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How to write a one chord song

Updated on September 15, 2012

A one chord song?

Writing a one chord song is simply using one major chord from beginning to end. Most songs have three to many chords. One chord songs have produced hits like "The Beat Goes On" by Sonny and Cher and The Guess Who's "American Woman" written by Bachman/Cummings. Bob Dylan penned one called "The Ballad Of Hollis Brown." The Beatle's one chord song was "Within You Without You."


Every song is composed in one basic major chord.  There are a few that switch but not many. You can sing almost any song by just playing one chord on the guitar.  Just keep the rhythm and sing. It feels a little weird at first but you'll be amazed at the vocal range and creativity you can achieve.  Just chose the chord you are comfortable with.  I usually write a one chord song in E or A.

You can change the rhythm and spice it up with a cool riff.  The song "Low Rider" written and performed by War is a good example of riff in a one chord song.

I wrote a song called "James Lee" a few years back. The lyric is about a cowboy who was murdered by towns folk and his spirit possesses another man for revenge on them. I pretty much strummed one chord all the way through and walked the bass in the verses. I simply put an electric guitar chop in the background.

You can hear the song at: www.myspace.com/songarden

Writing a one chord song gives you a lot of creative freedom when it comes to adding background and lead instruments.

It can be challenging and it can be fun.

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    • profile image

      Chris - Otiks 5 years ago

      Edwyn Collins - A Girl like You

      and a song i have written!

    • Tom Cornett profile image
      Author

      Tom Cornett 6 years ago from Ohio

      Thank you Sun-Girl

    • Sun-Girl profile image

      Sun-Girl 6 years ago from Nigeria

      Good hub and very informative.

    • reeree10488 profile image

      reeree10488 6 years ago from Lynchburg, VA

      Thank you so much. I wrote it myself. I will post more up some.

    • Tom Cornett profile image
      Author

      Tom Cornett 7 years ago from Ohio

      Thank you...sherrylou. :)

    • sherrylou57 profile image

      sherrylou57 7 years ago from Riverside

      Nice hub Tom, I read it all. The beat goes on!

    • Tom Cornett profile image
      Author

      Tom Cornett 7 years ago from Ohio

      Isabelle...thanks so much! :)

    • Isabelle22 profile image

      Isabelle22 7 years ago from Somewhere on the coastline

      You obviously have a great love and talent for music. This was a great read thanks.

    • Tom Cornett profile image
      Author

      Tom Cornett 7 years ago from Ohio

      Seymour...thanks....simpler has become so refreshing to my ears. Production clutter has killed many a good song. I think we need to get back to the basics and just sing the song for the sake of singing. :)

    • SEYMOUR ONE profile image

      SEYMOUR ONE 7 years ago

      Real interesting. I've been noticing recently that the music I listen to has become less and less complex, in a good way. When a song can contain two movements of two chords a piece and still have depth...it really is what I'm looking for. It's like using Hemingway or Hwang-sun-wan's style incorporated into music. Lose the clutter. Most people don't recognize the music that one can make with just one chord.

    • Tom Cornett profile image
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      Tom Cornett 7 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks Foz....I played bass for years in different local bands...I do miss playing now and then. :)

    • Foz profile image

      Foz 7 years ago from Lichfield, Staffordshire

      Great hub - I'm a bass player, but will try my own one chord wonder - cheers. Foz

    • Tom Cornett profile image
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      Tom Cornett 8 years ago from Ohio

      Rob....LOL...It's A hit! The A7 on the end is GENIUS! :)

    • Rob Lattin profile image

      Rob Lattin 8 years ago from Born in Chicago, now I'm in Mostly Michigan

      Hey! I just came up with a one-chord song. hum along if you wish, it goes like this A AA A AA A AA And for variety you could end it on A7. Maybe Devo could do this song for me.

