Sometimes it’s easy to get wrapped up in the complexities of music, wanting to play extravagant chord voicings and use complicated, modulating progressions.
But it’s important to remember that great songs don’t need to be complex, sometimes we can get a tremendous amount of value out of using just a couple of chords, even 2 is enough.
So today we’ve gathered up 40 catchy, popular, and successful songs that use only 2 chords. So whether you’re a beginner looking for some simple songs to learn or a seasoned veteran who just needs a break from complicated songs, there’s something here for you.
We’ve also included tablature and video lessons for every song to help you along the way.
- Jambalaya by Hank Williams
- Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus
- Born In The USA by Bruce Springsteen
- Eleanor Rigby’ by The Beatles
- Horse with No Name by America
- Paperback Writer by The Beatles
- 505 by Arctic Monkeys
- Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke
- Break On Through by The Doors
- Dance The Night Away by The Mavericks
- Dreams by Fleetwood Mac
- Drunken Sailor by The Irish Rovers
- Everyday People by Sly & The Family Stone
- Feelin’ Alright by Joe Cocker
- One World (Not Three) by The Police
- Oye Como Va by Santana
- Jane Says by Jane’s Addiction
- Give Peace A Chance by John Lennon
- Heroin by The Velvet Underground
- Solitude by Black Sabbath
- Something In The Way by Nirvana
- Stop Whispering by Radiohead
- Tomorrow Never Knows by The Beatles
- Tulsa Time by Eric Clapton
- Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin
- When Love Comes To Town by U2 & BB King
- Working Class Hero by John Lennon
- You Never Can Tell by Chuck Berry
- What I Got by Sublime
- A Horse With No Name by America
- Fallin’ by Alicia Keys
- Banana Boat Song by Harry Belafonte
- Copperhead Road by Steve Earle
- I Only Want You by Eagles of Death Metal
- I’ll Take You There by The Staple Singers
- Lady In Black by Uriah Heep
- Lively Up Yourself by Bob Marley
- Shady Grove, Traditional Folk Song
- Tom Dooley by The Kingston Trio
- Unknown Legend by Neil Young
Jambalaya by Hank Williams
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Starting off with a classic country-western/blues song by Hank Williams that was written after the popular Cajun/Creole dish called Jambalaya. He first wrote this song after overhearing some Cajuns talking about food while taking the bus. It’s his most covered song with great artists such as The Carpenters and John Fogerty making their own renditions of the track.
This song uses the chords C and G. The progression totals 8 musical bars where we’ll be playing 2 bars of C, 4 bars of G, and then finally 2 bars of C. You might be tempted to think of this as 4 bars of C and then 4 bars of G, but in this case, it’s actually better to remain aware of where the 8 bar turnaround is as it plays into the arrangement of the song.
Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus
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While I’m sure some who read this might not think anything more of Billy Ray Cyrus other than being Miley Cyrus’s dad. But he really did have a very fruitful career by himself. This was his debut single from the album ‘Some Gave All’ and became his signature song. The song became a bit of a phenomenon thanks to its catchy and extremely memorable chorus. And even went triple platinum
The two chords for this song are just very simple A and E chords. If you’re going to perform this as a solo acoustic piece you can just play them in their regular open positions. Or, if you want to rock this out on the electric you can use the A power chord shape and then the higher E on your third string. You can think of it as kind of an ultra-simplified blues progression.
Born In The USA by Bruce Springsteen
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You’re probably already thinking about the chorus just from reading the song name. This is a very well-known song by American rock/pop songwriter Bruce Springsteen. One of this song’s claim to fame (aside from the fact it’s a fantastic track) is that it was the first-ever compact disk manufactured in the US for commercial sale. Both this single and the album it was promoting are some of his most commercially successful tracks ever, and it even received a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year in 1985.
To play this in the same way as the original you’ll be playing a B barre chord along with an E open chord, this in itself is already very simple to play. But we can make it easier for ourselves by using a capo on the second fret and playing the A major and D major shapes (with respect to the capo position). Strumming wise you just hit the chord once and let it ring out for 4 beats.
