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Three-chord songs

04 Oct 99 - 10:17 PM (#120769)
Subject: Three-chord songs
From: WyoWoman

Every time I say to a musician something like, "Yes, I'm learning to play guitar but I only know about three songs," s/he will laugh and say, "Entire careers were built on only three chords..."

And I know there are a lot of three or four chord songs out there, so ...

What are some of your favorite songs using three or four simple chords (no ninth diminished suspended with chili, please)?


04 Oct 99 - 10:35 PM (#120776)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Rick Fielding

Wyo, virtually all songs can be accompanied with three chords. ie. C,F and G7. or G,C and D7, etc. The same can be said for minor key songs. (you might want to use 4 to fill in the harmonic spectrum) but Am, Dm, E7 (and G) or Em, Am, B7 (and D). Give us some songs you want to sing (no matter how complex) and I'm sure we can help you arrange them simply

My favourite song "Handful of Songs" uses only three. (I added a fourth on the CD but sometimes I fancy things up)


04 Oct 99 - 10:38 PM (#120779)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Mudjack

You mean theres something besides 3 chord songs? Paradise , This Land is Your Land, Columbia, Roll On. Heck... over half my songs have only three chords. Maybe I should be taking some lessons.

04 Oct 99 - 10:43 PM (#120782)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Michael K.

Hi WyoWmn.

Hmmm....a few that come to mind are:

''Hit The Road Jack'' (recorded by many including Ray Charles.) A minor, G major, F major, and E7th (or any other key you like.)

''Feeling Alright'' (Joe Cocker/Leon Russell version) (C7th - F 7th) (2 chord wonder!)

...some of the early Eagles tunes are pretty basic as well and easy to strum and sing to. (ie: Take It Easy, Best of My Love..etc.)

04 Oct 99 - 11:45 PM (#120814)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: campfire

John Prine jokes about only knowing three chords. My favorite of his is Blue Umbrella. I "grew up" doing Joghnny Cash - same thing, and you don't have to be able to sing, either! NOI ;)


05 Oct 99 - 01:32 AM (#120846)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Big Mick


My job keeps me going so much that I have never had the time to become a virtuoso guitar player. I just play the chords and leave the fancy pickin' up to the Fieldings of the world. I surrounded meself with good musicians.

Learn a couple of fingerstyle patterns and you will be fine.


05 Oct 99 - 01:41 AM (#120848)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle

The primary chords are referred to as the One, Four, Five.
Otherwise, denoted as the I,IV,V.

It does not matter what the orginal Key signiture is....they are built on the 1,4,5 notes of the key.

THOUSANDS of songs in the folk realm are built on this. Motzart understood its elements well.

There are two many list...look through the DT for any combination ie:

When you have "mastered" (become bored) with a song you know well....move it to another key.....if you can play the first chord you then know the 1,4,5 for the new key. Then move it to another key again.

The "cycle of fifths" is built on the fifth note of the scale..going UP......for Bb instruments (sax etc) it is easier to think in terms of a "cycle of fourths" ...going DOWN....either way ends up at the same place....

Once you have learned these two fundamentals all you need is to learn to "flat your fifths... rather than drink them... for the blues" and you will be able to, "jam with the men."

Hang in there Girly, you'll get there.

05 Oct 99 - 01:54 AM (#120853)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: CarlZen

I just got to listen to a brand new CD today. It is called "Retrograss". The musicians are David Grisman, John Hartford, and Mike Seeger. The idea of the project was to put some of their favorite songs into the style af early, pre-bluegrass country music. Some of the comments in the booklet refer to dropping certain chords (i.e. in "Old Home Place" -key of G- there is a B chord and an A chord; the 3 and the 2 chord - they were dropped from the song. It is very much recognizable as the same tune, but the effect is very old-timey, and fun. Proving the point that just about any song can be worked down to only three chords.

Some of my favorite songs are those with only 2 chords. They let the natural rhythms of the music take over.

05 Oct 99 - 10:53 AM (#120921)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Pete Peterson

I gotta get that "retrograss" album. THANKS. Any Carter Family song uses only three chords, the I, IV and V chords as Gargoyle has described. Example: Little Darling Pal of Mine (which is the predecessor of This Land), Keep On the Sunny Side, and the other 300 or so. Something that can be hard to do but can sound really good, as CarlZen has described, is to simplify a song so it only uses three chords-- good example is (if you know it) the Carter Fam. Meeting in the Air-- that last couple lines: and God's Own Son will be the leading one at that meeting in the air sounds like it should have the same chords as Bill Bailey (I know I'm to blame, well ain't it a shame, BB won't you please come home) but it DOESNT, they just use IV, I, V, I. If you try to get more complicated it doesnt sound like the Carter Family any more and that's a big reason why they sound so great! WW, HAVE FUN; you can do it all with three chords! PETE PS: A good thing to be able to do is to pitch the song in the right key. Are you an alto? I have a good friend with whom I sing a lot; her range is from A above middle C to the G below (sometimes to the E below) which is NOT that big a range-- but we play most songs together in A, because the highest note of a song is usually the "do" above the starting note. Example: Stephen Foster's Hard Times goes very well in A and the highest note is the high "do" in the chorus: tis the song and the sigh of the weary HARD (that's the highest note) times, hard times, Come again no more. . . And then singing in A, the three chrods are A, D, E7. Hope this helps.

05 Oct 99 - 03:31 PM (#120995)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: M. Ted (inactive)

I used to teach guitar classes for beginners, and one of my classes was called "A hundred Songs in Five Minutes"

Here is the jist of it--About half of all rock songs are really "La Bamba--which is:


Repeated over and over--That is to say--play two counts for each letter--there is one measure in each set of slashes--

You can do things like "Hang on Sloopy". "Twist and Shout"- "Stand" by REM--these are just examples: listen for it when you listen to the radio--yoou'll be surprised at how often you hear it--

Next chord progression is:


Which is all or part of every Doo-Wop ballad ever--songs like "Earth Angel" and Hush-A-Bye". and The Every Brother's "Dream, Dream Dream" (except the bridge, which is FF/CC/G7G7/CC/FF/AmAm/ D7D7/G7G7. and is often used as the bridge in many other songs)

It is also used in songs like "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" and is the basis for the Pretender's "Don't Get Me Wrong" which has a bridge very similar to "Dream,Dream,Dream"

Here is a tip---Learn the songs a piece at a time--

songs are made up of one or more melodic phrases--usually four measures (each of 2,3, or 4 counts)each--

learn to play chords to each phrase first--(count them out-- "A'two three four D Two three four, or whatever, til you get the changes where they should be)-

Then the hum the melody while you play through the chords, and,and worry about the lyrics last of all--

Don't try to learn everything at once, you'll never get anywhere--

05 Oct 99 - 03:54 PM (#120998)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Mbo

One of my favorite songs, "Trip To Jerusalem" by Christy Moore is only a 2 chord song, but by listening to it, you would never know. Also, almost every early Kinks song (the record producers' fault, not the band's)is built on 2 chords -- the same 2 chords -- songs like: You Really Got Me, Tired of Waiting, All of The Day(And All of The Night), Who'll be The Next in Line, The End of the Day, Set Me Free...Etc. Good Stuff!


05 Oct 99 - 04:14 PM (#121003)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Pete Peterson

Funny how we are directing you to old rock and roll songs isn't it! When my youngest daughter said she wanted to play guitar we tried very hard to find songs in common I could start her on & we finally fell back on late 50's rock and roll; her first two songs were Dream and Bye Bye Love. (Well the first is a FOUR chord song) in about 1959 I wrote down every song I could find that had that C/Am/Dm/G progression starting with Heart and Soul and Blue Moon. WW you are getting good advice hope it helps PETE

05 Oct 99 - 04:18 PM (#121007)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Rick Fielding

Ahh, the good ol' number system. I love it. A number of years ago I played a fair bit in and about Nashville. One of the tricks that the session players used (that I consider invaluable) was a kind of numerical shorthand. Now these good old boys wouldn't be caught dead using I, IV, V, but what they scribbled on their little matchbooks before fecording a take was the same thing. It's just Do Re Mi by the numbers so don't be intimidated.

The chords for something easy like "Twinkle Twinkle.." would go like this

You pick the key. How about C. The above would read C//F/C/G/C/G/C/.

OK, something more difficult:

"Little Rock Gettaway"


Now I know that just looks like hen scratches (and it's a VERY complicated song) but once you know the code and attach a number to each do, re, mi, etc. it CAN be learned without too much trouble. It will allow you to jot down a chord pattern almost the first time you hear the song. The important thing to know is that you DON'T need to play fancy to "play with the men" (GG how 'bout we change that to "the good players"? I've got enough lumps on my head already) but you must play in tune and in time.

Oh, here's the chords for "Little Rock...." in, say.."F"

F/A/Dm/F7/Bb/D/Gm/G sharp dim./F/C#/C//F/F#dim/Gm/C/

Because it's a jazzy/bluesy tune you can use 7ths wherever you'd like. (or 9ths or whatever)


05 Oct 99 - 08:08 PM (#121074)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle

Well, Ol' Gal.....that's about it....(you now know the "inside secrets of the musical society.)

Once its discovered the "mystery" is gone.... you have the "truths" of BeBop, and the classical masters of the ages. (BTW the Western World's 1,4,5 has its roots in Christian is the olden day's"Amen" progression.)

Trace back to the "Blues" threads and you have the basic elements of that wonderfully simple style.

It is a little like discovering that the great Wizard of OZ .... is not much more.... than a simple, insecure, creep, that hides behind a big mask.

Now, if you want something that will take a lifetime to master ...... and the richness is always new.... move on into the world of JAZZ where "all the rules are broken." according to a plan.

Work Hard, Have Fun, Be Safe!!!!

05 Oct 99 - 08:48 PM (#121102)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Joe Offer

I think it was Gargoyle who mentioned the "circle of fifths." That's a concept I haven't been quite able to understand. What's the value/significance of this circle? For years, I've wondered why certain chord and note progressions sound "right" or "wrong," and why notes played together sound either right or wrong. Is it just something that we're used to, or is there a mathematical or physical reason behind the relationships of these various sounds? Can somebody explain further?
-Joe Offer-

05 Oct 99 - 09:01 PM (#121105)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Little Neophyte

I think Big Mick has the right idea. My approach is to keep it even simpler, I just socialize with folk musicians and snuggle up to their image. Little Neo

05 Oct 99 - 09:13 PM (#121112)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Hummingbird

John Denver has some great 3 or 4 chord songs. Sunshine on My Shoulders, Back Home Again,Leaving on Jet Plane and lots of others. If you need them, I'll be glad to give you a site where you can get a ton of them. They were realy good songs for me to start with because I was familiar with them as a child. GOod luck. hummer.

05 Oct 99 - 09:19 PM (#121115)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Little Neophyte

Seriously though, I think Joe Offer has an excellent question. Why do some chords sound horrific to the ear while others resonate so beautifully. It must be physics, or is it a personal/subjective experience? I would also love to hear some answers. Neo

05 Oct 99 - 09:30 PM (#121120)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: catspaw49

Ah phyte.....Thanks so much for reminding most of us how old we are!!!..LOL........Glad you're around!

Spaw - Who could have suggested JD leave on a jet plane to avoid crashing in a prop job.

05 Oct 99 - 09:30 PM (#121121)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: sophocleese

I think one of the reasons has to do with what you're used to hearing. I have noticed in attempting to sing harmonies in a group that I come up with some intervals that make others wince. Mostly that is when I do something other than staying a third away from the melody. I like harmonies that shift away from and then back to a resolution. My first experience of singing harmonies was singing madrigals where the various parts do not stay at discreet distances from one another but bash into each other, elbow neighbours off of their notes and generally behave rowdily until it all comes together at the end. Barbershop harmonies on the other hand tend to like to to stay close to each other and not go wandering off all over the place. growing up listening to one style would make a person uneasy if they then suddenly ran into the other style.

05 Oct 99 - 09:33 PM (#121125)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: folk1234

Great thread - No time to participate now, but keep it goin'.

