Songs with 3 chord progressions are a great place to start for any aspiring guitarist. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best to add to your repertoire. These songs will allow you to practice and master the different skills that every beginner guitarist should learn, without being too complicated to learn yet giving you the satisfaction of learning a whole song.
If you are only beginning your guitar-playing journey, I strongly recommend starting with some of the following 3 chord songs. The list covers a variety of genres and is sure to cover some songs that you know and love.
Table of Contents
- Here is a List of 3 Chord Guitar Songs
- 1. Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- 2. Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival
- 3. Wild Thing by The Troggs
- 4. Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash
- 5. What’s Up? by 4 Non Blondes
- 6. Here I am to Worship by Tim Hughes
- 7. Three Little Birds by Bob Marley
- 8. Bottoms Up by Brantley Gilbert
- 9. Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen
- 10. Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen
- 11. La Bamba by Ritchie Valens
- 12. For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield
- 13. Walk of Life by Dire Straits
- 14. Hound Dog by Elvis Presley
- 15. Louie Louie by The Kingsmen
- 16. Lord I Lift Your Name on High by Rick Founds
- 17. The Joker by Steve Miller Band
- 18. The Gambler by Kenny Rogers
- 19. Humble and Kind by Tim McGraw
- 20. Lean on Me by Bill Withers
- 21. You Are My King (Amazing Love) by Billy Foote
- 22. Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed
- 23. Stay with Me by Sam Smith
- 24. Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol
- 25. Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis
Here is a List of 3 Chord Guitar Songs
1. Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Genre: Country rock
Chords: D, C, G
One of the greatest rock acts of all time, this three chord song is a masterpiece and is exactly the kind of song everyone should learn. One of the most exciting guitar riffs ever, you might not realize at first that this is a 3 chord song because the notes of each chord are individually picked for the intro riff. This is great to help you bridge the gap between strumming chords and picking individual notes. It forms a solid foundation for learning the licks and slides that you can incorporate into your playing later. However, it’s also possible to play the song by just strumming out the three chords as you will see in the video above. Especially on an acoustic guitar, strumming out the chords is a great starting point and sounds great once you get a catchy strumming pattern down.
Technically, the song has four chords. However, the F chord only needs to be played very briefly. You can get away with the song by ditching the F chord altogether. What you need to concentrate on is the transition between chords. As always, make sure you learn at your own pace and you will eventually get the hang of it.
2. Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Genre: Roots rock
Chords: D, A, G
I can’t think of a better song with 3 chords than this 1969 CCR classic, Bad Moon Rising. While the song has a simple and fun strumming pattern, it is the addition of arpeggiated notes on the guitar riffs that make it so fun to play.
This song is one of the most acclaimed musical pieces in 1969. It peaked at the 2nd spot of the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the charts in the UK. What you might not know is that at least 20 different artists have covered this song. and what’s more, is the fact that many of these versions were never completely roots rock. Some were reggae, while others gave the song a more folk-like vibe. Yet, Creedence Clearwater Revival turned this song into an electrifying psychedelic rock piece.
3. Wild Thing by The Troggs
Genre: Garage rock
Chords: A, D, E
Almost everyone knows that The Troggs popularized this song way back in 1966. I’ll bet you didn’t know that it was the New York City-based rock band, The Wild Ones that first recorded it a year earlier. It was a commercial flop, though.
Then came the Hampshire boys from the UK with their characteristic English charisma. I can only speculate that the growing popularity of the invading British bands on the American music scene of the 1960s had something to do with the warm reception of American ears to the Troggs version. After all, they came at a time when everybody was already getting hyped up to the music of British bands, like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, and The Animals, among others.
Wild Thing is a very popular song to cover and is one you should definitely consider adding to your guitar song repertoire. It is a very lively song that is meant to unleash the beast lurking inside you. That is what makes this piece so awesome. It’s a bit weird, yet has an element of coolness to it.
4. Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash
Chords: G, C, D
Who doesn’t love Johnny Cash? I had to put him on this list. Here’s a country song that will not make you sound oversentimental, Ring of Fire is one of Johnny’s greatest pieces. However, he had his wife, June Carter Cash, to thank for writing the song. It has a folk-like vibe to it that will have you strumming and fingerpicking your guitar for hours on end.
The Rolling Stone magazine considers Ring of Fire as one of music history’s greatest pieces. No surprise there. What differentiated Cash’s version from the original Carter piece was the introduction of Mariachi-style horns. It would be impossible to replicate this sound with your guitar. However, it should give you a basic idea of the natural pitch of the song.