Eleanor Rigby’ by The Beatles
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As The Beatles progressed through their career, they started to shift from a more commercially appealing, rock and roll/pop group to include less common influences such as experimental and baroque elements. Named after the actress Eleanor Bron who also appeared in The Beatles movie ‘Help’.
Despite the unusual nature of the track, it is an exceptionally easy song to play. The two chords we’ll be using are C major and E minor, there are a few single-note passages that accompany this so it’s not a case of just strumming these two chords, but it’s all very easy to play and nothing that should deter a beginner.
Horse with No Name by America
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Despite being their most successful single by a considerable margin, the album (also titled America) was originally released in Europe without this song. But after the label requested the band submit more material that would be able to make the cut in the US, this was one of the songs they submitted. It was written while the band was staying in England and they said they wanted to capture the feel of a hot, dry desert after they had been inspired by a particular Salvador Dali painting.
The two chords we are using here are E minor, and then what people technically refer to as a D6 chord. But due to the fact that the strings you need to fret are adjacent to the two you hold when playing Em, it’s more likely this chord was discovered more through exploration than a conscious decision to use that particular voicing.
Paperback Writer by The Beatles
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There’s a funny story about how this Beatles song came to life. Paul McCartney had previously been criticized by his aunt for always writing love songs all the time, and she requested that he write about something more interesting such as a ‘horse or the summit conference’. So after observing Ringo Star reading a book, he simply decided to write a song about a book.
Although we get a little playful with our single note passages and small inflections, this song fundamentally uses the two chords G and C. It also uses a quite nice and simple strumming pattern which makes it ideal if you want to sing and play to this at the same time.
505 by Arctic Monkeys
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Arctic Monkeys are always able to strike that fantastic blend of being old-school sounding Britpop with a slight indie feel, yet somehow make it completely relevant and even resonate with the younger audience. This is from their album ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ and was a huge success, being certified 3x platinum in the UK. And despite their shift in style for this album, it remains a favorite amongst fans.
This song makes use of the good old ‘minor into a minor’ progression which is a surefire way of creating that gloomy, sad, and melancholic tone. We’ll be using the two chords Dm going into Em. The first half of the song uses a very basic strumming pattern and as it progresses it builds up in technicality and complexity.
Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke
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This song is a collaboration between Robin Thicke and well-known American rapper Pharrell Williams. While in the studio together Phil mentioned that one of his favorite songs ever is ‘Got to Give It Up’ by Marvin Gaye, and they essentially set out to make their own version of that. Despite negative reviews from critics, the song was massively successful, selling almost 15 million copies and having an accompanying music video that is approaching 1 billion views on YouTube.
Fundamentally we are just using the chords G and D here. But as you will see from the provided video lesson there’s a lot of scope to get playful with further inflections and passing tones.
Break On Through by The Doors
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This is the opening track from the Door’s debut self-titled album. While not the smash hit that some of the other songs on this list are, it nevertheless started the Doors off on their journey. The track had a little bit of a resurgence 24 years later after it was released as a single to promote the movie also called ‘The Doors’ where it was able to hit the number 64 slot on the UK singles chart.
Although this is a very riffy and notey kind of song, everything that are you are playing essentially stays outlining that Em chord, while occasionally jumping over to the D. If you are a beginner the provided video lesson demonstrates how you can play this track using a very simple strumming pattern.
Dance The Night Away by The Mavericks
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Primarily a pop-rock song that does a good job of injecting that bit of Latin influence to give it a unique flavor. It’s a promotional single from their fifth album ‘trampoline’ and was also the opening track of the album. It charted reasonably well all over the world including Ireland and England, and to this day remains one of their long-term successful singles.
Guitar wise this just alternates between 1 bar of D and 1 bar of A where it just repeats that simple 2 chord pattern for the entirety of the song. The strumming pattern is equally as simple as the chord progression as all you need to do is do 4 downstrokes, 1 for each beat of the bar before changing the chord.
