It’s amazing just how many songs you can learn to play just by knowing the basic chords! If you’re a beginner guitarist, or just looking for some easy, strum-along songs, then this lesson should be just what you’re looking for. Originally, this post was about 20 easy, three chord guitar songs- but now it’s expanded!
In my Ebook ’50 Easy Guitar Songs’, there are 50 songs to learn and strum along to. These range from the traditional ‘Auld Lang Syne’, to the more bluesy ‘I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow’, to folk tunes such as ‘Home on the Range’ or ’99 Bottles of Beer’.
All this for only $0.99! Which is nothing, really. You can check it out here.
Just to show you how useful a book like this can be, we’re going to take one of the songs as an example. Let’s see what we can do with just the melody and the chords- it’s more than you think!
So, let’s take our basic (or ‘boring’) song tab from the book, and turn it into something a bit better. To emphasise this change, we’ll be using ‘Mary had a little Lamb’. A very basic, and well known song.
Our task is to turn it into something a bit more interesting.
First, here is the tab as it is in the book:
The lead part is the standard notation and the tab, and the chords are underneath. I’ve written out a basic rhythm for these chords, just to get you started.
The rhythm guitar part is written on only one line, and each note is one strum. The chords are written just above the strums. I’ve only written in the chord at the beginning of each bar, or when they change. If you don’t see a chord name, then assume it’s the same as he last chord.
You can probably see how I’ve followed the rhythm of the tune for most of it. This is OK, and it’s what many people do when starting out- but it could be improved!
Creating a Rhythm Part
I recommend using a metronome for this part at first. I know that a lot of musicians claim that metronomes are unnatural, but hear me out!
Many beginners struggle with changing between chords in time. This leads to a slight pause- or gap- between one chord and the next. Now, if you want to stay in time, this is very bad!
Therefore, using a metronome at first will help you to make sure you’re changing chords in time. The advantage is that you can slow a metronome down to a speed that suits you, and then gradually speed it up when you have the changes down.
If you’re happy with changing between the chords, then the metronome will still keep you consistently in time, but it’s less vital.
The Basic Rhythm
The rhythm that I’ve written out in the book is very basic. All the songs are written that way. The idea is that you can add your own rhythm or improve upon it as you like.
However, there are more basic rhythms. When given a chord progression to play, most people start out with just one strum per chord, or one strum on each beat.
This is fine. It isn’t wrong, but it’s very basic.
There are plenty of things you can do with a rhythm part that are more than this!
The Mood or Style
The first thing that you want to bee looking at with a rhythm part is the mood, or style that you want to play. Then, think about the things that would make it sound that way.
For example, if you wanted to play a punk rock version of this tune, you’ll want to use powerchords. You’ll also probably want to have a more consistent rhythm, with maybe two strums per beat. These strums would also probably be downstrokes.
Then you could add some palm muting on the chords, and use a distorted electric guitar.
Here’s an example:
I know these things because they are all features found in punk rock:
- Palm Muting
The same thing applies for the mood. What things would make this song happy, or sad? What would make it into a dance, and what things would turn it into a slow ballad?
Let’s have a look at some of the options.
Quiet or Loud?
Changing how loud or quiet you strum can have a huge impact on how the song sounds. In music we call this ‘dynamics’, and they are one of the main ways to create interest in music that would otherwise be boring.
You can also use dynamics to change the mood. For example, the punk rock version above probably wants louder strums. However, if you wanted this to be a softer, acoustic ballad, you might want to play much quieter.
You may even decide that the second, third and fourth bars need to gradually get louder. I mean, the lyrics just repeat. Maybe you want each one to be slightly louder to emphasise ‘little lamb’.
You could also decide that it was very important that the fleece was as white as snow. You could show this by making the bar before last louder.
It’s up to you. You’re the one telling the story- and all great storytellers use thier tone of voice when telling a story!
Faster or Slower?
Another way that you could increase or decrease the intensity is to change how fast you strum. I’m not talking about speeding the song up, but adding more strums per beat.
You may have noticed that I’ve done this already in the tab. Most of the rhythm follows a similar pattern, with either two, or three strums per bar. Then, the chord before last has a strum on each beat, and the last chord only has one strum.
This is because it emphasises the tension and resolution of the last two bars. If it was just three strums per bar, there would be no contrast, and that would be boring.
Strummed, Picked, or Fingers?
You can probably already see how much variation you can have in just one song- and we’ve only talked about strumming chords!
If you really want to play a softer, acoustic ballad, you might decide that you want to pick individual notes from the chord. You may even decide that you want to use your fingers because of the softer sound.
Here is the same thing played with strums, then picked, then fingerpicked:
See how different these three sound? And these are just picking patterns that I made up! You can some up with your own and sound totally different to any of this!
I hope this lesson has given you some ideas for your own rhythm parts. If you want to get more advanced, there is still plenty of things to make your rhythm playing really stand out! This is just the start!
You may also be interested in changing these songs to different keys.