When you first pick up the guitar, it can seem overwhelming to think about how much there is to learn. But the truth is, you can play hundreds of songs while knowing very few chords! In fact, knowing just 3 or 4 chords could already allow you to perform dozens of songs you already know and love.
In this article, we wanted to highlight 25 classic songs that are great for beginners to learn on the guitar. They all have 3 chord progressions and can be learned pretty fast. For some of them, you may need a capo, but they don’t present other technical difficulties. So get your instrument ready, here are the best 3 chord songs out there!
1. Lean on Me by Bill Withers
This 1972 soul classic is always named among the most beautiful or most popular songs of all time. And certainly, its appeal is hard to resist! With beautiful themes of brotherhood and a simple catchy melody, it’s a perfect song to play on the acoustic guitar.
Expert Tip: Lean on Me uses chords A, D, and E but E is used so little that it is essentially a 2 chord song. It’s definitely a staple for beginners to get their hands on, and for guitarists of all abilities who want to cover this beautiful anthem!
2. Englishman In New York by Sting
One of the most instantly recognizable melodies in our culture. Englishman in New York by Sting is a stop that hasn’t stopped being fascinating. Talks about the life of an Englishman who feels alone and strange in the streets of New York. Sting manages to write a song that’s both sad and very catchy.
Learning to play this on the acoustic guitar is simple, as the song only uses the chords A, Em, and Bm.
3. Leaving On A Jet Plane by John Denver
Leaving On A Jet Plane is one of the most classic 3 chord guitar songs out there. Not only have many people learned to play it as part of their guitar training, but a lot of us have also got a chance to sing along to it. This song is a little cheesy but it still manages to be emotional in a more profound way, with themes of leaving loved ones behind.
With a very simple strumming pattern and just 3 chords (G, C, and D) you can learn to play this song in a matter of a few hours. The lyrics are fairly easy too, so it really is a great song for beginners to learn.
4. Three Little Birds by Bob Marley
Three Little Birds has been covered over and over again. And it’s easy to see why! Not only is it a very simple song to play, but it also has beautiful imagery and a feel-good rhythm.
Played using just A, D, and E it’s an accessible song even for complete beginners.
That being said, if you want to take it to a more advanced level, you’ll have to learn palm muting techniques that give this song an even better sense of rhythm.
5. Walk On The Wild Side by Lou Reed
We’re not used to hearing Walk On The Wild Side by Lou Reed played on the acoustic guitar all that often, but it actually works fantastically well. Although this song addresses themes of prostitution, gender identity, and life on the outskirts of society, it’s immensely popular among people from all layers of the population.
A simple song that can be played using only C, F, and D it still has a few technical difficulties. For one, strumming is very fast and must follow a pattern of alternating upstrokes and downstrokes. But if you feel up to a challenge, it really is one of the most poignant 3 chord songs for the acoustic guitar.
6. Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen
A lot of the 3 chord songs on our list are on the more upbeat side. But this classic, 1982 Bruce Springsteen song is just the opposite. Dark and moody, it’s a great song to play when you’re in a frustrated or angsty mood. If you can, try to make your voice reflect the lyrics of the song as you sing it, it should be slightly dejected, and a little bitter.
For this song, you’ll be using chords A, D, and G and the fingerpicking technique. While it’s not the most technically difficult song out there, it’ll definitely train your fingers to become more agile!
7. Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry
Johnny B. Goode is one of the most anthemic rock and roll songs of the late 1950s. Though it’s definitely an old tune, it still sounds as catchy and danceable today as it did during your grandmother’s younger years! It’s hard to grasp now but this song was actually quite shocking for many people in the late 1950s.
For white people especially, it might have been their first introduction to a new genre known as “rock and roll”, which wasn’t as classic back then as it is right now! Using the chords E, D, and A it’s a pretty easy song to play. It does include a guitar solo which can be a little trickier to master but on the whole, we highly recommend giving it a try!
8. Royals by Lorde
If you’re looking to learn to play something a little more modern. Royals by Lorde is a great one to try. Royals is a song that went absolutely viral back in the early days of Lorde’s career when she was just a teenager. With millions of views on YouTube, the previously unknown Kiwi singer jumped to stardom in a matter of just a few weeks.
In the original recording of the song, Lorde uses a lot more instruments and different layers of vocals. Played on the acoustic guitar with just one singer, the song takes on another dimension which sounds stripped back and even more authentic.
Expert Tip: For this one, you’ll need to know the chords D, C, and G, and be able to follow a very basic and simple strumming pattern.
9. Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
For this classic song, you’ll be using the chords D, C, and G. A classic rock song with a catchy chorus. Sweet Home Alabama is a favorite for gatherings around the campfire and it’s easy to sing along to. Because the chords are actually picked in parts of the song, it’ll sound like it’s a lot more complex to play than it actually is.
If you haven’t learned to pick chords yet, you can also strum throughout the song. The effect will be slightly different of course, but it remains a beautiful song no matter how you decide to play it!
10. I Gotta Feeling by The Black Eyed Peas
Most people wouldn’t think to play I Gotta Feeling by an iconic pop/electro/hip hop band. The Black Eyed Peas on the acoustic guitar. But many people have covered this song and as it turns out, it’s a real success! The song certainly sounds different when it’s played completely acoustic, but it doesn’t have to lose out on energy.
If you play it with upbeat strumming and a more “poppy” voice, it’s actually a great song to bring along to a party. Using the chords: G, C, and Em, you can pick up the song easily enough. To really do justice to the original tune’s melody, you may have to try out a few different fingerpicking techniques. Don’t hesitate to look up a tutorial, there’s plenty out there!
11. The Tide is High by Blondie
The Tide is High by Blondie is a wonderfully catchy song with influences taken from glam rock, wave, and ska. Its easy-going syncopated rhythm can be a little difficult to master but the song itself isn’t a big challenge.
If you’re looking to play something a little bit more poppy, or something that stands out from the traditional folk and rock guitar repertoire, it’s a great one to learn to play!
To play it, you’ll need to master the chords E, A, and D.
You’ll also need to use a capo on the 2nd fret if you want to be true to the original recording, but the song can also be played without.
12. Mr. Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan
Mr. Tambourine Man is an incredibly beautiful folk song with poetic lyrics and a melancholy kind of melody. Dylan is certainly known for his evocative language, and this song is no exception. In this song, he talks about a certain Mr. Tambourine man who will be able to make sense of his life.
According to some critics, the song may be a veiled reference to drugs. But certainly, there’s also a lot more to interpret in its dense text. Actually, while it might be pretty easy to memorize the song’s chords (G, A, and D) the difficulty may be in memorizing the lyrics. Some versions of this classic song can last well over 6 minutes!
13. Just The Way You Are by Bruno Mars
Bruno Mars is known for his beautiful, heartfelt love songs and this one is also amazing to learn to play on the acoustic guitar. Traditionally sung with a very high-pitched voice, this song may be a bit cheesy but it’s actually perfect to serenade someone you have a crush on.
To play it, you’ll need the chords G, D, and Bm7. This song does sound a lot better when you use a fingerpicking technique, so that’s what we remember doing. Additionally, make sure to place a capo on the 3rd fret.
14. Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash
You can’t really learn to play the guitar without getting into Johnny Cash at one point or another. This classic country singer has created some of the most anthemic 3 chord songs out there. Throughout the years, they’ve kept inspiring budding guitar players to practice their craft.
In essence, most Johnny Cash songs are fairly easy to play. But the better you get at playing the guitar, the more beautiful and emotional these songs will sound. For example, this one only uses G, C, and D, and no capo. It’s usually picked and strummed simultaneously, but there are lots of alternative ways to play it too!
15. Free Failin’ by Tom Petty
An iconic song with an immediately recognizable riff. Free Failin’ by Tom Petty is one of the best 3 chord songs for beginners. It uses the chords D, G, and A and doesn’t require you to use a capo.
Although it can be mastered pretty easily, you’ll want to really work on your rhythm and strumming in order to bring this song to the next level. But if that’s something you’re ready to work on, make sure to give it a try!
16. Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Bad Moon Rising is a classic song that many people have heard before, without necessarily knowing its name or the band. But this 1969 anthem is a true classic that doesn’t get old. You can learn to play it by simply knowing the chords D, A, and G.
With a mix of strumming and picking, it’s a song that may be better suited to slightly more advanced guitar players. That being said, you can also play it just the way you want. This song has been covered countless times, so it’s a great occasion to make of it what you want from a psychedelic rock anthem too much more roots or folk pieces.
17. Common People by Pulp
Common People is an iconic song about a love affair between a working-class guy and his rich girlfriend. As he finds out how much she idealized “common”, working-class people, the guy starts having doubts about their relationships.
He has to reckon with the fact that he’s stuck in this role, while the girl can play “tourist” in the working-class world, without having to experience its hardships unless she really wants to. The song addresses some pretty severe social themes, but it’s also incredibly funny and very catchy. You can pick it up by playing the chords A, E, and D with a capo on the third fret.
