Happy Birthday Guitar Chords (How to Play It)

Happy Birthday is one of the first songs you should learn on the guitar. It’s an easy three-chord progression and a great way to practice going from one chord to another. It’s also a great tune to surprise someone when it’s their birthday.

If you are a beginner guitarist and still learning your first chords, “Stairway to Heaven” or “Tears in Heaven” will have to wait a bit until you master the happy birthday song. It’s common for a beginner guitarist to want to spend a lot of time learning difficult songs instead of practicing something easy, creating a “bottleneck” in your learning experience.

This article will show you the chords, chord progression, and strumming patterns of the happy birthday song, which is easy to play and learn pretty fast. Mastering this simple and short song will set you up for success later when you try to learn more difficult songs and get you to that next level.

Chords

You need to know three chords to play Happy Birthday: G, D, and C. I will go over these three in the article, but here are all the basic guitar chords for beginners if you want to learn others besides these three.

  • First finger: 2nd fret, A string
  • Second finger: 3rd fret, Low-E string
  • Third finger: 3rd fret, High-E string

While playing the G Major chord, you play all the strings. G Major is a very popular chord used in many other songs, so it’s a good way to master it while playing the happy birthday song.

  • First finger: 2nd fret, B string
  • Second finger: 2nd fret, High-E string
  • Third finger: 3rd fret, G string

The next chord in the song is the D Major, which has proven to be a little difficult to pull off the first time you try it since your fingers haven’t adapted to that position or “shape” yet.

If you’re a fan of the show “Friends”, you will remember the episode where Phoebe explains the D Major as a “claw” chord, which to this day is the best analogy I’ve heard about the shape your fingers make while playing the D chord.

  • First finger: 1st fret, B string
  • Second finger: 2nd fret, D string
  • Third finger: 3rd fret, A string

The C Major is also one of the most important chords to learn on the guitar when first starting out. Besides the happy birthday song, it’s used in a lot of popular songs and is definitely one of the first chords you should learn.

Chord Progression

When you start the song, you sing the word “ Happy, ” and then you start with the G chord. Other than that, the chord progression for the song is pretty simple, as you can figure out from the diagram (which is the best way to explain it). Another thing to note is that at the end of the song, when you sing the words “ to you “, you have to go from D to G faster.

After you master this, there are other versions of the happy birthday where you change the second D Major chord for D7 and the second G Major chord for G7, but first master this simple three-chord progression and then try the other version if you like.

Strumming Pattern

The strumming pattern is pretty simple and a great way to learn rhythm if you are a beginner guitar player. It goes like this: down, down-up, down-up. And just repeat throughout the whole song.

Conclusion

Not only is Happy Birthday fun to play and great for surprising a lot of your friends and family with it, but it’s also a great way to start practicing songs. Once you nail this one, where to go next? Well, you can start learning other songs, or, as I did, change up the strumming pattern, the rhythm, and the lyrics, make up your own song, and practice with different chords. It’s only going to be more fun.

Emil Pachkovski is a drummer and filmmaker. He is an audiovisual artist that loves to create and explore the abstract art of music and visuals.

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