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If you mention that you’ve written a song that uses three chords, other musicians might assume that you’ve used the I, IV and V chords (Like Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me,”, or Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind”) or perhaps substituted the IV-chord with a ii, giving you I, ii and V. But there are lots of options to the typical three chords you might consider using in 3-chord songs.
What follows are some 3-chord ideas to try, with specific examples in C major (but of course transposable to any key you wish). You can play these any way you wish. One option, for example, might be to strum the first two chords for 2 beats each, and then the 3rd chord for 4 beats. That would give you a typical 2-bar pattern that can be repeated as you wish.
But as with all chord chart samples, experimentation is key to making them “your own.” You may choose to play the first two chords back and forth, finally moving on to the 3rd chord, for example. In the samples that follow, you’ll notice that uppercase Roman numerals are used for major chords, and lowercase for minor or diminished.
MAJOR KEY 3-CHORD OPTIONS (Tonic chord is labeled as ‘I’)
- I iii vi (C Em Am)
- I bIII IV (C Eb F)
- I bVII IV (C Bb F)
- vi V I (Am G C)
- iii IV I (Em F C)
- ii I IV (Dm C F)
- V7 IVb7 I (G7 F7 C)
- bVI7 V7 I (Ab7 G7 C)
- II7 V7 I (D7 G7 C)
- bVI bVII I (Ab Bb C)
MINOR KEY 3-CHORD OPTIONS (Tonic chord is labeled as ‘vi’)
- vi V IV (Am G F)
- vi bVII IV (Am Bb F)
- vi V iii (Am G Em)
- vi IV dim7/vi (Am F G#dim7)
- V V/vi vi (G E Am)
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter
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