10 Of The Best Songs To Learn On Guitar

We know, we know, you want to jump straight to the best songs to learn on guitar. First, please indulge us in sharing some sage advice that will keep you from getting discouraged, giving up, and leaving that beautiful instrument in the closet or garage to gather dust until someone decides it belongs in a garage sale, on ebay, or in a pawn shop. (Believe us; we would like nothing more than to go straight to the best songs to learn on guitar, too. But we have seen the garage sale routine too many times.)

Man Holding Guitar

There is no way around the fact that learning to play guitar requires effort. Not only do you have to learn the technical aspects of the instrument (like parts of the guitar, how to hold it, and how to tune it so that it sounds right), but you have to develop the coordination and muscle memory that allows each finger of each hand to do something different (one pressing strings to form notes and chords and the other plucking to play them), while your brain is busy counting and thinking a few notes ahead so that your hands and fingers know what's coming.

Not Just Guitar

We all admire musicians who can make even the most complicated music look and sound effortless. But those musicians went through the same painful process, learning and practicing the individual technical aspects of their instruments before they were able to progress to the best songs to learn on guitar, piano, drum kit, saxophone, or cello.

The best guitarists, whether Townshend, Richards, Santana, Clapton, Van Halen, The Edge, Slash, or anyone else you can name, not only went through this struggle-ridden starting period; they returned to it repeatedly to further their mastery.

Our beginner's list of the best songs to learn on guitar is not intended for the day-one beginner. You have ground to travel first. It is bumpy. It will make your fingers ache. But you can get there, too. Our list of best songs to learn on guitar is intended to serve as both the reward for that early practice as well as the next step in your path to guitar mastery.

Why a List of Best Songs to Learn on Guitar?

We refer to this beginner's list of the best songs to learn on guitar as a reward and a new challenge because it marks a renewed starting point for beginner guitarists. It rewards your earliest efforts because we all set out to play guitar to play songs. Not even the geekiest musician would be satisfied just to make notes and chords.

That step from notes/chords into a familiar tune is a magical inflection point, known for sling-shooting novice guitarists from the early stages of instrument learning into true enjoyment. Pulling a familiar tune from your instrument feels like a whole new relationship with the thing.

Take It from an “Old” Dude

Aspiring guitarist (and NYU psychology professor) Gary Marcus noted this phenomenon in his 2012 book, “Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning.” He set out to explore whether someone in his late 30s could challenge the notion that only the “young” brain could learn a new skill, such as playing a musical instrument, becoming a painter, or picking up a second language.

Using himself as the Guinea pig, he devoted a year-long academic sabbatical to see if he could learn to play guitar. He even had his own beginner's list of best songs to learn on guitar. He chose the self-taught path and recounts the familiar struggles of fumbling through learning to tune his instrument, picking out some notes, and figuring out how to handle finger-straining chords. He even resorted to living in his family's vacation cabin to spare them the pain of listening to his efforts.

Marcus notes in the book that not only he but also his family changed their tune toward his efforts when he started to play actual music; especially music they recognized. Suddenly, all his drawn-out tuning sessions, bad notes, and seemingly random chords transformed into favorite songs. The songs spurred his efforts and his family's encouragement to learn more. Thus, his list of best songs to learn on guitar became its own reward, serving as their own enjoyment, as well as challenged him to pick up even more chords and new techniques.

What Criteria Do You Use to Choose Beginner's Songs?

In choosing songs for our recommended list of best songs to learn on guitar, we decided on ten criteria to help you get the most from your efforts. You can substitute and/or add to our list to develop your own. In fact, if you are taking lessons from a guitar instructor, we invite you to share our list and our criteria with them so that they can personalize your list to your needs and preferences. Musician individualism is just as important as knowing the fundamentals of your instrument.

Our criteria:

  • 1
    Each song should be what you consider “fun”
  • 2
    Each song should be familiar and easy to find in major formats
  • 3
    Each song should be relatively easy to play with a guitar beginner's skills for minimal frustration
  • 4
    Each song should require new combinations of existing skills you have learned
  • 5
    Each song should provide new challenges, such as chord changes and rhythm
  • 6
    Each song should demonstrate music new music concepts, such as key and variations on a theme
  • 7
    Each song should demonstrate your mastery of basic guitar skills by allowing you to showcase them as building blocks to recognizable songs
  • 8
    Each song should help you build the muscle and mental stamina needed to play for longer periods
  • 9
    Each song should serve as a foundation for building additional skills beyond those demonstrated in the song
  • 10
    Each song should demonstrate that you can create even widely popular songs with basic guitar skills

Our Picks for Best Songs to Learn on Guitar for Beginners

What We Reviewed

  • Foster the People: "Pumped Up Kicks"
  • Bob Dylan: "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"
  • Delta Spirit: "California"
  • The Beatles: "Love Me Do"
  • The Bobby Fuller Four: "I Fought the Law"
  • America: "A Horse with No Name"
  • Cracker: "Low"
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival: "Proud Mary"
  • R.E.M. "It's the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)"
  • Neil Diamond: "Sweet Caroline"

Foster the People: "Pumped Up Kicks"

Foster the People

Details

“Pumped Up Kicks” is an earworm-level catchy pop song that charted big time in 2010. The guitar part uses beginner-level basic chords but requires a sense of rhythm and timing to give the song its characteristic lighthearted drive (despite the arguably dark lyrics). The guitar part is recognizable on its own; not requiring other instruments to help your audience realize they know the song and its lyrics.