The guitar riffs involve arpeggios with emphasis on the bass notes. It would seem as if the high notes provide the backing for the piece. Once you start with the verses, it is the strumming of the lower strings that you will focus on. Your fingers will also make occasional trips to the bass strings. It is a wonderful piece for practicing and strengthening a few basic guitar-playing techniques.
5. What’s Up? by 4 Non Blondes
Genre: Alternative rock
Chords: G, Am, C
If you are looking for an easy song to play on your acoustic guitar, I recommend this 1992 pop rock classic from 4 Non Blondes. I think it is one of the most anthemic musical pieces to be recorded in the second half of the 20th century. While the song did not top the charts, it became a mainstay on the airwaves of radio stations all over the world.
The song has a funky beat that complimented Linda Perry’s gymnastic vocals. You should not worry about hitting the notes right. As far as I am concerned, this is a piece that even any beginner can pick up in no time.
You can be that guitarist if you like. The strumming pattern is simple for What’s Up? You won’t have to worry about any fingerstyle. It is an all-out strumming pattern. What is essential is to get the rhythm right.
6. Here I am to Worship by Tim Hughes
Chords: E, B, A
This slow worship ballad in the key E major with a length of 5:16 has major themes like worship, gratitude, and Jesus’ life. When Tim Hughes wrote the song in 1999, he was taking inspiration from Philippians 2, a passage speaking about Jesus Christ who left heaven, came to earth, and later sacrificed himself for the love of humankind. He wrote it to describe how he felt after reading this passage.
However, he wasn’t satisfied with how the chorus flowed, so he struggled to come up with a better one. That is why he decided to put it aside for about six months because he’s still not confident in the chorus until he played the song at the Soul Survivor church where his pastor told him to play it often.
Its popularity spread, and later it became one of the most popular gospel songs in the world with different versions covered by contemporary worship artists like Michael W. Smith and Chris Tomlin. This is easily one of my 3 chord worship songs for guitar.
7. Three Little Birds by Bob Marley
Genre: Roots reggae
Chords: A, D, E
To say that I love playing this song on the guitar is an understatement. I’m not the only one who thinks Three Little Birds is up there among the greatest hits ever. Otherwise, Karen David, Robbie Williams, and Jason Mraz would not have lent their voices in the recreation of this masterpiece.
What makes this song ideal for beginners, aside from the fact that it is a three chord song, is that there are no fancy fingerstyle techniques. It does require learning the technique of palm muting. This gives the song its drumbeat-like rhythm. You also get to practice a bit of a modified hammer-on. So, give it your best. This is one song you will be playing every time your buddies call for a round of booze and Jamaican-inspired party chow.
8. Bottoms Up by Brantley Gilbert
Genre: Country rock
Chords: Em, C, D
With only three open chords that will only require about three fingers to fret, how hard can it be to play Bottoms Up? This contemporary musical piece has all the makings of a great country rock song. Bottoms Up has two distinct parts that every aspiring guitarist needs to learn.
The intro and the verse have an almost ballad-like melody that is made even more spine tingling by the arpeggiated chords. This is the perfect opportunity for you to brush up on your picking skills. If you can’t seem to coordinate your wrist movement with the flick of the pick, hold onto your guitar. Take it slowly. You will eventually master the sequencing of the notes.
The second part, the chorus, takes on a classic rock vibe. The most crucial thing to master here is the sliding and palm muting techniques. Get it right and you can easily nail the song. Technically, the song follows this soft fingerpicking-powerful strumming pattern. There is also the coda where you get to create a spine-tingling arpeggio with the 1st string. It should be fun putting all these elements together. It is worth getting your buddies for a whole night of jamming in your man cave. This is one of my favorite 3 chord songs on guitar.
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9. Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen
Chords: E, D, A
Here is a masterpiece that has graced Hot 100’s 5th top slot when Springsteen released it in 1985. Surprisingly, Bruce recorded the song about three years earlier.
Glory Days is the kind of 3 chord guitar song that gets everyone stomping their feet and singing along. The best instrument for this is the electric guitar but you can certainly cover it on your acoustic. I’m sure you will get the garage band vibe of this song. If you play it right, you might even give it a honky-tonk piano-like vibe.
10. Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen
Chords: A, D, G
This hit from Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 album, Nebraska is the perfect song to introduce you to this one-of-a-kind album. The song is a moody composition, made even more depressing by the implementation of a harmonica.
