While there are lots of songs out there that use a two- or three-chord progression to great effect, there’s something a little special about the 4-chord progression.
From the extra versatility offered in terms of moving through the chords and supporting a wide array of different melodies. That way you can use voice leading with it to keep your progression catchy, but still make ground over the scale and keep things interesting.
There’s a reason why something like the I-V-vi-IV progression has been used for hundreds of years and has served thousands of chart-topping hits. It’s just that effective!
So today, we’ve gathered up a list of 35 fantastic songs that all make use of the 4-chord progression so you can learn them yourself and get familiar with all the most common progressions.
- Hey, Soul Sister by Train
- Let It Be by The Beatles
- Stand By Me by Ben E King
- Save Tonight by Eagle Eye Cherry
- I’m Yours by Jason Mraz
- Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver
- Where Is the Love? by Black Eyed Peas
- Wherever You Will Go by The Calling
- Wild Thing by The Troggs
- With or Without You by U2
- Apologize by One Republic
- Complicated by Avril Lavigne
- It’s My Life by Bon Jovi
- Love the Way You Lie by Eminem ft. Rihanna
- Hey Ya by Outkast
- No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley
- Perfect by Ed Sheeran
- Radioactive by Imagine Dragons
- Shivers by Ed Sheeran
- Sugar by Maroon 5
- 3AM by Matchbox Twenty
- Act Naturally by The Beatles
- Already Gone by Kelly Clarkson
- Behind These Hazel Eyes by Kelly Clarkson
- Blinding Lights by The Weeknd
- Cruise by Florida Georgia Line
- Cry Me a River by Justin Timberlake
- Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty
- Get Lucky by Daft Punk
- Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) by Green Day
- Have You Ever Seen the Rain by Creedence Clearwater Revival
- I Won’t Back Down by Tom Petty
- In the End by Linkin Park
- Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan
- Mad World by Gary Jules
Hey, Soul Sister by Train
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Starting things off with this incredibly catchy feel-good song from the American rock band Train. It has a really nice upbeat tone that layers in some ukulele to give it that extra layer of happiness. It’s the lead single from their album Save Me, San Francisco and was, of course, hugely successful. It sold over 6 million copies in the US alone and even won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance.
Although the acoustic guitars are pretty quiet in the mix here, they essentially follow the same chords as the ukulele/keys. We’re in the key of C (read this to learn how to find the key) and the four chords are C, G, Am, and F. Each of those chords will be played for 2 cycles of the strumming pattern which is D-D-DUDU. You’ll also need a capo on the fourth fret to play it in key with the original.
Let It Be by The Beatles
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A classic, catchy hit from the legendary British band The Beatles. Songwriter Paul McCartney said he was inspired to write the song after experiencing a dream about his mother. During this time tensions in the band were high and his mother visited him in the dream to tell him, ‘it will be alright, just let it be.’ The rest is music history.
The chord progression is mostly carried by the piano here, with the electric guitar providing a more single-note melody, atmospheric kind of role. However, we encourage you to follow the piano with the guitar as that’s where you find the magic of the 4-chord progression. Which is once again C, G, Am, and F.
Stand By Me by Ben E King
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Although this song has been covered by a lot of notable artists, from Florence + the Machine to Prince Royce, today we’re focusing on the original from his 1961 album Don’t Play That Song!’ Although the song did do incredibly well, spawning over 400 cover versions, it wasn’t until over 25 years later when it was featured in a Levi’s jeans commercial that it would really blow up. The song is estimated to have made nearly $23 million in royalties alone.
The four chords we’ll be using in this song are G, Em, C, and D. But we won’t be playing these in a linear fashion. The easiest way to think of them is in terms of strumming pattern repetitions (which is D-XD-DU) where you’ll play the G twice, Em twice, then the C and D once each, followed by the G twice more at the end, and repeat.
Save Tonight by Eagle Eye Cherry
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Next is something a little more upbeat and funky. This fantastically groovy song from Swedish rock/alt-rock musician Eagle Eye Cherry is from his debut album Desireless and immediately garnered him huge success. Various radio stations devoted a substantial amount of airtime to the track thanks to its infectiously catchy vocal melodies.
Using the same 4-chord progression all the way through the song, we’ll be using Am, Fm7, C and G. Most of the movement and groove comes from the strumming pattern. This does require a bit of skill to do, so if you’re a beginner do check the provided video lesson, which details a simplified version too!
I’m Yours by Jason Mraz
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The huge popularity of this song coupled with its wholesome lyrical message and catchy melodies, made it a natural gateway for many just beginning to play the guitar. It’s ranked as the tenth best-selling digital song of all time, garnering a whopping 12 million downloads.
