The guitar can often feel like an unwieldy beast, with a wrath and a mind all of its own, feeling more like a pre-human creature than an instrument for your own enjoyment. However, there is plenty to grip onto with guitar song with 4 chords, too: for one, the previous several decades and annuls of popular music have been been highly accommodating the guitar in some way, if not directly then in the chord changes that are simple enough for any musician to pick them up.
In fact, there is an unfathomable panoply of songs, from nearly any style you can imagine or conjure, which contain only four chords throughout their entire run time. Thus it is easy for any aspiring musician who doesn’t quite yet know the ropes to find songs that they both love and are able to play with relative ease, both factors multiplying each other ad infinitum.
It is this aspect that makes the guitar such a friendly instrument to aspiring beginners, the veritable acres of history, the stories, and the fact that between a musician and their favorite song is usually only a distance of four chords, or sometimes even less. This is, of course, to neglect the ocean of available resources available online and elsewhere, enabling any guitarist beginning out in the world to see something of themselves out there, affirmed and hopefully inspired anew.
Today, listed before you, is a series of songs that all use only four chords. Owing to the wide range of styles I have set out to elucidate, not all of the songs here detailed will be of interest to all those reading, though I do hope that there will be at least several for each of you to choose from. Don’t bother learning any that wouldn’t otherwise interest you, simply look to find yourself and your favorite music within.
1. ‘Zombie’ by The Cranberries
We begin with a song that, though emotionally turbulent and mobile, uses the same chords throughout, simply moving through:
Simple enough, no? In contrast to the relative simplicity of guitar songs with 4 chords, the song’s topic couldn’t be more complex and emotionally potent, intensity which is much echoed in the timbre and performance of the song.
The song was first released in 1994 as the first single from the Cranberries’ second album, No Need to Argue. Being an Irish band at such a politically turbulent time, it would have been loathe for them to ignore the contemporary climate of hate and terrorism.
Thus, this single is particularly bent on the political and reads at its most literal as a protest song, a protest song particularly aimed towards the attacks of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (or the IRA), who ravaged Ireland in 1993 and before with acts of terrorism in the name of their cause.
The song became such a big hit that it can be easy to forget the message, though the emotional potency still remains after all these years, the song roaring throughout with a desperate fury.
The chords ought not be too difficult for any beginner, besides the F#m which can be difficult at first, but is very valuable to learn, seeing as so many songs are formed along the lines of guitar songs with 4 chords that don’t all fall among the roster of open chords beginners are so fond of. Since the chord is minor, you won’t need to use your middle finger to fret the major 3rd, so it shouldn’t be too difficult. If you’re really struggling, just try playing this chord on /its own until you get the hang of it and it sounds right.
2. ‘Where is the Love?’ by The Black Eyed Peas
Seminal American pop band, The Black Eyes Pease, struck it out of the park with this one, topping many, many charts worldwide upon release in 2003.
The song is still fondly remembered for compressing such worldwide and ubiquitous messages of peace and harmony while detailing the discrimination, hatred, inequity, and racial hatred through the lack of compassion to our fellow humans, all in the bounds of a few minutes of pop music. Not a bad effort considering, though we have only to open our eyes for the briefest of moments to see that these things haven’t much changed, if at all.
Thus, ‘Where is the Love’ is as relevant as it’s ever been, what with the current climate and exposure of police brutality, gender and racial inequity throughout the world, though of particular relevance to anyone in the West. The song itself, of course, relies on the same four chords repeating over and over again, allowing plenty of room for improvisation on the themes as you go along.
There is, like the Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’, a barre chord at the end of the sequence before looping back round. I have included an easier version of this F chord for those beginning to wrap their heads around barre chords and the way they work, though feel free to use the full version of the chords (or any variations thereof) should you so wish!
3. ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk
This song was such a ubiquitous smash hit in 2013 that it would have been hard even for aliens not to have picked up a few notes of it here and there from their antennae planted spaceward – knowing Daft Punk, perhaps this was their aim all along.
