40 Acoustic Guitar Rock Songs (lessons and tabs)

Sometimes it’s not until we strip away the lights, effects, and showmanship that we really get to see just how good some rock songs are. This is one of the reasons why it’s so common to see big artists perform acoustic renditions of their most popular tracks. It allows us to experience their great songwriting without the distracting performance spectacle.

That’s why today we’ve gathered up a list of 40 absolutely stellar rock songs, some of which were written specifically for the acoustic guitar while others are acoustic renditions of their rock originals.

So please join us on this extensive look at some of the best acoustic rock songs around!

Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd

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Let’s start things off strong with this incredibly emotive track from Pink Floyd. It features a simple arrangement that focuses on a nostalgic and somber feel that you can’t help but be grabbed by. An interesting fact about the recording of this song is during the intro, just before David comes in with his acoustic part, you can hear him cough. This was due to his heavy smoking at the time and upon hearing it in the final take he decided to quit smoking that very next day.

The guitar work is nice and simple, opting for memorable motifs and effective chord progressions over anything fast or technical. It’s also been dubbed with a lot of 12-string guitar to thicken the sound up, but it’s all very much playable on a six-string too.

Free Falling by Tom Petty

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This is an absolute classic tune that many consider to be one of the greatest songs of all time. It uses a perfect balance of acoustics with rock drums to create a laid-back carefree vibe. It’s one of his most famous tracks and he performed it live alongside Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin during the 2008 Super Bowl.

The acoustic parts for this song are quite simple to play and you’ll need a capo on the first fret of the guitar. The chord progression for the song is Em, Asus2, Bsus4 which is played using a simple strumming pattern. Once you’ve memorized that you’re done, as it repeats for the entire song!

Take it Easy by The Eagles

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It’s often overshadowed by the likes of Hotel California, but Take it Easy is a fantastic song that perfectly blends acoustic rhythm guitar as the electrics play single-note melodies over the top. It’s the opening track from their debut self-titled album and is considered one of their signature tracks. Songwriter Jackson Browne re-recorded the song for his own album For Everyman, but it didn’t chart.

Here, the guitars are taking on the role of rhythm, offering that nice and steady foundation for the electric guitars to play over. We only need 3 chords to play the majority of the song which are G, D, and C. Then on the chorus, they also introduce the Em chord.

Photograph by Nickelback

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Love them or hate them, there’s no denying Nickelback is one of the most successful groups in the world when it comes to putting out massively successful commercial rock tracks. Photograph is no exception, as we can see from the official YouTube video which is sitting at 228 million views.  The song is from their fifth studio album All the Right Reasons and was written about the nostalgia we can feel towards our childhoods.

This song is nice and easy to play, but actually makes good use of open strings to create what we would call ‘melodic intrigue’. You are basically playing power chords based around your first and second strings, but you let every string that can ring out do so. This way you get a nice interaction between the chord and the open strings which creates very unique chord voicings.

Have You Ever Seen the Rain by Creedence Clearwater Revival

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Another great track that marries an acoustic rhythm section with some classic ‘roots rock’ drums to achieve that old school folk rock style. The song was written by John Fogerty and discusses the fact the group had achieved success well beyond any of their wildest dreams, yet every member of the band suffered from depression and was unhappy. Just two years after the song’s release, the band would split up.

This is another one where we’ll just be strumming open chords to hold that nice and stable base for the song. There are not too many chords to learn here, but they are voiced in quite a few different ways using things like inversions and 7ths. We encourage you to check out the provided video lesson to see at which times you should use each particular chord voicing.

Angie by The Rolling Stones

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An iconic song from the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll, taken from the 1973 album Goats Head Soup. After its release, it immediately shot to the top of the charts and hit the number 1 spot in multiple countries. It features a wonderful blend of twin acoustic guitars, a piano arrangement, and acoustic drums which all come together to make a classic acoustic ballad. Due to its success, it became a staple of their live performances and was recorded and released on numerous live albums from the band.

The guitar parts for this song are surprisingly involved. As they use twin guitars, they will often play separate unique parts to achieve chordal harmony with each other, often jumping between strummed chords and arpeggiated sections.