05 Oct 99 - 09:39 PM (#121127)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Hummingbird

05 Oct 99 - 09:46 PM (#121135)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Roger in Baltimore


Part of it is "what you are used to." If you listen to music from other cultures, the "harmonies" (i.e. the chords) they use vary significantly from Anglo-Saxon ones to which we are accustomed.

Any group of notes can be a chord. My ex-wife's uncle is a musical prodigy (he formerly taught organ at some university). One of his parlor tricks was to ask three people their favorite note. He would then improvise a tune on the piano based on those three notes. It really did not matter to him what the three notes were as long as they were from the intervals on the scale.

Move into jazz and many chords sound dissonant to the ear, but their dissonance is used to make music.

Roger in Baltimore (and headed for the Getaway)

05 Oct 99 - 09:49 PM (#121136)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: sophocleese

Circle of fifths. Picture a clock. At 12 put the note C go round the clock putting the note that is a perfect fifth in the next spot. So; C, G, D, A, E, B, F#. Now of course the problem becomes do we call the next note C# or Db? And I can't remember where the shift hits the clock. Its a memory aid (when you can remember it) for some useful progressions. With the circle of fifths firmly locked in your consciousness you can look at it and know that the three basic chords for the key of G are: G and the ones on either side of it, C and D. There's more about it that's useful for people who know more about music than I do.

05 Oct 99 - 09:53 PM (#121138)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle is cultural background....

Unless it is a "Charlie Chan" or a "Bruce Lee" film...the pentatonic scale of the Asian cultures is "alien" to the "western folk - ear"

To the Mexican....the three tone vocalrange of the Hispanic culture's speaking is a beauty in-toned from infancy....when the little Spanish child encounters the fourth tone in his Anglo teacher's voice it is frightening.....when the teacher gets angry and raises the tone to the Anglo's fifth-tone-level....the small child reports that "when maestra gets angry she goes crazy" this is because the student has NEVER had experiences within this tonal range. (Olguin - 1973)

Back to MUSIC
To repeat a previous thread's admonition....JAZZ...transcends cultures....its "structure within non-structure" is a REAL challenge. It's tonal ranges break the boundries of tradition.

05 Oct 99 - 10:37 PM (#121155)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Neil Lowe

Joe, I'll give you a layman's perspective on the questions you raise. First, I am not a professional musician or theorist, but I have studied a little. So caveat emptor: a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

From what I remember of my music theory, the circle of fifths is a visual representation, a mnemonic device to help musicians remember how many sharps a certain key has. For example, at the top of the circle is the key of C. The key of C has no sharps, so when you play a C scale you play the notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. Pretty straightforward. Now you count five (hence the name circle of "fifths") notes starting from C in a clockwise fashion around the circle: C(1), D(2), E(3), F(4), G(5). The key of G has one sharp, F#. So when you play a G scale you play the notes: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G. Now repeat the sequence. Count around the circle clockwise from G to get the next key that has two sharps: G(1), A(2), B(3), C(4), D(5). The key of D has two sharps: F# and C#. Playing a D scale yields: D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D. Repeat. Count five from D and you get the Key of A. The key of A has three sharps: F#, C#, and G#. The A scale = A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A. Count five starting from A. You land on the key of E. The key of E has four sharps: F#, C#, G#, D#. If you notice, as you count by five to get the next scale, the sharps you are collecting along the way are also being added by counting by five from the last sharp to get the next sharp. For example, counting five starting from E you get the key of B. The key of B has five sharps: all the sharps in the key of E plus A#, which you could've gotten by counting five from the D# note in the key of E. By the way, to figure out the notes in a scale all you have to remember is that there is a full "step" (on a guitar that means you move two frets from the first note to the second note) between every note in the scale except between the third and fourth notes and the seventh and eighth notes. So for the key of C, the notes are: C[1](full step to) D[2](full step to) E[3](half step: move down only one fret this time to) F[4] (full step to) G[5] (full step to) A[6] (full step to) B[7] (half step this time to) C[8]. There you have it. There is a similar circle for the flat keys (for example, the keys of Bb, Eb, Ab) that helps you to remember how many flats a certain key has, but I never learned it too well, so someone else will have to explain how it works. All the sharps and flats in a key tell you which notes you can play in the scale of that key.

To your other questions regarding why certain notes and chords sound "right" together while others do not, there is no right answer. My personal opinion, I think it depends in large part on what we're accustomed to listening to. Mostly I think it has to do with the interval between the notes. For example, in the key of C it sounds right to go from C to F, and then to G. This is the age old I,IV,V pattern that so many songs are based on(I, IV, V refers to the notes in the scale on which the chords are built. In our example we started from C in the key of C, went to the fourth note in the scale which is F, and played an F chord, then went to the fifth note in the scale and played a G chord built on the G note). Blues, Country, Bluegrass, Folk, Rock, Pop - all have used this simple chord pattern a countless number of times. So this is what our ear becomes accustomed to. When we hear a song that plays a different pattern, say I, VII, II (C, B, D in our example of the key of C), the progression doesn't sound "right" to us. Good musicians (creative jazz musicians come readily to mind) and songwriters can be inventive and impose melodic patterns that veer from the norm - sometimes it works and then those patterns become acceptable to our ear, and also make those writers a ton of money in the process, because they've created something that sounds "fresh."

In the final analysis, I suppose, it all boils down to personal preference. I like the sound of discord, the sound of two notes a half step apart played simultaneously. I don't know why I like that sound, most people don't. I think it has something to do with the wavelengths of the notes being out of phase and the resultant vibrations that "being out of phase" causes, that causes me to like it, I don't know. But now that is delving into the realm of physics, and the science of accoustics. Anyone care to expound on those subjects?

Homework assignment: finish the circle of fifths and solve world hunger problem. Study your notes - there may be a pop quiz next class. Have a good night.

Regards, Neil

05 Oct 99 - 10:39 PM (#121158)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Jeri

There's a current discussion of the pentatonic scale called "Irish gapped scale" in The first song mentioned in that thread to use that scale was "My Bonnie Light Horseman." Does the Asian scale use a different five notes (different intervals) than this?

05 Oct 99 - 10:44 PM (#121159)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: sophocleese

Jeri, what are the intervals in the Irish Gapped Scale? Its a term I haven't heard before.

05 Oct 99 - 10:54 PM (#121167)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: WyoWoman

This is great! Thank you all so much. I'll print this out so I can study it -- plainly will take much more of my time than I can give it tonight.

And yes, Gargoyle, jazz is something I admire, but to which I don't aspire. I only have so many years left of this earthly veil and I don't think they're enough to even begin to consider learning to *play* jazz. But to appreciate? Yes.

I've known about the circle of fifths, or cycle of fifths, but haven't had it explained to me. So I will print this out and work at learning it so I can pass Neil's pop quiz.

Gratefully, WW

05 Oct 99 - 11:02 PM (#121169)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: wildlone

But surely jazz uses a lot of improvisation around a theme.
I like music to be "musical" in my record collectionI have early europian, renaissance,folk,eastern,blues,pop,and rock but what you wont find is the sort that sounds like an car crash in a music store ie progresive jazz.
sorry about thread creep folks. Many thanks for all those new chords at the moment guitar tuned to A and using a 1 finger barre.**BG**

05 Oct 99 - 11:15 PM (#121176)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Jeri

The notes in Bonnie Light Horseman are DEGAB, if you sing it in G. Amazing Grace (although neither Iris nor traditional) is also pentatonic and uses the same notes in G. I'm too tired right now to figure it out past this point. I'm reading the newsgroup discussion, but I haven't had any real music education, so it's been difficult for me to understand.

05 Oct 99 - 11:24 PM (#121180)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle

mea culpa - my base of referral above should be reversed...(in music in MUST think in multiple directions)

Neil is right on target for a mnemonic for remembering # and b's....another is ..."in the key signiture.... take the last added sharp # and go one step higher (for the key it is written in) or take the second to last flat (b) and that IS the key."

In Western Music Culture the cycle of fifths is the most natural progression of tone from one to another. ie. from the note of C....the most natural next tone is F.....(a perfect fifth BELOW or a fourth above.) It is the note that the chord wants to be drawn towards.....the progression is always "moving towards" a tone one fifth below (there may be a by-ways along the path...but they add interest and a sense of anticipation as the listener waits for full fuitiion of the tone. ie: C,F,Bb,Eb,Ab,Db,Gb,B,E,A,D,G,and back to C

I would guess that 70% of all "modern" songs use this cycle.

06 Oct 99 - 12:18 AM (#121195)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: M. Ted (inactive)

The circle of fifths or circle of fourths, depending which way you want to go around the circle, is not just a mnemonic device--it is a rather peculiar phenomena having to do with the relationship of the keys to one another--

The most reasonable way to think about it is like this-- In every key, there is a tonic chord say "C", and a Dominant chord, say "G7"--(in fact, many songs just whack back and forth between tonic and dominant chords til the cows come home0

Now, if you take the Tonic chord, C and make it a C7, it become the dominant chord in for the key of F--F7 is the dominant in Bb--Bb7 in Eb until you have gone all the way around through all 12 keys--

There is a real, scientific reason that there is such a strong relationship between the tonic and the dominant, and that they sound right, alternating like they do in our western (diatonic) music, but I am to tired to explain it, and when you hear the ezplanation, you will understand what makes me so tired--

There are cultures where they don't bounce back and forth between Tonic and Dominant harmonies and stay on one chord, and that music is called monophony or sometimes *monotony*, which should give you a clue as to why we in the west have traditionally preferred to bounce a round a little--

The thing to remember is that when you move through the circle of 4th/5th, you are changing keys, and the reason is to avoid monotony--

06 Oct 99 - 02:20 AM (#121209)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: bseed(charleskratz)

MTed is right: The effect of the circle of fifths is to use a series of seventh chords each of which anticipates (but doesn't resolve itself in) the next, until reaching the tonic, which is a triad, and the resolution for the series. Sounds technical, but play it and see how easy it is: Two step circle of fifths progression C, D7, G7, C

3 step, C, A7, D7, G7, C.

4 step, C, E7, A7, D7, G7, C

Before my hard drive crashed I had a chart of the circle of fifths I made for my students. I still have it, but it's in a floppy at school. I'll bring it home and save it as a GIF file and e-mail anyone who would like to have it. Of course, you can find such a circle in many instrumental instruction books.

By the way, here's a song that you can practice that features a four-step circle of fifths progression:

(C)Five foot two, (E7)eyes of blue,
(A7)Oh what those five feet can do,
Has (D7)anybody [G7]seen my (C)gal?(G7)

(C)Turned up nose, (E7)turned down hose,
(A7)Flapper? yes sir, one of those,
Has (D7)anybody [G7]seen my (C)gal?

If you should (B7)run into a five-foot-two
All(E7)Covered with furs,
(A7)Diamond rings, all those things,
You can (D7)bet your life hat it isn't her,

But (C)could she love, (E7)could she woo,
(A7)Could she cootchie-cootchie coo,
Has (D7)anybody [G7]seen my (C)gal?

Note--Bracketed chords occur at the half measure. Others receive a full measure except all the A7 chords plus the D7 in the bridge receive two full measures.

Work this one out and you will find one important use for the circle of fifths. Another, of course, is for transposing songs to other keys, but more on that when I have the chart to send you.


06 Oct 99 - 02:37 AM (#121211)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: CarlZen

For an interresting read on this same general subject matter, I would reccommend "Music, the Brain and Ecstacy". I can't find my copy right now, so I don't have the author name, but the book is only a few years old and should be easily available. It takes all of the "Why do some chords sound good together while others create havoc in the ears?" questions, throws a bit of science into the mix and ends up stimulating and fascinating.

06 Oct 99 - 04:51 AM (#121228)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: alison

Well there you go.. grade 8 theory and I'd never ever heard it described as a circle of fifths (well not done on a clock face anyway.. is this an American thing?)...... we used a sentence ..

for order in which flats appear

Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles' Father

and for sharps

Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle

basically you just take that one sentence and start with whatever letter is appropriate...

