Happy Birthday On Guitar: 5 Easy Ways To Play This Fun Song

Want to play Happy Birthday on guitar? In this lesson, we’ll show you our favourite ways to play this must-know tune.

happy-birthday-on-guitar

In this free guitar lesson you will learn:

  • 3 quick and easy tips for playing ‘Happy Birthday’
  • 5 great versions of this must-know song
  • 4 tips for making your A5 chords sound amazing

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Why you need to know how to play Happy Birthday on guitar…

If your friends or family know that you own a guitar, at some point, someone is going to ask you if you can play ‘Happy Birthday’ on guitar.

Such is the life of a musician!

So brush up on the chords you need to know and you’ll be comfortable playing ‘Happy Birthday’ when the inevitable moment arrives.

happy-birthday-on-guitar

Playing Happy Birthday on guitar isn’t hard, but the timing is surprisingly tricky.

So we’ll look at a simple way to play Happy Birthday using open chords, then we’ll look at some ways to spice up your guitar arrangement should you wish. We’ll also look at how to sing and play Happy Birthday at the same time, and pick out the melody.

Happy Birthday on guitar for the beginner guitarist

To start, we are going to learn how to play Happy Birthday on guitar with a chord chart.

  • To use the chord chart below, you need to know three chords: E major, A major, and B7.
  • B7 looks like a scary and impossible chord for the beginner, but it is a relatively simple chord change, especially when you are coming from the E major chord.

Check out this simple finger swap to change from E major to B7; your middle finger stays in the same place as a pivot point and all you have to do is move the other two fingers.

E major

How To Play The E Chord On Guitar

B7Guitar-Chords-For-Beginners-B7

 

(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)

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Chord Transition

To go from E major to B7, your first finger goes from the D string down to the A string first fret, and your ring finger goes from the A string to the D string second fret. Add your fourth finger to the high E string (first string) second fret, and you’ve got yourself a B7!

  • To change from B7 back to E major, just reverse the swap and take off your fourth finger. With a little practice, you will be able to do this without having to look at your fingers.
  • The chord chart below shows you when to switch chords. With a little practice, you’ll be playing Happy Birthday on guitar and accompanying the whole party!

Take a look at the last line of chords: There is a quick chord change, two beats of E major followed by one beat of B7, and then land the song right back on E major.

3/4 time

Key: E major

Strum B7 once

Happy-birthday-on-guitar

How to figure out the first note for singing

If you wonder how you are supposed to figure out where to begin singing while you are playing Happy Birthday on guitar, you are not alone.

  • Matching the melody you sing, to the chords you are playing is a skill that takes a while to develop, and playing Happy Birthday on guitar is a classic test.
  • Never fear! You are about to be able to find your starting note for singing within the very first chord you play, the B7.

In the key of E major, the melody to Happy Birthday starts on a B, and when you play a B7, you are playing two Bs: on the A string second fret, and on the open B string.

B7

Guitar-Chords-For-Beginners-B7

To play Happy Birthday on guitar and sing as well, all you have to do is strum the B7 chord, match the pitch of your voice to one of those two Bs, and sing the word “Happy” on that pitch. Then you’ll be up and running.

  • It’s a familiar melody, so once you have that initial pitch, the melody practically sings itself!
  • If you have taken the firm stance that you are not a vocalist under any circumstances, now is the time to reconsider. You can easily sing and play Happy Birthday on guitar with this tip, you will sound great, and your birthday person will be thrilled. (Also, as soon as you begin singing, everyone else who is present will join in.)

Top Tip: When you play the B7 chord, be sure to hit one of the Bs a few extra times so that you and the other singers know which note to begin on.

happy-birthday-on-guitar

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Where should we send it?

If the key doesn’t suit your voice, use a capo.

If you have been playing and singing Happy Birthday on your guitar as you follow along this lesson, you will know by now whether you are comfortable singing the song in the key of E major.

  • If you are uncomfortable singing this song in the key of E major, don’t give up! You can easily play Happy Birthday on guitar in any key.
  • All you need is a capo, and a little trial and error, and you will quickly find a comfortable vocal range and the key you should use.