18. Twist And Shout by The Beatles
When you hear Twist And Shout by The Beatles, it’s easy to see how they had an entire generation of fans going crazy over them. This song is wonderfully catchy, with great, upbeat energy. In the early days of Beatlemania, young girls loved to dance wildly to this song, which was one of the first to bring rock and roll to the United Kingdom.
As the years progressed, the song became less and less provocative but it’s still an awesome tune! With a simple 3 chord progression made up of A, D, and G, this song is easy to pick up. You’ll have to be able to play it at quite a fast tempo to really get the energy across though!
19. Love Me Do by The Beatles
Another classic song from the very start of The Beatles’ career. Love Me Do is a classic rock and roll tune and a beautiful love song. It’s fun, easy to play, and surprisingly not outdated!
To be able to tackle it, you’ll only need to know the chords G, C, and D.
These ones actually come back quite a lot in Beatles songs of the time, so once you’ve mastered them, you’ll be able to add a lot more songs to your repertoire. The strumming pattern on this song is also pretty easy, though you should be able to strum somewhat fast.
20. I Have A Dream by ABBA
Playing an ABBA song on the guitar is a surefire way of getting everybody in the room excited. This relatively slow melody is one of their easiest 3 chord songs to pick up on the guitar. In fact, the greatest difficulty of the song is probably the singing itself, which requires a certain level of vocal ability.
Expert Tip: Once you get over that hurdle, the song is pretty easy to play. You’ll only need to know chords A, E, and D, and play the song with a capo on the first fret.
21. What’s Up? by 4 Non Blondes
A great classic of 1990s pop rock. What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes translates surprisingly well on the acoustic guitar. It’s made up of the chords G, Am, and C and doesn’t use a capo. While the song itself is pretty easy to learn on the guitar, singing along could be a lot harder!
Not everyone has the vocal capacities of Linda Perry, but you can give it a try anyway. And with its strumming-only structure, it’s a great song for you to practice your sense of rhythm.
22. For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield
There is no overstating how easy For What It’s Worth is to play. This classic protest song from the 1960s has a gentle tune that’s very easy to play on the guitar. In fact, it’s one of the first songs that guitar teachers show many of their students.
Using the chords E, A, and D, it’s strummed with a simple pattern that’s very easy to learn and repeat. Of course, you can also make it more complex if you’re a more advanced guitar player. But at its root. For What It’s Worth is one of these 3 chord songs that shine thanks to their simplicity.
23. Blowin’ In The Wind by Bob Dylan
A poetic and evocative protest song. Blowin’ In The Wind by Bob Dylan is a classic that all folk fans have to know. Throughout the song, Bob Dylan evokes the cruelty of people who create war and destruction, while alluding to a better future, the solution for which is “blowin’ in the wind”.
For this song, you will need a capo to put on the 7th fret. The chords will be G, C, and D, and you’ll probably need a pick as well. Because it can be played relatively slow, this is not a hard song to learn, especially if you’re a fan of The Bard.
24. Working Class Hero by John Lennon
Together with Imagine. Working Class Hero is one of John Lennon’s most popular and influential solo releases. In that song, Lennon opens up about his working-class upbringing and conveys a sense of pride in his modest origins.
Both the lyrics and the melody are simple, but the song still manages to have a massive impact. To play it, you’ll only need to know D, Am, and Gm.
25. You Are My Sunshine by Johnny Cash
Although Johnny Cash is also known for writing about outlaws, prisoners, and criminals, he’s also come up with some of the most beautiful love songs. You Are My Sunshine is an absolutely gorgeous, simple, and candid country song about loving someone so much that they turn your whole life around.
The strumming pattern is pretty easy to get into, so if you’re able to change chords quite fast, it really doesn’t have so much technical difficulty. The chords used in this song are A, D, and E. These are quite classic Johnny Cash chords so once you know them, you’ll be able to move on to some of his other songs too!
You don’t have to know a ton of chords to be able to play some of the world’s greatest songs on the guitar! In fact, 3 chord songs are easy to find and just as easy to learn to play.
We hope that this article has given you some great ideas about the next piece that you’ll want to learn to play.
If you have any questions about the songs or the techniques we’ve mentioned on our list, don’t hesitate to drop a comment. And remember, you can always adjust the difficulty of the songs you’re learning to play. If it’s too easy for you. try out some fancier finger-picking. If it’s too hard, slows it down and keep to a more simple strumming pattern.