Basic rule of theory to change key to any other key.... stick in the 5th of the key you want to change to before you change key and your key changes will sound smoother.



06 Oct 99 - 09:07 AM (#121268)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Neil Lowe

BTW to answer your question of my favorites is "Carmelita" by Warren Zevon...he plays it in the key of E, but Linda Rondstadt(sp?) recorded it in the key of C to better fit her vocal range, I assume..either way the chords are E, A and B7 in the key of E....C, F and G7 in the key of C (that good ole' I, IV, V pattern).....

What else? "Blowin' In The Wind" by Bob Dylan. In the key of A the chords are A, D, and E...again I, IV, V.

06 Oct 99 - 09:39 AM (#121274)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Pete Peterson

Can't resist jumping in again. Richard Feynman used to say that you can't really answer a "why" question because it leads to another "why" question. So I'll try to answer the first level question: why do some combinations of notes sound GOOD and some sound dissonant? the answer goes back to Pythagoras( yes, the triangle man) in about 600 BC: the intervals that sound "good" to the ear are ones in which the ratios of the length of the string that makes that note are SMALL WHOLE NUMBERS. Wyo, take your guitar and measure the length of the string, nut to bridge. You will probably get somewhere around 24 inches. (I'm going to use 24 ' for the examples; I have a very old small-scale Martin) Play a note, any note. That is the full length of the string, all 24 inches. Measure off exactly HALF that length and play that note. You should get the same note as before, an octave higher. (That should sound GOOD to your ear) If you go 1/3 the length down, you will get a fifth above (if on 1st string, you will get E, E octave, B) if you go 1/4 the length down you should get A. . . but if you go 13/32 of the way down you will get a note that sounds dissonant ("not as good") when played with the original note. If the ratio of the lengths is a "small" number, it will sound good, if higher, it will sound dissonant. (Hey, this would make a great science project, keep making the ratio a little bigger and see where it starts to sound 'bad". To me 4:3 sounds good and 5:4 sounds less so and by 6:5 it's a definite dissonance.) And you will notice that all we have done is make the "why" one step down-- why do the small whole numbers sound good and larger ratios sound bad? I don't think anybody knows except to say that God must be a mathematician. Was this sufficiently confusing? PETE

06 Oct 99 - 10:12 AM (#121279)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: catspaw49

Feynman fan here too Pete....For my bucks, one of the most overall brilliant people of this (or any other) century.

The scale length and ratio you describe is obviously essential to fretting an instrument. Guitars have pretty well settles in on 3 basic scale lengths and another couple used less frequently. Appalachian dulcimers are a great example of using the ratio to build whatever you like. I built a couple of "hand size" Apps a few years ago just for fun...but it was really a challenge to accurately fret them....and before anyone asks, paper clips made excellent fret wire.

If you want an excellent example of fifths and fourths and the sheer brilliance of an instruments design, look at Hammered Dulcimers. Sometimes we tend to think that theories and technologies are recent discoveries. I am humbled at the "genius of simplicity" possessed by the person who originally came up with the rail/course pattern of a HD....about 1500+ years ago. And interestingly, it wasn't one person. The instrument popped up at about the same time in different parts of the world and the oriental versions reflected the tonalities of their music with the same simple yet complex beauty. Fascinating instruments...beautiful too.


06 Oct 99 - 10:41 AM (#121287)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Neil Lowe if I were playing in the key of C and I wanted to change to the key of D I would play an A as a "transition" chord....thanks Alison. Neat device. I have heard songs that employ your theory rule but didn't know that was how it was done. Someday I may be able to fool (not you guys) someone into believing that I actually know something about music! *BG*

Regards, Neil (who's never too old to learn)

06 Oct 99 - 11:39 AM (#121304)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Rick Fielding

Alison, I've often found that musical "terms" can be construed in different ways. There are many colloquial ways of expressing the same thing. Sometimes it's difficult to keep up. You almost have to learn each music style's "slang". Sometimes without thinking I'll ask someone (on stage) to "vamp on the one" (keep playing the first chord of the song, until I start to sing a verse) and I realize they have no idea what I mean. Other (instant rehearsal) instructions might be "1,4,5, and look for a 2. When playing one of the many "Salty Dog" type songs, often the person starting it will just say "circle of fifths in "G". "Take it out!" often means play a solo and end the song. "Tag it!" means play the last four bars over again and end the song. "Cut!" means everyone comes to a sharp stop in the music, while one person solos for (usually) two bars.

On the other hand, Earl Scruggs, when he thought the tempo was rushing, used to tromp down hard on the foot of Paul Warren the fiddler in the Flatt and Scruggs band. Now that's a signal that anyone could understand!


06 Oct 99 - 11:43 AM (#121306)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: MMario

I haven't the foggiest idea what anything above means, but gawd I love to hear people talk about it.

06 Oct 99 - 11:52 AM (#121311)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Roger the skiffler

Like MMario, I don't understand any of this but, Rick, re: band signals ("One more, Steph, One more"): Jazz trumpeter, Humphrey Lyttleton, tells of his early days with the Owen Bryce Band (a 2-trumpet lead a la Oliver band just after WW2). Bryce, a skinny vegetarian with bony elbows used to dig him in the ribs, if he got out of line. He claims that's why he left to form his own band! Bryce was still running bands and teaching trumpet & piano when I lived in S. London in the 1970s and Humph is still going strong, and plays locally (near his old school) a couple of times a year which I try not to miss. End of thread creep, carry on with the technical discussion, guys!

06 Oct 99 - 11:59 AM (#121316)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Rick Fielding

Ha, Ha, Thanks Mario (and Roger). I know what you mean. Ten years ago when all my friends started talking "computereze" I was completely in the dark. I still am for the most part today, cause I've chosen not to learn "the chat". Just enough knowledge to let me enjoy Mudcat and get my e-mail suits me fine. It's why I'd never be critical about folks who don't feel they have the time or inclination to dive into the depths of the various musical sub-cultures. Sing and play enough to enjoy yourself..that's all that's needed.


06 Oct 99 - 12:17 PM (#121324)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: M. Ted (inactive)

Pete--you're not supposed to tell them about the ratios!!The ratios scare everyone!

There is a reason that these notes sound "bad", that is to say, not really bad but *different*(we have to be politically correct here, because it turns out that there are scale systems where these notes are OK, and in fact, occassionally, regarded as being better than the notes that sound good to Western ears)--

These notes are weaker harmonics-- they occur only in the farther reaches--which is to say, the highest octaves, of the overtone series--and, technically, they don't even quite occur in the scale, or at least in our "Tempered" scale, because the pitch that they correspond to has been adjusted so that it harmonizes better--

Neil Lowe--the transition would be an A7 chord, which is the dominant chord in the key of D--The A chord by itself won't sound quite right--

Spaw--You are right about the instrument, but let's call it by a cool name. like the Hungarian name for it "Cimbalom", or the more Middle Eastern "Santour"!!

BSeed--Straight from the "Guitar Teacher's Circle of Fifths songbook"!! Let me ask you this--do you know of any songs that work back to C from the B7? And are you going to tell them about chord substitutions?

06 Oct 99 - 12:35 PM (#121327)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: annamill

Wow! I'm consumed with humility! I cannot wait to get home to print this out and try to play. Gargoyle, how do you feel about vocal jazz groups like Lambert, Hendrics, and Ross? Is their scatting the type of thing you were talking about? or am I way off base? If these are not what you are referring to, can you give me some examples, please?

Overwhelmed, love, annap

06 Oct 99 - 04:49 PM (#121428)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: --seed

MTed, the bridge of the song I posted goes from B7 to D7, then jumps to C when it gets back to the standard pattern.

And Roger, when did you stop zimming? I miss the sweet, mournful sound of your mountain zim. --seed

06 Oct 99 - 05:07 PM (#121434)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Peter T.

M. Ted alludes to the historical artefact (created between 1650-1750), which is that modern Western music belongs to the "Well Tempered" System, which took what had been a range of microtones around a note (like D) and fixed on a particular version of that note, and all notes, and then took the whole steps and half steps associated with those notes, and made them into scales, and keys, and worked it out so you could change keys by flipping for example the dominant of one key into the tonic of another, and various other progressions, including the circle of fifths and fourths. These tie it all together into a pretty good network, mostly associated with harpsichord and later piano playing (because of their uniformity of tone all the way up and down their range). This was extremely convenient, and powerful, but all musicologists know that one of the things you lose is the intermediate tones (which reappear when you "Blue" notes or smear them, or whatever). Most classical Western music after Wagner tries to reintroduce some variation on the mainline structure (modal music which has different spacings between notes, Asian microtones, serial music with no tonality, and so on, which is why lots of Western trained people don't like that kind of music. But they listen to blues, so there you are.
yours, Peter T.

06 Oct 99 - 06:48 PM (#121472)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Jon Freeman

Seeing some of the chord progressions here has reminded me A Windmill in Amsterdam. In the verses, to my primitive way of thinking, you just keep going to the next flatter key so if you started in E, you would have:

A (E) mouse lived in a (A) windmill in (D)old Amster(G)dam
A (C)windmill with a (F)mouse in and (B??)he wasn't (E)grousin'...


06 Oct 99 - 08:26 PM (#121508)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle

To the girl from a Northern State....THANX....this is "classic" in the style of the old DT stuff.

PP - WOW!!!

You took me back to a Freshmen course....the Physics 101 instructor played demonstrate "wave theory" he used an overhead projector, with a large glass dish, filled with colored water....on top of a variable vibrator..... the projection produced a widely controlable pattern of moving waves....(we students adopted his methods to some "psychadelic-light-shows" at some band performances at the university.) An additional facination came with the addition of blocks (fretting) and the visual rendering of harmonics. The entire week's lesson ranged from ocean tsunamis to Baetovian finalies....and a solo performance on the violin with the strings portrayed in silloete upon the ceiling......Univerity was new, and classes were below 20 in each room....At the time I didn't have a clue what being given to me.

BTW....Jazz REALLY isn't's just taking the long way around to get to the "resolution chord," and having fun doing it. don't mention this is another "secret."

06 Oct 99 - 08:35 PM (#121513)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Alice

hey, I already printed out this thread, and now it keeps going with even more good stuff. I added it to the Memorable Mudcat Threads list this morning. The violinist/pianist that I work with as an accompanist is also a piano tuner. I was singing those two verses of Lagan Love that were revealed on the forum during session last Sunday, and a guitarist who had never heard it before wanted to know if he could play along. I said, this one has notes 'between the cracks' of the keys, so let me do it solo. The piano tuner then mentioned all the frequencies between notes on a piano when tuning. -gar, any more details on that secret of the jazz trip around to get to the "resolution chord"?


06 Oct 99 - 11:08 PM (#121542)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: catspaw49

I don't know what was meant by "secret" Alice, but professional jazz players probably play more on a daily basis than musicians in any other form of music. They also have phenomenal chops (technical abilities annap) and these two things alone (but they are a LOT) gives them a comfort level with an instrument that is beyond the imagination of most. Most of the greats are also less than communicative about the how of "takin' it out" and "bringin' it back." Some do this better than others and if you want to hear someone who may be the greatest master of this, listen to Paul Desmond. His solo work is like a circle....starts simply, often very slowly, and ends the same way. In between there are long and increasingly complex and interesting flights of whimsy...each new sentence building on the last and leading to the next. Then it begins to return in the same manner and as he finishes, the last sentences are much like the first and with a period...not an exclamation point. You're left in awe, or at least my simple ass is. A totally self deprecating man, he described himself once as the "slowest, quietest, Alto player of all time" and onetime someone asked what he was "thinking" during one of his typically great, but long, solo breaks. He said, "I was thinking the other guys were getting bored."


06 Oct 99 - 11:34 PM (#121551)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: WyoWoman

I've done a couple of memorable jams that turned into something much akin to jazz, in which I was singing without words and playing off the other instrumentalists' riffs. Got completely lost, all of us, dancing around each other, but then found our ways back home again. Simply scrumptious stuff.

And 30 years ago I studied all this music theory back when I was a music major. But it has receded into some dark shelf in the basement of my cerebelum, gathering dust and ossifying. Perhaps this thread will pull it out into the light again and I'll have that knowledge up where I can use it.