Heart of Gold by Neil Young

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After suffering a back injury that made playing and standing with the electric guitar for prolonged periods painful, Neil Young decided to write a series of softer, acoustically driven pieces so he could play sitting down. Throw a little harmonica into the mix and you have some truly fantastic songs! This is from his fourth album titled Harvest. As a single, it became his first (and only) number 1 US hit.

The main thing to note about this song is it has a unique strumming pattern, with the first note being a quarter note played on the low E followed by 6 really strong Em7 chord strums. This is followed by some softer strumming. Try to get the dynamics of how hard these chords should be hit to match the song and you’ll be sounding just like Neil in no time!

Good Riddance by Green Day

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Although Green Day are well known for their pop and punk roots, after the release of Good Riddance they proved to everyone they were more than competent at acoustic ballads, too! While this is somewhat of a departure from their normal sound, it was a hugely successful chart-topping hit that’s sold over 2.6 million copies to date.

While the song is predominantly based on strummed chords, it uses an interesting technique that has you targeting certain groups of strings within the chord. This makes the tablature look extremely busy, but don’t worry about it too much! Just focus on strumming the chords and you’ll naturally find your hand wants to target certain areas.

Fade to Black by Metallica

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When Metallica originally formed in 1981, they primarily stuck to thrash and heavy metal. As their career progressed, they began to explore more melodic styles, even employing acoustics from time to time. This is essentially a rock/metal song that makes great use of catchy classical and 12 string guitar lines sitting side-by-side with distorted guitars and solos.

The acoustic parts for this song can be divided into two main motifs: the opening riff, and the verse riff. The opening part makes excellent use of an augmented fifth interval on that open string, which sounds slightly dissonant as it sits alongside that perfect fifth. A great example of how purposeful dissonance written with intention can create a beautifully melodic sound.

The Joker by Steve Miller Band

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A slightly tongue-in-cheek song that takes a lot of musical cue’s from Soul Sister by Allen Toussaint and puts in a bunch of references to other popular media. This includes lyrics that reference his own song Space Cowboy from his Brave New World album. Released in 1973 from the album of the same name, it charted very well initially. Then it got a second shot at the charts after appearing in a Levi’s advertisement, reclaiming the number 1 spot in the UK 16 years after its initial release.

While the song is primarily driven by the rock drum and bass guitar lines, there’s an acoustic accompaniment that underlines the whole song which uses the simple 3 chord progression of G, C, and D.

Pinball Wizard by The Who

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A legendary song from the English rock powerhouse. Despite being described by songwriter Pete Townshend as ‘the most clumsy piece of writing (he had) ever done,’ the song was a huge success. Well received by critics, it also became a staple of their live performances. It was written about a fictional pinball champion simply called the ‘local lad’ who was impressed with the album’s main protagonist, Tommy Walker, for his incredible pinball skills.

No one said rock songs need to be slow. Here you’ll be strumming 16th notes at 125bpm, which by itself isn’t so bad. But the chords played usually need to cover 5 and sometimes all 6 strings, so get ready for a good forearm workout!

Wonderwall by Oasis

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Oasis are easily one of the greatest rock groups of all time. Despite their tumultuous relationship, when brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher get together to write, magic happens. Wonderwall in particular achieved a level of success I don’t think anyone expected. It was certified quintuple platinum and is generally considered one of the best songs of all time.

Something that makes Oasis particularly special is they use really nice sounding chord voicings that strike a perfect balance. They’re musically interesting to the ear while still remaining catchy to facilitate a great vocal melody.

Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash

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Another classic song that you’ve probably heard a good amount of times already. The songwriting credit was given to June Carter and Merle Kilgore, although it was revealed by Vivian Cash (Johnny’s first wife) that he had written it himself and decided to give them credit for it as ‘they needed the money.’ It went on to be one of the biggest hits of his career and is an all-around great song to learn on the guitar.

From a guitar perspective, you’ll just be strumming some nice and simple open chords here. The challenge comes from the time signature. There are 2 measures of 4/4 which is followed by 1 bar of 3/4. Another way to think about this is 5 bars of 2/4 with a 1/4 tag, which for some is a little easier to digest.