The beauty of the capo is that it allows you to change the key of the song without having to change any of the chord shapes you are making. A capo gives you a super-power!

happy-birthday-on-guitar

No capo? No worries! You can play Happy Birthday on guitar using a type of chord conversion called ‘transposing’.

It sounds scary, but it’s pretty easy.

  • Happy Birthday, like many songs, follows a I-IV-V chord progression, and to convert, all you have to do is replace the E major with another I chord and follow the musical alphabet to find the IV and V7 or V chords. V and V7 are interchangeable, so use the one you know!
  • Find and play the root of whichever V chord you select in order to find your initial singing note.

Here is a handy I-IV-V chart in the guitar-friendly keys of C, A, G, E, and D. Choose your I chord to replace the E major, and follow that row to convert the A and B7 chords.

(So these are effectively 5 different ways to play Happy Birthday on guitar.)

Happy-birthday

Happy-birthday-on-guitar

Let’s play the melody to Happy Birthday on guitar!

Can you hear the melody to Happy Birthday in your head? Of course you can.

If you can hear a melody in your head, you can recreate it on the guitar. Playing the melody to Happy Birthday on guitar is no more complicated than matching the pitch on the guitar to the pitch in your head.

Here is a tablature version of Happy Birthday on guitar to get you started.

Happy-birthday-on-guitar

Do you know barre chords? If so, try this!

If you know how to make barre chords, it is even easier to play Happy Birthday on guitar. All you have to do is convert the chords we are using into numbers according to the chart above.

E major is the I chord and A major is the IV chord, so if you use the open E major shape chord as your I chord, then the A major-shaped barre chord located at the same fret is the IV chord. You don’t even have to move your hand up the neck!

Wherever your IV chord is, move it up two frets, and you’ve found your V chord.

E major

How To Play The E Chord On Guitar

A Major

Using those barre chords, follow the chord progression, and you will be able to play Happy Birthday on guitar in any key you like.

Here is the chord progression for Happy Birthday, expressed in numbers (these are called ‘degrees’ of a scale): I   V    V   I    I   IV [I  V] I

happy-birthday

Intermediate-level: Using triads to play Happy Birthday on guitar

If you don’t know barre chords, you can still play Happy Birthday on guitar with interesting arrangements.

The D major triad, if moved up five frets on the guitar, makes a D-shaped G chord (the IV), and if moved up two more frets, makes a D-shaped A chord (the V).

G major    |    A Major

(Both using a moveable D shape)

happy-birthday

The A major triad, if moved up five frets on the guitar, makes an A-shaped D chord (the IV), and if moved up two more frets, makes an A-shaped E chord (the V).

D major    |    E Major

(Both using a moveable A shape)

happy-birthday-on-guitar

The E major triad, if moved up five frets on the guitar, makes an E-shaped A chord (the IV), and if moved up two more frets, makes an E-shaped B chord (the V).

A major    |    B Major

(Both using a moveable E shape)

Happy-birthday-on-guitar

Playing Happy Birthday on guitar using all D shapes, A shapes, or E shapes sounds cool.

Try practicing moving the D, A, and E chord triads up the neck of the guitar. You will start hearing other songs in there! Plenty of songs use the moveable D, A, and E shapes.

guitar-chords-for-Happy-birthday

So many ways to play Happy Birthday on guitar…

Now that you have learned a few ways to play Happy Birthday on guitar, you can teach it to a friend and form your power duo!

Once you have mastered Happy Birthday on guitar, you can expand your birthday party repertoire by adding these songs:

  • ‘Happy Birthday’ by Stevie Wonder
  • ‘Birthday’ by the Beatles
  • ‘The Happy Birthday Song’ by Andrew Bird
  • ‘It’s Not My Birthday’ by They Might Be Giants
  • ‘Tears at the Birthday Party’ by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach
  • ‘Birthday’ by Katy Perry

Recommended Resources

To deepen your understanding of the terminology and ideas used to play Happy Birthday on guitar, as well as to work with chords and to figure out melodies by ear, check out these other lessons!

How To Use A Capo In 3 Easy Steps

Chords In The Key Of E

How To Play Bar Chords

Guitar Notes Explained: A Guide For Beginners

Happy-birthday-guitar

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