I've been thinking of what Gargoyle said some time back about the role of culture in the music we're able to tolerate and/or love. My mother, who was a music teacher for years and just loves regular ol' classical music (of the European tradition) simply cannot abide blues or jazz or anything that "bends" the notes. They don't sound like music to her, and it offends her ear. On the other hand, as soon as I heard someone singing blues or a blue note here and there, I instantly responded to it -- and that's always sounded like music to me. Same with sitar music and Middle Eastern music. I have my preferences, of course, but I have no requirement that music fit in the definitions I was born into, i.e., my mother's idea of music (not to dis' my mother, by the way. She's the reason I know much of anything about singing and about reading music, etc.)

But it makes me wonder: Why is it that some of us instantly bypass our family's sense of music and embrace other musical forms and genres, in a sense becoming part of a meta-culture, that of "musicians" -- way back before we're old enough or experienced enough even to articulate those feelings?

Did that make any sense?


07 Oct 99 - 12:23 AM (#121564)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: bseed(charleskratz)

For those who would like a clear overview of music theory, harmonica teacher David Harp has an excellent book, the size and shape of a guitar case book. A tape is also available to accompany the book and helps to make the abstract concrete.

And Patsclaw, who is ghostwriting that for you? One of your friends asked me to forward this message:

You cain't rite lyk thayut. You gettin' all snewty and me and the Reguz ar gunna kik yore but (Pawz jus gunna wach cuz he aint feelin' to friskie). CLETUS

07 Oct 99 - 12:36 AM (#121566)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: M. Ted (inactive)

Seed--I was looking for something that goes through from B7 in the "A" part of the song--I think I found something--which I believe is the "Carousel Waltx" only thing is that it seems to work better with the substitute chords--

Pete--You give the impression that the scales were developed in the time period that you mention--they were much older--even diatonic music, using scales instead of modes, was much earlier--the music of the time preceding the development of "even temperament" wasn't microtonal, the difference was that the scales had perfect intervals in them--and you had to re-tune the instruments in order to change keys--

My recollection is that the kind of diatonic melodies that we commonly find in British Isles and American folk music tended to show up in composed music around this time--

07 Oct 99 - 07:31 AM (#121619)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Little Neophyte

Catspaw, Paul Desmond sounds like a musician who feels his way through his music requiring little theory or concrete parameters to guide him. I find that quite inspiring. M Ted, Thanks for your answers on "bad" and "good" chord progressions, I understand better. Roger the skiffler darling are you making racial remarks about us vegetarian? Little Neo

07 Oct 99 - 08:31 AM (#121630)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Neil Lowe

WW, you raise an interesting question. I don't recollect in my childhood ever being exposed to Celtic music, but when I first heard it I knew there was something there for me. Maybe the fact that there is in me some Irish blood mixed in with the other Heinz 57 varieties predisposes me to that kind of music....a "music" gene, maybe?

Regards, Neil

07 Oct 99 - 08:45 AM (#121636)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Peter T.

M. Ted, you are right, I was talking sloppily about the historical process to get the point across. Always dangerous. yours, Peter T.

07 Oct 99 - 10:10 AM (#121655)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Rick Fielding

One problem inherent in learning theory is it's plain scary! Unless you were forced at AK47 point to learn as a child it can be very daunting, especially if it's in aid of your hobby (folk music, blues, country etc.)and you also see that many great musicians can't read a note.
I had a neighbour once who would sit down at her piano at 11am every morning and play gloriously for an hour. From upstairs, I would try to predict what she might offer that day, Rachmaninov's "C#m"? A Chopin Polanaise? I'd get a book and read for the hour while enjoying her offerings, always impressed with her timing and dynamics - the whole ball of wax. One day there was a birthday party for a mutual friend in my neighbour's apartment, and while the candles were being blown out, I noticed my neighbour madly searching through her voluminous pile of sheet music for 'Happy Birthday"!! "Richard", play it, quickly, she asked," I couldn't believe that she was so locked in to her music that she couldn't play something that simple by ear. Over the next few months we talked a lot about music, and I found that along with extensive piano lessons as a child she'd also been indoctrinated about "good and bad" music by her parents and music teacher. I started bringing albums over for her to listen to - stuff like "The Hot Five", "Bix", Ellington, (I knew enough not to try Bill Evans or even Art Tatum at that point). She hated it all. Once I tried to get her to listen to "In a Mist" and went through all the stuff about Bix mixing styles etc. She just said "I think that's SO vulgar"! Sadly the 11am concerts stopped. I never asked, but I think she felt that since I loved "that silly noise" as she called (pretty trad) jazz, I couldn't possibly appreciate her renditions of the classics.

If I'm working with students on any kind of theoretical approach, it's ALWAYS after we've spent a substantial amount of time on learning to play by ear, learning to improvise AND learning to play with others (on their terms). Good jams are one hell of a lot of fun. I don't use any books on theory when I'm working with neophytes, just get 'em to memorize "Do Re Mi etc", then put the note "C" to the "Do", and then put the number "1" to the "C" and the "Do". It's much less intimidating, and pretty soon they know that a lot of folksongs, blues, and country songs are just good ol' 1, 4, 5.


07 Oct 99 - 12:43 PM (#121717)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Alice

Spaw, I hoped to keep gargoyle on the roll he was on... it was good. My favorite jazz is the old stuff like "Stuff Smith".

08 Oct 99 - 07:44 AM (#122010)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: TimC

Hi yall,

My approach to teaching 3 & 4-chord trick is to use the methods listed above using 1,4,5 and flattened 6 for the relative minor. This has even worked with a seven-year-old(with the help of cardboard rotating Chordfinder).

The intervals on the scale I teach as: tone-tone-semitone-tone-tone-tone-semitone

This seems to work as well. My website gives it in table form.

As for why some music sounds good and some bad, my science experience agrees with all that has been said, but I always use my Psycho-Acoustic theory of music, which I shall expound on some day but it includes the following points:

- The fifth chord with a seventh always needs resolution to the fourth or the first chord.

- A suspended 4th is a handy way of building tension

- Even tone-deaf people will always notice when your guitar is out of tune!

Keep up the thread, it's very enjoyable and informative


08 Oct 99 - 09:19 AM (#122037)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: The Big Man

Okay,If I'm following this correctly where on earth does Doh, Ray, Me etc come from? Has it always been there? Is it the equivalent of C,G etc? Perhaps this is why I have such a hardtime tuning the guitar, although I can play 'Man of the world' on one and sometimes two strings.


08 Oct 99 - 10:07 AM (#122055)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Neil Lowe

If I understand your question correctly, Big Man, the Do-Re-Mi stuff corresponds to the notes in the scale of any particular key. In the key of C, then Do = C; Re = D; Mi = E; Fa = F; So = G; La = A; Ti = B..."and that will bring you back to 'Do'." In the key of G, Do = G; Re = A; Mi = B...and so on. How the originator came up with these particular sounds for the notes of the scale is for more musicological-ly minded minds than mine to explain.

Regards, Neil

08 Oct 99 - 10:20 AM (#122060)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Rick Fielding

Good question though, where'd the terms do, re, mi, come from? If someone says Julie Andrews I'll scream!


08 Oct 99 - 11:33 AM (#122086)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: sophocleese

Drat! Rick, that was my first guess. Now I'll actually have to try and find out. The only thing so far is that the Shorter Oxford Dictionary says it comes from the 18th century and is Italian.

08 Oct 99 - 12:46 PM (#122106)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: M. Ted (inactive)

PeterT--I knew you were just overgeneralizing to make a historical point, and I was just jumping on you because I am obsessive-compulsive about details--but now these people have gotten to the point where they want to know where the scale comes from-- from Neil Lowe "How the originator came up with these particular sounds for the notes of the scale is for more musicological-ly minded minds than mine to explain."

The secret answer is that the development of scales--and the assignment of pitch values to them, was a process that began a long time ago--with Pythagoras as far as our records show, (but I'll bet that he was just trying to straighten out some questions and problems that were floating around at the time)--

Basically, there are three perfect intervals the fourth(g-c) and the fifth(C-G), and the octave, and the descending minor third (c-am--which is "It's raining, its pouring) that seem natural to the voice--they tend to occur in some form in musical material from all cultures (though there is a scale in Arabic classical music that rather perversely eliminates the octave, and the Locrian mode has an augmented fifth rather than a perfect fifth)--the other notes in between, as well as whether there are other notes, and how many there should be, has been up for grabs--and to a surprising degree, still is--

The diatonic scale, the do re mi thing, was one of a bunch of church modes that have been used in western music since about the 8th century--those were based on the ancient greek modes--The actual pitches used for those notes weren't settled on til the times we mentioned above, when even temperament was introduced--but when the classical period began, Western composers began to work with the major and minor scales, exclusively--

Today, with the use of a lot of bent and twisted notes from Jazz, use of microtones, and even totally new scale systems, there is a lot of redefinition of what comprises a scale, and there are a number of composers who actually create new scales and pitch assignments for each composition--

As far as folk music goes, musicologists have always fought over what pitches were what--the early collectors of spirituals evened out the bent notes altogether--and ethnomusicolgists still like to discuss what that blue note is--and whether it is an ornament or a scale element--and don't even mention scales from eastern and middle Eastern music traditions!

08 Oct 99 - 12:55 PM (#122108)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Little Neophyte

Do I really need to learn all this theory to become a good banjo player? I like Rick's approach, keep it simple. Is the music theory that essential? Will I eventually be confronted with my own limitations because I'm weak in theory? Little Neo

08 Oct 99 - 01:23 PM (#122113)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: M. Ted (inactive)

That is a good comment--you need to understand the music that you are playing and how it works--as a folk musician, you are your own arranger, so the better you understand what has been done and what is possible, the more interesting you can make your music--

As to other stuff--my big complaint was that there were a lot of simple things that I needed to understand about music and my instrument that no one ever told me, because they were busy either dispensing a standard academic lecture on classical music theory, or a very idiosyncratic discourse on something that they happened to really like--

As a musician, you are confronted by your limitations every day--if you understand the basic theory of what you are doing, it lays the foundation for you to move ahead--but it is easy to get buried by all the non-essential but important sounding stuff, and get so confused that you just stay put!!

08 Oct 99 - 04:26 PM (#122150)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: sophocleese

The concept of usong names for notes has been around since, at least, gregorian times. This is what my husband tells me. Doh used to be called 'ut'. Anymore information will just have to wait for some keen historian to tell us.

08 Oct 99 - 10:43 PM (#122227)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Alice

Here is one source with an explanation of how 'do re me' came to be. I will quote in part and then give a link to the entire article, which is interesting.

" Guido D'Arezzo, a monk who lived in the early 11th century devised a version of the staff that is the precursor of today's staff. Some of his practices also contributed to "sight-singing"--the reading of music at sight. He also started the practice of using the Latin syllables of Do, Re, Mi, Fa, etc. to symbolize pitches. "

So you can blame it on Guido. Here's the website:
click here Music of the Middle Ages and Rennaissance

08 Oct 99 - 10:52 PM (#122232)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Rick Fielding

Thanks Alice. When I want to fantasize, I put on an album of Gregorian Chants and sing along in my fractured latin. I can so easily take myself back in time, and the visual images start to surround me...then the phone rings and some damn telemarketer starts asking if...........

Hey, there's ALL kinds of fantasies!


08 Oct 99 - 10:59 PM (#122233)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: catspaw49

Julie Andrews my ass was Woody


08 Oct 99 - 11:08 PM (#122237)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: WyoWoman

Lil Neo -- Nah, you don't need to understand all that stuff. But I think it's fascinating. I absolutely love the history of music (although I don't know that much about it) and the theory that has evolved out of that history. It's just good, clean "mind fun" for me.

But it also helps provide depth to your understanding of the music, to know where it came from and how it's been put together.


