Banjo Newsletter Columns

Learn jam skills at home with Slow-Jam play-along DVDs!

for the total beginner
ultra easy!

Click here for upcoming camps.

Favorite Songs That Use 2 or 3 Chords

Please suggest additional songs to Pete at [email protected]

As soon as you've learned the first two or three basic chords (G, D7, and C), it's time to start using them with any simple strum to accompany singing. Many familiar songs use just these two or three chords. Here is a list of some of them. Though you could get the chords out of a book, it's good training to guess them for yourself. This type of guesswork is part of life for any musician in "real life" situations, so now is a good time to start training your ear to become a good guesser.

The first part of the list is two-chord songs, using the 1 and 5 (G and D7 if you're in G. For the key of C, use C and G or G7). The rest of the list is three-chord songs using the 1, 4, and 5 (e.g., G, C, and D7). If you can hum any of these songs from memory, try playing them and experimenting with chord changes.

It's helpful to know that almost all songs start and end with the I chord, and that the next-to-last chord is almost always V. See if your ear can tell you when to change chords and which chord to change to. Since at any point there are just three chords to choose from, a little trial and error might show you the way. When you think you've got it, memorize it and when you get a chance, check your chords with a book or a knowledgeable musician. Remember, this type of guesswork is part of what being a musician is all about.

Note: Most of these songs can be played with an 8-note bluegrass-style roll (waltz time songs are an exception), so when you are able to change chords on a song smoothly, try substituting a roll for the simple strum you've been doing.

Three-Chord Songs

Old Favorites:

  • Mama Don't 'Low
  • Camptown Races
  • Oh Susannah
  • When the Saints Go Marching In
  • Jingle Bells
  • Auld Lang Syne
  • Careless Love
  • Old Time Religion
  • Swing Low Sweet Chariot
  • Down By the Riverside
  • Red River Valley
  • My Grandfather's Clock
  • Irene Goodnight
  • Gotta Travel On
  • Worried Man Blues
  • Midnight Special
  • You Are My Sunshine
  • She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain
  • Sloop John B.
  • Silent Night

Folk and Popular Songs:

  • This Land Is Your Land
  • Pack Up Your Sorrows
  • Peaceful Easy Feeling
  • Gentle On My Mind
  • You Are My Sunshine
  • Johnny B. Goode
  • Bye Bye Love
  • MTA Song
  • Kumbaya
  • Columbus Stockade Blues
  • Blue Tail Fly
  • Little Brown Jug

Bluegrass Favorites:

  • Lonesome Road Blues
  • Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms
  • Foggy Mt. Top
  • Wildwood Flower
  • Lonesome Road Blues

Bluegrass Favorites - Continued:

  • Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms
  • Foggy Mt. Top
  • Wildwood Flower
  • Mountain Dew
  • Columbus Stockade Blues
  • Long Black Veil
  • Jesse James
  • Nine Pound Hammer
  • John Hardy
  • Uncle Pen
  • Little Georgia Rose
  • Footprints in the Snow
  • Pig In a Pen
  • Roll On Buddy
  • Sitting On Top of the World
  • Wabash Cannonball
  • Roving Gambler
  • White House Blues
  • Wreck of the Old 97
  • Blue Ridge Mountain Blues
  • Dark Hollow
  • Blue Ridge Cabin Home
  • If I Lose
  • How Mt. Girls Can Love
  • Don't This Road Look Rough and Rocky
  • I Am a Pilgrim
  • Man of Constant Sorrow
  • Old Slew Foot
  • Will the Circle Be Unbroken
  • Y'All Come
  • Feast Here Tonight
  • Live and Let Live

    (waltz time:)
  • All the Good Times Are Past and Gone
  • White Dove
  • Angel Band
  • In the Pines
  • Blue Moon of Kentucky
  • Amazing Grace
1 and 5 Chords: G and D, C and G, etc.
  • Handsome Molly
  • Shady Grove
  • John Henry
  • Little Birdie
  • Hot Corn Cold Corn
  • Katy Daley
  • Fire Ball Mail
  • Pretty Fair Maid In The Garden
  • I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky
  • Jimmie Brown the Newsboy
  • I’ll Go Steppin’ Too
  • You Are My Flower
  • Stay All Night
  • Someone Took My Place With You
  • Wild Bill Jones
  • My Home’s Across The Blue Ridge Mountains
  • Working On A Building
  • Somehow Tonight
  • Pretty Polly
  • On My Mind
  • The Old Crossroads
  • Mansions for Me
  • Where the Soul Never Dies
  • What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul
  • Old Gospel Ship
  • Kentucky Girl
  • I’m Gonna Love You Like There’s No Tomorrow
  • It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More
  • Reuben’s Train /Train 45
  • Bringing In The Georgia Mail
  • Little Liza Jane
  • Darling Corey
  • Buffalo Gals
  • Take Me Back to Tulsa
  • Jambalaya
  • Pistol Packin’ Mama
  • I Love You a Thousand Ways
  • Waltz Across Texas
  • Tom Dooley
  • Puttin’ On The Style
  • He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands
  • Boll Weevil
  • Skip To My Lou
  • Shortnin’ Bread
  • Go Tell Aunt Rhody
  • Down In The Valley
  • Clementine
  • Will You Be Lonesome Too
  • Walking in my Sleep
  • It's Too Late to Walk the Floor
1 and 4 Chords: G and C, D and G
  • Proud Of The Gray In Your Hair
  • Walls Of Time
  • Roving Gambler
  • Things In Life

Selected Articles from The Doc's Prescriptions