Mrs. Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel

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One of Simon and Garfunkel’s most popular songs. It was originally released way back in 1969 as a single from their album Bookends and The Graduate, but because of its huge success, it was subsequently re-released as part of a dedicated EP. It’s also been covered by some very notable artists including Frank Sinatra (whose version became extremely popular by itself) and more recently Bon Jovi in 2004.

We’ll be spending a lot of time during this song barring large, 6-string chords which can definitely take their toll on the forearm as the song progresses. So in the few measures we head back to that open A and E major chords, take the opportunity to relax your arm so you don’t get too tired.

No Excuses by Alice in Chains (unplugged)

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Taken from their third EP Jar of Flies, No Excuses was a bit of a departure from their regular sound. Despite that, it was exceptionally well received by fans and critics alike. The original version of the song was a little bit more grunge sounding in its guitar work, but we’re focused on the Unplugged rendition they performed as part of MTV’s Unplugged series, in which various artists would create acoustic-only versions of their songs.

This song sounds surprisingly interesting guitar-wise for how simple it is to play. It’s essentially using the first 4 notes of a major barre chord shape, which we will be sliding between A and B strings of the guitar. While this is happening, the top B and E string are left to just ring out continuously, creating a nice harmonic interplay between the two.

Jane Says by Jane’s Addiction

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This is a very colorful and lively song that not only makes great use of 12 string guitar and drums, but it’s even got a steel drum in there which sounds delightful! This was a single released on their album Nothing’s Shocking and was their first-ever song to chart, climbing its way to the number 6 spot on the US alternative charts. It’s also a fan favorite, so it often makes its way into their live performances.

There are only 2 riffs to this song, with the intro jumping between G and A, finishing off with a little descending pentatonic lick. The most important part is the strumming which goes D-D-dU-U-uDuD where the capitalized letter indicates accents. After a few minutes of practice, you’re sure to nail it.

Knocking on Heavens Door by Bob Dylan

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This track was written by Bob Dylan as part of the original soundtrack to the popular movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. It appeared during a key moment in the movie, then a few months after the film’s release, the song was re-released as its own single and ended up becoming one of his most popular tracks. It’s even been covered by musical legends such as Eric Clapton and Guns N’ Roses.

The song primarily sticks to a really simple 3 chord progression which is G, D, and Am7. However, on the second repetition, it adds in that low C note on top of the Am7, turning it into a Cmaj chord. It also makes good use of upstrokes during the strumming which follows the pattern D-D-U-U-UDUD.

Layla (unplugged) by Eric Clapton

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Originally recorded by Derek and the Dominos as part of their album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Although this original was massively popular, there was another version recorded as part of MTV’s Unplugged series. Eric recorded a whole album of acoustic songs which was also simply titled Unplugged. This version gave the song a bit of a rebirth, as there was more room for the other instruments to play instead of just during the reprise.

Eric has noted that turning this into an acoustic song denied many of the riffs, as they would have sounded weak played on anything but an electric guitar. So he took the approach of more heavily reworking the parts, and also put it to a shuffle.

Lola by The Kinks

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A wonderfully catchy song that does a brilliant job of mixing together rock and acoustic elements by combining electric guitars and raw drums over acoustic chords which are strummed in the background. This is from their album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One. The song describes an encounter between a man and a possible trans woman at a club.

The acoustic guitar definitely takes a backseat here, just providing that nice and stable rhythm behind the other instruments. You’ll be using lots of big-sounding open chords during the chorus, and there are also some nice little 3-string descending patterns during the intro.

Losing My Religion by R.E.M.

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This song was originally inspired by a mandolin riff (not a Ukulele riff as many assume), but translated fantastically to the guitar. It’s an incredibly emotive and sad song despite its rock energy. After its release in 1991 as part of the Out of Time album, it went on to win two Grammy Awards. Songwriter Michael Stipe has said the song is not specifically about religion. It’s actually an expression from the southern region of the US which means to lose one’s temper or civility.

You’ll just be strumming nice and easy open chords here. It makes very effective use of that ‘minor to minor’ chord change as we swap from that Am to Em. It uses a steady and consistent strumming pattern throughout and shouldn’t pose any trouble for a beginner.