08 Oct 99 - 11:15 PM (#122243)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Little Neophyte

This is very true Wyo Woman, the history is intriguing. It was the depth of theory content that was making me dizzy. Little Neo

09 Oct 99 - 04:55 AM (#122273)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle

Rick you are WRONG!!!! such biased views frighten many away....(and keeps music to an 'eleat' few) Quote..."One problem inherent in learning theory is it's plain scary! "////////

It is simple, it is LOGICAL,,,, and IT IS FUN!!!! Nothing "scary" about it.

Tim C's approach is BEAUTIFUL in its simplicity...check out his site....remember the ancient admonition when working with students...KISS...

In regard to the Jazz question...Let us build on the classic "Bill Baily" example of the honorable Mr. Seed.

After the first three notes of the tune, the audience instictively has an understanding of the key and the direction the melody is going, even if they don't know how to play an instrument or read notes. It is cultural.

It is the pleasure of the Jazz musician to tease, to tantalize, to "create harmonic puzzles/mazes" and then solve them for the listener. When inprovising, sometimes the performer will find himself "trapped" in an area of new territory or even "lost" ( In which case they will follow the same progression backwards out of the area...and then plunge right back in along the same thread looking for the "solution... the resolution." It is this "game" which the audience delights in...consciously, or without cognition.

This is easier heard than read: Starting with the original melodic line of "Bill Baily" and its chord transitions...we may decide to embellish the notes within the first phrase....perhaps we "double" every other one, or slip in additional notes, or insert chromatic half tones along the way....or turn to a "5-7 chord" when resolution was many things happen "accidently." Serendipity is at work in Jazz. It is a process of themes and VARIATIONS...

The "audience" (including the player) know where we are going...we just want to keep them wondering "IF" or "WHEN" we will get there...

There is little room for this... within the "digital tradition" which attempts to catalogue and record precise historic melodies....however, within the "oral tradition" it is the source of so many themes and variations that have found their way into the finely woven tapistry of song with threads borrowed from other lands and ages.

09 Oct 99 - 02:53 PM (#122319)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Little Neophyte

Gargoyle, in my personal experience with Rick Fielding as my music teacher I have found his approach to music theory to be practical, simplistic and realistic. He dismantles the intimidation, and instructs the material creatively which constantly captures my interest. Little Neophyte

09 Oct 99 - 07:48 PM (#122349)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Rick Fielding

Dear Gargoyle, how right you are! All those folks who approach learning to read music with trepidation need is a swift kick in the pants. Stupidly, I never realised just how "biased" my views were (especially since I apparently have wasted literally thousands of words here on Mudcat, trying to HELP demystify those little "henscratches and flyspecks" (as Pete Seeger calls music notation). Instead I've been "frightening them off", oh, and advocating some kind of "elitist" point of view. Ahh, perhaps in the "old Mudcat" I'd have been put in my place quickly, before all this damage could have been done. I'll leave this thread quietly now.


09 Oct 99 - 09:00 PM (#122367)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle

Rick we obviously have a diametrically opposed view of the term "musician."

Your words "scary and forced and AK47" applied to the SIMPLEST of truly scary.

Just because someone creates pomes-fritz at a MickyD's does make them a "chef."

Just because someone plays with a group or produces a record doesn't make them a "musician."

A man with a wrench... isn't a tool and die maker... anymore than a person dressed in white with a scalple... is a surgeon.

A "musician" should be a master of their field...they should read, they should write, they should transpose, they should improvise, they should accompany.

A person that cannot play by ear is no more a musician than the person that cannot read music. Illitacy abounds in all fields and many of the quacks sqwack the longest.

A child with a coffee-can drum knows what FUN is....he doesn't give a hoot about syncopathic rhythms....he has fun. When music becomes, scary, and forced it ceases to be fun and the spirit of play is lost.

For most of us .... music is an amusing toy; and few have the talent, ambition, discipline, opportunity to become "musicians."

Most "three chord players" have a lifetime of pleasure ...And This Is As It Should Be.........

as long as they don't meet up with a "professional AKA 47 approach teacher" that scares them away.

09 Oct 99 - 10:31 PM (#122384)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Little Neophyte

Boy Gargoyle you sure have a knack for making someone feel worthless. Neo

09 Oct 99 - 10:53 PM (#122391)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: sophocleese

There is a middle way. Theory need not be terrifying. Its a series of puzzles, an exploration into relationships, and a new language. On an intellectual level if you can cut up two dimensional fabric and sew it together to create a three dimensional object then you can understand theory. Theory is a helpful tool. It can help you name things that you're hearing and it can also lead your ear into new territory. Gargoyle's comments aren't really scary and neither are Rick's. They comment on their own personal experience with a particular subject. The subject is still there and you can approach it in whatever fashion you wish to; challenge, bugbear, mild interest or impossible dream. I find theory fascinating but know that my knowledge of it is piecemeal and that my ear needs far more training. I still sing because I like singing. I don't feel either big or small I feel human.

09 Oct 99 - 11:00 PM (#122392)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: bseed(charleskratz)

Gargoyle, I hope we're not going to have a return to the "I'm right and you're an idiot" tenor of your previous incarnation. You had contributed an awful lot of very good information on this thread--and several other recent ones: personally, I'm happy you're back, but I'm a bit uneasy about it as well.

Music theory IS easy and logical, when presented well--but many people, particularly those who learned from pedagogues who forced-fed it, end up afraid of it. What I have I got more or less by osmosis: I did learn the basics of music transcription in early music lessons, but had no idea of the meaning of it other than that the lines in the treble clef could be remembered as Every Good Boy Does Fine and the spaces as FACE, that the bass cleff was Good Boys Do Fine Always and All Cows Eat Grass, that natural notes were the white keys of the piano keyboard, that if they were sharped or flatted they became black notes, and about basic rhythmic patterns, note lengths, bars, etc. Knowledge about harmonic structure came as I needed it: tonic and dominant and subdominant chords, majors and minors and sevenths and the rest, the rule of fifths and its usefulness in transcribing tunes to fit my range and in figuring out chord progressions by ear, came as my ear developed and my repertoire grew. But if all this had been presented to me as stuff I had to memorize without knowing its usefulness, I'd probably never have got it. Not that I have enough of it for you to consider me a musician--but I'll bet Rick does, and does a damned good job of communicating it.


09 Oct 99 - 11:03 PM (#122393)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: bseed(charleskratz)

Little Neo, you catch on quickly. --seed

09 Oct 99 - 11:58 PM (#122400)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle

Dear sophocleese - thanx for a little oil on troubled waters....

Dear "neo"

Your name says it all.

Sit back, and observe Grasshopper.

If it is ain't play....

If it ain't play....its probably not worth doing in the first place.

10 Oct 99 - 02:13 AM (#122423)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Margo

Yes Garg, music thoery isn't really hard. I know because I was good in music thoery class. But I must admit it was a surprise to me. A lot of it is just putting into technical terms what we know already from listening and playing. I used to have a circle of fifths "wheel", just like the verb wheels we used to have for French class. You dial up a tonic, and you get the dominant and subdominant in little windows. Funny, I had forgotton about that. Yep, it's the old I, IV, V pattern that is the basis for so many songs.....


10 Oct 99 - 08:40 AM (#122452)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: alison

I think the problem with theory is that those of us who learnt it when we were very young found it VERY dull, not scary, just boring...... we wanted to play the music not learn all those fancy italian words. I went as far as grades allowed with theory.. not because I wanted to , but because it was necessary in order to do the practical music exams. It was dull at the time... but I am so glad I did it.. it helps all the time, especially with playing by ear. I remember thinking at the time.. why do I need to know the rules of writing 4 part harmony? I'm never going to write for a choir.. maybe not.. but it comes in handy writing arrangements for the different instruments in a band. Maybe it would have been more interesting to learn as an adult....... maybe we just need teachers who can make it more interesting. you don't need to know absolutely everything about theory... but certainly a grasp of the basics is a bonus if you want to play with others.



10 Oct 99 - 12:54 PM (#122479)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle

A simple way to render a basic I,IV,V tune and "jazz" it

1. Play the first phrase....
2. Use the 1/2 tones of the highest note of the chord
3. Play a descending or ascending four notes
4. Move on to the second phrase...and so forth

1. A phrase is where the tune pauses
ie....(1)Row, Row, Row your boat....(4half tones lower)... (2) Gently down the stream (4half tones higher)
ie... Won't you come Bill Baily (4half tones descending)Won't you come home (4half tones descending)
Mechanics and your ear tell you wether to go up or down.

2. The 1/2 tones are the frets on Guit/Banj... they are the blackkeys (key of C) on the piano/org...they are the slide bar on a fancy harmonica... by using 1/2 notes you are playing a chromatic scale.

The chromatics can begin as quarter notes....and then later you can experiment with eighths and dotted quarters...doubled noted and other embellishments....

Start with a simple tune...and play around with'll be surprised...and most of all....


10 Oct 99 - 03:20 PM (#122518)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: bseed(charleskratz)

Gargoyle, it took me a minute or two to figure out what you wrote above, but it works. Improvising has always been one of my weak points--my improvizations are usually based on the chromatic scale of the key I'm playing in, on the runs from one chord to the next--which is obviously limiting. You may have opened a new world for me. Thanks (this is the kind of thing that makes me happy you're back--your tone in your response to Rick is what keeps me from feeling totally at ease with your return). --seed

11 Oct 99 - 12:34 AM (#122621)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle

Thanx for taking the time to "work it out" my most honorable Mr. Seed.

MUSIC is so SIMPLE....and a demonstration goes far... yet it is so difficult to put into words....which can be easily followed.

In the interest of the beginner's I,IV,V simplicity....another "fun-thing" to play something you, Mr. Seed, already know very well.....(the "secret" of the flated-seventh.

Take any phrase ending 7-chord and play it with the highest note, a half step lower. INTERESTING???? Sound??

Have Fun, Be Safe, Work/Play Hard

11 Oct 99 - 01:23 AM (#122633)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: M. Ted (inactive)

At the risk of sound like I am flaming you, Gargoyle--there are simple to understand and precise musical terms for what you are asking people to do here, and, because you are not using them, what you are telling people to do is more confusing than it need to be--

Rather than helping clarify, you are making this stuff scary by making it unnecessarily confusing--

Another point, and that is that you are not explaining anything about improvisation--you are just explaining how to go about playing a few "fills"--

I have studied 'music theory" for a long time, and I can play and write in a lot of different styles and genres, because I have taken the time to learn how things are put together--I am sure of one thing--music theory is not that simple or easy to understand--it takes work, and it takes time--The biggest problem that people trying to learn theory have is that they try to deal with way too much at a a time when they are teaching themselves--

It helps to have a good teacher(and that means a teacher who is a both good composer and a good explainer) it hurts to have a teacher who doesn't really quite know as much as they think they do, or one who oversimplifies--

For everyone who has been following this thread and got comfused, don't feel bad, there was a lot of stuff here, more than anyone can really process at once--to make matters worse, some of it was explained well, but some was not, and the only ones who can tell which was which are the ones who understand it already--

11 Oct 99 - 01:44 AM (#122637)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Sourdough

I don't know, M.Ted, Gargoyle's explanation made sense to me (and I hadn't expected that it would.) Perhaps we should see what other non-theorists think.


11 Oct 99 - 09:56 AM (#122676)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Little Neophyte

Many thanks M.Ted, you have put my mind at ease. Yours truly, Non-theorist Neo

11 Oct 99 - 01:57 PM (#122713)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: bseed(charleskratz)

MTed, despite his bombastic and often cryptic postings, every now and then Gargoyle manages to impart something useful. I was able to gain something from his posting above, if only after reading and rereading it--and suppressing my annoyment at his tendency to present himself as speaking for God bestowing his gifts upon mere mortals. I have certainly found your posts knowledgeable and informative, and I welcome your presence here--and I share some of your feelings about the guardian of the cathedral, but I like to commend him when he is being useful while retaining my right to chide him when his dark side comes to the surface. Anyway, I hope you stick around and continue to enlighten us. --seed

11 Oct 99 - 02:05 PM (#122718)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: kendall

Very interesting threaD. Now, how many TWO chord songs do we know? I think it was in the twenties that someone wrote THE CONVICT AND THE ROSE. It was supposed to be a tongue in cheek thing, but, it became very popular, and was taken seriously by many.(This was before Orson Welles and War of the Worlds too) Chubby Wise called it the best 2 chord song ever written.

