Numerous popular songs have made use of catchy progressions of three chords, progressions that are structured using the first, fourth, and fifth tones of the scale. These songs make excellent choices for beginning pianists who want to develop their skills, as well as pianists of any skill level.
You Are My Sunshine by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell
You Are My Sunshine, one of the most popular songs in the U.S., was declared Louisiana's official state song in 1977. This classic tune has proved itself irresistible to generations of listeners, and it's very easy to play with its simple three-chord structure. If you play the song in the key of C, you'll use C, F, and G chords. If you play it in the key of F, you'll use F, B-flat, and C chords.
While the chords to You Are My Sunshine are straightforward, you'll need to reposition your right hand a few times on the keyboard to play the melody. With practice though, you'll play it more smoothly. Use consistent fingering, and get in some practice with just your right hand until the melody flows well.
Red River Valley by Hugh Cross and Riley Puckett
Though it has a complicated history, Red River Valley probably brings to the minds of most people movies and films about the Old West. With its lilting melody and Western feel, playing it might make you feel like an old-time saloon pianist. If you play the song in the key of G, you'll be using the G, D, and C chords.
Instead of chords in the left hand, try playing a repeating pattern of the root note followed by the fifth and sixth notes of the scale for an Old West feel. If you've watched a lot of Westerns, you probably know that there are two slightly different versions of the melody to Red River Valley. Try them both, and see which one you like best.
Hound Dog by Elvis Presley
Hound Dog is ranked number 19 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, and no wonder: it makes its listeners want to get up and dance like they mean it. It was made famous on guitar, but with its powerful blues punch, it works great on piano. The song is immensely fun to play, especially if you apply a boogie-woogie sensibility. If you play it in the key of C, you'll use the chords C, F, and G7.
When playing Hound Dog, you'll want to pay special attention to its blues rhythm, which is a big part of its signature sound. Since the song needs to be played at a frisky, upbeat tempo, you'll need to get comfortable playing repeated chords at a fairly rapid pace, so start slowly and work up your speed until you build good, solid strength in your hands and wrists.
Love Me Do by The Beatles
If you love classic rock, you're sure to enjoy playing Love Me Do, The Beatles' first single and one of their many chart-toppers. Structurally, the song is simple. It uses two basic piano chords in the verses, which in the key of G would be C and G7, and the third chord used in the song, D, doesn't appear until the bridge.
When you play Love Me Do, don't leave out its hookiest part, which appears in the intro and which you'll hear played on harmonica in the original recording of the song. After you master the chords with your left hand, you'll want to use your right hand to play the hook, which is a riff of the notes of F, E, D, and G in an bluesy downward sweep.
Mr. Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan
Mr. Tambourine Man was conceived after Bob Dylan partied at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. His experience is reflected in the song's swirling music and soaring melody. Though the song is associated with guitar, it can also sound wonderful on piano. When you play it in the key of G, you'll use the chords G, C, and D.
With its basic three-chord structure, Mr. Tambourine Man has a straightforward left-hand accompaniment on the piano, but you will need to practice its intricate, wide-ranging melody. Spend time playing with just your right hand, keeping your fingering consistent until you can play the melody smoothly.
This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie
This Land is Your Land, written by Woody Guthrie in 1940, has become one of the most beloved American folk songs of all time. It's a particularly simple song to play on the piano since the chord progression remains the same in the chorus as in the verses. If you play it in the key of G, you'll use the chords C, G, and D.
You'll master this song very quickly if you practice its hands separately, the chords in the left hand and the melody in the right hand, then work on it with both hands together. Since it's such a simple song to play, you might want to sing along, too.
Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Bad Moon Rising, one of Creedence Clearwater Revival's best-known songs, has an infectious rhythm, a catchy tune, and a no-frills three-chord structure. If you play the song in the key of F, you'll use the chords F, C, and B-flat in succession for the verses, then you'll switch things up for the chorus, playing the chords B-flat, F, and C, then ending on F.
Put some bounce in the rhythm and tempo of the song by breaking up the left-hand chords, playing the root note, then the remaining two notes of the triad together. The melody and its rhythm might be tricky for beginning pianists to play along with the chords, so practice both hands together slowly at first.
Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash
Country fans who are pianists will have a great time playing Ring of Fire on the piano. Though it's an uptempo song, it's also intense, having been written by June Carter about falling in love with Johnny Cash, who would become her husband. It was Cash himself who recorded the song to great acclaim. Playing the song in the key of G, you'll use the chords G, C, and D, with the verse starting in G and the chorus starting in D.
Ring of Fire has a rhythm that brings to mind an unstoppable train, chugging down the track. To replicate this feel on the piano, try playing, instead of the chords along with the melody, the individual notes of the triad with your left hand, which in the key of G would be the root note, G, then B and D, then returning to G.
Well Worth Your Effort
The best way to hone your skill at the piano is to make your practice sessions fun and rewarding. When you play songs that both challenge you and make you smile, you'll want to prioritize the time you spend at the keyboard, sharpening your chops.