15 Easy Three-Chord Songs for Beginners
Posted by Michael Mueller on October 28, 2015 at 1:45 PM
Hey beginner guitarists (and those who just like to play fun, easy songs). Would it surprise you to learn that many of the greatest songs in music history comprise only three chords—or fewer? From the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, America, and Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and Taylor Swift, there is a plethora of pop and rock hits that are easy to strum along with and fun to play.
Below you'll find 15 of our favorite three-chord songs, with a few playing tips and links to guitar tab or chords and lyrics sheets to each. So next time you're sitting around the fire pit this fall or at a family gathering and someone says "play a little something," whip out one of these classics and invite the whole gang to sing along.
Love Me Do by the Beatles
As beautifully complex and well-orchestrated as much of the Beatles' catalog is, the early songs that put them on the path to becoming the greatest rock band of all time were often ridiculously simple, like this one!
Lay Down Sally by Eric Clapton
The link above returns several versions of Clapton's country blues hit, but this one is the simplest approach, so just go with it.
Horse With No Name by America
For our purposes here, there's no need to retune your guitar as the guitar tab shows. All you really need is standard tuning and two chords: Em and a cool version of a D chord. Here's how to play that: place your fret hand's middle finger on the 6th-string F# on the 2nd fret and your ring finger on the 3rd-string A on the 2nd fret, leaving all other strings open. If you fret the Em chord with your middle and ring fingers, you just move each finger over one string (in opposite directions), thus making the switch super-easy, too!
All Along the Watchtower by Bob Dylan/Jimi Hendrix
The link above includes several versions of this Dylan song made more famous by Jimi Hendrix. I've always found that playing the tune in A minor (Am, G, F chords), like Dylan and Dave Matthews, was the easiest way to approach it as a strum-along.
Cecilia by Simon & Garfunkel
What a classic sing-along! If you're not comfortable with the six-string barre chord form of the F chord, you can use the simpler beginner version on the top four strings.
Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival
John Fogerty tuned down a whole step, so even though he played E, B, and A chords, you're hearing D, A, and G chords. No sense in changing your guitar's tuning, in our humble opinion; just strum along using open D, A, and G chords, and add that little boogie-woogie rhythm on the D chord at the end of each phrase.
Dreams by Fleetwood Mac
This lovely ditty is essentially a two-chorder, with an Am chord appearing for two short beats during the guitar solo. Otherwise it's a hypnotic groove of Fmaj7 to G. Easy-peasy, chap.
Margaritaville by Jimmy Buffett
This ode to the beach life is so easy you probably can nibble on sponge cake while strummin' your six-string. But beware of the frozen concoction—too many of those and you'll be searchin' for lost chords and lyrics while trying to play this tune.
Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon
The guitar chords/lyrics sheet here shows the D, C, and G chords in barre chord format. If you're good with barre chords, use them. Otherwise, you can also use the open-position "cowboy chord" shapes to strum this Zevon classic. Ow-oooooooh!
Time For Me to Fly by REO Speedwagon
If you want to play it just like Gary Richrath did, you'll need to change your tuning and add some embellished chords to get it right. OR, you can keep it simple and just stick with D, G, and A chords, like in this guitar chords/lyrics sheet.
What's Up by 4 Non Blondes
Hey, what's up with the six chord frames at the top? It's OK. Those are just embellishments of the basic A and D chords. If you're comfortable with those sus2 and sus4 shapes, use them. If not, you can just use the A and D chords, but you really should learn the sus chords, too, as they're VERY common in popular music.
Jane Says by Jane's Addiction
This acoustic hit uses the same two-chord G5-A riff throughout the song except at the chorus, which contains a cool-sounding Gsus2#11 chord. The guitar chords/lyrics sheet has a chord frame at the top that shows how to play it.
Free Fallin' by Tom Petty
This strummer is in the key of F, so slap a capo onto the first fret and use the open E, Asus2, and Bsus4 chord shapes throughout.
Shake It Off by Taylor Swift
Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, but you just play, play, play, play, play this to your heart's content.
Coconut by Harry Nilsson
One chord! Yes, that's right: Harry Nilsson's cult classic and recipe for belly-ache relief is just an open-position C7 chord with a simple fingerpicking pattern. We've only got the ukulele sheet here, but the tab doctor says, "You put the fingers on the fingerboard and play the C7, put the fingers on the fingerboard and play the C7."