Why are open chords called "cowboy" chords?

Am I missing something? Is there some legitimate reason for referring to open chords as “cowboy chords?”

I personally find the term dismissive and snarky, as if they are chords used only by people of very limited musical ability. Unless there’s some reason I’ve been missing, why not use the accurate and non-judgemental term “open chords” to describe them?

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It goes back to the old black and white Western Movies of the 1940 where there was always a sing cowboy playing guitar. Look up Gene Autry movies

I understand where it came from. I’m in my mid-70s. I watched those shows. That doesn’t address my concerns.

I’m confused. If you know why they are called Cowboy Chords why did you ask?

This says more about what you think of Cowboys than it does about the Naming of the chords.


If you read more than the title of the thread, you’d see I was asking why the term is used instead of the more accurate term open chords. (“Singing cowboys” are hardly the only ones to use open chords).

I think your interpretation of the term “Cowboy Chords” as a pejorative is misplaced. Think of it in the context of sitting around a campfire strumming simple chords and singing with friends, the image that brings to mind is evocative of a Cowboy lifestyle, there is no need to read anything more into it. Especially anything that one might consider “snarky” or dismissive of one’s “musical ability.”


Agreed. It’s an endearing term. They can get tired and shopworn like any other chords that aren’t played with some dynamics and flair or groove. :slight_smile:

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It’s just a synonym for a particular style of playing.

I don’t think it’s derogatory but it is simplistic and easy to play, your ‘camp fire’ songs are, low stress easy remembered and sung along too


Not much musical ability eh?
Those Cowboys ride horses - they know what rhythm is!

A few cowboy chords + rhythm = musical ability.


The term Cowboy Chords may also have something to do with a quote attributed to Harlan Howards back in the 50’s when he said about Country & Western (cowboy) music and why it successful: [It’s] Three chords and the Truth.

As far as being dismissive, I think of the old joke:
Q: What’s the difference between Country and Jazz (music)?
(With apologies to jazz musicians and fans)
A: Country has three chords played to thousand of fans.
Jazz has a thousand chords played to three fans.



I can see where you’re coming from. When I first started playing a year ago, and I heard the term Comboy chords, (which I’d heard in the past and completely forgot about), I was vaguely uneasy about it because I had vague memories of the term being used for people who were not that advanced in playing guitar. I’m pretty sure those people never tried playing these chords in one-minute changes!


This. And also I’ll be more than happy when I’m good enough to lead a sing-song round a camp fire playing by whatever means!


Thank for reminding me of this!

Hi Mark, I’m an older newbie still in Cowboy chord country and if it called such because I am of limited musical ability then guess what, it’s correct :thinking: :+1: but i’m just not so sensitive :thinking:

Cowboy chords, or open chords, are simply the first chords everyone learns.
They are the ‘beginner’ chords. They are enough to get on with to strum and sing along to, but you can pick/play them as exquisitely as you like.
I see them as the ‘bread and butter’ of guitar playing.
Bread and butter can be the finest food you will ever taste :yum:
YeeeeHaaaa! :cowboy_hat_face:


I’ve also found the term somewhat derogatory but who cares? It’s just a term. What’s more fascinating to me is that it hasn’t fallen out of use given that there are not many cowboys around anymore either in real life or on screen.

Btw, could Gaucho by Steely Dan be played with cowboy chords? :melting_face: (Gauchos are sort of a South American variation on cowboys.)

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This is the first time I’ve heard of open chords being referred to as cowboy chords.
Learning new things every day :smile:

isnt it an american thing ?

I’m sorry I brought it to your attention. :smirk:

Most likely.