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Guitar songs and chords guide

Updated on April 8, 2012


If you're learning guitar, it may be that the songs and techniques you learn are fairly random, and sometimes not the most efficient use of your time.

The worst case scenario is probably learning from poorly produced tab from the web, when a small investment would give you more accurate and understandable material to work on. Also, you could spend a lot of time learning songs that won't help you progress, or learning songs that are too difficult and giving up on the whole thing. For instance, trying to shred or play Satriani solos note-for-note when you could be getting decent rhythm guitar techniques and understanding basic chords. Check out my hubs Guitar Chords 101 and Guitar chords 101 part 2 for chord pictures of the essential chords for easy guitar songs.

The Beatles - almost the whole catalogue of Beatles tunes is well worth learning. For beginners, Hey Jude, Let it be, Rocky Racoon, Norwegian Wood are all fairly easy. Most public libraries will have songbooks, just work through any songs you like. Avoid early versions of The Beatles complete, as the only sense of complete in this book is completely wrong! Use a pick for strumming, 73mm is ideal as you need some flexibility.

Leonard Cohen - Famous Blue Raincoat. This is a great song, and works well with a simple fingerpicking guitar part (see original recording) I've put in a link to a different interpretation, by Jennifer Warnes - because for me it's the best version. Generally, the best songs will work with just one guitar and vocal part, and this is a good example.

Most Leonard Cohen songs will work well with a minimalist approach, as they are essentially poetry set to music. When you listen to this the verse is in a minor key, and the chorus is in the relative major, so there is a real lift for the chorus and a change of mood. If you're striving for an authentic version, play nylon-string guitar on this one. If the pitch is wrong for your voice, try a capo at fret 2 or 3. Doing this often brightens up a guitar's tone and makes it easier due to the smaller fret size and lower action.

Also by Leonard Cohen: Suzanne is a song featured on James Taylor's album "Covers" in a very tasteful version. It's fairly easy to play a nice fingerpicking part for this song.

Dylan songs - Knockin' on Heaven's Door, Like a Rolling Stone. She Belongs To Me, Hey Mr.Tambourine Man are all quite easy - and great songs.

Hendrix songs - Jimi Hendrix continues to be a major influence on all types of rock guitar playing, and at the very least you should learn Little Wing, All along the Watchtower, and Voodoo Chile or maybe The Wind Cries Mary. If you can get some good tab transcriptions of these songs, there is so much to learn from Hendrix's innovative playing. A favourite chord is E7 sharp 9, and this chord is widely used in funk and Prince songs.

Check out my hub Hendrix and Little Wing for the best ever version of this song, by Eric Clapton and Sheryl Crow. It is really something!

Guitar Techniques magazine June 2010 issue features a tab transcription of Little Wing along with an audio recording.

Little Green - Joni Mitchell

Another simple, but great, guitar/vocal arrangement from one of the best albums of all time, Blue. In conversation with other musicians we all agree it's something special. This song is in open G tuning, a very versatile tuning. More detail is on my hub- Guitar in open G tuning. Check out my hubs for more Joni material. At the bottom of this page there is also a link for DVDs - Woman of Heart and Mind is really good,and at $3 Refuge of the Roads has to be the best musical bargain ever!

Many great songs are transcribed at (link below) which is a great site.

The Rolling Stones use Open G tuning for great songs such as Wild Horses, and Open G is probably the most useful tuning for playing slide guitar.

Different tunings: DADGAD is also widely used, and is the subject of another of my hubs: Guitar in DADGAD tuning. Many Irish and folk songs sound great in this tuning.

Open C is a less common tuning, but sounds great, and can help you come up with unusual chords. See my hub Open C - Auld Lang Syne.

Blackbird - Paul McCartney

A great Bach - inspired guitar piece that sounds good in standard tuning as well as open G tuning. Also works well on piano. Excellent for Travis fingerpicking, and nice harmony that transfers well to many other songs - such as Willin' by Little Feat. A good example of "less is more" approach - as most of the time there are only 2 or 3 notes implying the harmony, which still sounds full and complete.

Sultans of Swing - Mark Knopfler. This song is full of great riffs, solo ideas and different techiques, and well worth learning.

Autumn Leaves - a good introduction to jazz guitar, with a great chord sequence that is perfect for improvisation.

America - Paul Simon. This is good for fingerpicking and improving chord vocabulary, and is one of dozens of songs that use descending bass lines to good effect.

12- Bar blues in E and A : the basis for hundreds of songs,blues, rockabilly, rock n' roll, funk. Therefore something worth learning inside out. All Chuck Berry songs are based on the I,IV V blues sequence, these include:

  • Johnny B.Goode
  • Roll Over Beethoven
  • Memphis Tennessee
  • Sweet Little Sixteen
  • Rock n' Roll Music
  • You could play all these songs with A7, D7, E7.

Guitar songs to learn

There are many guitar pieces that have become "standards" in a more informal way than the list of jazz standards. Here are some suggestions, many of which are in videos in my hubpages articles.

They are selected on the basis of valuable guitar learning material, and also being well-known and strong songs.

Stormy Monday - interesting for the advanced blues chords
The Thrill is Gone - a minor blues, great for improvising
Sultans of Swing - good for lead guitar techniques, especially bending strings

Stairway to Heaven - voice leading
Only Livin' Boy in New York - just a great song
Don't think Twice, It's alright - fingerpicking, Travis picking
Blackbird - ditto
Light My Fire
Little Wing - great Hendrix guitar techniques

I also think it's worth learning many of the songs from Eric Clapton's Unplugged CD and DVD, as this is almost a history lesson in blues guitar playing.

Blues, funk, rock n' roll

The 12-bar Blues sequence is essential to learn, as it forms the basis for thousands of songs in these styles. Check out my other hubs for more info on the Blues. If I had to pick just two, they would be

The Thrill is Gone (minor blues) and Stormy Monday (jazz influenced blues)


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    • guitargoddess profile image

      guitargoddess 7 years ago

      Blackbird - Paul McCartney... Must agree with you on this one. What a wonderful song to use when learning to play the guitar. Take these broken wings and learn to fly......