Easy Guitar Lessons

What makes a song “easy” to play on guitar?

Learning to play an “easy” song on the guitar involves a small set of open and barre chords (C-A-G-E-D), basic down and up strokes with the right hand, and stepwise melodies.

I always start absolute beginners with a flatpick, because it simplifies the equation from 5 fingers, to either down stroke or up stroke. This will also help you build a solid rhythmic feel, by adhering to the simple pattern of downbeat = down stroke / upbeat = up stroke.

Practicing this simple gesture, slowly, along with a metronome (60-80 beats per minute) will train your body to instinctively “feel” a steady rhythm, and accurately reproduce it on the guitar, like this:

Guitar - Basic Rhythm Training

Here are the 5 open “major” (happy sounding) chords you’ll need to memorize to get started:

Guitar - Open Chords

Using what’s commonly called the “CAGED System” we can then move these shapes across the entire fretboard by adding a “barre” shape with our index finger acting like a capo, and adding the original shape with the remaining fingers.

Here are 2 more chord qualities – “minor” (sad sounding) and “dominant 7th” or just “7th” (sour or bluesy sounding):

Guitar - Barre Chords

With this basic understanding of chord shapes, you now have the ingredients needed to play thousands of easy songs. Here I have hand-picked a selection for you that fit my description of “easy”.

Consider these songs your very first steps on the guitar. They’ll get you having fun playing actual songs you know. This is an important stage of your musical journey, where you’ll begin to build your basic skill sets and create lasting memories of the time you put in practicing. This will come in handy later on as you enter the “Intermediate” phase. You may feel your progress begin to plateau, and thinking back to how much fun you had learning new songs as an absolute beginner will encourage you to keep playing and practicing new songs and musical ideas. Like I said – it’s a journey, not a destination. There’s always a new song to learn for yourself, to perform, share, and teach to others.

Go slowly, and start to absorb the common chord shapes and sequences from each song. Start to pick out patterns and similarities, and see if you can start to learn an easy song by ear.

But most of all – have fun – and commit each song to memory so you’ll rely on your ear, rather than the charts. They are here as a guide to get you started, but you should aim to be the vessel through which music flows, rather than the record player that has to rely on the record to play the music. Each new song you memorize is a new shiny arrow in your quiver – a tool of expression you now own, that no one can take away.

Now I’ll shut up so you can start playing!

  • About A Girl – Nirvana
  • After Midnight – JJ Cale
  • Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers
  • All I Wanna Do – Sheryl Crow
  • Amazing Grace – John Newton
  • Baby Hold On – Eddie Money
  • Banks Of The Ohio – Monroe Brothers
  • Blue Eyes Cryin’ In The Rain – Willie Nelson
  • Blue Moon – Elvis Presley
  • Boxer, The – Simon & Garfunkel
  • Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
  • Calico Pie – Natalie Merchant
  • California Stars – Wilco
  • Can’t You See – Marshall Tucker Band
  • Clyde – JJ Cale
  • Cold Cold Heart – Hank Williams
  • Creep – Radiohead
  • Cupid – Sam Cooke
  • Dead Flowers – Rolling Stones, The
  • Dear Mr. Fantasy – Traffic
  • Devil Went Down To Georgia, The – Charlie Daniels Band
  • Don’t Stop – Fleetwood Mac
  • Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright – Bob Dylan
  • Down By The River – Neil Young
  • Down On The Corner – Credence Clearwater Revival
  • Dropkick Me Jesus – Bobby Bare
  • Feel Like Making Love – Bad Company
  • Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
  • Fortunate Son – Credence Clearwater Revival
  • Free Falling – Tom Petty
  • Froggy Went A Courtin’ – Bruce Springsteen
  • Gambler, The* – Kenny Rogers
  • Good Old Mountain Dew – Grandpa Jones
  • Goodnight Irene – Leadbelly
  • Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen
  • Happy Birthday – Traditional
  • Hard Times Come Again No More – Stephen Foster
  • Harlem River Blues – Justin Townes Earle
  • Have You Ever Seen The Rain – Credence Clearwater Revival
  • Heart Of Gold – Neil Young
  • Helpless – Neil Young
  • Hey Good Lookin’ – Hank Williams
  • Hey Jude – Beatles, The
  • Hey Soul Sister – Train
  • Hey Ya – Outkast
  • High And Dry – Radiohead
  • Ho Hey – Lumineers, The
  • House Of The Rising Sun – Animals, The
  • Hunger Strike – Temple Of The Dog
  • Hurt – Johnny Cash
  • I Won’t Back Down – Tom Petty
  • I’m Set Free – Velvet Underground, The
  • I’m Yours – Jason Mraz
  • If I Had A Hammer – Peter, Paul & Mary
  • If Not For You – Bob Dylan
  • It’s All Over Now Baby Blue – Bob Dylan
  • Jolene – Dolly Parton
  • Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan
  • Landslide – Fleetwood Mac
  • Last Dance With Mary Jane – Tom Petty
  • Let It Be – Beatles, The
  • Let It Rain – Eric Clapton
  • Like A Stone – Audioslave
  • Long Black Veil – Johnny Cash
  • Long Journey Home – Stanley Brothers
  • Losing My Religion – REM
  • Love Me Tender – Elvis Presley
  • Mad World – Tears For Fears
  • Mercedes Benz – Janis Joplin
  • No Woman, No Cry – Bob Marley
  • Nowhere Man – Beatles, The
  • Oh Sweet Nuthin’ – Velvet Underground, The
  • Red Headed Stranger – Willie Nelson
  • Shaving Cream Song, The – Benny Bell
  • Shooting Star – Bad Company
  • Star Spangled Banner, The – Francis Scott Key
  • Stuck In The Middle – Steelers Wheel
  • Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – Spiritual
  • Take It Easy – Jackson Browne
  • This Land Is Your Land – Woody Guthrie
  • Tulsa Time – Eric Clapton
  • Up On Cripple Creek – Band, The
  • Vampire Blues – Neil Young
  • Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show
  • Wayfaring Stranger – Neko Case
  • What’s Up – Four Non-Blondes
  • When Rita Leaves – Delbert McClinton
  • When The Saints Go Marching In – Louis Armstrong
  • Where Did You Sleep Last Night – Nirvana / Leadbelly
  • Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin
  • Wild World – Cat Stevens
  • Wildwood Flower – Carter Family
  • Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
  • Wonderwall – Oasis
  • You Ain’t Woman Enough – Loretta Lynn
  • You Are My Sunshine – Pine Ridge Boys
  • You Belong To Me – Taylor Swift
  • You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me – Temptations, The

Nice work! Now move on to Intermediate Guitar Lessons.