3 Magic Chords Part 3
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PART 3 - G, the D Chord's Other Best Friend

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3 Magic Cords, Part 3: G, the D Chord's Other Best Friend

This is a follow up to "3 Magic Chords, Part 2," which encourages you to learn switching back and forth between two easy chords. In this lesson, you should learn the third most important chord in the key of D - one which, you will see later, is important in its own right as well.

This series, in turn, is part of the "VERY Basic Guitar subset of our "How To Folk" articles. In an effort to "jump start" your enjoyment of Folk music and your ability to join in, no matter what instrument you play, we are providing some very basic notes about guitar chords.

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Folkarama, in turn, contains many references to more extensive articles and resources in Paul Race's CreekDontRise.com site, as well as other related pages.

The most common version of the G chord.  Click for a bigger picture.G, the D Chord's Other Best Friend

Why do you need to know more than two chords? Because there are literally over a million songs that can be sung with three chords.

And if you're singing in the key of D, the third most important chord is G. In fact, it's so important that musicians call it the "Subdominant" chord of D. (Remember, A7 already claimed the term "Dominant.")

In case you wondered, most chords have names, depending on how they relate to the key of the song. The main chord is the "Tonic." The D chord has been our tonic throughout the lessons so far.

Back to the G chord, to go from D to G, you:

  • Move your ring finger from the second string to the first string, keeping it just behind the third fret.
  • Move your forefinger to the fifth string, keeping it just behind the second fret.
  • Move your middle finger to the sixth string, but put it just behind the third fret.

Going back and forth between D and G isn't as easy as going back and forth between G and A7, but every person who is playing guitar today buckled down and practiced until it was second nature.

Another popular way of playing the G chord.  Click for bigger picture.'Nudder G Chord

Lots of folks today are using a version of the G chord that I only started using relatively "late in life." It is still a G chord, but:

  • Some folks think it's easier to get back and forth to D, because your ring finger stays in the same place.
  • It makes it easier to play songs in G (because it let's you "cheat" on the C chord, which we'll talk about later.
  • It has a more open, less rich sound than the standard G chord above. It's almost what they call an "open fifth," which is popular in certain Folk and Celtic styles.

If you're playing in D, either version works well for most songs.

To go from D to this version of G, you:

  • Keep your ring finger right where it is.
  • Put your pinky next to it on the first string, keeping it just behind the third fret.
  • Move your forefinger to the fifth string, keeping it just behind the second fret.
  • Move your middle finger to the sixth string, but put it just behind the third fret.

Try both ways of playing G and see which one works the best for you if you're playing songs in D. And when you notice someone playing the G chord the other way, be nice, but be glad you found a way that works for you.

One-Chord Songs You Can Play in G - One you can play in G only is "Amazing Grace." Yes, most people use more chords, and you will, too, eventually. But in many old hymnbooks, it never departs from the G chord. Of course, you can always play "Farmer in the Dell," "Frere Jaques,"and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" with just the G chord as well.

Two-Chord Songs You Can Play in G - To practice going back and forth between G and D7, you can try playing the songs we've already mentioned trying with D and A7, "Buffalo Gals," "'Tis the Gift to be Simple," "Go Tell Aunt Rhody," "Down in the Valley," "Down at the Station," "Tom Dooley," and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."

D7, the version of 'D' that is most often used when playing songs in G.  Click for bigger picture.Learning D7 - We're sneaking one more chord in here: D7. This is the version of D that most people use when they're playing in the key of G (the same way most people use A7 when they're playing in the key of D). Why? Because the extra "flatted seventh" note that gives chords like A7 and D7 their name adds a little extra "tension" that signals to the listener that the song is going to come back to the "tonic." In a sense A7 "wants" to go to D. D7 "wants" to go to G.

That said, if a D7 is written and it's easier to play a D cord in that section, nobody will notice. (You're just leaving one note out, not changing anything else, and most people won't notice the absence.)

Why Play Songs in Different Keys? - You may find that some of these songs are easier to sing in G than D, or vice versa. For example, "Buffalo Gals" is out of my comfortable vocal range when I sing it in G. That's one reason Folk and Country singers learn to play in more than one key. (Bluegrass singers don't seem to care if a song is out of their range; in fact they may prefer it.)

Crawdad in the key of D.  Click to see a bigger picture.Songs that Use D, G, and A7 - One easy song to play with three chords is "Crawdad." We're giving you an MP3 file and sheet music to help you get a sense of where the chords change.

  • To hear an instrumental version, click here.
  • To download a lead sheet (showing the melody and chords), click here.

There are hundreds of other 3-chord Folk songs that you can play in the key of D (using D, A7, and G) include: "Sloop John B," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," "Home on the Range," "You Are my Sunshine," "Down By the Riverside," and "When the Saints Go Marching In."

Countless pop songs use just three chords as well.

The only limit to playing any three-chord song in the key of D is that the melody might be too high or too low for you to sing comfortably. That's one reason we will set you up to play three chord songs in G next. G is a favorite key of Folk and Country musicians, and the favorite key of Bluegrass banjo players.

Where's the Magic?

Okay, I promised you magic, and all I've given you so far is a bunch of hard work.

What beginners don't realize at first is just how many songs - millions, literally - you can play with just three chords. We have listed a few more here:


These suggestions are just a start, of course. But for all of its variations and even contradictions, Folk music is a discipline in itself, and a rewarding one of that. The more you play, sing, practice, and hang, the more you'll get out of it, the faster you'll learn in the future, and the better you'll be at whatever you already do have "under your belt."

Other Resources

There are plenty of guitar instruction materials, online, of course. But we are working on a few that will help you learn the most basic, but necessary, information quickly.

The current resources we have published are:

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