Dreams by Fleetwood Mac
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A bit of a later entry from Fleetwood Mac but is nevertheless still one of their greats. It’s a promotional single from ‘Rumours’. During the writing of this album, there were high emotions and tensions with band members going through divorces or breakups. They said the big challenge with recording this was staying professional while their personal feelings were under so much pressure. Oddly enough the song also received a sudden massive boost in popularity after going viral on the Chinese social media platform TikTok which was important enough to make it re-enter the charts.
For this song we just need the chords F and G, no capo is required. And you can just follow the extremely simple strumming pattern of DUDUDU.
Drunken Sailor by The Irish Rovers
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The longer title for this song which usually makes people instantly recognize the track is ‘What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor?’. It’s a traditional sea shanty, a type of song that workers at sea would sing to keep their spirits high as they worked from the early 1800s.
Obviously being a traditional sea shanty this can be played in any key you wish, no matter which key you play it in you are always using just the I and VII chords. So for example in the key of Em, you’ll just need to play Em and D. Or in the key of Am you just need to play a G. Pick a key that fits comfortably with your voice!
Everyday People by Sly & The Family Stone
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A fantastic soul song from the late 60’s that’s every bit as relevant today as it was back then. The song is about the broad acceptance of different people from different walks of life, regardless of nationality, race, or social group. Unlike their other songs, this one is a little more accessible with a slower tempo and more emphasis on the pop elements which helped it have a greater commercial appeal.
That also translates into the guitar’s role in the song too, just using 2 chords you’ll be alternating between G and C throughout the entirety of the track. There are a few parts where you can throw the 7 on the G if you wish for a little extra spice, but it’s not necessary.
Feelin’ Alright by Joe Cocker
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This track was originally released by the band ‘Traffic’ in 1969. But it was recorded 1 year later by Joe Cocker. Joe renamed the song to have the question mark in the title removed so it was more of a definitive statement. It was tremendously successful, hitting the top 11 on the US and Canadian singles chart. Although the track has been covered by several dozen other bands over the decades this one remains by far the most famous.
Even for a 2 chord song, this is about as easy as it gets. It’s just 1 bar of A followed by 1 bar of D for the entirety of the track, and all you need to do is 4 simple downstrokes on each beat of the music.
One World (Not Three) by The Police
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Next, we have an upbeat and funky song taken from the Police’s 1981 album ‘Ghost In The Machine’. Although this wasn’t a promotional single itself, the album as a whole was written under a strict timeframe due to pressure from the record label for the band to release more music. Despite its commercial success, singer Sting expressed his distaste for the heavy use of horns as it felt like they were stepping away from the ‘trio’ feel people loved them for.
Although the bass is extremely busy in this song, the guitar parts are super simple and easy to play. We’ll be using the chord progression E and D. The trick to this strumming pattern is to accent all the upstrokes to give it that groovy feeling.
Oye Como Va by Santana
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Obviously, Santana is well known for his fantastic lead guitar skills, phrasing, and personality on guitar, and this song is certainly not missing any of that. But that lead playing is all facilitated by a fantastic rhythm section which is why this is included on the list. The song was originally recorded in the early 60s by Tito Puente, but in typical Santana fashion, he rocked this up and injected that signature Latin flavor into it.
The song sticks around A minor, and from a lead perspective, there’s obviously a lot of minor pentatonic stuff going on. But for us rhythm players we just need to use the chords A7 and D7.
Jane Says by Jane’s Addiction
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Back in the early 90s Jane’s Addiction really shook things up with their alternative rock style, which for many was a welcome reprieve from the more glamorous rock we were used to from the 80s. Featuring Flea who’s best known as the bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This track in particular is from their album ‘Nothing’s Shocking’ which peaked at number 6 on the alternative song charts.
The song just uses 2 chords for the entire song which is a big open G, followed by an A major which you can kind of stress some of the lower notes so it gets a bit more of that power chord feel.
Give Peace A Chance by John Lennon
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This was a song John wrote while performing an extended protest which was known as a ‘bed-in’. Technically he was still a member of the Beatles at this time but the songwriting credits went to him as a solo artist. The song’s name is derived from when the journalists asked him why he is doing this ‘bed-in’ and he would simply reply with ‘give peace a chance’.
