What Are the 3 Chords in Country Music?

Country guitar chord progressions are generally straightforward. Decoding country songs involves first identifying their melodies before trying to determine the chords that compose its structure.

Understanding chords requires keeping in mind that they typically remain the same from song to song – this makes them especially memorable!


Country music often makes use of three chord song forms as they allow musicians to quickly compose hundreds of songs using just three chords. Country, folk and rock & roll musicians tend to rely heavily on such song forms because it makes creating thousands of songs much simpler.

Country music typically features chord progressions in major keys, often featuring an I-IV-V sequence with an additional bluesy note added for added effect. This style draws influence from genres such as blues and Appalachian folk music that combine different influences.

Harlan Howard once famously quipped, “one chord is fine, two is pushing it, three chords is jazz.” Although this statement may have been exaggerated somewhat, three-chord arrangements in country music can provide the foundation of emotional and characterful songs – as they provide listeners with familiar sounds they feel connected with.


Country music relies on its accessibility, so chord progressions in country songs tend to follow a fairly standard formula. There may be variations, but common progressions include 1-4-5 and an 8 or 16 bar blues progression in the chorus.

Minor chords are an emotive musical chord used to elicit feelings of sadness, melancholy or nostalgia. They are frequently featured in songs dealing with such topics, with especially striking effects when played using a flat finger at the third fret of the sixth string.

George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning” offers an ideal example of this style of chord progression for beginners as it employs only one chord progression throughout, using G – D – Em – C chords throughout its verse. Additionally, country blues composer Johnny Cash often employs this form of progression in songs like “Folsom Prison Blues”.


There are many songs that use dominant chords – chords composed of the first, fourth and fifth notes in a major scale – as a major harmonic framework. Country music frequently employs an I-IV-V chord progression; similar chord sequences can also be found in blues and rock music.

Dylan tends to avoid using dominant chords in his blues-influenced songs, though they may serve as genre markers (such as in Rainy Day Women #12&35 from Blonde on Blonde) or to increase harmonic tension (as with Brown Eyed Girl’s opening chord).

This chord progression is simple for beginners to pick up as it contains only three basic chords. This progression serves as the foundation of classic songs such as Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. Harlan Howard famously said “All you need for writing songs are three chords and the truth”. This progression perfectly meets that requirement.


Country music utilizes V chords in their minor form; this chord consists of a major root and minor seventh interval (G to F, one whole step below). Learning this technique on guitar allows you to successfully fingerpick and run progressions.

Country chord progressions often follow an I-IV-V progression; however, you may also come across progressions that don’t resolve to an IV. This type of progression works great in country songs as it creates tension while complementing many types of melodies.

Once you have an understanding of these chords, it’s time to use them together in some country songs. Practice each progression until you can play it without looking at a chart or checking your fingers before strumming – remember, simplicity is the key to country songwriting! The simpler your chords and rhythms are, the easier it will be for your melody to stand out and tell its tale of heartbreak or memories.