Nebraska is perfect for youngsters who want to master the fingerpick technique. I prefer using a thumb pick as it gives a more distinct sound. The arpeggiated introduction leaves the 6th string open, focusing mostly on the numbers 3, 4, and 5 strings. It is an easy piece to learn. However, it does require the solid coordination of your playing fingers. Another point you want to learn is the rhythm. It is not that complicated unless you play it like Bruce Springsteen. You will get to that eventually. Despite the bleak message of the song, Nebraska has a beautiful melody.
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11. La Bamba by Ritchie Valens
Genre: Rock and roll
Chords: G, C, D
We may already be entering the third decade of the 21st century, but this 1958 Chicano rock song still hits home with just about everyone. Still echoing throughout Honky-tonk bars and dodgy pubs, It is both a party piece and a good get together song for rugged guys.
Ritchie Valens did not write the original song. In fact, he is one of many artists who covered it. Like all folk songs, learning La Bamba on your guitar takes patience. A lot of it. This song may have a very predictable chord pattern and rhythm. Its fingerstyle requires absolute concentration. You can strum it. That is always a good and easy way to play the song. However, if you want to give it justice, then it is the way of the fingerstyle that you must adhere to.
12. For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield
Genre: Folk rock
Chords: E, A, D
I am not kidding when I say For What It’s Worth is one of the easiest 3 chord songs you can learn to play. This 1960s song is a favorite of Hollywood moguls who want the modern generation to learn about what it was like to live in the 60s. I have buddies who are active in labor unions and they always play this song whenever they have a gathering. It’s a protest song, although some people would call it an anti-war piece. Regardless, I say it’s an excellent piece to learn on the guitar.
13. Walk of Life by Dire Straits
Chords: A, D, E
A fun song for the fun activities of fun-loving people, Walk of Life is one of Dire Straits’ most popular musical creations. Of course, the British group also had Sultans of Swing and Money for Nothing, among others. Southerners will love the Cajun twist added to the song. Its extra-long introduction that lasts a little under 60 seconds has a recognizable melody. It is impossible to mistake it for another song.
Most guitarists play Walk of Life with an E, A, B, and an E7 chord. However, you can always simplify it to play only three chords – A, D, and E. It follows an easy-to-memorize D-DU-DU-DU strumming pattern. I suggest getting your strumming hand accustomed to the movement because the tempo of this 1985 rock piece is a blistering 172 beats per minute. Do not fret so much about the presto tempo of the song. Play it at 80 beats per minute and you should still be fine. Pick up the pace when your wrist is already making smooth up and down movements without fail.
14. Hound Dog by Elvis Presley
Genre: Rock and roll
Chords: A, D, E
Would it blow you away if I told you that Elvis Presley was not the brains behind this 1950s song? That distinction goes to Big Mama Thornton, who recorded it in 1952 or four years before The King of Rock and Roll gave it his version. Here is another brain food for you. Both Thornton and Presley versions earned accolades from the music industry. Both recordings are Hall of Famers and are considered as two of the world’s 500 all-time greatest songs. Very few songs have achieved such a feat.
There are more than 250 ways you can play Hound Dog. Fans of rhythm and blues will want to play it like Big Mama’s original recording. If you are a huge Elvis fan, then it is rock and roll for you. Other artists have also covered Hound Dog through the decades. Each one of them can provide inspiration on how you want to play this piece on your guitar.
Elvis’s version is a true-blue rock and roll piece. The chords could not be simpler. Just do not forget to shorten the neck by placing a capo on your guitar’s 3rd fret. This will give your guitar a higher pitch, which should make it sound a lot closer to the Elvis recording. What is imperative is to learn the technique of totally stopping the strumming right after each verse.
15. Louie Louie by The Kingsmen
Genre: Garage rock
Chords: A, D, Em
Here is another rhythm and blues song that was given the rock and roll treatment to make it more appealing to the rock-crazed crowd of the 1960s. Richard Berry recorded the original Louie Louie in 1955. The Kingsmen gave Berry’s song a twist in 1963. It is a rock and pop standard, a Hall of Famer, and one of the most influential musical pieces of the 20th century.
The easiest method of playing Louie Louie is by strumming the open chords as is. However, I have seen some guitarists who modify the song a little bit. They use the higher frets (those ones closer to the guitar body) to give the song more character. The surprising thing is that they do not necessarily employ barre chords. In fact, they use the same chord shapes as in the original version.
You should try to learn to play it higher up the neck. This method has the added advantage of getting you familiar with this section of the fretboard. Most beginner guitarists focus only on the lower neck (that section of the fretboard closest to the headstock). Mind you, many rock and roll songs require guitarists to play closer to the body. This song should get you comfortable playing in this fretboard section.