Dust in the Wind by Kansas

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Inspired by a particular bible reference that essentially is a reflection of the futility of man’s achievements and the inevitability of death. Despite the heavy topic, it’s a really great tune with some catchy soft-rock elements and memorable guitar lines. It was released as a single from their Point of Know Return album and was hugely successful, shifting over 1 million copies. Particularly impressive for a release from a progressive band!

This is one of the few rock songs that makes such heavy use of fingerpicking. It might sound very busy and overwhelming at first, but it uses a single 4-beat picking pattern that repeats over different chord shapes.

Everlong (acoustic) by Foo Fighters

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One of the best songs from one of the best hard rock bands ever. While this was originally released as part of the 1997 album The Colour and the Shape, which is more of heavier/rock effort, it has been re-recorded a few times. In particular, the version from their 2009 Greatest Hits is perhaps one of the best acoustic renditions of a rock song ever.

Played in a similar fashion to its heavier counterpart, we’ll need to get ourselves into drop D tuning so we can play a power chord by simply barring 1 fret. The chord progression is very simple and uses simple power chord style shapes while a few of the higher strings are left to ring out.

Every Rose Has Its Thorn by Poison

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This song is proof that even the biggest rock stars (or in this case, glam stars) have feelings too. It was written after singer Bret Michaels found out his girlfriend had been cheating on him when he called her from a laundromat and heard another man’s voice in the background. After this event, he sat down and wrote the song right there and then in the laundromat.

There are lots of electric-guitar parts and huge sounding drums going on in this song, but underneath it all the acoustic guitars are providing that steady base for the song to build upon. It’s all nice and simple to play where you’ll almost exclusively be playing chords shapes within those first 3 frets of the guitar.

(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding

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Written by Otis Redding and the record’s producer, Steve Cropper, the song was inspired by a period when Otis was renting a boathouse and would watch the ships come in and roll away again. That was enough to inspire the song that would go on to chart at the number 1 position on the US and UK singles charts, selling over 3 million copies. It was also covered by popular singer/songwriter Michael Bolton, whose version was also very successful.

There’s lots of cool stuff going on in this song. It has a number of interesting chord voicings which are a ton of fun to play. It also is one of the few tracks on this list to make use of chromatic chords that descend sequentially until they resolve to the ‘correct’ chord.

A Horse with No Name by America

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Few bands are met with such positive reception from critics and fans alike on their very first effort quite like the folk rock band America. This is the first single from their first album and immediately shot to the top of the charts in the US and Canada. Originally, their self-titled album was released in Europe without this song, but after realizing they needed a better ‘ballad’ for the album, America submitted this song to replace I Need You.

There are a lot of quite colorful chord voicings in here, which are both easy and difficult to play at the same time. They only require only 2 notes to be held down, but there often needs to be open strings ringing either side of the fretted notes, which are extremely easy to choke. So do try to ensure they ring out cleanly.

All Apologies by Nirvana

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This is another track that Nirvana adapted to an acoustically driven version as part of MTV’s Unplugged series. It was this acoustic version specifically that won two Grammy Awards, perhaps proving that sometimes acoustic versions can be better than their original counterparts! It was originally written by Kurt in 1990 at his and Dave Grohl’s apartment.

The song was split into two acoustic parts, the first was more a lead-orientated section that mimicked the melody but higher up the neck. The second is a fairly simple alternate-picked part that was obviously simplified so Kurt could sing over it. Then there’s just a nice and simple E chord for the chorus.

American Pie by Don McLean

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With a somber farewell, American Pie waves goodbye to the rock ‘n’ roll generation. The song refers to the 1959 plane crash that killed many of Don’s early music heroes. But it goes beyond that too, also reflecting on the disillusionment of his generation and the cultural changes that shifted the youth away from rock and roll. The song was, of course, massively successful and was able to hold the number 1 spot in the US for a mighty four weeks straight.

While at first glance the volume of chords used in the song might seem intimidating, swapping from chord to chord usually only requires the tiniest of finger changes. Don probably wrote this using more of a ‘finger exploration’ method, so it feels really nice to play in the hands.

