Ten great songs for beginning guitarists – from Cash to Green Day

 You’ve got that shiny new guitar, now what? Feel like you’ve got five thumbs? Don’t start with “Stairway to Heaven.” Begin with songs that won’t make you want to throw that Martin across the room. Here are the most popular songs that I give to my beginning students. If you click on the link it’ll take you to a free site where you can get the chords for each song. (If this post isn’t enough, I teach via Skype. Contact me here for details.)

Songs with only two chords

1. “Horse With No Name.” You can’t beat it for simplicity. It’s a little drab without the band but it’ll get you started with changing chords.

2. “Found a Peanut” is great for kids, whether she’s the student or you’re an adult playing it for your children.

3. “Paperback Writer.” The Beatles are popular with everyone  – from kids to older adults. Their early songs tend to be the easiest.

4. Eleanor Rigby.” It actually has four chords but if you eliminate the Em6 and Em7 chords and just play Em, it’ll still work. Later on, when you feel more confident, give the full version a shot.

5. “Jambalya.” Country is a great genre for beginners. You can’t go wrong with ol’ Hank.

6. “The Bottle Let Me Down.” Classic Merle. (Notice we only need first names here.)

 Something for the Rockers

7. “Smoke on the Water” has four chords but they’re simple two finger power chords. You stay on the same strings, just move them up and down the neck. I usually give this to kids and most get it in just a lesson or two. Adults like it too.

 Moving up to three or four chords

8. “Brown Eyed Girl.” My adult students love this one. It may take a little while to get that strum pattern. Play it over and over again separately from the song – down down up up down up. That’s one measure. You’ll change chords once per measure – that means you’ll get through the pattern once and then it’s time to move on to the next chord. There’s an exception for the first line of the chorus and there, you go through the strum pattern three times.

9. “Good Riddance.” Most of my younger students love this Green Day tune. The change from G to Cadd9 isn’t too hard. You’ll just need to work at getting the switch to D and Em. It has the same strum pattern as “Brown Eyed Girl.”

10. “Folsum Prison Blues” has only three chords. A lot of Johnny Cash songs have just 3 or 4 chords and a simple strum. For this one, it may take a while before you get that B7 because it uses all four fingers. A good exercise is to play it back and forth with another chord – maybe A – over and over again. You’ll drive everyone out of the house but eventually, you’ll get to where it’s doable.

You’ve probably noticed that I’m rather fond of the Heartwood Guitar site. Unlike many free tab/chord sites, his are accurate. I always go there first when I’m looking for a song.

If you’re having trouble learning these songs on your own, find a good teacher. If you live in Ottawa (Canada) then I’m your woman. Contact me here. If you live elsewhere, see my earlier blog Finding a Guitar Teacher.


Did you find this post helpful? Consider keeping me in coffee and my cats in kibble. And it’s only $2. Merci y’all.

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About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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7 Responses to Ten great songs for beginning guitarists – from Cash to Green Day

  1. Rob says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Jamie. Like your blog.


  2. MAB says:

    Thanks for the link to reliable guitar tab. Usually I just figure it out by ear because it annoys me so much when I get guitar tab that’s totally wrong!

    • jamiebobamie says:

      The Heartwood site rocks. I don’t think I’ve found an error on any of his songs. As for the rest of the sites – even if some of it is wrong, it gives me a place to start.

  3. Pingback: So you wanna be a guitar teacher? | Jamiebobamie

  4. Pingback: How do I know what guitar strum to choose? | Jamiebobamie

  5. Nice site Jamie,
    Well laid out and easy to follow. Great site for the beginner guitarist. Some good song choices there, I had forgotten about some of those. Nice reminder. Thanks. Love Brown Eyed Girl. One of my fav’s

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