To fit with Jason’s higher vocal tonality and key range, we need to use a capo on the fourth fret of the guitar. Then in that position, we’ll be using a G major chord progression which is G, D, Em, and C.
Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver
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Inspired during a long trip down the country roads to a family gathering. Between its emotive chord progression and catchy vocal melodies, this song tends to stick in people’s heads for a long time. It was released as a promotional single from the album Poems, Prayers & Promises. Younger readers might know it from the popular video-game franchise Fallout, where it was heavily featured in the promotional materials for Fallout 76.
No capo is required for this song and we’ll just be playing the easy chords A, F sharp minor, E, and D. But do note that the F sharp minor needs to be held as a barre chord on that second fret, which can be a little bit of a challenge for beginners. Try your best to ensure every string rings out clearly here!
Where Is the Love? by Black Eyed Peas
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This was easily the most successful Black Eyed Peas song to date, and it was sorely needed as their previous releases lacked commercial success. There were doubts they would even be able to continue. Inspired by the events of 9/11, will.i.am created the song, with singer Justin Timberlake writing the chorus. The song pushed nearly a billion digital sales and has an official music video with nearly a billion views.
This uses a chord progression that by now you’re probably started to get familiar with, starting with an F chord which you can play using the open position, or if you want a fuller sound you can play the full barre chord on the first fret. This is followed by C, Dm, and finally a Bb.
Wherever You Will Go by The Calling
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If you ever frequented music television channels such as MTV2 or Kerrang back in the day, you will have no doubt heard this track a few dozen times already. It’s the band’s debut single taken from their 2001 album Camino Palmero. Listeners were instantly captivated by singer Alex Band’s rich and powerful-sounding voice. It was able to hold its place in the Billboard Hot 100 for 23 weeks, the second-longest charting single in the countdown’s history!
It’s a nice, simple and catchy song that can be played with good old I, V, vi, IV progression in C, giving us the chords C, G, Am, and F. The strumming pattern is simply D-DU-UDU. You’ll also need a capo on the second fret of the guitar if you want to jam along with the original.
Wild Thing by The Troggs
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This was originally recorded by an American band called The Wild Ones. However, the record failed to achieve commercial success. So in 1966, their manager at the time Larry Page presented the song to The Troggs saying it sounded ‘weird and unusual’ and pushed them to record their own version.
The main motif of the song uses 3 chords, and then there’s an extra G thrown in every so often. But most of the time you’ll be playing the 3 chord sequence A, D, E, D. The main thing to focus on is getting the strumming pattern right and making sure you pick hard to get that nice and aggressive sound.
With or Without You by U2
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A classic U2 song that contains all the elements you’d want to see from them. Bono’s soul-stirring and powerful vocal performance combined with the Edge’s multi-layered and effect-laden guitar work. Although the guitars take more of a single-note melody approach to the song, there’s nothing stopping you from jamming the chords along with the bassline here!
Ignoring the Edge’s more lead-orientated melodies, from a chordal perspective we’ll just be using the same 4 chords throughout the song which are D, A, Bm, and G. Essentially the same as every other I V vi IV progression just in the key of D.
Apologize by One Republic
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So this song has been released by both Timbaland (one of the song’s producers and musicians) and by One Republic. The main difference being the guitar solo after the section verse has been removed and there are lots of new backing vocals and percussion samples added. Because of this, we are focusing on the One Republic version, which has a nice mixture of chordal elements and some ambient lead lines you can emulate on the guitar.
Strumming-wise this is as easy as it gets, you just need to maintain a simple DUDUDUDU pattern for the entire song. The chords we will be outlining are Am, F, C, and G. We’ll also need a capo on the third fret of the guitar to bring it up to key.
Complicated by Avril Lavigne
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An intrinsic part of every millennial’s teenage years, this was one of a series of extremely successful singles from Avril’s debut album Let Go. It received predominantly positive feedback from critics, and it hit the number two spot on the Billboard Hot 100, racking up over $1.1 million in sales in the US. It was even nominated for two Grammy Awards in the Best Song and Best Female Pop Performance categories.
Because of its rock nature, it’s not completely necessary to play these using the traditional chord shapes we might use on the acoustic, where the major/minor third and a bunch of open strings are included. If you feel like playing any of them as straight power chords, it’s going to work great!
It’s My Life by Bon Jovi
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This track has two versions you can pick from. First is the more pop/arena rock version, but they also recorded an acoustic ballad version as part of their 2003 album This Left Feels Right. Feel free to pick the appropriate one depending on whether you’re an acoustic or electric guy as they use the same progressions!