Babe I’m Gonna Leave You by Led Zeppelin

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This was originally written by Anne Bredon, but Jimmy Page had his sights set on covering this song for a long time. He presented the song to Robert Plant in 1968, a year before its release. But instead of doing a straight-up cover, they made it distinctly Led Zeppelin-sounding, using huge rock drums and electric guitars during certain sections which then get swapped out for acoustic guitars during the next.

The majority of the song is played using arpeggiated chords, which are just chords that are played one note at a time instead of strummed. It’s better to play these with a pick as opposed to fingerpicking so the notes can really pop.

Baby, I Love Your Way by Peter Frampton

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For a song this successful, it’s hard to believe Frampton wrote it in a matter of minutes. Peter has said it was slightly inspired by The Beatle’s song Blackbird, which uses a similar technique on the guitar, playing octaves as additional strings around it ring out. It’s considered a classic that has been re-released a few times now on various live compilations.

The main thing with this song is there are a lot of ‘muted’ strings in each of the chord voicings, but this doesn’t mean you need to be timid with your strumming. The best approach here is to actually be quite aggressive with your right hand and let all the muting come from the left hand’s fingers.

Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival

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A fairly upbeat and lively vibe juxtaposes with the song’s actual meaning, an incoming apocalypse that is coming for us all! Songwriter John Fogerty was inspired to make this after watching the movie The Devil and Daniel Webster. Released as a promotional single for their album Green River, it hit the number 1 spot in the UK and got as higher as number 2 in the US. It’s also been covered by over 20 different musicians (including a punk cover by Lagwagon on their debut album Duh).

It primarily uses the chords D, A, and G, although there are lots of cool little inflections and small strumming tweaks that give it its own personality. The strumming pattern primarily sticks to D-D-UDUD-D – if you’ve played a few folk rock songs at this point, it should be old hat for you!

Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen

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Not many singers can match the level of passion that Bruce shows in this song. This really demonstrates everything that makes him great: powerful songwriting and his distinct, gritty voice. This is by far one of his best-known singles and was written about the severe financial struggles Vietnam veterans faced upon returning to America, despite how much American culture reveres and respects the military.

This song is quite layered, with twin electric guitars backed up by twin acoustics which are more or less playing the same thing. It only uses 2 chords which are an A and a D in terms of their shapes, but you’ll also need a capo on the second fret of the guitar to bring it up to key.

Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison

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As popular as this song is, unfortunately his record label’s recording contract made him liable for all the recording expenses. This prompted Van Morrison to express his distaste for the song numerous times. He even wrote a sarcastic song about it called The Big Royalty Check.

Despite the behind-the-scene’s drama, it’s a fantastic song and one of the most famous Van Morrison tracks. It opens with a great intro sequence that will have you picking both major and minor third harmonies sequentially up and down the neck. Then when the vocals come in, you’ll be back to strumming a nice and easy open chord progression.

California Dreamin’ by The Mamas & the Papas

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Back in the early ’60s, there was a movement within music known as the ‘California sound’ which came about because of the American pop bands of Southern California who wrote about the state’s beach culture. The Beach Boys (who incidentally also covered this song) are a good example. This song was considered a central pillar of that California sound and was rated 89th on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songs of All Time.

There’s nothing too complicated happening with the guitar parts here. You’ll spend most of the time outlining some nice and easy open chords using a simple strumming pattern. The only unique section is the very opening few bars which have some nice little 3-string arpeggios. You’ll also need a capo on the 4th fret to play in key with the original.

Can’t You See by Marshall Tucker Band

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A quintessential acoustic rock song that has a powerful vocal delivery, nice and steady acoustic rhythm guitars with a little smattering of lead electric guitar peppered in. Although lyrically it’s quite dark, reflecting on a man’s heartache and the healing process. The song is a single released from his album simply titled The Marshall Tucker Band. It’s also been famously covered by some very notable artists including The Zac Brown Band and Kid Rock.

This is more of an intermediate guitar piece that uses a lot of string skipping during the arpeggiated sections and swaps over to strumming at quite a fast pace. The consistent thing you can grab onto is the bar usually opens with a slightly longer 8th note before continuing on with 16th notes. You can use that to ground you while you go about digesting all those notes.

