This post is about three chord songs and why I love them.

Three-chord songs are a beautiful illustration of the abundant creativity of songwriters.

Billions of dollars have been made with three chords, a rhythm pattern, a melody and some words.

When I’m teaching beginners I usually focus on songs with just three chords for the first few weeks.

That’s because it’s easier. It cuts down the number of new things you have to deal with.

But even beyond the beginner stage, three chord songs are great.

When you go looking for songs to play on your ukulele, you’ll quickly find out that some songs have just a few chords – and some songs have lots of chords.

Country songs and folk songs very often have three chords. Songs based on the blues, e.g. Johnny B Goode, by Chuck Berry, and Mercy, by Duffy, usually have three chords.  There’s a Latin three-chord pattern that’s used in many famous songs, e.g. Twist and Shout, La Bamba, Wild Thing, Louie Louie.

Here’s a post I wrote about harmony and the ukulele, if you want to know more about this huge and fascinating topic!

Three chords is not a cop-out

Don’t get me wrong – I love the gorgeous chords that you find in popular music.  I get a big kick out of playing a song by Queen, or The Beatles, or David Bowie, or Carole King, with lots of beautiful, complex chords.

But, there are times when it’s a good idea to pick a song with simpler chords.

Even if you’re playing from a song chart, if there are twelve different chords to think about, this takes up a lot of brain space.

Nobody’s giving out awards for playing songs with incredibly complicated chords.

Fresh and new

A song can sound fresh and new, even with the same three chords as lots of other songs. Budapest, by George Ezra, and Royals, by Lorde, are recent examples.

It’s not always a C, F, G pattern, e.g. Don’t Worry Be Happy, by Bobby McFerrin, has a very clever Dm C F pattern (in the key I play it in).

Here are five reasons why I love three chord songs.

  1. When there are only a few chords to remember, you can focus on other aspects of the song. Like, playing the rhythm (strumming), or singing.
  2. Three chord songs are (usually) easy to just pick up and play. Instant fun!
  3. They’re easier to learn by heart. Here’s a post I wrote about the joy of playing music by heart.
  4. Three chord songs are easier to transpose into another key. You might want to do this to make the song easier to sing – or easier to play on the ukulele. Here’s my video explaining transposition, as it applies to ukulele, if you want to know more. And if you want to know more, here’s my blog post about transposition.
  5. It’s easier to get other musicians to join in with three chord songs.

Here are five great three chord songs.

  1. Born this Way, by Lady Gaga
  2. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, by U2
  3. Roll Over Beethoven, by Chuck Berry
  4. Don’t Let Me Down, by The Beatles
  5. Rhiannon, by Stevie Nicks

And this is just the tip of the iceberg! Click this link to download my list of 70 great three-chord songs – some old, some new. You’ll probably have some other favourites – but I had to stop at 70 so the list would fit on one page!

And here’s my Three Chord Magic Youtube channel playlist, for some easy play-along ukulele tutorials for three-chord songs. 

Hi, I’m Alice

I’ve been in love with the ukulele since my mother, Sue, taught me three chords when I was six.

I teach ukulele to adult learners all over the world via Zoom and Skype. If you happen to live in Hamilton, New Zealand, I also teach group ukulele classes. You can find out about these by clicking here.

Click this link to book online ukulele lessons with me. $US160 for six half-hour lessons.

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Alice Bulmer music
Photographed by Brooke Baker

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