Like the previous two offerings, this tune, too, relies on the same four guitar chords looping over and over again. Since Daft Punk’s roots are in House music, a genre of electronic music infamous for its incessantly repeating grooves that seem to go on and on for hours, this comes as no surprise. The real shocker on this single, however, was the complete change of collaborators and the instruments with which they provided these grooves, shimmying from total sampledelic four to the floor, to a funk so indebted to 70’s disco that Nile Rodgers of the band Chic even jumps aboard to provide his signature choppy kisses of guitar.
The chords here, though seemingly simple on paper, are lent their signature sound by the playing technique, which may as well have been torn from a late 70’s disco track, seeing as it’s performed by one of the legends of disco and funk guitar. Thus, it will take a bit of practise to get it sounded quite how it does on the record, not to mention the fact that you will need a capo to be placed on the 2nd fret if you want it to be in the same pitch.
Nonetheless, this can be played with anyone and I would encourage all to give it a go, as these chords are incredibly fun to play when applying your own rhythmic sense to the song.
4. ‘Hey Ya’ by Outkast
Much like Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’, this was a smash hit of its time, released as it was, like ‘Where is the Love’, in 2003. The duo, Andre 3000 and Big Boi, though not exactly unknown at the time, were shot into the limelight, the song becoming an unprecedented smash hit. Their previous single ‘Ms Jackson’ was a smash hit, too, but not quite on the scale of this, continuing along the increasingly pop oriented path that so pleased Andre, and which would eventually lead to their dissolution due to creative differences between himself and Big Boi.
Hey Ya is certainly the most famous song on the album that it is attempting to promote, itself a double album essentially split between both members of the duo. This song comes from Andre 3000’s half, where he semi conceptually writes under the guise of a band called ‘The Love Below’, who, you will see in the accompanying music video, is comprised entirely of clones of himself.
Though this song, like those previously listed, move in the same structure throughout, there is an added complexity here, as with the very previous listing, in the rhythmic sensibilities of the song. Quite easy to miss upon listening is the fact that the song alternates its time signature between 4/4 and 10/4, meaning that there are, in some instances, 10 beats to a bar.
This responsibility falls on the C chord, held as it is for the appropriate length, the D chord being a transitory chord only held for half a bar of 4/4, two measures. All of this ought to be secondary to how the song feels, and I have no doubt that once you give the song a few runs through you’ll intuitively have figured the song in no time, without any need for often confusing and unnecessary musical jargon, which can be useful but certainly not if getting in the way or inhibiting your courage or progress on guitar songs with 4 chords.
5. ‘One Love’ by Bob Marley
This song is another world renowned hymn to worldly peace and unity between all beings, though this time recorded in 1977 by reggae deity Bob Marley.
Firmly in the reggae style, the song’s simple yet potent message is reflected clearly in the choice to use so few chords, as well as in the multiple vocalists doubling up the lead melody, echoing for all to see the unity which he so wishes upon the world and upon his fellow man, woman, and child.
The chords should be familiar to all, including those who are beginning, except for perhaps the F#m, which I have here notated in a simpler form. If you know the fuller version of the chord then by all means use it in this context and even experiment with it a little, but seeing as this is a style of music that some might not be so accustomed to playing, this simpler version of the chord will prove useful to those wanting to comfortably try something new.
One of the major characteristics of the reggae style, one that you would do well to capture, is the rhythmic sensibility. Even when playing these guitar songs with 4 chords they are more often muted, much as in funk guitar, where the rhythmic responsibilities span throughout the band and all of the instruments. In reggae, the guitar almost always strums a staccato chord out on the two and four of the bar. One – TWO – three – FOUR – one – TWO – three – FOUR etc.
Give it a go! If you struggle then think and practise intelligently, homing in on those aspects that trouble you must, diluting the song down to its smallest units.
6. ‘Wild Thing’ by The Troggs
This is an all encompassing and ubiquitous hit from UK band The Troggs, made famous by Jimi Hendrix in his legendary cover, though it wasn’t even theirs to begin with! Initially written by Chip Taylor, originally recorded by an American rock band called the Wild Ones, this track has certainly passed through a lot of hands, though never at the expense of its potency.
