One-chord songs: what are they good for?

(an excerpt from the book titled One-Chord Songs Around the Clock)

One-chord songs can make playing music available to anyone. Even if you have never played a musical instrument before, you can learn one chord in a few minutes, and if you want, you can learn six other chords with this book, one at a time. However, if you prefer, you can always use a C chord throughout the whole book. You can find more about this in the section titled “Two versions of a song: which one to choose” (p. 8). All of the songs can be learned from the sheet music included in this book, and for added assistance, recordings of all of the songs are available in this eBook and at https://www.onechordsongs.com. These songs can be accompanied on any instruments that are capable of playing more than one note at a time. These are often referred to as polyphonic instruments, examples range from the guitar to the piano, the accordion, the harp and many more (Adolphe, 2013).

If you are a would-be or beginner instrument player, then one-chord songs might be useful for you in many ways. By playing a polyphonic instrument, you can accompany singing (or melody instruments that play one-chord songs) from the very first moments of your learning. If you only play the one chord the same way with the same rhythm, you can concentrate on other aspects of playing (e.g., playing an instrument and singing at the same time). Or if you are a beginner piano player, you can focus on the melody while playing the simplest possible harmony. You can find other useful options in the section titled “Play around with one-chord songs” (starting on p. 9).

Playing the one chord the same way to accompany a one-chord song is technically easy, but doing so might place new demands upon certain muscles of your body. If you are a beginner instrument player, you might at first need to avoid holding muscular tension for a long time (Hill, 2020). Give your muscles time to acclimate to playing an instrument. Here are some ideas:

  • Pay attention to your posture and your body in general (body ergonomics).
  • Try playing only one or two notes of the chord at first (see the section titled “Play around with one-chord songs,” starting on p. 9).
  • Start with chords that are the easiest to play on your instrument.
  • Rest your muscles regularly.
  • Increase the time you spend playing gradually.

If you are a student of a musical instrument, thenone-chord songs can occasionally come in handy for you. They can serve as simple material when you need to practice certain elements of music (e.g., rhythm) or a new technique (e.g., chord breaking or improvisation techniques). The section titled “Play around with one-chord songs” provides you with further ideas. And, after practicing with one-chord songs for a while, you can go back to the songs that best fit your current skill level.

Using the songs found in this book, you can involve practically anyone in the playing of the guitar, the piano or any other polyphonic instrument with instant gratification. If you are a learner of a melody instrument like the recorder or the violin, you can ask any friends or family to accompany you. If you are a music teacher or a music therapist, you might use these songs for a one-time session or to start a learning process. You can also use one-chord songs for recreational music-making in many scenarios, such as team-building (Bittman et al., 2003).

One-chord songs are versatile tools. You can perform these melodies and harmonies in several ways:

  • You can sing them.
  • You can play them on nearly any instrument.
  • You can combine the above options and accompany singing on a guitar, a ukulele, a piano, an accordion or any other polyphonic instrument.

Also, you can sing or play by yourself or in a choir, band or ensemble in various ways. Even several instruments can play the one chord together: certain instruments may play one note at a time or play all the notes in a different rhythm.

You can sing many of the songs in different voices. You find canons/rounds and partner songs in the indexes at the end of the book (starting on p. 48) and in the section titled “Two songs at the same time: one-chord partner songs” (starting on p. 40), respectively. You might

  • Sing these with others,
  • Play the voices on different instruments (on some of them, you can even play several voices at the same time) or
  • Even record one of the voices and then sing or play along!

You can now see the many opportunities you have with the songs of this book. The several indexes at the end of the book (starting on p. 48) can help you navigate among them:

  • You can look for songs to be accompanied by certain chords or certain rhythms.
  • You can look for songs with a melody that fits the note range of your instrument.
  • You might also need song pairs you can perform together (partner songs) and canons to sing or play in multiple voices.

The songs in this book are surprisingly diverse (both culturally and musically). Traditionally, some of the songs did not have any accompaniment, while others might have been accompanied in a different way. Nevertheless, all of the songs you find in this book do work well with one single chord. You might know versions of some of the songs different from those given in this book. In these cases, probably all of the versions are authentic as songs often coexist in several forms, but there is no guarantee that all alternative versions of a song given in this book work with one chord perfectly.

The lyrics are given in their original language but always in the Latin alphabet. (Lyrics in languages that do not use the Latin alphabet are transliterated into English.) Note that recordings of many of the songs are widely available online and can be found by simply searching the songs’ titles. Such recordings can help you understand the correct pronunciations of the songs’ lyrics. Many songs in this book are popular beyond the cultures from which they originate, so even versions in other languages might be available online.

One-Chord Songs Around the Clock has much more to offer than only the songs themselves. In addition to giving ideas for using one-chord songs in creative ways, the book also arranges many melodies into partner songs, lists canons and provides several other indexes. These features make One-Chord Songs Around the Clock versatile and useful not only for one-time players and students of an instrument but also for music teachers and music therapists.

Source: Joachim, L. (2020). One-Chord Songs Around the Clock: 33 major-chord songs from the USA and 15+ other countries. Budapest: Music at Hand.