11 Oct 99 - 10:25 PM (#122846)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle

Shoo Flies....don't bother me....Shoo Flies don't bother me....Shoo Flies don't bother me.....for I belong to simplicity...... Please ignore the "music teachers" comments....who are terrified they are losing three additional years of paid lessons....because the "secrets of the guild" are being revealed.

I LOVE three chord songs....our modern (last 400years) Western Roots spring from them....

Another FUN THING to to take a favorite simple song and start it in seven different keys....(or even ONE OTHER KEY) ((it will add variety....and keep up your interest in a song you otherwise might grow tired of))ie C,D,E,F,G,A,F....when you get "sharp" at it..... add the five "sharp" keys....

Make this a the end of next summer....or next week....and SURPRISE!!!!! in the process of working it have learned the "scales" in all twelve keys....(a VERY worthy attainment) starting note, whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half, whole

(fiddle players could REALLY confound this thread by pointing out the compromise the "Well Tempered Clavichord" made upon Western Music and the difference between TRUE "#'s", and "b's")

Have Fun...Be Safe...Work/Play Hard... and don't let the "music theorists" scare you...

12 Oct 99 - 10:19 AM (#122958)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Pete Peterson

My favorite two chord song? Clementine! I used to use this as a "first song" for guitarists, teach D and the simple A7 chord that only uses two fingers. and sing the chorus over and over again with instructions "change chords on 'tine'" I quote another one of my heroes, Willard Gibbs-- "The function of theory is to find that vantage point from which experimental observations have the simplest explanation." Wyo, you probably have accumulated a large number of songs for which you have learned the chords by rote, and now you are asking yourself "is there some logic behind all this?" GREAT question, which is how this wonderful thread got started-- and I hope you can see some of the logic and simplifying principles (especially the circle of fifths concept) that helps it start to make sense. After that it can get more complicated again, but the goal is simplicity!

12 Oct 99 - 12:49 PM (#123016)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: M. Ted (inactive)

Gargoyle, you have succeed in driving me out--I am not posting anything more to this thread and maybe just keeping my mouth shut about music theory in general--it isn't particularly easy to explain stuff, as least to explain it in a way that has some useful meaning, and I shouldn't have to put up with slurs as to my motives when I do it--

As to motives, I am inclined to question yours, since it does't help anyone to understand music any better to when your contribution is wrapped in an insult to other people who are trying to contribute--

In re-reading, I can't help but notice that the people you seem to direct your scorn, derision, and insults toward are men, and particularly men who have a degree of musical expertise and knowledge--

Enough said--

12 Oct 99 - 01:27 PM (#123030)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: sophocleese

I know two people who are both intelligent and knowledgable. When they travel and visit others they need directions like most of us. One of them likes to be told "Head north along such and such until you get to this and that and then turn west for 3.2 km..." the other likes to be told "When you get on such and such turn Right and drive till you get to this and that, where Freds' gas station is, and then take a left turn follow this road till you see a ..." They're both intelligent and capable of driving anywhere but they get confused if they have to follow the other's directions. Its a waste of time complaining about the way they each think,because they each think that what they do is so simple, its faster to give them comprehensive directions and they can use what they need. Music theory works the same way. Different bits are easier for some than for others. Need ANY of us cast aspersions on somebody else's attempt at explaining or understanding?

12 Oct 99 - 07:43 PM (#123198)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Rick Fielding

Well spoken Ted. Having recently been "Gargoyled" myself, I know too well how it takes the fun out of giving your "take" on technical things. Having been here for a year now, I know the modus operandi quite well however. If he posts during the day (San Diego time) he's literate, accurate and often quite helpful. If it's at night, watch out! The demons take over. Believe me it ain't normally the guys he goes after. Kat and Moonchild have been repeated victims.
I'm generally about the most easy going person on the planet but every so often he just gets to me, even though at different times we've all said "just ignore him". Ahh, what the hell, Mudcat's still the politest site on the net.


12 Oct 99 - 10:12 PM (#123244)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: bseed(charleskratz)

Rick, I wonder how long it will take for the verb to gargoyle and its passive form to be gargoyled to become part of the general language. I can see a country song coming out "I've Been Gargoyled by the Best; Don't Think that YOU Can Gargoyle me." Or someone who got drunk, got cussed out by his wife, and got pissed on by the dog might have been "oiled, boiled, and gargoyled." Were you the first use it as a verb, or was I?


12 Oct 99 - 11:39 PM (#123274)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle

Dear Sophocleese ---- Thank you again, for a VERY clear, peaceful, rendering of divergent views upon the same scene.

A peculiar paradox of music is that it is most freqently found in measures divisiable by, 4/4, 6/8, 8/8 time.....HOWEVER, our musical scale is built on a prime number Seven

When improvising, and acompanying, (MODERN TUNES)it is essential that it follow on the BEAT A simple solution is found by "adding another note to the scale." Within the one-chord it is found by playing the fifth tone and then immediately following it with a "sharped fifth tone" (half a step higher) C C,D,E,F,G,G#,A,B,C

Within the the seven-chord once again raise the fifth tone (or seventh depending on reference point) ie. C7 E,F,G,A,Bb,B,C,D,E

The addition of the eighth note is a GREAT help to improvisation....

Scales are a valuable thing to master...and these "modified" eight note scales are also helpful to master. A first they are a challenge and soon you will believe that "you always knew them" and will wonder at those who haven't "learned the alphabet yet."

Scales can be FUN Vary them....use different rhythems......fight short, long, short, long, etc, or long, short, long, short, or short, short, long, creative, see how many different, challenging, rhythmic, variations on three octove scales you can create.....

The "fun way" is the "best way"...."no way...if it ain't play." ENJOY!!!! LIFE!!!!! CELEBRATE!!!

13 Oct 99 - 12:40 AM (#123297)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: M. Ted (inactive)


Thank you for the words of support--I will have to keep them in mind--and check the times!

13 Oct 99 - 10:03 AM (#123378)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Rick Fielding

Don't mention it Ted. But also let's keep smilin'. Some of it IS funny.

Ya got a deal Seed. Gargoyle, the verb: to disagree with a point of view, then add a personal attack for emphasis. Variations: 'goyled, garged'.


13 Oct 99 - 01:56 PM (#123497)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Pete peterson

I feel bad for Gargoyle. His last post was informative, interesting, and upbeat. "Enjoy Life! Celebrate" Yet posts before and after that are flaming him! Doesn't seem fair to me. did anybody ever hear of the Prisoner's Dilemma? On any given move the strategy is Cooperate (be a good guy) or Defect (be a bad guy). The winning strategy over a long enough time, empirically found, is 1) Don't be the FIRST to be a bad guy 2) Respond in kind to bad guys 3) When conduct changes, FORGIVE and cooperate

Seems like a good way to run one's life to me.

Back to the thread. I been singing those eight-note scales to myself and can't wait for the next jam to try to fit them in. THANKS

13 Oct 99 - 04:09 PM (#123540)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: sophocleese

If I didn't have a godawful cold at the moment I'd be singing the scales as well but at the moment its impossible. Thanks Gargoyle.

13 Oct 99 - 08:33 PM (#123622)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle

Posting "early" so this must be friendly...or I got a gig later.

To keep the "music teachers" happy some "scarry stuff".....In reference to the previous two scales.... when the "added note" of the chord/scale goes downward not only does it sound cool it is called diminished......when the added note of the chord scale goes upward and has a lonesome sound looking for a home it is called augmented

The Blues thread has some wonderful stuff on this....

13 Oct 99 - 08:54 PM (#123635)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle

Dear Weed Wackin' Walken' Gal

Take your three chords....

Have A Blast

Take a gander at this thread.....hereBlues Style Thread

And you've got about five years of enjoyment stored up for you....


13 Oct 99 - 09:05 PM (#123636)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Hummingbird

Is there an "easy" way to play a #?? A friend told me if you capo on 1, you don't have to play sharps. Is she right????? I'm not a seasoned guitarist, but have played the flute for almost 20 years, so I have some musical training, but nothing formal. Also, bar chords, I have a terrible time with them!!!! Any suggestions?? Hummer.

13 Oct 99 - 09:36 PM (#123643)
Subject: flat and sharp keys
From: jeffs

I assume Hummingbird is talking about chords. For the purposes of the 3 chord songs you can use a capo and never have to play a non "cowboy" chord. A song in e flat is the same as a d with the capo at the first fret. Of course you'll have to transpose e flat to d; a flat to g; b flat to a.

Bar chords are just a pain. I cheat (I don't play guitar very often) by using half bar chords a lot. You can play an f chord with the first finger only on the top strings but you lose the bass note.

13 Oct 99 - 09:43 PM (#123647)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: katlaughing

Hnag around long enough Pete and you might understand why several of us are wary. The venom will return as it does so often. Terribly, boringly predictable.

14 Oct 99 - 12:16 AM (#123705)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: M. Ted (inactive)

For you people who are keeping track--Gargoyle's music theory is not quite all there-- the added notes are generally called "accidentals"-the dimished and augmented question really has to do with harmonic intervals--if you took all the G's in a key of C melody and changed them to G#, that would be augmenting them, if you changed them to Gb, that would be diminished--If you just add a Gb in between an F and a G, it is an accidental (even if you meant to do it)--

If you plan on adding "accidental" notes to your scales, be aware that if the added note is on an accented beat, it will sound like you need to change chords--same is true if you add the accidental at the end of a melodic phrase--

If you know a little bit of music theory, you can figure out what those chords should be relatively painlessly--if you don't, you can use trial and error--

14 Oct 99 - 12:24 AM (#123712)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: sophocleese

And, as gargoyle keeps pointing out, you can play with it and enjoy trial and error. It won't hurt, unless you do it at mega-decibels in the middle of the night next to your trigger-happy and sleep-deprived neighbour (sorry, that's a small canadian joke about our american neighbours - which thread am I in?).

14 Oct 99 - 04:07 AM (#123750)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle

THANX again soph....after all... this is the 1,4,5 school...

posted "late" by San Diego this must be MEAN

14 Oct 99 - 10:18 AM (#123811)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Jack (Who is called Jack)

Had a classical guitar teacher who taught that music is the creation and release of tension, and used to couplets to demonstrate. He showed the resolution from a Bdom7 to an E chord by playing the D#-A couplet followed by the E-G# couplet on the third and fourth strings. The first, dissonant couplet sounded weird, the second harmonic couplet sounded right, but the pleasure was in the transition. This view informed all his subsequent teachings whether the topic was chord structure, or the use of dynamic changes of tempo and loudness. The point was always to create and then release tension.

14 Oct 99 - 01:13 PM (#123865)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: M. Ted (inactive)

In classical music, that certainly is right--the tonic/dominant modulation is just exactly that--tension and release(I am not sure how well that model explains to a lot of New Music, Schonberg and the twelve tone system, but then..)

It is interesting, isn't it, how when you play the separate intervals like that, that the chords turn out to have so much dissonance in them?

The major third interval, C-E. can sound especially dissonant, and this used to really mess me up when I first tried singing harmonies--the reason becomes clear when you look at the inversion- E-C, which is the augmented fifth interval that "Garg" mentioned earlier--

In renaissance and baroque music, the major third interval was regarded as dissonant, and they resolved to a minor third instead--(most of the melodies in folk music follow the music rules of this time period, which is why I bring it up)

If you are harmonizing in C major, and your are resolving, or ending your melody ends on a C, you could go to the A rather than the E and it will sound better--

14 Oct 99 - 07:33 PM (#123999)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: _gargoyle

Enough jesting and nose tweaking.

In all seriousness.....if you are serious about becoming a serious musicianthe most important decision you will ever make is in the selection of your teacher. It is critical.

Listen to them play.
Go to a recital and listen to their students play.
If you are bold, give them a test on sight and ear playing.
Find out their background/training where do they play now?

