When picking a setlist for your bar show, remember to follow all the normal setlist conventions: avoid switching between tempos too much, never play songs in the same key back to back, and avoid going too heavy on black metal tunes at cocktail hour.
With that in mind, if you’re playing an acoustic show, you’ll want to pick songs that present themselves well acoustically (nobody wants to hear Smells Like Teen Spirit on acoustic) and it’s always a good idea to pack the setlist with songs that people can sing along with.
Of course it’s unlikely you’ll play a show that necessitates exactly 40 songs, but hopefully this list will give you a few pieces to get you started.
- Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
- Bad Liar – Imagine Dragons
- Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell
- Blackbird – The Beatles
- Come Together – The Beatles
- Despacito – Luis Fonsi
- Hotel California – The Eagles
- Hurt – Johnny Cash
- Let Her Go – Passenger
- More Than Words – Extreme
- Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
- Africa – Toto
- Blinding Lights – The Weeknd
- Chasing Cars – Snow Patrol
- Circles by Post Malone
- Drive – Incubus
- Fast Car – Tracy Chapman
- Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day
- Half the World Away – Oasis
- Layla (Acoustic) – Eric Clapton
- Photograph – Ed Sheeran
- Redemption Song – Bob Marley
- Shake It Off – Taylor Swift
- She Will Be Loved – Maroon 5
- Simple Man by Lynard Skynard
- Something Just Like This – The Chainsmokers & Coldplay
- Stop This Train – John Mayer
- Teardrop – Newton Faulkner
- Tenerife Sea – Ed Sheeran
- The Man Who Sold the World – Nirvana
- Wonderwall – Oasis
- Passenger – Let Her Go
- The Chainsmokers – Something Just Like This
- Mark Ronson ft Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk
- Dua Lipa – New Rules
- Ed Sheeran – Shape Of You
- Post Malone – Congratulations
- Imagine Dragons – Bad Liar
- Justin Timberlake – Mirrors
- Eagle-Eye Cherry – Save tonight
- Final Thoughts On Best Acoustic Covers To Play In A Bar
Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
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Wish You Were Here comes from Pink Floyd, one of the all-time great English rock bands, who have experimented with a number of musical styles over the years, ranging from progressive to psychedelia. But some of their most popular numbers are mellow songs which go over great when worked into an acoustic set at a bar. Wish you Were Here is from Pink Floyd’s ninth studio album which was recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios.
The song itself has a wonderful, melancholic feel. Lyrically discussing how to be free in yourself and enjoy life. There’s quite a lot of guitar layering in the composition of the song which is perfect if you’re playing with a looper, or have a friend performing with you (ideally with a 12-string guitar to match the recording). It also has a very emotive chord progression that pulls on the heartstrings and can easily hold the audience’s attention.
Bad Liar – Imagine Dragons
Imagine Dragons are always a great choice to add to any acoustic setlist. They are a top-selling band with 75 million albums sold worldwide, so there’s always going to be people who will recognize their songs, which is great for an acoustic set. Bad Liar is described as a ‘breakup anthem’ and its minimal instrumental approach makes it translate perfectly to a single acoustic guitar performance.
The song uses a very simple 4 chord progression that’s both easy to remember and effective at engaging the audience. There is some fairly high falsetto singing here so do not hesitate to lower the key of the song to fit your vocal range if you feel this is a little high.
Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell
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One of the classics from the ’70s written by legendary, nine-time Grammy winning, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Joni Mitchell. Big Yellow Taxi is a guaranteed crowdpleaser and a perfect addition to any acoustic set due to its high-energy, upbeat feel and wonderfully catchy chorus hook. The nice thing about this song is it’s so accessible that audiences will still engage with you regardless of whether they are familiar with it.
While the song is obviously transposable, if you are able to tune to a D Major chord it can make this very easy to play with its huge and luscious open-sounding chords. Try to strum each chord with some force to inject energy into the performance and really bring out those percussive mutes.
Blackbird – The Beatles
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The Beatles are arguably the most recognizable band in the world. They are the top-selling band of all time, with 600 million albums shifted worldwide. This makes them a prime choice for an acoustic set, as their music is so timeless you are sure to find an audience no matter where you play or who you play to.
The song is a little intricate to play, with a few non 4/4 measures and some fairly involved picking. If you are playing this solo, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to sing at the same time. But no worries! Practice getting the main rhythm down first, as this is maintained throughout the length of the song, and the rest should come fairly easily.
Come Together – The Beatles
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Come Together was the opening track of the Beatles iconic album Abbey Road, hitting number 1 in a huge number of countries and garnering 2.4 million sales worldwide. This song has a lot of attitude and swagger. This emotion is something that will translate very well in a bar setting. Although the original is played with a full band, it can be re-worked very effectively into a solo acoustic guitar performance.
You’ll mostly be playing simple 3 note power chords, and triads using a very stable rhythm throughout the song. Leaving you free to engage and interact with the audience. There’s also a great blues feel running through the track and some good use of the suspended and 7th chords. Also, remember this song is played with a capo on the 3rd fret.
Despacito – Luis Fonsi
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This song dominated the charts in 2017. With over 7 billion views, it’s the most watched video in YouTube history. A collaborative remix was then released featuring the Canadian superstar Justin Bieber, which made Despacito skyrocket in popularity and garnered the song a massive audience. This is exactly why this is a perfect song to play at a bar. It is guaranteed to get the younger audience excited and singing along.
This is one of the trickier songs to play on the list. Because of its heavy use of Latin and Flamenco influences, it requires some fairly involved phrasing and accurate picking. But, that is why heads are sure to turn if you can pull it off! Use the percussive mutes to help ground the beat of the song as that’s mainly what the crowd will feel over the melody.