The song spends most of its time on a simple D chord and then just jumps to the A every so often. It’s extremely easy to play and is also a good one to learn if you’re a beginner and wish to sing over it at the same time.
Heroin by The Velvet Underground
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With a pretty self-explanatory title, Heroin tackles the issue of drug abuse and addiction. It’s originally from their 1967 album ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ but they have also recorded a couple of different versions, so you can play this either as the original or use an acoustic if you wish. It was also very famously covered by Billy Idol in 1993 for his album ‘Cyberpunk’.
The song predominantly rides off the D and strums a D major chord, and then moves into a G chord (while you’re still pedaling off the D note). But to make this easier to play while riding on the D, the G chord shape you can use is simply holding the 3rd fret of that high E string.
Solitude by Black Sabbath
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Taken from Black Sabbath’s 1971 album ‘Master of Reality’. It wasn’t released as a promotional single for the album, and on release, it received mostly negative reviews from critics with Rolling Stone being particularly brutal on it. But between the fans, and also age, it’s has gone on to become one of their greatest successes. With many more modern publications ranking it as one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time.
The two chords we’ll be using for this song are G and F, but instead of strumming them we will be playing a little ‘motif’ along with each chord that contains some arpeggiations and quick little hammer ons and pull offs. It’s great if you want to get used to the idea of ‘outlining’ chords more than simply strumming them.
Something In The Way by Nirvana
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Nirvana has never prided themselves on being technical musicians or making their songs too ‘busy’. This is the 12th song on their legendary album ‘Nevermind’. Journalists have described the song as sounding ‘somber’ and ‘desolate’, it’s said that the song is recollecting a time when singer Kurt Kobain was homeless and had to sleep under a bridge.
The desolate feel is very much reflected in the guitar playing, we’ll be in a dropped tuning for this song and we just need to barre power chord on our 4th fret and then release that to an open power chord. The whole thing can be played with a single finger.
Stop Whispering by Radiohead
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Radiohead had worked on this song for some time before they were eventually signed to Parlophone and recorded their debut album ‘Pablo Honey’ in 1993. Before that, they had recorded this track a few times over various demos as they weren’t quite sure what kind of track they wanted to make. But it eventually all came together and the song received good exposure as it followed up their massively successful single ‘Creep’.
The two chords we’ll be using for this song are D major and G major, it’s very easy to play, the only thing to be mindful of is that it swaps to the next chord every so slightly before the start of the new bar. Be sure to check the provided tablature so you can visually see how this works.
Tomorrow Never Knows by The Beatles
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This is from the period where The Beatles were experimenting more with alternative genres and moving away from their traditional rock n roll and pop roots. This plays with elements of psychedelic, raga, and avant pop to great effect. There’s also a great deal of influence from Indian here as it features both the tambura and a droning sitar sound.
At first glance the song no doubt sounds incredibly busy and chaotic. But underneath it all, it’s grounded in just a 2 chord progression. We start off with our good old C chord, then we move to an alternate version is a B/Gm7 which is easier to play than the chord name might suggest, we just barre a couple of strings on the third fret.
Tulsa Time by Eric Clapton
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Originally recorded by Don William, it describes the journey of a man who leaves Oklahoma to make it big in Hollywood, only to discover he misses the slower pace of life back home which he described as ‘Tulsa Time’. When Eric Clapton recorded this the other 4 members of his band were all from Oklahoma which may have played some part in why they chose this song.
The two chords we’ll be using are G, and D. We start off playing 3 measures of G and then 1 measure of D, you can just pick a strumming pattern that you feel is appropriate for the song. Then for the section that follows that we flip things around and play 3 measures of D followed by 1 measure of G instead.
Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin
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A monstrously iconic and classic song from the legendary English rock band Led Zeppelin. This was the lead single and opening track on their second album ‘Led Zeppelin 2’ and it was also their first major hit in the US. It’s gone down in history as one of the greatest songs of all time, with the British Broadcasting Company naming it as having the single greatest guitar riff of all time.
