Many beginner guitarists are surprised by how many songs are written with only a handful of chords. Sure they might be in different keys and the concept of keys may be a little hard for the beginner to grasp but lets give it a shot.
Rule No.1 ‘Every key is the same’.
Thats right. The only difference is the pitch. What makes it confusing for beginners are what we call accidentals. Sharps and flats. To simplify for just a minute there are 7 alphabetic letters used in music. A, B, C, D, E, F & G. If the key was say A then the notes on an A scale would be A, B, C, D, E, F & G but with accidentals on C, F & G so it would look like this. A, B, C#, D, E, F# & G#. In the key of B its still the same 7 alphabetic letters but with different accidentals. B, C#, D#, E, F#, G# & A#. In the case of C there are no accidentals. C, D, E, F, G A, & B
Now to keep this as simple as possible lets look at the chords. In any key the 1st, 4th and 5th chords tend to be the most popular. In the key of A these chords are A major, D major and E major. (Note these chords are often just called A, D and E). These 3 chords can be found in thousands of popular songs on guitar. Think AC/DC. In the key of C the 1st, 4th and 5th chords are C, F and G. The fact is these chords are the same except for pitch. So a song with A, D and E would sound the same if you replaced them with C, F and G chords. It would just sound higher or lower. In summary each key has 7 main chords (there are many chords but lets stick to these 7 for now). 3 major chords, 3 minor chords and a diminished chord.
Blue = major chords. Red = minor chords. Black = diminished.
A, B, C#, D, E, F# & G#
C, D, E, F, G, A & B
G, A, B, C, D, E & F#
What this means is many songs can be transposed (changing the pitch) to the same 3 chords on guitar making it possible to play simple versions of thousands of songs. Adding a 4th chord which is generally the 6th degree of the scale (in A it would be an F# minor, in C it would be A minor and in G it would be E minor) will take it to more like millions of songs.
3 and 4 chord songs
Here are some examples of 3 and 4 chord guitar songs in easy to play guitar keys.
- Knockin on Heaven’s door. G, D, Am and C.
- Let it be. C, G, Am, F.
- Time of your life. G, C, D, Em.
- Johnny B Goode. A, D, E.
- You shook me all night long. G, C, D.
- Yellow. G, D, C, Em.
- Sweet Home Alabama. D, C, G.
- Stand by me. G, Em, C, D.
- Every breath you take. G, Em, C, D.
- Wonderwall. Em, G, D, Asus.
- Purple Haze. Em, G, A.
- Wild Thing. A, D, E.
- Old-time Rock & Roll. G, C, D.