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Three Chord Guitar

Updated on December 16, 2015

The Three Chord Trick - What do you do when you only know three chords on guitar?

It is easy to play songs with three chords, and so many songs can be played with the three chord trick! The best music is often the simplest. This page on three chord songs came into being when a friend asked me to recommend some 1960s songs that use only G C and D - the Three Chord Trick in G . My first response was "Wouldn't A D E work a lot better?" My friend said something about transposing and using a capo, so I looked at some of my resources and decided to put this "busking" page together! Three chord guitar is not something I practise personally - I am like Guitar George in the Dire Straits song. I adore harmony, I may not know every chord, but I could certainly list and play you thousands BUT not everyone wants to commit to much rhythm work and G C D is a great starting point for beginners. (Especially if you can bring yourself to throw in an Em and make it a four chord instead of a three chord trick)

So, here we go with some three chord guitar - in G, A and E - have fun!

All graphics used here are my own, please do not copy - email link instead!

Three Chord Trick in G - Guitar Chords G C D and a 12 Bar Blues in G

Three Chord Guitar
Three Chord Guitar

This graphic shows you the chords of G C and D and a 12 Bar Blues in G, which with slight modifications will do for a LOT of 1950s and 1960s rock and roll including some early Beatles! Clicking on the image will take you to my guitar website where you can see more chords and free guitar lessons.

Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry

Rock and Roll using the Three Chord Trick

Three Chord Songs you can try with 12 Bar in G

Here is a three chord song task for you! Did you know all of these great rock and roll songs from the 1950s and the 1960s can be played with a 12 Bar Blues with G C D (or A D E or even E A B7) allowing for a little tweaking and simplification? Add a capo to the mix and the sky is the limit!

Can you play by ear? The busker's best weapon is the ear! All guitar players should at least try this; listen to the songs until you really know them and you should be able to work out the order of chords yourself with a little practice. If you can't, don't worry you can use TAB sites.

(Image of Chuck Berry from Wikipedia, modified under Creative Commons license)

Elvis Presley - Blue Suede Shoes

Chuck Berry - Johnny B. Goode

Chuck Berry - Route 66

Twist and Shout

Buddy Holly - Oh Boy!

Hound Dog

The Beatles - Love Me Do

The Beatles - I Saw Her Standing There

Jailhouse Rock

Roy Orbison - Oh, Pretty Woman

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

Buddy Holly - Not Fade Away

Buddy Holly - Rave On - Guitar Guru File

Buddy Holly - Peggy Sue - Guitar Guru File

Buddy Holly - That'll Be the Day - Guitar Guru File

Many music books have a fine selection of early Rock n Roll songs for piano vocal and chords if you want to take it that step further:

Three Chord Guitar - Books for Three Chord Guitar

Three Chord Guitar in A - A D E chords and a 12 Bar Blues in A

Three Chord Trick in A
Three Chord Trick in A

If you know A D and E chords that is a great start for playing rock and roll music. With all the open string basses, this is the ideal key for simple bass/chord work and basic lead guitar riffs! A really famous example of a three chord song using these is Born to Be Wild

Beginner Guitar Packages - Need a beginner guitar package?

Here are some great packages for beginners!

Guitar For Dummies

Guitar For Dummies Acoustic Guitar Starter Pack (Guitar, Book, Audio CD, Gig Bag)
Guitar For Dummies Acoustic Guitar Starter Pack (Guitar, Book, Audio CD, Gig Bag)

The popular Guitar For Dummies package has everything a beginner is likely to need to start playing guitar.


Three Chord Guitar in E - E A B7 and 12 Bar Blues in E

Three Chord Guitar in E
Three Chord Guitar in E

In the key of E it is much easier to use B7 because B is a barre chord! Strictly speaking, sevenths are really common in the rock and roll version of a 12 bar blues anyway! Playing in this really guitaristic key opens up LOTS of possibilities with riffing and soloing!

About the author

Guitar books from Photahsiamirabel

Photahsiamirabel is an experienced guitar teacher, professional guitarist and online publisher and has written several guitar books for fingerstyle guitar. here is a small selection of those books.

My First Very Easy Christmas Carol Book [Spiral-Bound]

Carols for beginners to play. Single note melodies with chord letters. Very easy large font notes with notename noteheads.

Traditional Christmas Carols For Guitar Solo [Paperback]

Easy and intermediate arrangements of well loved Christmas carols for fingerstyle guitar. Includes TAB as well as music.

Traditional Christmas Carols for Guitar Ensemble [Paperback]

Arrangements of well loved Carols for flexible sized guitar ensembles, these are full scores, not separate parts.

Or perhaps, like me, you are a bit of a guitar George! Please leave your comments here!

What three chord songs do you know? - What three chords can you play?

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    • LisaMarieGabriel profile imageAUTHOR

      Lisa Marie Gabriel 

      2 months ago from United Kingdom

      That's really useful Lee. Playing guitar is a long and exciting journey.

    • profile image


      2 months ago

      I can play in several keys

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      The web site had amazing assessments from folks who'd lastly learned to play guitar by ear so I resolved to give it a shot myself!

    • LabKittyDesign profile image


      6 years ago

      "Wild Thing" is a great three chord song. The best part is, it doesn't matter which three, as long as you play it loud enough.

    • mbmusgrove lm profile image

      mbmusgrove lm 

      7 years ago

      The best songs are 3 chords! I remember learning Gloria, Teach Your Children, and Diane (by Husker Du) WAY back when.

      Great lens idea!

    • irubucom profile image


      7 years ago

      First three chord song I learned was "Gloria" so simple E D A been hooked ever since. Three chord is definitely a good place to start to at learn to play something real and not just chords and notes.

    • ShoppingWithMonty profile image


      7 years ago

      Never did learn to play the guitar, but my son does! I'm going to point him over to your cool guitar Lenses!

    • chezchazz profile image


      7 years ago from New York

      As someone who cannot even play the kazoo, you make it sound like even I could do this! (I may just give it a try when my more musically talented family and friends are not around.)

    • MartieG profile image

      MartieG aka 'survivoryea' 

      7 years ago from Jersey Shore

      What fun - I have a guitar upstairs and I just might give this a try :>)

    • randomthings lm profile image

      randomthings lm 

      7 years ago

      This is really good information. Thank uiu for sharing your expertise.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      7 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I don't know any chords but you make it sound like lots of fun!


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