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It seems almost a redundant question, but the meat of it is this:

If one is using the three chord trick, is it stylistically required by rules of theory and phrasing to end the progression on the third chord? While it is pleasing to the ear to complete the phrase and repeat after three chords, will extending the phrase cause major disharmony or dissonance? What concepts of music theory can be cited to support this?

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what is the "three chord trick"? – iddober Apr 27 '11 at 12:34
A very common rock'n'roll 3 chord progression is 4*I 2*V 2*I VI V 2*I - which ends on an I. An embellishment is to use a VI as a turnaround, which might be what you're thinking of. – slim Sep 3 '12 at 14:47
Slim - you got your Roman numerals mixed up! Did you mean 4x I 2xIV 2xI V IV 2xI ? (with V as bar 12 turnaround). – Tim Oct 4 '12 at 17:35
I have heard TWO different definitions of "three chord trick." One (the more common one) is any song built around the chords I IV and V. The other (less common) is any cadence of 3 chords played in rapid succession, for example C-G-Am or F-G-Am. La Bamba / Twist and shout comply with both these definitions, AND end on the V (the "third" out of I-IV-V as expressed in the question. But a cadence of the I IV and V chords in succession in ANY of the six possible orders sounds good. Those ending in I sound the most "finished." Please define 3 chord trick a bit more to get the answer you want. – Level River St Apr 24 '14 at 20:13

No. In fact, ending a passage of music on the third chord (the dominant) is an imperfect cadence or half cadence. As implied by the name, there is a "better sounding" perfect cadence (or authentic cadence), where you end on the first chord (the tonic). To quote Wikipedia:

Because it sounds incomplete or "suspended", a half cadence is considered a weak cadence.

The concept of finality is, of course, subjective; but as for dissonance, that is not present regardless of the order the chords are played. The three chords (tonic, dominant, subdominant) are the main chords of the key and are so often used exactly because they don't clash with each other.

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so what the original poster means by "three chord trick" is sticking to degree I, IV and V when playing chords to a melody, or it is something more? That was the first time I heard this phrase. – ogerard Apr 30 '11 at 22:24
@ogerard Basically yes. These three chords are basically the minimum when composing a song, allowing for simplicity without sounding like there's something missing. The number of popular songs that use only three chords is impressive, if not as interesting as the "four chord songs". – Matthew Read Apr 30 '11 at 22:32
Thanks a lot for Axis of Awesome! I enjoyed it a lot. – ogerard Apr 30 '11 at 22:46
Lou Reed: "One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz." – slim Feb 21 '12 at 9:52
The "three chord trick" is really a four chord trick. I, IV, V then back to I. Nothing is ever "required". Theory describes something that has proved successful. If you're stuck, consult theory to suggest how previous musicians have coped with a situation. Understand how and why that way worked - understand how and why a different way MIGHT work. Failing to return to I would be unusual, unexpected, maybe appropriate occasionally... Your call. – Laurence Payne Feb 25 '15 at 15:09

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