Did you know that there are literally thousands of songs you can play if you know just 3 chords?
It's true. Songs from “Amazing Grace" to “Cum Ba Ya" to “Happy Birthday" to “On Top Of Old Smoky", “My Country ‘Tis of Thee", “Take Me Out To The Ball Game", “God Bless America" and countless others.
But there are also Christmas Carols that you can learn to play this Christmas if you know, or are willing to learn, three simple chords.
So what are these chords?
In any given key, there are 3 “family members" that are residents of that key - the I chord, the IV chord, and the V chord. They are far and away the most likely chords to occur in any given key.
For example, if I am playing in the Key of C, and the first chord is the C chord and I have to guess what the next chord is, I would guess that it would be either the F chord or the G chord. Why? Because those are the other “family members. " So we have narrowed the odds a great deal just by knowing who the members of the family are.
So how could I tell whether it should be F or G?
If the melody is a “B", then the chord is probably a G chord. Why? Because “B" is in the G chord, but is not in the F chord.
If the melody is a “A", than I would guess that the chord is F. Why? Because “A" is in the F chord, but is not in the G chord.
You can also just match one of the three chords to the melody to see if it sounds right. If it doesn't, try another of the 3 chords. It won't take long before you get the knack of matching chords to the tune of a song.
Does that mean that there are always just 3 chords in a song? No, but there are literally hundreds of songs that are made of just 3 chords.
Here are a few Christmas Carols you can play with just 3 chords:
O Christmas Tree
Angels We Have Heard On High
Away In A Manger
Joy To The World
Deck The Halls
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
O Come, O Come Immanuel
Star Of The East
The First Noel
The Holly And The Ivy
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day
Can you use other chords in these carols? Of course. And they will probably sound fuller if you do. But you can “get by" with just 3 chords - the family chords in whatever key you want to play them in.
Here are the primary chords (the family chords) of all the major keys (remember that the primary chords are the I chord, the IV chord, and the V chord based on the scale of that particular key):
Key of C: C, F, G
Key of G: G, C, D
Key of D: D, G, A
Key of A: A, D, E
Key of E: E, A, B
Key of B: B, E, F#
Key of F: F, Bb, C
Key of Bb: Bb, Eb, F
Key of Eb: Eb, Ab, Bb
Key of Ab: Ab, Db, Eb
Key of Db: Db, Gb, Ab
Key of Gb: Gb, Cb, Db
Do you have to know all these chords in all these keys?
You can choose to play in just one key, or just a few keys.
But what you MUST know is the 3 chords in whatever key you want to play in! That means that the stark beginner can learn 3 chords in just a few minutes, and be able to play along with thousands of tunes, because most folk songs, hymns, country songs, and many rock songs just use the 3 basic chords. That's why people who know zilch about music can pick up a guitar or sit down at a piano or keyboard, learn 3 chords, and chord along while singing everything from “Silent Night" to “Joy To The World" to. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . well, you get the idea.
Go thou and do likewise. It's not too late - Christmas comes every year right on schedule!
Duane Shinn is the author of over 500 music books and music educational materials such as DVD's, CD's, musical games for kids, chord charts, musical software, and piano lesson instructional courses for adults. His DVD video courses titled "How To Play Spectacularly Beautiful Christmas Carols on the Piano This Christmas!" have been used by pianists around the world to help them arrange Christmas Carols in an exciting manner. He holds advanced degrees from Southern Oregon University and was the founder of Piano University in Southern Oregon. He is the author of the popular free 101-week online e-mail newsletter titled "Amazing Secrets Of Exciting Piano Chords & Sizzling Chord Progressions" with over 70,000 current subscribers.