Difficulty

Whether you use tablature, sheet music, or pick out the notes yourself, this is a relatively easy song to sort out. It does require a capo to pitch the notes up, but it goes on the first fret and is relatively easy to master from there.

Bob Dylan: "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"

Bob Dylan

Details

This signature Dylan song is a beginner's classic to the point of cliché. However, do not let that stop you from adding it to your repertoire. It is virtually required that all beginning guitarists learn this one. Plus, it is a great singalong and provides endless opportunities for variations on a theme (even Guns n' Roses went huge with a cover version).

Difficulty

So easy to learn that you might already know it.

Delta Spirit: "California"

Delta Spirit

Details

Though the radio version of this song feels electronic, the band itself performs wonderful stripped-down acoustic versions of this featuring two guitars, a base, and cajon box drum (looks like a box that you sit on and beat with your hands). With a single guitar, this provides great training in rhythm and simple, though fast, chord progression once you get the basics down.

Difficulty

The tempo of the best-known version of this song is a challenge for beginners, particularly when you try to sing over it. But it makes our list of best songs to learn on guitar for that reason. Start slow, work out the chords, then speed up as you continue practicing until it sounds right.

The Beatles: "Love Me Do"

The beatles

Difficulty

We recommend hiding from society while you practice as it will require a fair amount of repetition (of this already repetitive song) to get that rhythm just right.

The Bobby Fuller Four: "I Fought the Law"

Bobby Fuller Four

Details

This popular song has been a hit so many times over that it is shocking to realize it first charted in 1966. (Seriously, go check out the original on YouTube. There are actual go-go girls.) Even so, it features a great simple chord progression that will trick you into thinking you are a better guitar player than you thought.

Difficulty

Know the line “three chords and the truth”? This might be where it originated. If you know the chords, you should have the song mastered in a day or two.

America: "Horse with No Name"

Horse With No Name

Details

This quintessential Neil Young song is so well known your audience will sing along without even knowing who got famous performing it.

Difficulty

Thought the chords are straightforward, the song becomes more difficult when you try to sing over it, as the lyrical rhythm can feel like it is competing with the guitar. Give it time.

Cracker: “Low”

​​​​​​Cracker Low

Details

With a simple chord progression and rhythm that can be emphasized by playing harder and more vigorously, this song is a fun one for the beginner to pick up. This also makes a great trainer for understanding variations on a theme, especially if you dial down the intensity.

Difficulty

The hardest part is getting the highly processed radio version out of your head so you can play acoustic.

Creedence Clearwater Revival: "Proud Mary"

​​​​​​​Creedence

Details

This song rewards the beginning guitarist with a song they can replicate note-for-note in a recognizable version with a little practice. Even the repetitive rythm lends itself to the novice.

Difficulty

Work out the first few bars and you know the song.

R.E.M. "It's the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)"

REM

Details

The guitar part of this seemingly complex song is deceptively simple. However, you will have to get a feel for the fact that, though you can master the guitar part, it will sound simpler and slower than the radio version you are used to. This makes it a great song for grasping the concept

Difficulty

Difficult mainly for the fact thatthe original radio version is stuck in your head and you will have to fight that. Also, the lyrics, which are tough to remember even if you are not playing guitar.

Neil Diamond: "Sweet Caroline"

Best Songs to Learn on Guitar for Beginners

Details

Everyone's favorite singalong, even if they refuse to admit it.

Difficulty

Everything about this song is easy, except sounding like Neil Diamond. The hardest part is the exuberance with which your audience will sing along. Careful, this can confuse the beginning guitarist.

Verdict

We know we went all pedantic and Yoda-ed you at the outset of this list of best songs to learn on guitar. However, we did so in the hopes that you would understand and blast through those early fundamentals lessons. The rewards of being able to play a recognizable song are worth every bit of that effort. Once you get there, the songs themselves will encourage you to learn more songs and more fundamentals.

As far as our list goes, we think Sweet Caroline is the best starting place, as it is such a highly recognizable and easy to play tune. It's the End of the World (As We Know It) hits the difficulty end of our list. End your progression there. In between, you can wander anywhere in the list.

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