Step 7: Three Chord Songs
In Step 7, we get even more involved with three chord songs. If you have not mastered prior steps, you may start to notice at this point. Three chord songs open up a whole new world of playing, but you need to ensure you have the foundation! Now, Bernadette brings us through a variety of three chord combinations. Once you are familiar with these progressions, you have the tools necessary to play many popular songs!
step 7: three chord songs
- You will be surprised how many popular songs use only three chords. For this reason, it’s important to learn the G
and G7 chords.
- Both the G and G7 chords require you to place two fingers on the same fret. Whenever you place two or more fingers on the same fret, you will need to tilt your hand at an angle so that your fingers are not perpendicular to the fretboard.
exercise 23: learning the chords
- To learn these new chords, put your strongest finger (the index finger) on the fret first. Then your next strongest finger, the middle finger.
- Tilt your hand so that you create space to tuck your third finger (ring finger). Which is easier to finger: the G or G7 chord?
- With your right thumb, play each string one at a time from the top (4th string) to the bottom (1st string). When you can hear each string clearly, then you can do a faster down strum.
exercise 24: happy birthday
Probably the most popular three chord song, known all over the world, is “Happy Birthday.” While you don’t need the fourth chord C7, it adds color and tension. It’s wise to memorize this song, as you never know when it’s someone’s birthday and you get called to play it.
This song has three beats, like a waltz. Count 1, 2, and then sing “Happy” on the third beat.
The first note is G, so play the open G-string to hear it and get your voice ready to sing that pitch for “Happy”.
The first time you play a song, it’s good to do a simple downstroke once for each chord so you can hear the notes of the melody in the harmony and familiarize yourself with switching between chords. The next time, try one down stroke per count. In this case, three down strokes on the C chord.
Most of the time, you will not see the song represented as we have shown in the exercise. There are usually two formats: chord names inline or above the lyrics. Below is the easiest format, saving line space, because the names of the chords are placed inline. Each chord is to be played at the same time as the syllable it precedes. It does not show the rhythm of the song, however.
Happy [C] birthday to [G7] you Happy birthday to [C] you
Happy [C7] birthday dear [F] XXXXX Happy [C] birthday [G7] to [C] you.
The other popular format has the chord names above the lyrics, as below.
Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you!
C7 F C G7 C
Happy birthday dear XXXX! Happy birthday to you!
Compare the previous two layouts with the one below. Which is easier to follow?
. . . | C . . | G7 . . | . . .
Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to
|C . . | C7 . . | F . .
You! Happy birth day dear XXXXXX
|C . G7 | C
Happy Birth day to you!
exercise 25: more three chord songs
There are many well-known songs that use the same chords of “Happy Birthday.” Practice switching between these chords so you can use them in the following songs. More titles can be found in the appendix (full guide available for purchase in our online store).
When the Saints Go Marching In
You Are My Sunshine
Christmas carols: Away in a Manger, Jingle Bells, Joy to the World, Silent Night
Now that you’re able to play the G7 chord and switch between the related chords of C and F, let’s practice the G chord.
exercise 26: a chord sequence
- Which is easier C – F- G7 or C – F – G ? The chord sequence C – Am – F – and G7 is also used in many songs.
- Play each sequence (a.k.a. progression) in each box in the following table repeatedly using down strokes, starting with a slow count of 1,2,3,4 and then again a little faster. Are there any tricks to fingering the LH more easily?
There are many songs that use the chords C, Am,F, and G or G7. Look up the following song sheets by googling the title enclosed in quotation marks and “ukulele PDF”. To play these songs, you will need to learn new strum patterns (step 8).
- Counting Stars (One Republic)
- Have You Ever Seen the Rain (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
- I’m Yours (Jason Mraz)
- Let it Be (The Beatles
- Octopus’s Garden (The Beatles)
- One Love (Bob Marley)
- Someone Like You (Adele)
- Soul Sister (Train)
- Stand by Me (Ben E. King)