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This class is for high school students at Winnebago Lutheran Academy who want to learn how to make music on computers. We use Audacity and Garageband as our main tools, and we have fun almost every single day figuring out how to make music using audio and MIDI, but we also learn how to record vocals and instruments and even play guitar and drums if we need to.

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NEW 2013-2014 We're moving our blogs to Google's Blogger since WLA is using Google Apps for Education. Click here for Mr. Witte's new Music Tech blog. Click on the student names in the right hand column below to find links to their Google blogs for Music Tech and to see and hear what they've been working on in class.

by Dale Witte
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There are countless songs in almost 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.

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. 



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. 



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




Don't go around tonight, its



bound to take your life


A        G               D

Theres a bad moon on the rise



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.

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!

More 3-chord songs

Here is a list of more three-chord songs for you to try out. Try to play these songs by ear first and then you can search for them on guitar tab sites to see if you where right (hoping that the tabs are correct). Of course there are different versions of the songs and sometimes they use more then three chords but all of the songs work great using only three chords. When learning these songs, you will notice how common the I IV V chords are. Have fun!


Achey Breaky Heart

All along the watchtower

All shook up

All the small things (Blink 182)

Amazing grace

Back in black

Bad moon rising


Blowing in the wind

Blue suede shoes

Breakfast at tiffanys

Brown eyed girl


Eency Weency Spider

Folsom Prison blues

For he's a jolly good fellow

Free falling (Tom Petty)

Get back

God save the queen (Sex pistols)

Great balls of fire


Hand in my pocket (Alanis Morisette)

Happy birthday

Hava Nagilah

Have I told you lately that I love you

He's got the whole world in his hand

Hound dog

In the sweet bye and bye

Johnny Be Good


Kum Ba Yah My Lord

La Bamba

La Cucaracha

London Bridge

Louie Louie

Michael row the boat

My Bonnie


Nobody knows the trouble

Oh Susanna

Old MacDonald

Old Time religion

O sole mio

Ring of fire

Row row row your boat

Rock around the clock

She'll be coming round the mountain

Should I stay or should I go

Shook me all night long

Still haven't found what I'm looking for

Sunday bloody sunday

Surfin USA

Sweater song - Weezer

Sweet home alabama

The tide is high

The star spangled banner

Tutti frutti

Twist and shout

Walk of life

What shall we do with the drunken sailor

Wild Thing

When the saints

Whole lotta love (Led Zeppelin)

Wild thing

You are my sunshine

Article posted October 24, 2010 at 01:48 PM • comment • Reads 234 • see all articles

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Dale Witte is the choir director and music technology teacher at Winnebago Lutheran Academy, Fond du Lac, WI. He has been teaching since January 1990 and really enjoys teaching students how God's gift of music works. Dale is also a church organist, piano player, violinist, and church music composer. Locations of visitors to this page

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