Chord-wise, we’ll just be using 4 chords which are Am, C, G and there’s also a D used in a few key parts throughout the song. Another cool thing that happens is right before the turnaround, they use the leading tone to create some tension. You’ll need a capo on the 3rd fret if you want to play along with the original track.
Love the Way You Lie by Eminem ft. Rihanna
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Superstars of pop and rap collide in this moving song, which tackles the theme of domestic violence and abusive relationships. Rihanna has said the song represents the abusive relationship she had with the music industry as a whole. Needless to say, with such popular artists involved it was massively successful, and the official music video is sitting at over 2.6 billion views on YouTube.
Guitar-wise, there is a prominent acoustic backing behind the tracks which can be played using the chords Em, Cadd9, G, and finally D. Those are the open shapes you use but there’s also a capo needed on the third fret of the guitar to bring it in key.
Hey Ya by Outkast
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A pretty straightforward and catchy song that was both written and produced by Outkast member Andre 3000. The song was an unexpected commercial success, not necessarily ticking all the boxes of a traditional pop song. But between its great groove and catchy vocal melodies, it was able to reach the number 1 spot in the US and many other countries. It’s been certified platinum with over a million copies sold.
No capo is required this time, you can just play traditional open chords using the progression G, C, D, and E giving a very major tonality. You don’t need to get particularly fancy with the strumming pattern, just feel the groove and play whatever you feel is appropriate for the tempo and vibe.
No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley
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Contrary to popular belief, the song doesn’t mean that not having a woman means you’ll never have to cry. It’s actually a Jamaican-style phrasing meant to mean, ‘Woman, don’t cry’. Although written by Bob himself, it was actually performed by the whole group, Bob Marley and the Wailers, and was released as part of their album Natty Dread.
Fundamentally, this song uses a nice and simple 4-chord progression. You can choose to stick to that if you just need a nice and simple song to play. But there are also a lot of cool little melodic inflections between the chords you can include if you want something a little more interesting. The chords used in the song are G, C, D, and E.
Perfect by Ed Sheeran
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Ed Sheeran is well known for blending complicated and involved fingerpicking parts with incredibly catchy and accessible chord progressions and vocal hooks. This is luckily one of his simpler ones, acting as something of a ballad about marriage, written specifically about his at the time wide-to-be, Cheery Seaborn. Like everything Ed does, it was massively successful, becoming the number 1 Christmas song in the UK for 2017.
The chord voicings are a little bit interesting for this one. We’ll be using the progression G, Em7, Cadd9, and D while keeping that capo on the first fret. Strumming wise we’re in 3/4 time counting as ONE two three ONE two three which you can strum will downstrokes exclusively.
Radioactive by Imagine Dragons
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Imagine Dragons was another band that received a tremendous amount of attention right from their debut. Radioactive was placed on their first EP Continued Silence, then due to its massive success was subsequently re-released as part of their full-length album Night Visions. The song received two Grammy Award nominations and spawned a number of remixes from popular artists including Kendrick Lamar.
The guitar parts on this song are predominantly ambient/single note melodies drenched in wet effects such as delay and reverb. But for the sake of outlining the chord progression, we recommend you just follow the chords of the song which are Am, C, G, and D. You can use the strumming pattern D-D-UDU once for each chord.
Shivers by Ed Sheeran
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Another 4-chord wonder from Ed, this was written at the end of his popular Divide Tour, when he rented a farmhouse in which he built a make-shift studio to write new material. He’s mentioned that this song took him three days to write. This was unusually long for him, as he felt it was too important to get wrong. It obviously worked, since the song charted highly the world over, hitting the number 1 spot in both the UK and Ireland.
Fundamentally, we are just using the four chords Bm, G, D, and A. Most of the musical interest in the song comes from the strumming patterns, of which there are a few. And there’s also a good number of percussive string hits throughout the song which complements the rhythm wonderfully.
Sugar by Maroon 5
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This track was originally written by American singer, songwriter, and producer Mike Posner. It was intended to be included on his next solo album, a follow-up to his 2010 release, 31 Minutes to Takeoff. However, when Maroon 5 singer Adam Levigne heard the track, he wanted to have it be on Maroon 5’s next album. Originally Mike Posner declined, but after some drama with his record label, he was no longer able to release his second album. So he just gave the song to Maroon 5 instead, stating ‘otherwise it was just going to sit on my laptop.’