Your lessons should include:
1. Learning and polishing pieces for performance
2. Sight reading notes and even tab
3. Theory (learn the what and why of things)
4. Techniques -insights - avoiding pitfalls,traps,bad-habits.
5. Ear training
6. Accompaniment
7. FUN!!!!...(you should admire the teacher, communicate well, and feel proud when your practice yields fruit.)

Wether one is a child or an acomplished professional we all need teachers.

15 Jul 01 - 11:39 AM (#507028)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: wysiwyg


16 Jul 01 - 05:13 AM (#507488)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Ritchie

It was nice reading this thread again, well done Wyo. As I was reading through it I was suprised to see that I had contributed. It's been like reading a novel wondering which way it was going and where it was going to end. Some wonderful contributions from some of my favourite people and i can play 'always look on the bright side of life' which has more than 3 chords.

so thank you all, oh yes and one of my favourite songs, which I now can play after learning by listening to Art's cd is 'A handful of songs' thanks Rick for reminding me.

After watching the play on BBC last night about John Diamond I feel very humble about life and as gargoyle keeps saying HAVE FUN whatever that means to you.

enjoy lots of love Ritchie 'the big man'

16 Jul 01 - 09:02 AM (#507549)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Louisa

someone's probably already mentioned it - Star of the County Down

16 Jul 01 - 09:30 AM (#507563)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: JohnInKansas

"One Hundred Fifty Songs With Just Three Chords," Ekay Music, Inc., 223 Katonah Avenue, Katonah, NY 10536, 1990, ISBN 0-943748-47-X, $16.95 (in 1995)
But as several people have pointed out - why bother. Borrow a copy of "The Ultimate Country Fakebook" from Mel Bay - any of the last 4 editions - and you get 700 songs you can play with just three chords.
Talk about a rip-off.

This has been a good thread, although I think WyoWoman asked for a sip, and several of us have aimed a firehose at her. I'm sure she has the good sense to duck, when necessary, and won't begrudge the rest of us some fun.
Since I'm not too much into heavy musical theory, I won't comment on most of the hard-core lessons there, but some might be interested in some side notes.
Several people have alluded to the "do-re-me" note names. Traditional lore is that back in the olden times when only the monks s(w)ung, and everything was in Latin, a common liturgical "song" had the notes of the major scale in ascending order. The first syllable of each of the words sung to this liturgy came into use as names of the notes. "DOminus REmulus MIxedicus FAcetius, etc." Obviously I don't remember the Latin, but you get the point. Since everyone knew the song, it made it easier to remember the pitches. It's a little like "Joy to the World" where the same scale is all in perfect DESCENDING order.
I've noted some discussion also of why some intervals sound "good" and some sound "terrible." Most of this discussion has been close to the point, but has sort of floundered around it. Some of us might be better off to recall the mountain dulcimists' mantra, "Find a Pleasant Tone," and leave it at that. My SO has been working on that for quite a while now, and may be ready for the next step ("find the same pleasant tone everyone else is playing"). For the very few of us who might benefit, I would suggest "Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics," Arthur H. Benade. Reprint of the 1976 2d edition by Dover Books is about $16. Another suggestion would be "On the Sensations of Tone" by Hermann Helmholtz. The original dates back to the 1870s, and poor Hermie made a few minor mistakes because his equipment was not quite up to modern standards; but for the most part his presentation is clear. The current Dover edition, probably about $15 or $18 now, is a reprint of the 2d English translation, which was made from the 3d German edition. It has stood up well. These books are suggested only for those who want the satsifaction of understanding "why" the world works like it does, so I don't suggest that anyone leap into them with the expectation that it will improve their playing. Some parts of them can be pretty heavy going, although neither book is "mathematical." And you only need to look at what is helpful to you. Most of us would really rather go practice a bit more - and that's good for the soul too.


16 Oct 01 - 07:54 AM (#573241)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Zorro

I'd hate to be the only one not commenting. I agree with the early posts that most of my songs are three chords. When I get tired of doing the song I'll experiment by adding a chord or note or "something." I'm guessing that some writers of songs put in some of the wild, obsure chords just to make it hard to play. Not always the case however. There is an old story about a guitar player who auditioned for Hank Williams Sr. When Hank asked him to join the band the young man replied: "But I only know three chords, G, C. and D7th." and Hank said: "You mean there's something other than those?"


29 Oct 01 - 11:18 AM (#581937)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs

Refresh. Thanks, Bert.

19 Dec 02 - 10:55 PM (#850898)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Alice


20 Dec 02 - 11:10 AM (#851157)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: GUEST,Frank Hamilton

The Circle of Fifths really should be called the Cycle of Sevenths or the Cycle of Fourths. It's purpose is to see the relationship in chords when you modulate. If you look at the Circle of Fifths backwards it's more helpful.

IE: C,F,Bb,Eb,Ab,Db,Gb(F#)B,E,A,D,G,and back to C again.

Here's how it's used. C7 leads to F. F7 leads to Bb. Bb7 leads to Eb.....and so on around the cycle.

Many early jazz tunes use a half-cycle or what is known as a back-cycle.

For instance, if you are in the key of C, the song may get to a B7 chord, go to an E7, ....A7.....D7......G7 and then back to C.

A part cycle tune would be Five Foot Two (Eyes of Blue)

C//// E7 //// A7//// //// D7//// G7//// C////............

Some songs use partial cycle..some more. THe modern jazz Toots Thielmann song Bluesette based on be-bop blues changes by Charlie Parker uses the entire cycle. Starting with Bb.

Bbmaj7/// /// Am7b5 /// D7b9/// Gm7/// C7/// Fm7/// Bb7///
Ebmaj7/// /// Ebm7/// Ab7/// Dbmaj7/// /// Dbm7/// Gb7(F#7)///
Bmaj7 /// /// Cm7/// F7/// Bbmaj7 (turnaround) G7+/// Cm7///

The song doesn't use the chords in exactly the same order as the cycle but pretty consistent.

The Cycle is used in jazz as a basis for understanding harmonies that modulate within a tune.


20 Dec 02 - 11:32 AM (#851164)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: GUEST,Frank Hamilton

You asked a valuable question I think. Why do some chords sound right with a song and some not? Style...tradition....appropriateness with these. Also, whether the melody line suggests the right harmony. Some chords may clash with the melody line. In some cases, depending on the style such as blues, this is OK.

As to the need for theory.....there's no point in learning it if you can't use it. Theory must be applied for it to work. That's the problem with music schools. They teach you the theory but they don't show you how to apply it in any practical manner. I learned to write figured-bass four part harmony prevalent in Bach's time but have not used figured-bass much in folk music at all. Or even in jazz for that matter. There are some concepts such as voice-leading which are useful but the traditional music school doesn't generally address how to play music in the "real world". There are some notable exceptions such as Berklee, in Boston or Dick Grove in LA. Also, The Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago.


21 Dec 02 - 03:14 AM (#851597)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: open mike

two threads
one title

21 Dec 02 - 10:07 AM (#851655)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Alice

The Lakes of Pontchartrain

21 Dec 02 - 09:40 PM (#851974)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Genie

O Tannenbaum

21 Dec 02 - 10:49 PM (#852002)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: GUEST,Frank Hamilton

Genie, Oh Tannenbaum has more than three in second part.
It goes into a VI7 to a IIm7. You could play it with three chords but it would sound peculiar.


04 Jan 03 - 01:50 AM (#858282)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs



04 Jan 03 - 06:24 PM (#858787)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: GUEST,Frank Hamilton

As soon as I posted that Oh Tannenbaum would sound funny with three chords, I heard a bluegrass version that sounded pretty good. Guess what? Three chords! They used a I chord to a IV chord in place of the conventional VI7 to a II minor in the second part of the tune.
So I was wrong.


30 Aug 03 - 02:33 AM (#1010651)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: The Fooles Troupe


23 Aug 04 - 11:28 AM (#1254520)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: GUEST,

does anybody know the three chords for robbie williams feel thanks jeff

23 Aug 04 - 01:10 PM (#1254592)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: M.Ted

You should start a "CHORD REQUEST" thread so more people will know what you're looking for--

23 Nov 04 - 01:38 AM (#1336218)
Subject: needs some information
From: GUEST,LUCKYsCHARMED /// Mr_r0cknr0ll

i would like to know the other patterns on which i will add some guitar addlib on that guitar chords patterns....

23 Nov 04 - 03:27 AM (#1336252)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Big Al Whittle

Three chords are all right but with two chords - if it sounds wrong you should probably be playing the other one.
The two chord song is a bit like the Haiku, simple and beautiful.

My favourites are How Much is that Doggy in the Window, One man went to Mow, Singing in the Rain, Jambalaya, I wanna be Your Man,He's got the whole world in his hands (start on G and the other ones D7)

Step it out mary, What shall we do with the drunken sailor (but these involve minor chords - don't mess with the mafia)

There you are not a career, but I've heard a lot worse floor spots!

23 Nov 04 - 09:31 PM (#1337179)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Big Al Whittle

and the Manchester Rambler of course

26 Jun 05 - 12:03 AM (#1509961)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: GUEST,Joe Speers

Check out a great example of the circle of fiths/fourths in the song Mushrooms on the Wall pt. 2 at my band's site:

direct link:

Most Jazz songs are 3 chord songs with passing notes added, and passing chords to spice things up.

26 Jun 05 - 10:59 PM (#1510692)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs

i dig songs the songs that have the 1, 4, 5, 6, and another interesting little funky chord to keep me on my toes and make me think i'm learning and getting better.

08 Dec 05 - 09:23 AM (#1622691)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs

song bird by Oasis can be played in 2 chords G AND E i think

18 Dec 05 - 02:15 PM (#1630095)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs

very cool

18 Dec 05 - 02:22 PM (#1630111)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: GUEST,fatal_Error

matthew wrote:


18 Dec 05 - 09:11 PM (#1630310)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: goodbar

almost everything i play is only 3 or 4 chords.

20 Apr 06 - 01:32 PM (#1722962)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs

I am just starting and i play guitar for 3 hours a day and three chord songs are about all i play so for accept for "House of the rising sun"

21 Jan 07 - 03:13 PM (#1943487)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs

Gargoyle writes:

>>BTW....Jazz REALLY isn't difficult.

SUUUUUUUUUUUUUURE Gargoyle - and if it so easy, then why
can't people play it without a LOT of study?


21 Jan 07 - 06:37 PM (#1943647)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs

"Wicked Game" (Bm-A-E, till the cows come home) - by Chris Isaak

22 Jan 07 - 04:38 AM (#1944022)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Scrump

"Pick A Bale OF Cotton" only uses 2 chords, even easier to play.

Anyone know any 1-chord songs? Can't think of any just now.

Or you could sing a capella and not use any chords.

22 Jan 07 - 05:44 AM (#1944048)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Alec

One chord songs were not unknown in the middle ages.Only (relatively) recent example that comes to mind is "Tomorrow Never Knows"

22 Jan 07 - 10:22 PM (#1945058)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Uncle Phil

I learned "Black Jack Davy" as a one chord song and still play it that way - words and tune similar to BLCKJCK(2) in DT. I could use more chords than that, mind you, but somehow they never seemed necessary.

Ol' Waylon had a country music hit years ago with "I Don't Think Hank Done It This Way" which always sounded like a one chord song to me.
- Phil

23 Jan 07 - 07:38 PM (#1946086)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Bee

Holy cow, what a tremendously informative thread this was. I've had to save durn near all of it for homework.

26 Mar 07 - 07:58 AM (#2007379)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs

ella, billie Holiday, Etta James, Sara vough

26 Mar 07 - 10:25 AM (#2007485)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: mrmoe

....but what about a song about three chords?

16 Apr 07 - 12:20 AM (#2026452)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: GUEST,Big Al

Im surprised there is no mention of CHASING CARS by Snow Patrol.

