Play 4 chords Play all night and day!

Four Chord Songs ( clean version)

by Gordon Harvey (of Simply Music)

I remember hiring a car on a holiday a few years ago. We could only tune the radio to one station, playing popular music, and as the songs cycled by, I started to realise that maybe a third of them featured the same four chords, nearly always for the same length each. It amazed me that that simple progression could inspire such quantity and variety of melodies. So, even if you’ve hardly touched a keyboard before, it mightn’t be beyond the imagination to learn those four chords and give yourself the chance to play the accompaniment to a huge list of songs.

Below is a by no means exhaustive list, compiled with the help, amongst others, of the amazingAxis of Awesome (includes a mild language warning):

Nelly – Just a Dream

Alphaville – Forever Young

Blink 182 – Dammit

The Last Goodnight – Pictures of You

James blunt – Beautiful

Waltzing Matilda

Beyonce – If I Were a Boy

Pink – U and Ur Hand

The Calling – Wherever you Go

Jason Mraz – I’m Yours

Marcy Playground – Sex and Candy

Mika – Happy Ending

Alex Lloyd – Amazing

Five for Fighting – Superman

Maroon 5 – She Will be Loved

Alicia Keys – No One

U2 – With or Without You

Auld Lang Syne

Kelly Clarkson – Behind These Hazel Eyes

Crowded House – Fall at your Feet

Casey Chambers – Not Pretty Enough

Richard Marx – Right Here Waiting

The Beatles – Let it Be

Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Under the Bridge

Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Otherside

Daryl Brathwaite – The Horses

Amiel – Lovesong

Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’

Men at Work – Down Under

A-Ha – Take On Me

Rihanna – Take a Bow

Green Day – When I Come Around

Eagle Eye Cherry – Save Tonight

Toto – Africa

Elton John – Can you Feel the Love

The Offspring – Self Esteem

The Offspring – You’re Gonna Go Far Kid

Andrea Bocelli – Time To Say Goodbye

Lady Gaga – Poker Face

Lady Gaga – Paparazzi

Elvis Presley – Always On My Mind

Aqua – Barbie Girl

The Fray – You Found Me

30h!3 – Don’t Trust Me

MGMT – Kids

Tim Minchin – Canvas Bags

Natalie Imbruglia – Torn

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – Over the Rainbow

Lighthouse Family – High

Missy Higgins – Scar

Jordin Sparks – Tattoo

Black Eyed Peas – Where is the Love?

Gregory Brothers – Double Rainbow

Train – Hey Soul Sister

Akon – Don’t Matter

Akon – Beautiful

John Denver – Country Roads

Jimmy Eat World – Hear You Me

Hayley Westenra – Heaven

Jack Johnson – Taylor

Smashing Pumpkins – Bullet with Butterfly Wings

Joan Osborne – One of Us

Avril Lavigne – Complicated

One Republic – Apologize

Eminem – Love the Way You Lie

Feargal Sharkey – A Good Heart

Thirsty Merc – Twenty Good Reasons

Bob Marley – No Woman No Cry

In some of the above cases the song may have sections that include other chords, but I’m sure you have a sense of how much these chords allow you to do.

One thing to know about before you begin is called ‘key’. A chord progression can start anywhere on the piano. From different starting places it will sound higher or lower, but still be recognisably the same progression. It’s a bit like having different colours of the same model of car. I’ll talk about two keys – a very simple one and the one Axis of Awesome use, and then we’ll look at finding the chord progression in any key.

First key

For the first key, I’ll assume you’ve had just a handful of Simply Music lessons. One of the very first songs you’ll have learned, and the very first accompaniment project, is a song called Honey Dew, which uses the chords C, Am, F, and G. That’s another very popular chord progression. These are all the chords we’ll use for this project, just in a different order. Change it to C, G, Am, F and you’re done!

Second key

This key starts on E major. If you’ve started the Simply Music Accompaniment Program, you’ll know this is a triangle shape (white on the bottom, black in the middle, white on top). Next is B major, a curve shape (white, black, black). Next is C minor, a triangle, and last is G major, a straight line on white keys.

Any key

A particular 4-chord song might be in any key, that is it might have any major chord as its “I”. If you want to play the song in any key, you need to know a little more. The progression is referred to as I, V, VI, IV. Thinking of my earlier analogy of car colours, if C, G, Am, F is “Red Mini Cooper” and E, B, C#m, A is “Blue Mini Cooper”, then I, V, VI, IV is “Any Mini Cooper”. You need to know how to find the I, V, VI, and IV chords from any starting note. A Simply Music student who has learned about I, IV, V is nearly there – the only chord they don’t know is VI. The easy way to do this is, from the V, bring your bottom note up by a whole step. This note is the VI. From that note you simply build a minor chord. As a Simply Music student, you should know how to make a minor chord, but if you haven’t learned that yet, it’s easy too. Make a major chord then move the middle note down a half step.