This is another song that of course is riddled with lead sections, small inflections, and passing melodies. But underneath everything, we are only playing with a D chord and an E chord. All the riffs jump between these chords on the A string (5th and 7th frets) and sometimes head down to that low open E too.
When Love Comes To Town by U2 & BB King
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Two titans of rock and blues come together in this fantastic collaboration as part of U2’s 1988 album ‘Rattle and Hum’. It charted very well hitting the number 6 spot on the UK chart and number 2 on the US Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
For this song, we’ll just need the two chords E major and A major, they’re played with a fair bit of gain so try to control that high end so you can easily hear every note of the chord and protect it from turning into a mess of white noise. As can happen easily when playing a lot of strings with high gain.
Working Class Hero by John Lennon
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As the name might suggest, this song serves as a commentary about people who come from different social classes, in particular working-class people who get ‘processed’ to become middle class. He’s described it as a ‘warning to people’ presumably because that kind of life ultimately doesn’t lead to fulfillment and happiness.
Fundamentally the song uses the 2 chord progression of Am to G, if you are a beginner you may wish to just strum these ‘straight’ and not worry about the lower bass notes. For more advanced players there are some cool little hammer ons you can play around with. The other thing to be cognizant of is the off-bar measures as they don’t always fit into a nice 4/4 timing.
You Never Can Tell by Chuck Berry
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Heading to some classic high-energy rhythm and blues next with Chuck Berry’s popular single from his hit album ‘St. Louis to Liverpool. Interestingly he actually wrote this song while in prison. After he was able to finally record and release the song in 1964 it was met with great commercial success. It also enjoyed a substantial second wind after it was used in the soundtrack to the popular movie ‘Pulp Fiction’.
You can play this on both an acoustic and an electric guitar. For acoustic, you’ll just be playing the open D and A major shapes with the strumming pattern D-DUDUDU-D there that final D is the 1 count on the next bar. On the electric, you can play them as power chords in more of a rock-blues fashion.
What I Got by Sublime
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Heading into the 90s next with the classic alternative rock band Sublime, this song is from their self-titled third album. While it takes a lot of cues from other songs such as Lady Madonna by The Beatles and Loving by Half-Pint. It still does a good job of showing its own personality. Unfortunately, their singer has passed away after recording from a drug overdose and is not present in the promotional music video for the track.
Ignoring all the single note melodies going on, the 2 chords we need to play in this song are a very easy open D and G. One thing to note about the D chord is you need to ignore the high E when you play it, you can easily do this by using your ring finger which is laying on the B string above it and just letting it rest on the E. Now when you strike all the strings that top E will be muted.
A Horse With No Name by America
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It’s a really great thing when a band can get that huge push of commercial success right from their very first song, and America got to experience exactly that with their debut single from their debut album. Although interestingly the album was originally released without this single in Europe and it wasn’t until the label sought them to add a more commercially viable song that it got that extra attention.
Using just two chords which we’ve already encountered before on a couple of other songs, we start with an Am and then separate the fingers out onto the adjacent strings making a D6 add 9/F, which sounds much more complicated than it is to play!
Fallin’ by Alicia Keys
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Another example of an artist who got massive success right from her first single. This was from her debut album ‘Songs in A Minor’ and hit the number 1 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100. It also won an unbelievable 3 Grammy Awards in 2002.
The two chords we use for this song are first a D minor chord in terms of shape, but we are also using a capo on the second fret of the guitar which would put it in a different key. After that, we need an Am7 which you can play by holding your regular A minor chord shape and simply lifting up your ring finger to introduce the 7th into the chord shape.
Banana Boat Song by Harry Belafonte
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This originated as a Jamaican folk song that dockworkers would sing to each other in a ‘call and response’ style as they would load bananas onto boats. So although it has been sung by a great number of people, Harry Belafonte’s version is by far the most well-known and is generally the one people think of discussing the Banana Boat Song.
The two chords we need for this song are our simple open F shape, followed by a C7 chord which is essentially a C but we now also place our pinky down on the fourth fret of the fourth string to add that 7 in.