16. Lord I Lift Your Name on High by Rick Founds
Chords: G, C, D
This worship song is written by Rick Founds who composed it during a morning devotion in 1989. Did you know that he wrote it while watching TV and reading the scriptures on his PC monitor?
The redemption cycles, which he compared with the water cycle, was his concept for this song that he later performed in church. Later, it was picked up by Maranatha! Music with the Maranatha! Singers recording it first on the album “Double Praise” in 1989. It’s been one of the most known and used Christian songs since the 1990s and the most popular church song in the US from 1997-2003, according to the Christian Copyright Licensing International.
Since then, “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” has different style interpretations like rock, hip hop, R&B, and reggae, to name some. It’s also been translated into languages, like Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Finnish, Slovenian, and Polish, among others. This 3 chord guitar song is one of the first songs that beginners want to learn in their guitar not just because it’s easy but also inspiring.
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17. The Joker by Steve Miller Band
Chords: G, Cadd9, Dsus4
Topping the Hot 100 in 1974, The Joker again topped charts when it was reissued some 16 years later. It is proof of the song’s popularity, thanks to the unique addition of a wolf whistle that accompanies the fascinating slides on the fretboard. The song has a funky beat that will have your best buddies bobbing their heads in unison like the Troll dolls on your dashboard.
A song that requires only basic down strums to play is something that any beginner guitarist should be able to master in one sitting. That is how ridiculously easy and simple The Joker is. Well, that is if you are only going to play the verses and choruses. If it is the intro and the guitar riffs that you want to master, then you should really spend more time flexing your fingers and honing your fingerpicking abilities.
I love the bass notes of The Joker. It is what comprises the intro and the solos. There are occasional strikes on the high strings to add a nice touch to the composition. Palm muting is also a skill that will be crucial in playing The Joker. It emphasizes the breaks in between chord progressions. You can also try to hit the open chords higher up the neck.
18. The Gambler by Kenny Rogers
Chords: D, G, A
A favorite of Las Vegas frequenters, The Gambler is a nice song that you can play on an acoustic or even a classical guitar. Some guitarists prefer to play The Gambler arpeggio. Seasoned guitarists will forgive you for playing it as normal people do – strumming. However, there are a few critical points to keep in mind when you do decide to strum your way to The Gambler.
Start with downstrokes until you get a feel for the song. It may not sound nice at first. Do not worry. As soon as you are confident with the downstrokes, you can begin integrating upstrokes in your rhythm. The song requires a standard strumming pattern of D-D-UDU. If this is confusing, I suggest attacking it slowly. It is always easier to pick up the pace once you have already synchronized your finger and hand movements. This is another one of my favorite 3 chord guitar songs.
19. Humble and Kind by Tim McGraw
Chords: G, Em7, Cadd9
This is a phenomenal musical piece that is pleasant to the ears and gives a sense of meaning to what you have been doing with your life. Humble and Kind is perfect for beginners. Even professional guitarists play this song in their me-times. Strumming follows a D-DU-U pattern, which should be a cinch to execute. Absolute newbies can try strumming to the tune of the song at a slow tempo. This will help build their confidence in making the transition between the second downstroke and the first upstroke for each strumming pattern cycle. It is a simple technique that can be an excellent foundation for your future guitar playing.
20. Lean on Me by Bill Withers
Chords: A, D, E
Almost half a century has passed and Lean on Me remains a favorite of well-established brotherhoods all over the world. This is a 1972 soul music that ranks high on the list of the music world’s 500 greatest songs in history. Numerous artists recorded their version of Lean on Me over the years. Two of them landed the song at the summit of Hot 100.
While the song may not be the anthem of bikers and rugged men, Lean on Me sure is a great song for bosom buddies. Remember that friend of yours in high school? The one who either gets you always in trouble or has always your back no matter what? This is the perfect song for such friendships.
The song has a very straightforward composition. You should be okay if you get the three chords right. Technically, a greater portion of the verses only has the A and the D chords. By the time you get to the ‘lean on me’ part, that is the only time you will use the E chord. It is basic that I am sure a third-grader will never have problems playing this on a half-sized guitar.
21. You Are My King (Amazing Love) by Billy Foote
Chords: A, D, E
This song is written by Billy James Foote, who’s known for his Christian worship songs. In 1990, Foote started leading worship and initially was just him and his guitar. Later, he added a drummer, a bass player, and Cindy, his wife, on vocals. But as he developed hyper-dysphonia around 2000, Cindy became the lead vocals because his vocals were affected by the condition. He continued writing, with “Amazing Love (You Are My King) as one of his well-known songs along with “You Are God Alone” and “Sing to the King.”