    • Tom Cornett profile image
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      Tom Cornett 8 years ago from Ohio

      Tom...thanks so much! Oh Yeah...Wilson Pickett, one of the greats! It's cool that you played in the 60s...I played throughout the 70s and 80s....mostly clubs and bars. I miss it sometimes. Thanks again! :)

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 8 years ago from Moundsville, WV

      Tom,

      Loved your one chord song. I never had the talent to write one, but in the 60's my band performed a good one. It was a rock/soul song "Funky Broadway" by Wilson Pickett.

    • Tom Cornett profile image
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      Tom Cornett 8 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks Rob....It does take some getting use to when you sing to just one constant chord....LOL....you might be right about rap. :)

    • Rob Lattin profile image

      Rob Lattin 8 years ago from Born in Chicago, now I'm in Mostly Michigan

      One chord but many to choose from. E major is my favorite. Keep in mind that singing a melody with one chord involves 3 notes and their octaves. This is more difficult as it seems. How about a one note song? Isn't most rap music one note?

    • Tom Cornett profile image
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      Tom Cornett 8 years ago from Ohio

      Arizocat...thanks...give it a try! :)

    • Ariztokat profile image

      Ariztokat 8 years ago from AZ

      This is cute, Tom. :) Maybe there's a chance for me after all. lol.

    • Tom Cornett profile image
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      Tom Cornett 8 years ago from Ohio

      AIDY...Thanks much...oh yeah...got to love "Low Rider." Big hugs back! :)

    • profile image

      Am I dead, yet? 8 years ago

      Tom,

      Come by to visit you, it would seem you are still groovin'! War is fierce! I enjoyed listening and reading your 'how to' hub, alas, I am not musically inclined. I will leave it to the pros such as yourself.

      -hugs-

    • Tom Cornett profile image
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      Tom Cornett 8 years ago from Ohio

      alekhouse....yip...would have to be sad in the minors. :)

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Hey Tom, Yeah, it'll give you the background to write some real sad songs over....that is, if you're so inclined. :)

    • Tom Cornett profile image
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      Tom Cornett 8 years ago from Ohio

      alekhouse...thanks...I've never tried one in a minor variation...that might be cool. :)

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      "I usually write a one chord song in E or A."

      So are you saying you use the tonic, subdominant, or dominant in either the key of E or A? (they are all major chords, unless you lower the 3rd)

      Never looked at it this way. Great simplification.

    • Tom Cornett profile image
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      Tom Cornett 8 years ago from Ohio

      James...I had to write one chord songs back then...I couldn't afford two chords. Thanks! :)

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 8 years ago from Chicago

      A one chord song!? Why didn't I think of that!?

    • Tom Cornett profile image
      Author

      Tom Cornett 8 years ago from Ohio

      RK...simplicity can be beautiful! Thanks! :)

      CRIS...WOW...I've missed you man! Have you been on vacation with ten or so hot chicks? Well...OK...2 or 3 maybe? I am going to copy and paste this on the other comment you made too! LYM! See....I did it! I've been writing too much.....gettin a brain leak! Heard they are growing salvia in Idaho....soon people might be toking taters! Hey...so glad to see you back! LYM...LOTS! :)

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 8 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Guess who?! LOL

      Anyway, why should I bother if you're there to write for all of us. I mean why make life complicated like that? LYM! :D

    • Raven King profile image

      Raven King 8 years ago from Cabin Fever

      Simplicity is a virtue. And the beat goes on...

    • Tom Cornett profile image
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      Tom Cornett 8 years ago from Ohio

      Pete...thanks....You can play and sing just about anything with one chord. Enjoy! :)

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 8 years ago

      That's very cool; I'll have to try that. I play terrible guitar and keyboard but I loved to play so anything simple is good.

    • Tom Cornett profile image
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      Tom Cornett 8 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks JJ....I've always loved their stuff too! WAR is a much cooler name. Thanks! :)

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      JJ (pachuca213) 8 years ago

      Loved it Tom....by the way WAR is one of my favorite bands. Sad though that they had to change their name to Lowrider Band because of Lonnie Jordan and Far Out Productions. And they lost to a federal ruling...but Its still WAR to me! =) I LOVE THE SONG LOWRIDER...It was my step-dads favorite too! GOOD HUB!