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Songs With Four Chords (or less): Rock Edition

Updated on May 26, 2015

If you've played around with any songs on a string instrument such as a guitar or a ukulele, chances are you've noticed that most popular songs only contain a few chords, that way they're catchier and somewhat predictable to the ear (in a good way). Musical theory has a pretty convincing explanation as to why, but I won't bore you with all of the details. If you're interested, you can read about it here. Or, if you're looking for some examples or don't believe me, give Four Chords by The Axis of Awesome a listen.

For now I'm just going to give you guys a list of some well known rock songs that make use of just a handful of chords without going too much into the science behind it. I tried to touch on as many sub genres of rock music as I could, because I know how diversified of a genre it is. If you walk up to two people and say, "Hey, I'm listening to some rock." chances are they'll both have different ideas of what kind of music you're listening to.

Songs like these are great for when you're just starting out with a string instrument because they make use of a few chords you probably already have memorized and let you work on getting your timing and rhythm down.

Bad Moon Rising, Credence Clearwater Revival

Chords: D, A, and G

One of CCR's most famous songs, Bad Moon Rising conjures up images of humid jungles and the sound of whirring choppers.

Achy Breaky Heart, Billy Ray Cyrus

Chords: A and E

Ah, Billy Ray's famous One Hit Wonder. Perhaps the reason why it was so popular is that it makes fantastic use of only two chords, A and E. This particular song (or any song that makes heavy use of the E chord, really) is a bit tricky for ukulele players, but guitar players can go nuts!


Learning to Fly, by Tom Petty

Chords: F, C, Am, G

A laid back and easy-going song, like most of Tom Petty's work. If you're a ukulele player this song is especially easy for you, as it's made up of most of the basic uke chords.

I Won't Back Down, (also) by Tom Petty

Chords: D, C, G, and Em

Strum this song on your uke or guitar when you're feeling sad, I guarantee it'll pick you right back up.

Which do you play, the uke, gutar, bass, or something else?

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Working Class Hero by John Lennon

Chords: Am, D, and G

This little three chord proletariat anthem is simple no matter what you play.

Wild Thing, by Troggs

Chords: A, D, and E

This song is known as the mother of all "first songs" for guitar. It's a little bit more difficult for ukulele players because of the E chord, but if you've got that one mastered you should be able to pick this one up in the time it takes you to memorize the lyrics! So like, two minutes.


One of Us, by Joan Osborne

Chords: Em, G, C, D

I'm a big Joan Osborne fan, and I love strumming out this one on my uke. Plus the four chord progression is easy to play, leaving lots of room for you to rock out to the lyrics.

Zombies, by Cranberries

Chords: Em, G, C, and D

Another one in the old reliable Em, G, C, and D progression. Isn't it crazy how a song can have the exact same chord progression as another one and still sound different? That's the magic of popular music for you.

This Ain't a Scene, by Fallout Boy

Chords: Am, C, E, and F

Ah, Fallout Boy. Playing this on my ukulele (which I tend to use as a glorified karaoke machine these days when I'm not playing songs I've written myself) always brings me back to those middle school days of bleached blond hair, too much anime, and thick black eyeliner. Things are different now. I have brown hair now.


If I Ever Leave This World Alive, by Flogging Molly

Chords: A, Bm, D, and G

Naturally any rock song would play well on guitar, but this one in particular is surprisingly pretty on the ukulele.


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