easily one of the most popular rock bands of all time, and their most recognizable song has got to be “Sweet Home Alabama.” Found at sporting events and campsites alike, this tune is massively popular. What’s more, that iconic riff sounds like it’s rather complex.

But the fact is, this song has only three chords – C, D, and G, all major chords. This is true for the intro, the chorus, and the verses. The trickiest part of playing this song is that the order of the chords changes from time to time, but generally, it’s the same throughout the song.

Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash

Everyone knows Johnny Cash – he’s one of the most well-known singer-songwriters of all time. That said, his guitar playing has never been ranked among the best.

Cash’s hit song, “Ring of Fire,: was actually written by his wife, June Carter, to show her love for her husband. What’s more the originally recording artist was June’s sister, Anita. But the song never rose to the level of “hit,” until Johnny recorded his own version, and added the trumpets.

While this is one of the most popular and easily recognizable songs out there, it still uses only three chords. The chords for “Ring of Fire” are C, D, and G – all major chords.

In The Air Tonight – Phil Collins

Phil Collins, drummer and songwriter, wrote and recorded this massively popular hit as his solo debut after leaving Genesis. And what a debut! “In The Air Tonight” not only shot up the charts, it has become something of a signature song for Collins.

The simple song is emotional, relatable, and powerful, all at once. Taking inspiration from the pain he felt when going through a divorce, and the break-up of Genesis, the song is almost a monologue, with a dark theme and perhaps the most recognizable drum breakdown in music history.

But when you look at the chords Collins used to create this powerhouse, you see that there are only three: Dm, C, and B.

Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry

Likely rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry’s most popular song, “Johnny B. Goode” is about an illiterate country boy who can play the guitar like no one else. Berry has admitted the song is at least partially autobiographical.

With that crazy intro and guitar solo, and the famous scene in Back to the Future, it might come as a surprise that this rock and roll legend only uses the major chords E, D, and A.

Twist and Shout – The Beatles

The impact the Beatles had on modern popular music is undeniable. And one of the most interesting things about that impact is that a great many of their songs, including this one, use only three chords. As one of their early songs that helped earn them some fame, and kicked off “Beatlemania,” this tune is perfect for our purposes.

With only a simple D, G, A chord progression, the very course of modern popular music was altered forever!

Hound Dog – Elvis Presley

Okay, it’s true Elvis didn’t write the song. Nor was his recording even the first. But let’s be honest, no one did it like the King.

The truth behind the tune is that it’s been recorded over 250 times, all starting with Big Mama Thorton in 1952. Elvis recorded his version in 1956, and earned himself a place in the greatest songs of all time, according to Rolling Stone magazine.

“Hound Dog” is a simple, twelve-bar blues song, and uses the three chords C, G7, and F. Those three, simple chords have helped make this not only one of the most popular songs in history, but also one of the best-selling singles ever released!

What’s Up? – 4 Non Blondes

“What’s Up?,” despite never reaching the top of the charts, is one of the most anthemic songs recorded in the later half of the 20th century. The funky beat, simple chords, and Linda Perry’s incredible vocals have helped this tune become a mainstay at radio stations all around the world. What’s more, the grungy nature of the song makes it perfect for beginners, because you don’t need to worry about hitting all the notes perfectly.

“What’s Up?” uses A, Am, and C with a simple strumming pattern, which means you don’t need to worry about any fingerstyle. Instead, all you need to focus on is getting the rhythm right.

Final Thoughts on Three-Chord Songs

There are countless songs that utilize only three chords – some even fewer! That might seem unbelievable to beginner guitarists, but the truth is, music doesn’t have to be complicated and hard to play to be good or popular. Everyone we’ve mentioned here are genuine musical legends, and they used only the chords they needed to convey their message and provoke some emotion.

What’s more, the basis of tons of blues songs – twelve-bar blues – uses only three chords. Furthermore, the rock and roll evolved from the blues, which makes them nearly identical, with just a few differences, like tempo.

Of course, on the other hand, plenty of songs use four or more chords, and some popular songs are incredibly difficult to play. But the complexity of these songs doesn’t make them any better than the simple tunes. When you boil it down, the level of complexity has very little bearing on the popularity of a song.

In the end, as a beginner you should look for something that suits your skill, your growth, and your goals.

If you’re looking to start, or continue, your guitar journey, look no further than the professionals at The Music Studio. Our guitar lessons for kids and adults are now available both online and in-person! Sign up today!