Learning how to play guitar is something many people strive to do, but few actually achieve. Though intimidating, the guitar is actually a really great beginner instrument to learn on. With many people and states still in lockdown, it’s a perfect time as ever to pick up an instrument and learn to play.
The problem that most people tend to run into when playing guitar is trying too quickly to learn the song that they want to play, rather than educating themselves in the fundamentals of the guitar as a solo instrument, music theory, and application.
It can seem daunting to do so, but creating a foundation for learning starts with gaining a deeper understanding. With the guitar, you should have a solid knowledge of each chord and progressions that you have practiced for many hours before trying to tackle that song that you want to play.
Here is a list of some great songs that you can use to teach yourself how to play with the guitar as a beginner instrument, and gain a better understanding of the guitar to continue onto those more difficult pieces or recently popular songs.
Twist and Shout – The Beatles
This song is a really great one to begin with on the guitar because it is actually the same three chords in progression the entire time. So there are no change-ups in chords as you play, the breakdown parts stay on the same chord (A) and the rest of the progression goes D-G-A, which makes it easier to tackle when you are just starting out and learning where to place your hands and fingers.
When you become good at playing this one you can actually step it up a notch, too with George Harrison’s guitar licks in the very beginning of the song. But that’s for later – just being able to focus on the three main chords will get you started learning the guitar on your own in no time.
Three Little Birds – Bob Marley
If you fancy a less fast-paced song to start with, you can learn Three Little Birds. The message behind this song is one of calm and knowing that ‘every little thing is gonna be alright.’ The three major chords that you would learn with this song are A-D-E.
Side Note: There are multiple songs that only require three chords on the guitar so many of them would be great for learning in the beginning. The main ones you will learn or pick up more quickly fall into A, C, D, G, E – before you tackle any of the majors and minors. So, any songs that you can find that play on these major chords will be great beginner songs.
When learning this particular song, the strum is what is important – you want to give it that breezy, island allure. This would mean you have to know the difference between an “open” and a “closed” chord, to get that ‘jam’ desire from your guitar.
Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
This is a great crowd-pleaser, and the chord progression is great because like the Bob Marley tune, it only uses three major chords. The progression goes G-C-D. And likewise, the same tune is utilized for the song “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevin. So you can actually learn two songs at the same time since the chord progressions are the same.
House of the Rising Sun – Animals
Adding in a fourth chord this time, this fun song to play will get you adding in the minor chord for A. The progression for this would go Am-C-D-F. The great thing is there aren’t any breakdowns or bridges where you would change up the chords, so the same progression is played the entire way through with this song.
That is helpful when learning guitar so that you can just practice the progression over and over, which is key to helping you advance quickly because you’ll learn the feel for how to move through each chord to the next.
I Wanna Be There – Blessed Union of Souls
This may not be a well-known song by many, but it can be a great song to teach yourself. It uses only three chords, and just like Sweet Home Alabama, they are G-C-D, and then where it differs, the song goes back to G. You would almost think that meant they would sound the same but the tune is very different.
This is a good love song, too, so most people like its message. Sometimes you play the guitar for fun, but maybe consider this song if you are hoping to impress someone you are interested in!
Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
This is a song that almost everyone will know and love, so this could be a great get-together tune you can teach yourself. Again, it uses three major chords: G-C-D, but there is a difference here where the E Minor chord comes at the end of the chorus in the ‘break’ part, the first “my brown-eyed girl” that is sung.
The pattern for this song follows the G-C-G-D, and then it changes up to the C-D-G-Em in the chorus.
Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen
This is a song that stands the test of time, so it might be a great one to have in your back pocket to pull out. It’s been covered by numerous artists too, so this could be a song once you learn the basics where you can play around with different variations in chords and progressions.
The chords break down as G-Em-C-D-B7, so it does have more than three chords involved, but once you practice more with chords, and get progressively better with changing up your chords you can add a few more with this tune.
The One I Love – REM
If you want to play and perform a song with power, this is one you should be able to teach yourself well on guitar. It’s also bound to impress, especially if you sing or know of someone who can sing the “Fire” lyric that holds out to eternity.
The chord progression goes Em-D-G-Am-C, so again this one has more than the simple three chords but without giving you too much of a challenge, and most people will enjoy listening.
Wild Thing – The Troggs
This would be a perfect beginner tune to learn on guitar since the main three chords for this are just the majors A-D-E. You do add in the G major chord when you get to the part where it goes “But I wanna know for sure…” and then you just alternate G-A-G-A in that part.
With all major chords, this is a really good one to teach yourself. These four chords are used in so many songs so if you know them well you can learn to play multiple different songs just by changing the progression and strum methods.
What’s Up – Four Non-Blondes
There should be more songs by women in this list, so let’s start with this 90s group’s hit. This uses the progression E, Am, G, D, and C. This paired up with a great girl singer can be a really fun song to play or perform together at a party. Many people have even adapted to answering the lyrics when the singer gets to “Hey” with ‘Hey!’ and then “What’s going on?” with ‘Nothing!’ which is bound to be entertaining.
Love Me Do – The Beatles
The Beatles had a lot of great hits and many of them were created with very simple chord structures. This is a great one to teach yourself on guitar, utilizing again 3 major chords. When you begin you only need two chords for the whole chorus/first part of the song, G-C. It changes to add in the third chord when you reach the lyric for “someone to love..” you utilize the D chord.
With or Without You – U2
If you want to experiment with strum patterns that include the “1 and 2 and 3 and 4” progression in a song, this is the song you should teach yourself with. The pattern is just four total chords, going D-A-Bm-G.
This song, like a couple of the others, is another awesome selection since it is one that doesn’t change up the pattern in the chord progression when you play the verse vs. the chorus, it actually stays the same, even through the whole bridge part where the lyrics go “And you give yourself away…” it still plays through as D-A-Bm-G.
Keep in mind as you’re playing that learning strum patterns as well as the chords themselves, are going to be just as important for you in your playing. How you actually strum an open or closed chord, when to utilize picking or fingering, as well as expert chord changing, will all come with time. When you first start to teach yourself guitar, be prepared to not be very good, you need to give yourself the grace and take the time to learn.
Don’t even limit yourself to this list – explore the many songs out there that utilize simple chord progressions to help you learn and expand. While you can learn the skill through teaching yourself, if you want to take your education to the next level, consider taking online guitar lessons to learn the fundamentals and music theory behind the instrument. When you enroll with a teacher who has expertise in the guitar, you will not only learn proper technique but also learn so much more about your instrument to understand it and really master the craft of playing.
Soon enough, you’ll be ready for that next get-together with friends or family to pull out your guitar with some ready-to-play songs that will be fun for everyone.