The song’s simplicity belies this potency, for it is a song that one can get utterly lost in while still acting as a conduit for the pure power that such savage, primitive, and simple garage rock can provide anyone who chooses to adopt it.
The chords themselves circle almost entirely from A to D to E to D, then back round again in a loop. There is occasionally a break, where the harmony moves solely to the G chord. In sussing this out yourself, using your hands, eyes, and ears to learn the song, you will be instilling it within yourself much more strongly and effectively than by simply following a chord chart. Learning and remembering is dependent, at least somewhat, on your participation.
So, though this song is simple, it is what you make it, allowing you to place more of yourself within the blanks left bare by the simplicity. This one is great for blaring aloud in front of friends, or just about any other way you can think of performing or reinventing a song.
7. ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ by Bob Dylan
One would be hard pressed to find a music enthusiast who, even if not particularly fond of folk or rock music, doesn’t know this track.
Originally written in 1973 by Bob Dylan for a film about famous gunslinger Billy the Kid, the song has occupied the musical world and the world at large with a life of its own, covered by many famous artists. You might even be more familiar with the version popularised by Guns and Roses, in which lead singer Axl Rose takes many, artistic liberties with the delivery of the vocals.
Much aligned with the simple, earnest American folk flavourings of Bob Dylan’s past efforts, the chords are themselves simple, basic, and soulful, mostly cycling between patterns of only three chords at a time, four chords overall, switching between G – D – Am & G – D – C.
As with a lot of the music in this vein, including plenty by Bob Dylan himself, much of the expression is in the vocals and the lyrics, so the strumming is relatively rudimentary and straight forward. This might even be an opportunity to seize the song yourself, making it your own.
If you’re comfortable singing and used to performing in this way, perfect! If not, then it is definitely worth trying if it is something you are interested in. The guitar songs with 4 chords are simple enough to encourage multi tasking in this way without detracting from the emotional potency.
8. ‘Stand By Me’ by Ben E King
This particular soul number ought not need an introduction. Originally springing to life in 1961, the composer was seeking to recreate an older gospel song and, in the process, composed one of the most seminal and well-known pop and soul songs of the 20th Century, consistently ranked at the top of lists of best known and beloved songs in the Western Hemisphere.
The song insistently repeats the same four chords throughout, varying in instrumental backing and accompaniment, the emphasis being as much on the heartfelt, forlorn vocals as on the luscious, endearing string arrangements.
Some of you might be more familiar with the Otis Redding version of the song, which you will be needing a capo for. With said capo placed on the second fret, the pitch will be just right.
The strumming pattern should be self explanatory, coming to you after only playing the song a few times. Similar to reggae in some senses, the emphasis on the off beats 2 and 4 for example, this song, however, has a little more of a shuffle/swing, indebted as the style is to its jazz predecessors and all those vocalists and crooners that came before and laid the groundwork.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I would encourage any who have themselves exhausted the songs on this list to go out and find more for yourself. There are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of songs out there in the world that use four or less chords to craft entire worlds.
Why not even try listening out to your favorites and sussing out how many different guitar songs with 4 chords you can hear!?
FAQs Guitar Songs with 4 Chords
There is such a chord progression that appears in countless different songs throughout the annals of popular music. In terms of chord charts and scale degrees, the sequence goes from the root, then to the 5th, then the 6th, and finally onto the 4th. It’s really quite boggling how many songs have been laid on this foundation.
There is such a chord progression that appears in countless different songs throughout the annals of popular music. In terms of chord charts and scale degrees, the sequence goes from the root, then to the 5th, then the 6th, and finally onto the 4th.
There is such a chord progression that appears in countless different songs throughout the annals of popular music. In terms of chord charts and scale degrees, the sequence goes from the root, then to the 5th, then the 6th, and finally onto the 4th. It’s really quite boggling how many songs have been laid on this foundation. While not covering the entirety of the pop music spectrum, it goes a long way considering.
Typically, the songs that are simplest will depend on the strengths and weaknesses of the person tackling the song, though a song entirely composed of open chords and simple strums would be objectively simpler than most.