We’ll need a capo on the first fret of the guitar and we’ll be playing the chords F, Am, Dm and finally a C. With that minor-to-minor chord change always providing that strong emotional resonance. Each chord is played for 1 bar each.
3AM by Matchbox Twenty
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3AM is moving alternative-rock track that layers acoustic guitar chords with distorted electric melodies, all serving as a base for Rob’s powerful vocal performance. This is the third single from their 1997 album Yourself or Someone Like You. Unfortunately, Atlantic records never gave it a physical release in the US, so it was not eligible to chart. The song details singer Rob’s childhood living with a mother who was battling cancer.
Guitar-wise, assuming you’re playing along to the acoustic part, we just have a nice and simple 4-chord progression that lines the song for the other instruments to do more interesting things over. You’ll need a capo on the first fret (although they play it without one live, 1 note flat) and the chords used are G, Cadd9, D, and finally Em.
Act Naturally by The Beatles
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As somewhat of a departure from their normal style, The Beatles decided to cover this song which was originally written by Johnny Russell and recorded and released by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. But two years later in 1965, the Beatles recorded theirs as a special exclusive track for the United Kingdom release of Help.
This song uses a few slightly less common chord voicings by adding in the 7th intervan. But don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the chords, now is a great time to learn them. Or if you can’t be bothered, they can just be substituted with their standard major/minor equivalents and will still work great in the song! The chords are G, D7, C, A7.
Already Gone by Kelly Clarkson
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Kelly Clarkson really delivered a powerful vocal performance with this song. Layer it up with dense orchestration, percussion, piano, and electric guitar, and you get an incredibly strong song that’s a ton of fun to play. Released in 2009 as the third promotional single for her album All I Ever Wanted, Kelly actually didn’t want this song on the album because she felt Ryan Tedder (the song’s composer) had taken the arrangement from Beyonce’s Halo and was worried she would be accused of plagiarism.
Drama aside, at least the song is nice and easy to play! The 4 chords we need are A, E, F sharp minor, D. The F sharp minor chord is supposed to be played as a barre chord on the second fret, but if that’s a pain for you, feel free to use the ‘cheat’ version.
Behind These Hazel Eyes by Kelly Clarkson
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When you think of mid 2000s pop-rock, this is exactly what comes to mind for many. Heavy electric guitars, catchy clean vocal hooks with a classic over-baked production (in a good way). This is a single from Clarkson’s second album Breakaway. It has a great accompanying music video that depicts Kelly as a bride while her would-be fiancé is having an affair, the video’s sitting at over 78 million views on YouTube.
The original song opens with some heavy power chords before moving into some nice clean single-note melodies for the verse. If you are playing this on an acoustic you’re probably better off playing the chords in their traditional open shapes. The chord progression for the song is Em, C, G, and D.
Blinding Lights by The Weeknd
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With the rise of analog-esque ’80s-sounding synths and the birth of genres like Synthwave and Darksynth, the stage was primed and ready to receive The Weeknd’s catchy pop effort with open arms. Taken from the album After Hours, the single was unbelievably successful, racking up a staggering 2.72 billion online streams. In 2020, it was the single most streamed song in the world.
This song gets a lot of its power and emotiveness from the good old minor to minor chord trick, so we’ll be using the chords Dm, Am, C, and finally a G5 which you can think of as just using your regular G shape, but just ignore that second string (which is your major third) muted, simple!
Cruise by Florida Georgia Line
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Part of the newer generation of country that uses more modern mixing techniques, vocal production, and elements of electronics to take all those fundamentals of what makes country music good and deliver them in a refined and up-to-date package. This is the first single from their album Here’s to the Good Times, which was released in 2012 to great critical acclaim. The official music video reached 158 million views on YouTube.
Now assuming you’re not here to play the slide guitar parts, we can just cover the strummed acoustic chords. We’ll be playing the progression, with a capo on the 3rd fret, G, D, Em, and C and you just play each chord for 1 bar or 1 repetition of the strumming pattern.
Cry Me a River by Justin Timberlake
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When Justin’s time in the boy band NSYNC came to an end and he pursued his own career, it became immediately obvious he was going to be every bit as successful as a solo musician. The track was produced by Timbaland, whose production was heavily praised for its interesting use of beatboxing, orchestral elements, and dense arrangement of vocal layers.
So while the song does outline 4 chords which are Em, B7, C, and Am6, you can even fret them in their regular open positions. When it comes to the strumming, you have to arpeggiate them, which means to play 1 note at a time. You can do this by essentially strumming slowly down and letting the pick hit 1 string at a time.
Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty
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While Tom Petty has certainly had no shortage of incredible, chart-topping hits, Free Fallin’ is by far one of his most famous tracks. It hit the No. 7 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The song’s massive success even afforded him the opportunity to perform it alongside Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose during the halftime show at the 2008 Super Bowl.
We’ll need a capo on the first fret of the guitar to play along with the original song, and the chords used are E, Asus2, A, and Bsus4. Fortunately, these are all super easy to hold often just needing some very small finger changes to get to the next chord.
Get Lucky by Daft Punk
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While we primarily know Daft Punk for their analog synths, retro aesthetic, and pioneering use of the vocoder. They’re no strangers to guitars either, and this song is a great example of how well their music translates to the instrument. Released in 2013 from the ‘Random Access Memories’ album, it features heavy funk, disco, and pop influences that all combine to great effect.
The way we play this on guitar is essentially by using ‘funky barre chords’. That’s a Bm7, D, F sharp m7, and E, but played a little further up the neck in the same way you’d approach playing power chords. Check the provided video lesson for details and it’s a large part of what gives this song its vibe on guitar.
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) by Green Day
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It’s somewhat of a curse when a heavier (in the punk/rock sense of the word) band decides to create a singalong acoustic tune and it ends up becoming one of their most successful songs. It ends up giving a kind of obligation for the band to play it live and adopt that sound. Well, this is definitely one such song, a really catchy acoustic number from their fifth album Nimrod. But interestingly, it was already written and ready to be recorded for Dookie, but it was deemed too ‘different’ so they held off until later.
The track uses an interesting blend of strumming and single-note arpeggios. This makes the tab look very busy and confusing, but in fact it’s just a single rhythm that repeats. So once you learn that with the help of the provided video lesson, you can simply apply it to all 4 chords and you’re good to go!
Have You Ever Seen the Rain by Creedence Clearwater Revival
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A fantastic song written by American singer/songwriter legend John Fogarty. Recorded and released by the roots/country rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival as part of their album Pendulum. It was hugely successful, topping the charts the world over, was certified 3x platinum with 3 million copies sold, and the track was even covered by the fantastic Bonnie Tyler.
The 4 chords we need for this song are G, Am, F, and C/G. If you’re not familiar with chord inversions, it essentially means we’re taking a note that would usually come after the root, or our lowest note of the chord, and moving it beneath that root. Still technically the same chord from a theory perspective, but it ends up ‘feeling’ a little different.
I Won’t Back Down by Tom Petty
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While the song was both written and produced by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, George Harrison of The Beatles actually played acoustic guitar and sang on the track. Tom recollects that he was sick at the time and George went out to buy him ginger root and made him breathe in the steam before doing his vocal takes to help clear his sinuses.
The chords for this song can be played between a mixture of 2- and 3-note power chords, where you’ll also hold the next octave of the root. But if you are playing this on acoustic you can also play them as open chords to get a little bit of a thicker and fuller sound. The chords used are G, C, D, and Em.
In the End by Linkin Park
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Every single song on Hybrid Theory is lead-single worthy, but somehow In The End ended up standing out above the rest as an absolutely monumental track that became a bit of a phenomenon. Which is interesting, since members of the band were reluctant to even use it as a single, as they felt it was one of their weaker songs. But between Chester’s signature gritty clean vocals and some classic nu-metal guitar work, it won everyone over.
So this is about as simple as songs get, of course. There are only 4 chords involved which are A, G, F, and C, don’t worry about major or minor tonalities as you’ll just be playing them as bar chords! Just hit it once and let it sustain for the whole bar, then hit the next one!
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan
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This track wasn’t actually written as a solo song per se. It was actually part of the original soundtrack to the movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Then released as a single after the movie was out, it went on to become a massive hit and was covered by a huge number of notable artists including Eric Clapton and Guns N’ Roses.
We just need 4 simple chords to play this song which are G, D, Am, and C along with the super simple strumming pattern of D-D-DU with each chord receiving one cycle of the strumming pattern.
Mad World by Gary Jules
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Originally written by the legendary British synth/new wave band Tears for Fears. However when thinking about the track many people will immediately think of the Gary Jules version as it took a more emotive approach to the song, and presented it in a way that really pulls at the heartstrings. This version in particular became extra well known because of its use in the popular 2011 movie Donnie Darko.
The song starts off just using 2 chords at first, with just 1 bar of Em, then 1 bar of A, which then repeats. Once the song kicks in properly, we will be playing Em, G, D, A. It’s a really good example of how careful melodic note choice over so many major chords can still present a very heavy and sad vibe.