Copperhead Road by Steve Earle
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This song is written kind of like a story, with the narrator John Lee Pettimore who observed his grandfather’s difficulties in the bootlegging business. Then Pettimore gets drafted into the US Military and upon returning decided to use his grandfather’s land to grow marijuana.
You could almost claim that this song is a 1 note song as we spend so much time on the D, but every so often we’ll jump to a simple G major chord for just 2 beats before returning to that D again.
I Only Want You by Eagles of Death Metal
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A really fun and high-energy track to play that uses some classic blues-rock riffage in a very modern and interesting way. This track is from their 2004 album ‘Peace, Love, Death Metal’ and got an additional boost in its marketing thanks to its use in the popular Playstation 2 game ‘Gran Turismo 4’ as well as being used on some promotional material for Microsoft’s Window 8 software.
Even though we play around with the upper notes of the chords which double up as a melody over the root notes. We are fundamentally just playing an open A power chord which then moves into a C power chord. Pay attention to the palm mutes and open notes here as that’s where a lot of the personality comes from.
I’ll Take You There by The Staple Singers
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This track was a single from The Staple Singers’ album ‘Be Altitude: Respect Yourself’ which was written by Al Bell back in 1972. Al Bell actually produced The Staple Singer’s version of this song and it was able to hang in the charts for a whopping 15 weeks and hit the number 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
This is an example of how you can get a lot of value and really inject an underlying chord with some melody and movement. We’ll be outlining the chords F and C, but they are a bit more involved than simply just strumming the open positions when played on the electric guitar.
Lady In Black by Uriah Heep
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This is another song that tells the story of an unnamed protagonist who’s lost in what they describe as ‘war-torn darkness’ who is then approached by a female celestial being who offers him comfort. This story and the lyrics have been praised by critics and fans alike for their creativity and interesting spin on vocal composition.
Guitar wise it’s very simple to play, we’ll be using a capo on the first fret of the guitar and playing the chord shapes Am and G, but obviously a tone up due to the capo.
Lively Up Yourself by Bob Marley
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While not released as a promotional single, it was the opening track of Bob Marley and the Wailer’s seventh album called ‘Natty Dread’. It was particularly well known and commercially successful in the UK where it was both certified gold and hit the number 3 spot on the UK charts. Bob is the sole credited writer for the track.
As far as two-chord songs go this is an exceptionally easy one, no capo is required and we’ll simply be playing the two chords D and G in their regular open positions. The easiest way to play it is just 1 bar of each chord, and just use downstrokes on each musical beat.
Shady Grove, Traditional Folk Song
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This is a folk song that doesn’t actually credit a specific songwriter, but it does have a few covers or renditions that have become exceptionally popular. For example, the Doc Watson version. The song itself describes a young man’s first love, and how he is so sure of their love he hopes to wed her someday’. It’s very commonly used in Bluegrass guitar playing which is the context we will learn it in today.
Now, it should be noted that despite just outlining the chords D minor and C, because of its bluegrass contexts there is some fairly involved picking and a lot of extra embellishments on the chords to make them more interesting. But it does make a great study of how to milk a lot of notes out of just 2 chords!
Tom Dooley by The Kingston Trio
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This is another traditional folk song which is written about a murderer called ‘Tom Dula’ who reportedly killed a woman in 1866 in North Carolina. The most popular version of this song was from the Kingston Trio which hit the number 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
Once again because of its bluegrass nature, despite only making use of 2 chords which in this case are G and C, there are a lot of notes and some fairly involved picking going on. But the video tab details multiple ways to play this from easy to hard so you can pick one which is appropriate for your skill level.
Unknown Legend by Neil Young
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This song was rather unusually written quite a long time before its release which was over a decade later. And critics/reviews picked up on this noting that it sounded much like his earlier material when it was eventually released in 1992.
We’ll be using the chords G and C here, and while they are just the standard open positions the challenge here comes from the strumming. Where we’ll be using our thumb primarily on the downbeat to hit the bass notes while our fingers strum the majority of the chords using something similar to a clawhammer technique.