Learning the guitar doesn’t have to be a series of boring scale and speed exercises; you can get better by playing songs! In this article, you will find 10 songs you can master easily at the beginner level, with some tips on how to approach difficulty in songs. A note in advance – you will find that most of these songs can be done with open chords in their majority. You can transpose the chords to their barred versions for an added challenge!
Love me do – The Beatles (original key of G)
What’s lovely about this song is that it practically has only two chords – a third one in the bridge, but all the chords are open, and it has a playful, nice and easy strumming. The chords you will use are G, C, and eventually, D.
Nothing Else Matters – Metallica (original key of Em)
What’s not to love about one of the most emblematic rock songs of all times, with an opening riff that can be played with open strings? This song also introduces us to a chord with an addition, B7 (which luckily can be done without barring). The chords you will use are Em, D, C, G, and B7.
Sweet Home, Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd (original key of D)
You probably heard this one in the hands of inexperienced and seasoned guitarists alike. It’s simple, but it sounds nice, and it’s sure a blast to sing along to. After you master this song, you will notice that there are many songs with the same chords and similar progression, like Sweet Child O’ Mine! (if you transpose it half a step up, that is). The chords are D, C, and G.
Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond (transposed to the key of A)
There seems to be a lot of sweetness in this list, eh? This song is special because a key shift from its original C makes it easier to play with open chords, as you work on your bar skills! However, you can try to play it in its original key, which serves as a good introduction to bars, having to do an F. The chords for beginners are A, D, and E. More advanced arrangements include a couple of transitions with C#m and Bm.
With or Without you – U2 (original key of D)
This sad classic has a pretty straightforward strumming, and it is a great opportunity to practice power chords – these are chords composed only by the 1st and 5th notes in the scale. And on the guitar, they are usually done using the 3 bass strings (E-A-D). The chords you will use in it are D, A, Bm, and G.
Zombie – The Cranberries (original key of Em)
A great classic that, due to its strumming, and with power chords, will sound grungy in any guitar without the help of a distortion pedal. The chords for this one are Em, C, G, and D – or their ‘power’ versions E5, C5, G5, and D5.
Have You Ever Seen the Rain – CCR (original key of C)
This can be a wonderful song to sing along to, and the slow strumming will allow you to focus on the chord changes. This slow classic uses the chords C, G, F, and Am.
Otherside – Red Hot Chili Peppers (original key of Am)
It’s amazing how much can be achieved with simple elements; the catchiness of RHCP’s songs comes from how simple they are to play. The chords for this one are Am, F, C G, and Em.
The Lazy Song – Bruno Mars (transposed to the key of A)
This song is much like its title- a single syncopated strum in each time does feel lazy but will help you focus on the hand holding the fretboard. In its original key of B, it will help you get used to switching to a barre chord and sliding its position. The chords for this are A, E, D, Bm, and C#m.
Build Me Up Buttercup – The Foundations (original key of C)
A bit more complex song than the rest, introducing different strengths and a palm mute in the strumming, plus major and minor variations of the same chord, with some of them barred; but this song will put a smile in almost everyone’s face and the chord shifts sound very nice. The chords you need for this feel-good oldie are C, E, F, G, C7, Fm, A#, A, D, and Dm.
Maybe you practiced with these songs and developed a little repertoire. Kudos to you! Maybe there are different songs you would like to try; even better! Here are some useful tips on how to tackle any song you want to try!
Listen carefully to the strumming.
The strumming is as important as the melody when playing a song on the guitar because there are songs with a similar chord progression you can distinguish immediately just by hearing their rhythm. There are many things to consider: Can I get the rhythm by tapping? Is this particular strum upwards or downwards? Do I let it sound, or do I mute it? Is it soft or strong? In some genres, you will find default strumming patterns that are good to learn.
Slow down when learning.
There are two components of equal importance: the rhythms you create when strumming and getting the notes and chords right on the fretboard. If you have difficulty with either of these, get yourself to play the song in 1/2 its speed; then work your way up the tempo. A metronome (click here to buy the best guitar tuner and metronome) or a metronome app can be your best friend in this case.
Shift the key to your convenience!
Most of the bar-heavy songs out there can be transposed to an open-chord friendly key by going some steps up or down. There are many apps and pages made to help you transpose, but doing it yourself can be an interesting exercise around music theory! Another workaround might be using a capo, but this can hinder your freedom of movement through the fretboard in some songs.
Stop thinking like a lead guitar.
Sometimes lead guitars tend to do all sorts of crazy solos and riffs that might intimidate you as a beginner. Playing as rhythm guitar when beginning will help you develop better insight in how songs are made and will eventually give you the confidence and experience you need to try the lead guitar passages!
Use power chords.
1000% confidence boost and instant ‘rock’ sound and feel. Thank me later.
Sing along with your playing!
It doesn’t matter if you’re not a great singer. It might be confusing at first, but the main benefit of this is that it will help you to take away any excessive focus and tension from your playing, helping you connect better with music and build confidence in the long run!