Three chords    A E D nauseum

16 Apr 07 - 02:22 AM (#2026483)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Big Al Whittle

1 chord

sur le pont d'avignon

16 Apr 07 - 09:52 AM (#2026753)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: leeneia

In response to WyoWoman's original question, which was "What are some of your favorite songs using three or four simple chords (no ninth diminished suspended with chili, please)?", I am submitting my list of songs to play on the dulcimer. I can't guarantee that the songs will have only three chords, but seven years have passed, and maybe she's learned more chords.

I've submitted this list before, but I think it's been lost in a crash. I can't find it now. Anyway, I keep adding songs to it.

The songs under DAA are major, under DAG are minor. The letter at the right is the note the song starts on on the dulcimer. (I don't know why the line lengths vary so much. They don't in the original document.)

Songs for dulcimer in D-A-A tuning

Across the wide Missouri/ Shenandoah---------- A
Adieu, Madras                                  A
All creatures of our God and king-----------------        D
All my trials (blues)        A
All through the night---------------------------------        D
Annie Laurie                                           F#
Aran boat song                                          B
As we march-ed down to Fenario......................D
Ash grove                                             A
Auld lang syne -------------------------------------- A
Aura Lee .............................................. A
Banks of the sweet primroses                            D
Barcarolle=========================== F#
Beautiful savior---------------------------------------        D
Believe me if all these endearing young charms F#
Bendemeer's stream---------------------------------        A
Bicycle built for two=================== hi A
Blest are they                                          A
Blind Mary..........................................E, key of A
Braw lads o' Galla water                                  C#
Bridget O'Malley ===================A (6.5)
Bright morning stars are shining                F# or C#
Camptown races...............................................E
Can ye sew cushions =================== F#
Cockles and mussels                                        A
Colorado trail (blues) .................................... C#
Come all ye pretty maidens, wherever ========D
Come Christians, for to sing------------------------ D
Come, lord, come lord Jesus (maranatha)          F#
Come ye faithful, raise the strain                         D
Come ye shepherds (Infant lowly)...................A lo
Courante - Praetorius =================== A        
Deck the hall............................................. hi A
Deryn pur                                                    A hi
Dillon Bay............................................. C# (6.5)
Dona nobis pacem                                             D
Down by the Riverside....................................F#
Down by the sally gardens---------------------------D
Down in the valley                                           A
Drink to me only with thine eyes........................C#
Country gardens.............................................A hi
Fanny Power                                                    A
Farewell to Ballymony -------------------------------E
Farewell to Tarawathie        .D
First Noel =======================F# or C#
Flow gently, sweet Afton---------------------------        A
For the beauty of the earth        D
Galway Bay------------------------------------------        E
Go tell aunt Rhodie                                           F#
God of day and God of Darkness                        D
Guantanamera ========================        D
Happy Farmer                                                 A
Happy Wanderer -------------------------E, key of A
He flies thru the air with the greatest of ease........
He shall feed his flock                                  A hi
Here I am, lord--------------------------------------- D
Hector the hero.............................................A lo
Hi lili, hi lili hi lo                                              A lo
Holly and the Ivy                                              D
Holy God, we praise thy name----------- ---------D
Holy, holy, holy                                                 D
Holy manna..................................................A lo
How brightly beams the morning star-------------        D
Huna blentyn....................................................A
I can't help falling in love with you                     D
I dream of Jeanie (uses G#) ============== B
I gave my love a cherry        A
I know where I'm going-----------------------------        D
I see the moon        A
In the bleak midwinter......................................F#
Irish washerwoman                                        A hi
Jacob's ladder ............................... F# or C# (6.5)
Kelvingrove        D
King of love my shepherd is------------------------        D
Kum by Yah                                             D or A
Lavender's blue-------------------------------      A hi
Leaving of Liverpool                                        D
Lo how a rose e'er blooming =============A hi
Loch Lomond-----------------------------------------        D
Long, long ago        D
Lord Haddo's favorite------------------------------        E
Lord of all hopefulness/be thou my vision        D
Lord, you have come                                       F#
Merry Widow Waltz--------------------------------        A
Minuet by Paderewsky (fifthlet)                      hi A
Mingulay boat song ......................................... A
Minuet in "G" - Bach                     A, G# in middle
Month of January                                             C#
Morning has broken                                  D or A
My gal Sal (blues) ?
My grandfather's clock ================= A
Never love thee more-------------------------------A
Now is the month of maying............................. D
O come, little children                                     A hi
Oh, Susannah....................................................D
Of the Father's love begotten ============== D
Old Black Joe---------------------------   A, key of A
O sacred head, surrounded                C#, key of A
On the bridge of Avignon==================D
On top of Old Smokey..................................... A
Only a shadow                                  A, key of A
Pack up your sorrows----------------------------   F#
Paper of pins (make up B line)                           A
Peace in the valley (blues) ============= A
Polly-wolly doodle        D
Plaisir d'amour (make up variations)                   A
Praise to the Lord------------------------------------        D
Preacher went down (blues)                            A
Red river valley        A
River (Bill Staines)        D
Roses from the south....................................... A
Salve regina                                        A, key of A
Seek ye first                                                    F#
Shepherd's wife's waltz                                  A lo
Shores of Ponchatrain-------------------------------        A
Since I met you, baby (blues)                            C#
Smile a while                                                   F#
Snowy-breasted pearl ================= A hi
Songs of thankfulness & praise                      A hi
Spring has now unwrapped the flowers        D
Stars of the summer night---------------------------        A
Steal away                                                       D
Stewball-----------------------------------------------        A
Table of plenty                                       F# or C#
Tennessee Waltz-------------------------------------A
10th Batn Highland Light inf'try c'ing the Rhine        D
Think on me ========================= F#
This joyful Eastertide                                        A
Ting, ting, ting---------------------------------------        F#
'Tis pretty to be in Ballinderry                            D
There's a wideness in God's mercy.....................D
Water is wide-----------------------------------------        A
Way down upon the Suwannee River C#, key of A
We gather together                                     E (6.5)   
When cockleshells (waly, waly) ========== A hi
When I fall in love, it will be forever ................   A
When you and I were young, Maggie               A hi
While strolling in the park one day===========
Wildwood flower   C#          key of A but uses a G
Who's gonna hold her hand?------------------------        A
Wild mountain thyme
With someone like you, a pal good and true         A
Wreck of the sloop John B ================A
Yellow bird ...................................................hi A

Songs in D-A-G tuning
Are you sleepin', Maggie?                               ?
Banks and braes of Bonnie Doon                A 1st
Black is the color of my true love's hair------E 5th
Blow the candle out                                    A 1st
Bonnie light horseman                         A 1st (6.5)
Can't help but wonder where I'm bound---    E 5th
Cantigas (work on cantigas)
Come all you pretty maidens,
       wherever you be                                 C 3rd
Come you merry lads & lasses (madrigal).. D 4th
Darlin' Corey-------------------------------------G 0
Dissembling love                                        A 1st
Dove she is a pretty bird ---------------- E 5th (6.5)
Dowie dens of Yarrow=============== A 1st
Drunken sailor..................................   E 5th (6.5)
Elm tree branches----------------------------- C 3rd
Froggie went a-courting------------------------A 1st
Gather us in                                       A 1st (6.5)
    play 2nd phrase on parallel A & D strings
God rest ye merry, gentlemen ................... A 1st
The great silkie                                          D 4th
Gwcw fach==================    E 5th (6.5)
Here I sit on Buttermilk hill.............          F 6th
I got a mule and her name is Sal                A 1st
If you miss the train I'm on                        C 3rd
Jesus walked the lonesome valley ======= G 0
Johnny, I hardly knew you                         A 1st
Let all mortal flesh keep silence                A 1st
Man of constant sorrow.......................... E 5th
Masters in this hall                                  A 1st
Motherless child ================== E 5th
My lord, what a morning---------------    F (6/5)
Now the green blade rises (Noel nouvelet)A 1st
Nyth a gog                                              E 4th
O come, o come, Emmanuel ................. A 1st
Old Chisholm trail----------------------------A 1st
Row your boat to Jesus' side========= D 4th
Scarborough Fair                            A 1st (6.5)
Scheherazade themes
Singers, sing                                           E 5th
Star of the County Down-------------------C 3rd
Summertime Porgy & Bess ====== A hi 8th
Sweet the evening air of May................. A 1st
Sweet Willie and Lady Margot                E 5th
Swing low, sweet chariot-----------      F# 6 1/2
Turn ye to me---------------------------------A 1st
Two young brothers marched away         D 4th
Wayfaring stranger--------------------------A 1st
Wild Rover ====================    E 5th

24 Jul 07 - 07:21 PM (#2110483)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: GUEST,mandy ritchie

hi just wondering if glommy winters noo awa do you know the song with banjo chords could you send them if you don't mind is will ye no come back again is three a chord also i know the song is in key of C which way is it on banjo if you know the sang please could you send the song with banjo chords if you don't mind my email is

27 Aug 09 - 06:41 AM (#2709697)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: MGM·Lion

No-one in all this thread has pointed out that many songs in the minor can be played with two chords — i.e. the tonic{1} minor + the RELATIVE MAJOR of the dominant{5}.

To illustrate: someone mentioned Drunken Sailor a bit back: — play a D-minor to accompany the first line; a C-major {relative major to A-minor, the 5th of the scale of D-minor} thru the 2nd line; D-minor again thru the 3rd line; and the fourth line in C-major apart from returning to D-minor for the last syllable ['-ning']. Try it and you will see what I mean. This technique can be adapted to many, indeed most, songs in the minor.

[To put it slightly differently, avoiding what may be confusing refs to 'relative majors/minors': play your minor key tonic chord [e.g. D-minor] alternated with the major chord one tone below [which would then be C-major].

27 Aug 09 - 05:42 PM (#2710171)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: GUEST,Dan

Here is a free lesson about three chord songs including a long list of songs:
Three chord songs
Hope it will be useful.

27 Aug 09 - 09:35 PM (#2710316)
Subject: RE: Three-chord songs
From: Songster Bob

I looked over this long thread and noted that no one pointed out why they three chords are used to accompany a song.

Let's take the key of C, which, as we know, has no sharps or flats. So a song in that key, usually, will have only the notes


And the I, IV & V chords used to accompany a song in C are:

C F G (or G7)

So what are the notes (the "do, mi, sol") in each chord?

C = C E G
F = F A C
G = G B D
G7 = G B D F

Now, how many notes in the scale are NOT covered? None. And how many notes NOT in the scale are included? None.

That's why the I, IV, & V(7) chords work so well.

If you wanted to use the major chords for the notes in the scale, you'd add accidentals (sharps or flats) that are outside the scale:

C = C E G
D = D F# A
E = E F# G#
F = F A C
G = G B D
A = A C# E
B = B D# F#

As you notice, there are sharps (or corresponding flats) that aren't in the C scale, so it's an unusual song that includes those notes ("unusual" means maybe 5%-10% of songs, but some genres have a larger percentage). So it's less common to use those other chords.

Now, when you need those other chords, which ones are the most common? Well, the II chord (D in the key of C, for example) is common, but mostly as a leading tone. The II leads to the V (D --> G) regularly. That is the V chord of the V chord, if you look at it. Some even call the II chord the "double dominant" since the V chord is the dominant.

An aside - the I chord gives you the tone, so it's the tonic chord. The V chord is the dominant chord, pushing you toward the tonic (which is why it dominates). The IV chord is the sub-dominant (under the dominant, of course). And the II is the double dominant.

Back to the chords. We see that C --> D --> G is a common pattern. And D is the V of G which is the V of C.

What's the V of D? Why, A is. So a pattern you hear now and then is C --> A --> D --> G --> C. This circular pattern of V chords is sometimes called "the circle of fifths," which shares the name of the key patterns mentioned above (that clock face). By the way, it's normal to use the 7th version of the chords except the I (so you get the "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down" pattern of C/A7/D7/G7/C, for example).

So you can use the circle of fifths to determine key signatures (number of sharps or flats), the I, IV, & V chords (from any place on the circle, the IV is one step anti-clockwise, and the V chord is one step clockwise), and which chords to play when the I, IV & V aren't the only ones.

Learn that circle; it's good for you, it's the "Mandala of Western Music" as I saw it in a chart on the web. It's Gospel!