Closer to the Heart by Rush

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Here’s an absolutely monster track from Canadian prog-rock band Rush. It features complicated melody lines, intense drum work, and some shred guitar. Yet supporting it all is a layer of thick acoustic guitars, which tie everything together perfectly. This was part of their fifth studio album titled A Farewell to Kings and allowed Rush to chart for the first time in the UK, reaching the number 36 spot on the Singles Chart.

Ignoring all the technical aspects of the song, the acoustic parts are, by design, nice and simple. The song opens with some easy 3-string descending arpeggios which then move into a strummed chord section. There are some quite interesting chord voicings here too, so if you’re into out-of-the-box playing this is a great one to learn!

Could This Be Magic? by Van Halen

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 A really cool change of pace from what you know Van Halen for. The screaming, distorted electric guitars are instead swapped out for fast-paced rocking acoustics with some gnarly slide guitar over the top. This track is from the album Women and Children First and is also the only Van Halen track ever to feature a female vocalist. The rain sounds in the song are also real and were captured while they recorded the song.

The main thing to note is it uses what’s called ‘DADGAD sharp’ tuning, which is essentially the process of tuning your guitar to a chord so you can play those chords with just a single finger barring the notes.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen

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In an obvious nod to classic rock heroes such as Elvis, Cliff Richard, and Roger Taylor (all of whom were big influences on Queen’s sound), singer Freddie Mercury wrote this track in just a couple of minutes. Freddy said that it was his own limited knowledge of guitar chords that make him purposely write within this small framework, which in turn made the song great. It was first released on their 1979 album The Game.

The song primarily jumps between three chords which are D, G, and C. You’ll be using your pinky to add a little spice by playing that fourth on and off during the D chord. The easiest way to get the strumming pattern down is to use groups of 2, D-DU-DU-DU-D where the ‘single’ downstrokes are the 1st beat of a new bar.

Dead Flowers by The Rolling Stones

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A classic Stones song written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richard from the 1971 album Sticky Fingers. The song tackles the issue of drug abuse and includes references to things such as injecting heroin. It also contains a bit of country influence, essentially making it a country-acoustic-rock song. Although it wasn’t a massive commercial success, it is a much-beloved song and has been covered by many artists.

There is a ton of cool, twangy lead work going on with the electric guitar here, but behind that sits a nice acoustic base, much of which sticks to some pretty simple open chords. We’ll mainly be using D, G, and A here, and there are a few alternate voicings throughout, including suspended and add9 chords.

Hotel California by The Eagles

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By far one of the most popular tracks ever from The Eagles, this was released on the album of the same name. The song won a Grammy award in 1978 and the guitar solos routinely make their way onto lists of The Best Solos of All Time. Despite the vocals and electric guitars getting so much praise in the song, there are some quite involved guitar parts that are also double-tracked (recorded twice) alongside a 12-string guitar.

Although the intro guitar piece is arpeggiated, you are still essentially outlining regular chords which are Am, E7, G,  D,  F, C, Dm, then back to the E7, and then comes around back to the A. So a fairly long progression but using all relatively easy-to-hold chords in their regular open positions. You’ll also need a capo on the second fret.

More than Words by Extreme

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Possibly one of the most famous acoustic rock songs of all time. The song details the singer’s frustration with his lover as he wants her to do more than simply saying ‘I love you’. Guitarist Nuno has said sometimes the phrase can become meaningless when it’s overused and isn’t backed up by action. The song is from their second album Pornograffitti and the band has described it as being both a blessing and curse. Due to how much fans love it, they are now somewhat obligated to play it live.

This song uses a lot of cool percussive mutes, which is where you essentially hit the strings with your right hand and have them physically hit against the frets creating a kind of percussive ‘click’ sound. This is designed to emulate the sound of the drums and give it a cooler-sounding rhythm.

  • Liam Engl

    Liam is a British guitarist who splits his time between the UK and Asia. He fills his time with guitar as a full time guitar teacher, producer/songwriter/engineer for his own projects Mera and Decode The Design, YouTuber with over 2.5m views, occasional Twitch streamer, and featured artist for brands such as Carillion Guitars and WristGrips.