This song topped the US Billboard Christian Song charts in 2003 and ninth in the Billboard Hot Christian Songs in the 2000s. You Are My King (Amazing Love) is a single by the Newsboys from their album “Adoration: The Worship Album” which was released in 2003 under the Sparrow music label.
22. Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed
Genre: Glam rock
Chords: C, F, D
They say men have a natural predilection for walking the tightrope on things that society considers taboo. From substance abuse to the secret world of male sex workers and everything else in between, Walk on the Wild Side accurately sums them all up. Perhaps it is the uncomfortable truth of speaking about these things in the open that prompted Lou Reed to mask his views in a song. It is a fascinating piece with an iconic ‘doot-di-doot’ hook and a 3 chord structure that even newbies will never find intimidating.
While the chords will never prove too formidable for absolute beginners, I can foresee the strumming pattern to be a major headache for them. It has a moderately fast tempo of about 104 beats per minute. It is the correct sequencing of the downstrokes and upstrokes that can be confusing to newbie guitarists. Forget fretting the chords and focus more on learning the correct strumming pattern. It would be easy to play the song’s chords once you already memorized the strumming.
You will also need to practice palm muting and hammer-on techniques. These methods give the song its characteristic punchiness. It is a nice foundation for playing other songs, especially heavy metal ones. Put these elements together and you are ready to rock the house with your drinking buddies.
23. Stay with Me by Sam Smith
Chords: Am, F, C
This song is perfect for people who are just starting to play the guitar. The strumming is basic. The chord shapes are easy, except for possibly the F barre chord. If you can’t position your fingers to create a barre chord, do not fret. There is an easy way to shape an F chord in a similar fashion to the G. So, give Stay with Me a try.
24. Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol
Genre: Alternative rock
Chords: A, D, E
The digital era has brought on a massive jump in music consumption. Chasing Cars is proof of the power of digital technology. It also underscores the shift in preference of audiophiles from CDs to digital formats. In case you did not know, Chasing Cars is the UK’s most widely played digital music in the first 10 years of the 21st century.
What I find so appealing about Chasing Cars is its catchy tune that is perfect for the guitar. It is a colossal ballad that never required anything fancy to make it work. As a guitarist, I like the song’s ever-building crescendo. The guitar’s role in the song may be as sparse as the hair on your head. However, it sure delivers a message to forlorn men.
The easiest way to play Chasing Cars on the guitar is by using a series of down strums all throughout the song. It has a moderately fast rhythm, but nothing that a quick successive flick of the wrist will not accomplish. If you’re an alternative rock song this is one of the best three chord songs out there.
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25. Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis
Genre: Rock and roll
Chords: G, C, D
I can think of 1001 reasons why Great Balls of Fire rightfully belongs to the world’s 500 greatest songs. It is a rock standard and a very easy one to play on almost any type of guitar. Bring out your electric guitar and you can easily execute its melody. It sounds great on an acoustic, too. In fact, this is the perfect song for entertaining your buddies during the half-time break of the Super Bowl.
I did not even mention the different guitar techniques you can learn and master playing this 1957 song. One of the most important is the palm muting technique that you need to execute at certain sections of the musical piece. This requires a precision stoppage of the strings at the right moment. It takes practice to get it right.
Start with the simplest strumming pattern you know. Whatever is more comfortable for you. It is always easier to add an up strum after every few down strums than learning the whole set at the same time the first time.
Best advice? Have fun trying to learn these songs. That wraps up our list of 3 chord guitar songs. The original chords of these songs may include barre chords. However, you can always transpose them to make it easier for beginner guitarists. I’m sure some of these songs can help to provide you with a good foundation as an aspiring guitarist to build on your skills and styles.
My name is Chris and I’ve had a passion for music and guitars for as long as I can remember. I started this website with some of my friends who are musicians, music teachers, gear heads, and music enthusiasts so we could provide high-quality guitar and music-related content.
I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13 years old and am an avid collector. Amps, pedals, guitars, bass, drums, microphones, studio, and recording gear, I love it all.
I was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. My background is in Electrical Engineering, earning a Bachelor’s degree from Youngstown State University. With my engineering experience, I’ve developed as a designer of guitar amplifiers and effects. A true passion of mine, I’ve designed, built, and repaired a wide range of guitar amps and electronics. Here at the Guitar Lobby, our aim is to share our passion for Music and gear with the rest of the music community.