Although it’s all pretty straightforward, you might as well use your learning tools to simplify things as much as possible. Using the chord shapes might help you memorise the sequence visually. So, starting from D, the chords will be D, A, Bm, G and the shapes will be triangle, triangle, curve, straight line. These shapes are not intended to tell you every detail, just to serve as reminders of what you’ve already worked out.

The great thing about this skill (called transposing) is you can change the chords to fit your vocal range. And while you’re at it, why not come up with a melody of your own? Unlike Axis of Awesome, you needn’t wait 40 years to write a hit song!

Miss Ruth says:

Here is another list to try with some newer songs

1. Journey- Don’t Stop Believing

2. James Blunt- You’re Beautiful

3. Richard Marx- Wherever You Go

4. Alphaville- Forever Young

5. Blink 182- Adam’s Song

6. Jason Mraz- I’m Yours

7. Mika- Happy Ending

8. Amiel- Lovesong

9. Black Eyed Peas- Where Is The Love?

10. Alex Lloyd- Amazing

11. The Calling- Wherever You Will Go

12. Bush- Glycerine

13. Akon- Don’t Matter

14. Lady Gaga- Paparazzi

15. John Denver- Take Me Home, Country Roads

16. Red Hot Chilli Peppers- Soul To Squeeze

17. Thirsty Merc- Twenty Good Reasons

18. Elton John- Can You Feel The Love Tonight?

19. Lighthouse Family – High

20. Alicia Keys- No One

21. The Last Goodnight- Pictures of You

22. Katherine McPhee- Terrified

23. Maroon 5- She Will Be Loved

24. U2- With Or Without You

25. Linkin Park- Shadow of the Day

26. Crowded House- Fall At Your Feet

27. Sean Kingston- Beautiful Girls (Suicidal)

28. Kasey Chambers- Not Pretty Enough

29. The Beatles- Let It Be

30. Red Hot Chilli Peppers- Under The Bridge

31. Michael Jackson- Man In The Mirror

32. Rihanna- Take A Bow

33. Banjo Paterson- Waltzing Matilda

34. Daryl Braithwaite- The Horses

35. Men At Work- Down Under

36. Train- Hey Soul Sister

37. Bob Marley- No Woman No Cry

38. Marcy Playground- Sex and Candy

39. Semisonic- Closing Time

40. AFHV- The Funny Things You Do

41. Green Day- Basket Case

42. Jack Johnson- Taylor

43. Spice Girls- Two Become One

44. Eddie Money- Take Me Home Tonight

45. Taylor Swift- Love Story

46. A-Ha- Take On Me

47. Beyonce- If I Were A Boy

48. Michelle Branch- Where Are You Now?

49. Shakira- Whenever, Wherever

50. Red Hot Chilli Peppers- Snow

51. Eagle Eye Cherry- Save Tonight

52. Joan Osbourne- One Of Us

53. Smashing Pumpkins- Bullet With Butterfly Wings

54. Offspring- Self Esteem

55. Toto- Africa

56. Sean Kingston- Replay

57. Kelly Clarkson- Behind These Hazel Eyes

58. Jason Derulo- In My Head

59. Cheb Khaled- Aicha

60. Avril Levigne- Complicated

61. Offspring- You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid

62. Pink- You And Your Hand

63. Scott McKenzie- San Francisco

64. Linkin Park- Numb

65. Green Day- When I Come Around

66. Nena- 99 Luftballons

67. One Republic- Apologise

68. Eminem- Love The Way You Lie

69. Akon- Beautiful

70. O-Zone Dragostea Din Tei

71. MGMT- Kids

72. Bon Jovi- It’s My Life

73. Eminem- Not Afraid

74. Coldplay- Life in Technicolor II

75. Lady Gaga- Poker Face

76. Aqua- Barbie Girl

77. The Fray- You Found Me

78. Red Hot Chilli Peppers- Otherside

79. 3Oh!3- Don’t Trust Me

80. Lonely Island- I Just Had Sex

81. The Gregory Brothers- Double Rainbow Song

82. Tim Minchin- Canvas Bags

83. Natalie Imbruglia- Torn

84. Andrea Bocelli- Con Te Partiro

85. Robert Burns- Auld Lang Syne

86. The Axis of Awesome- Birdplane

87. Katy Perry- Hot ‘N’ Cold

88. Justin Bieber- Baby

89. Katy Perry- Firework

90. Katy Perry- California Gurls

91. Abba- Mamma Mia

92. Supergott- Caramelldansen

93. Starkids- I Wanna Be A Starship Ranger

94. Aerosmith- Crying

95. Celine Dion- My Heart Will Go On

96. Judy Garland- Over The Rainbow

97. Rebecca Black- Friday

98. Kesha- Your Love Is My Drug

99. Bruno Mars- Just The Way You Are

100. Adele- Someone Like You

101. Missy Higgins- Scar

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