Jerry and Matt have thought about how they learned musical instruments as youngsters, and they realized that what they focused on was learning a few chords to accompany their singing of familiar songs. They realized that learning to play along with easy tunes they already knew and liked was more successful (and more fun) than learning note-reading from a book.
Most instrumental method books focus on note-reading, time signatures, scale exercises, and chords that are too hard for beginners to play. They are also likely to have songs that have too many chord changes, or songs that are not familiar. This is a different approach, giving beginners the first baby steps for playing the easiest songs using just two simple chords on any instrument that is good for playing chords. This allows you to make music right away. Even a child can grasp the difference between making music and learning scales. Which would you rather do?
Don’t get us wrong though. We are not suggesting that note-reading or learning scales is a waste of time. We just think it should come after learning to have fun while actually making simple music. So we hope this will help people of all ages who have never played a musical instrument get started by having some fun making music right from the start.
You only need to learn two chords: C and G7. Just consult the chord diagrams below for the instrument you want to learn, and get started playing music.
So prepare to enjoy music right away. Pull out your instrument, check the tuning, and learn the first two simple chords.
We have collected common folk songs that can be played with just two chords because a beginner player needs to start with a small first step, and you can play a good number of songs by learning just two chords on your instrument. We want you to experience the of fun of playing music as quickly as possible, so we do not dwell on things like note-reading, time signatures, and boring exercises.
It is a major step to learn how to change back and forth between two chords, especially on a guitar. It requires repetition to become good at it. With the songs below you can build “muscle memory” of the chords as you enjoy playing music. That makes learning a lot more fun than just practicing exercises.
Another reason to start with two chords is that you have fewer choices to worry about. You start by playing one chord, and you know that there is only one other chord option to change to when the time comes to change chords.
So off we go! Consult the chord chart for your instrument below and learn to play the C chord and the G7 chord. Practice playing those two chords as you sing through the songs of this book.
There is a logical progression to the order of songs. We begin with songs that have the fewest chord changes and the easiest rhythms.
We end with songs that have the most chord changes, or other features that make them a little more challenging for the beginner.
You’ll learn the most if you take your time and follow our suggestions and hints along the way.
Most of all, HAVE FUN!
Before you can really get started, you'll need to learn, yep, two chords: C and G7.
Here are some tips for playing chords:
1. Place your finger just behind the fret. The closer you are to the fret, the easier it is to push or "fret" the string.
2. Make sure your finger is only contacting the string you are attempting to fret. If your finger is lightly touching an adjacent string it will mute that string.
3. Try to get every string on your instrument to sound clearly. It will take some practice as you will have to divide your attention between getting your fingers in the correct spot and keeping them out of the way of other strings.
Below are the chord shapes for several common instruments. If you don't find your instrument below, leave a comment and I'll post the chord forms for your instrument.
Chords are written above the word where the chord change takes place.
In the song, Down in the Valley you will start by strumming a C chord. Keep playing the C chord until you get to the word “low” - that is where you will change to the G7 chord. Keep playing that chord all the way until you get to the word “blow” and then change back to the C chord.
Make it easy on yourself to start with and just strum your instrument with every word or syllable.
When you are ready you might try to play just the beats of the song, just like tapping your foot or clapping your hands.
Try singing the song without the instrument and tapping your foot to the beat. That will give you an idea of how to keep the beat with your instrument.
Now try playing the instrument with the same even beat.
Here are some hints for changing between the two chords of a song quickly and easily:
1. Look for ways to keep one finger on the fretboard (or keyboard) while arranging other fingers around it for the next chord.
2. In some cases you can simply slide one finger up or down by one position.
3. Keeping physical contact with one finger on the instrument will help you change chords more quickly and smoothly, and you will begin to build “muscle memory” in your hands. That’s how good musicians can play without even looking.
4. Work toward switching chords without losing the beat. Start out as slow as you need to be successful. You will get faster with time.
Learning to play a new instrument is NOT EASY! So be sure to pay attention to all of your success along the way.
Can you play a C chord now without looking at the Chord Chart? That is great!! Way to go.
Can you switch back and forth between a C and G7 chord now? Awesome!!
Can you switch chords without missing a beat? No? DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT. It is not an easy thing to do.
Keep practicing. It WILL happen and you WILL be able to do it.
Get ready for some quick chord changes!
HINT: You’ll find that the chord pattern (C-G7-C) is repeated the same way at the same speed through the whole song.
***Keep a steady beat as you repeat that sequence over and over. ***
Notice that we don’t have chords on all the verses on these pages. This is to help you improve your musical memory. After three verses you should start to get a feel for where the chord changes happen.
We did not include the chords for Shortin’ Bread on purpose. See if you can figure out where the chord changes happen. Use trial and error and trust your ears.
Hint - There are only 2 chords in this song and the first one is C.
If you have made it through all these songs – congratulations! You probably feel pretty comfortable with those two chords. Check out our chord charts if you want to add a few more chords to your repertoire. Not sure which chords to learn? Find some songs you would like to play and search the internet for the chords and lyrics. There are lots of free resources available for this type of thing. Then learn the chords you need to learn to play that song.
Finally – Make Music with Others!
Do you really want to make some progress on your instrument? Then you should make music with other people.
The benefits of playing with others are too numerous to cover here. Just trust me – it will be one of the best things you do.
Besides the many musical benefits – making music with others deepens connections and fosters community and friendship in meaningful ways!