The legendary Lou Reed once said that, "one chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz."
While we're pretty sure that he was exaggerating at least a little, there is something about a song with three chords, or fewer, that makes it stand out. And it's not hard to see why a simple song tends to get played more than one that's more complex - it's easier to play! If you're just starting out on the keyboard (or any instrument really), these simple songs are a great place to hone your skills.
To get started, there's a best-selling EZ Play songbook available from Yamaha MusicSoft, "Favorite Songs With Three Chords", which covers easy to play versions of some of the most famous traditional three chord songs, but we've listed up a few of our favorites below as well. Each of these songs is listed alongside a MIDI song file that includes chord data to help you learn and play along on your keyboard.
Before you get ready to dig in, though, we should clarify that our understanding of "three chord song" is a relatively broad. Some of the songs featured below definitely have more than three chords, but most of them can be played using only three chords (or with an occasional fourth thrown in). Also, note that if the key of a song is too difficult to play at first, you can easily transpose it on your keyboard into one that's easier to play. For example, the version of "Sweet Child O' Mine" on Yamaha MusicSoft is in the key of D flat, which you can transpose down a half step to C to make it much easier.
Mustang Sally - Wilson Pickett
A classic rhythm and blues hit made famous by Wilson Pickett in 1966, that uses three simple chords but stretches out into really bluesy territory. This version is the easy to play key of C, but watch for the flat thirds and sevenths!
Hey Ya! - Outkast
"Hey Ya" stretches the definition of the three chord song a little bit, adding a fourth chord, and a minor key feel to a major key song. Still, the undeniable fun of this huge hit from 2003 will help you learn its simple progression in no time.
You Never Can Tell - Chuck Berry
If you're new to chord changes, this tune is perfect. The easy left hand harmonies means you can concentrate on the great rock and roll groove and captivating melody. Plus, the Cajun feel of the melody shows that you can truly play in any style using just three chords!
You Can't Always Get What You Want - The Rolling Stones
If you thought three chords was easy, try just two! Well, there's a third one thrown in at the end of the chorus, but who's counting? The Rolling Stones are masters of simplicity, and this song shows you can be as soulful as you want without getting complicated.
Louie Louie - The Kingsmen
Learned "Walking on Sunshine"? This one is even easier - the same three chords played all the way through the song. There are many reasons this is one of the most covered songs of all time - the easy-as-pie chord progression is just one of them.
Sweet Child O Mine - Guns n' Roses
Guns n' Roses may be remembered for complex epics like "November Rain" or shredding guitar solos like the one on "Welcome to the Jungle", but "Sweet Child O' Mine", in all it's stripped down three chord glory, is their most enduring song.
Do You Realize - The Flaming Lips
The most difficult to play of this group of three chord songs, "Do You Realize" features a modulation (key change) as well as a number of shifts between minor and major. In any one section, though, you'll only have to deal with a few simple chords, and the big chorus of this emotional Flaming Lips tune is a wonderfully easy to play progression.
La Bamba - Los Lobos
A Mexican folk tune brought to American ears by Richie Valens in the 1950s, this song shows that a good three chord progression crosses cultural and language barriers with ease.