Play Hundreds of Songs With Just Four Chords

Lisa Witt  /  Articles / Mar 26

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Music is amazing, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need to be a pro to enjoy playing the piano, because learning to play songs can be quick, simple, and fun– even if this is your first time at the instrument!

This lesson will give you the tools to build four chords and use them to play tons of songs like:

…And literally hundreds of others.

Download the chord charts here, and let’s get ready to make some music!

The Chords

The four chords you’ll need to know to play all these songs and more are:

C F G Am

You might not be playing them in that order every time, but if you can get these four simple chords down- you’ll have the foundations to hundreds of popular songs at your fingertips.

Anyone can do this! 🙌

Let’s learn our first chord: C Major.

Staring at the keyboard of your piano I want you to find a grouping of two black keys. The key immediately to the left of that pair is ‘C’.

🔥🎹 Hot Tip! Use the groupings of 2 and 3 black keys as landmarks to more easily identify where you are and what you are playing on the piano. You can learn more about identifying keys and landmark notes with our beginner lesson “How To Play Piano”.

Creating our chord shape: “The Claw”

To create our chord, use your right-hand thumb to play ‘C’. We’re going to use our middle finger (3 Finger) and our pinky finger (5 Finger) to play ‘E’ and ‘G’, respectively. It will create something of a “claw” shape with your hand.

It might seem difficult at first, but it’s going to sound beautiful when you play it.

The notes of the keyboard range from ‘A’ to ‘G’, so you’ll leave a space in between each note to bridge the gaps from ‘C’ to ‘E’ (skipping over ‘D’), and from ‘E’ to ‘G’ (skipping over ‘F’).

Get familiar and practice re-creating the claw shape your hand makes to hit these notes. Knowing this shape is going to make your playing much simpler and keep theory to a minimum.

Take a little time to get comfortable with this and you’ve just learned the C Major chord!

🔥🎹 Hot Tip! If you find it a little too tricky to play with 3 notes, you can skip the middle and simply play with your thumb and your pinky finger. It will still sound great.

Alright, got all that?

The best part about the next 3 chords you are going to learn is that, well, you’ve already learned them!

Let me show you:

To find our next chord we could simply count up from ‘C’, using the musical alphabet.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Alternatively, in the same way we originally identified ‘C’, you could find a grouping of 3 black keys, and the one immediately to the left of those is ‘F’.

Now the cool thing is, using the exact same shape to play C Major (only this time starting with your thumb on F), you’re playing F Major. Use “The Claw”!

The same goes for G, and A minor!

📝🎹 Take Note! In western music, the musical alphabet ranges from A-G, so if you are counting up from G to A minor, know you only have to move one note up, not skip down to the lower register.

If you can memorize these four spots on the keyboard, all you really have to do is apply the claw shape we’ve been practicing with our 1, 3, and 5 fingers and you will be playing chord progressions in no time.

Notes for practicing:

Practice moving between these positions on the keyboard, being careful to keep your hand in the same shape. Getting comfortable switching between these chords is going to make playing songs much easier, and getting to know the relationships between them will help with songwriting, too.

A great way to get comfortable is to practice playing a slow rhythm of four C chords, and then moving to the same slow rhythm on ‘F’. You can gradually progress your way through the sequence and speed up until your muscle memory starts to kick in.

😴🎹 Sleep on it! If at first it doesn’t come easy, don’t worry– it takes practice and patience to earn a sense of skill at the piano. Sometimes all you need to do is give your brain a chance to digest these new movements and forge new pathways. Try it again after a good day’s practice and a good night’s sleep and you will be amazed at the difference.

Experiment with the order of things. These four chords are going to sound great no matter how you choose to play them, so switch things up and see what you can create– and what popular songs are waiting to be discovered. 🕵🏻‍♂️

Reading Chord Charts

Alright, here’s where it all comes together.

Using the provided chord charts you’ll see the lyrics of the song. You also might notice the familiar looking bold letters above them. These are your chords. And for this lesson, it’s only going to be the four we’ve already learned.

4 chords play songs

The chords are positioned above the lyrics in such a way that you will play them when you reach that portion of the song. When you are singing along and see a ‘G’ above the word, switch to the G chord. When you see an ‘F’, switch to the F chord.

Go play some songs!

Remember, all these chords use the exact same shape, so if you can play one– you can play them all! Just get to know where the root note (the note the chord is named after) is and you won’t have to think about the rest so long as you have memorized that ‘claw’ shape.

For a song like ‘Dreams’, that’s only 2 chords you have to know and switch between:

chords to play songs

As you’re starting to play songs, don’t worry about getting too complex. There is beauty in simplicity. When you’re ready to take your playing to the next level, adding rhythms with your left hand will bring interest and intrigue. Check out our lesson on beginner piano rhythms here.

For the rest of the video, I’ll show off some popular and beginner-friendly songs you can play using these chords with some tips and tricks along the way to make things as simple and fun as possible.

Stuff to think about

This is only just the first part to your piano playing journey. There’s so much more to appreciate about learning to play the songs you love, and there’s so much more we can do to improve on these basic foundations– making it fancier, adding in riffs and fills, playing rhythms, changing keys, or moving up to more complex chords and progressions

Until then, using common chord progressions with these four chords to play songs can take someone who’s never played a song before and turn them into a performer with hundreds of songs in their repertoire.

It’s amazing what you will be able to play with just a little time and practice!

Take care, go play some songs, and remember to use…

four chords play hundreds of songs

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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