Hotel California – The Eagles
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A large part of what makes a song work in a bar setting is the audience’s own connection to that song. This is why Hotel California is such a great choice, sitting at nearly 650 million views on youtube and going 3x platinum with over 3 million sales worldwide. Basically, everybody knows this song, from a campfire singalong to a Saturday night bar audience.
The opening section has an iconic melody with some very tasteful chord changes. If you’re able to emulate the guitar solo using the acoustic part that’s also great, but the song still works fine if you are just playing the chords. Try to get the audience to join in on the chorus!
Hurt – Johnny Cash
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Hurt is a very popular song covered by Johnny Cash, with the music video racking up over 220 million views on Youtube. He has one of the most recognizable and iconic voices in music. But it’s also one that isn’t easy to replicate. If you can get the tonality and the emotion down, it’s a song that’s guaranteed to blow your audience away. The song was originally released by Nine Inch Nails, so it’s likely to be a big hit with a wide range of audiences, even metal fans.
It goes without saying that the low, thick tonality of Cash’s voice is not easy for everyone to recreate. If this is the case for you, just use a capo to raise the key of the song. The guitar parts are all very simple using mainly 3 chords for the primary motif, plus suspended and 7th chords which add a lot of emotion to the composition.
Let Her Go – Passenger
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Let Her Go was released in 2012 as the second single of Passenger’s full-length album, All The Little Lights. And although it wasn’t a massive single from the get-go, it did eventually explode in popularity, skyrocketing in sales over the following years and going 6x platinum in the US and Denmark.
It features a catchy chorus hook that is both infectious and compelling, making you want to sing along. It’s the perfect song to play in a bar, as the audience cannot help but join in. The song is primarily played with fingerpicking, which can be difficult to sing over, so on the provided video lesson there is an alternative version played with strummed chords that’s much easier to play and sing to at the same time.
More Than Words – Extreme
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A bit of a departure from their normal sound, More Than Words is an unashamed ballad from Extreme’s extremely popular album, Pornograffitti. It’s sweet and tender in every sense of the word. This is a timeless track that continues to age well, and retains popularity amongst audiences of all ages, so you’re almost certain to get the crowd swaying and singing along.
The guitar part has a particular percussive way of picking its overall simple chord progression by using muted notes in a way that implies the rhythm section, without actually needing one. So even just as a solo player, this will work perfectly, but it’s even better if you have someone to accompany you with the singing, as there are some fantastic harmonies that really make this song come to life.
Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
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Neil Diamond’s platinum-selling single, Sweet Caroline, was released in 1969 and is another great addition because of its groovy rhythm and wonderfully infectious chorus that people just cannot help but sing along to. It’s a reliable song that could be called ‘old faithful’ of the gigging bar setlist, as it never fails to get the crowd going. The song is known by so many people, whether they are into rock, country or blues.
This is also great if you’re a little newer to gigging, as the song is very easy to play. You just need to play A, D, and E chords in the open position for the entire song, and it will always sound great. On the attached video lesson and in the tabs, there are some more interesting variations should you be intrigued at the prospect of spicing your performance up a little.
Africa – Toto
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Toto’s Africa is already legendary in its popularity, going 6x platinum as a single in the US alone, with the official music video sitting at over 900 million views on YouTube. Originally released in 1982, Africa has been able to stay incredibly relevant through its prevalent appearance in internet memes, and the viral metal interpretation of the song performed by Frog Leap Studios.
Beloved by old and young bar-goers alike, this is a great choice for any setlist. There are also multiple ways to play it. If you are a solo player, you can follow the bassline using acoustic chords. If you have a second player, there are lots of harmonies and melodies to facilitate a second guitar.
Blinding Lights – The Weeknd
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Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen a massive resurgence of the classic ’80s analog synth and old drum machine sound. No one has proved how well that resonates with modern production and with a modern audience better than The Weeknd, with Blinding Lights going 11x platinum (that’s over 11 million copies sold) in Sweden alone, and 88 million online digital streams. Needless to say, the song is massive and is bound to get the audience jumping.
The song itself is very easy to play. Using a capo on the 3rd, you can play the entire song just using 4 very simple chords. Or alternatively, if your technical ability is a little higher, you can play a version that works its iconic synth-lead melody into the guitar part using more of a fingerstyle approach. The choice is yours!
Chasing Cars – Snow Patrol
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Chasing Cars was released as the second single from Snow Patrol’s fourth studio album, Eyes Open, and was a huge hit in the UK and US, selling nearly 4 million copies. It was also nominated as one of the best songs of all time in several polls. With its incredibly catchy and emotive vocal melodies, it’s essentially a love song with enough energy to carry a crowd in a bar setting.
The song itself is fairly easy to play, mostly requiring just two fingers to outline the chords, and can be played entirely in standard tuning with no capo. You’ll only need to learn the A barre chord shape, the E/G sharp, and the open D shape. With just those 3 chords you will have everything you need to master this song.
Circles by Post Malone
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Post Malone is one of the youngest musicians on this list, with his first album being released in 2016 when he was only 21 years old. He has absolutely exploded in popularity now with 80 million records sold worldwide at just 28 years of age. So, playing his songs is a great way to get the younger audience members on board.
Circles was the third single from his 2019 album Hollywood’s Bleeding, and is probably the easiest song on the list to play. You’re using just Cmaj7, Fmaj7 and Fm throughout the entire song and it’s all played with a very regular and straightforward rhythm. This allows you to focus on performing the extremely catchy vocal melodies and, of course, getting the audience to engage with the song.
Drive – Incubus
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While not having the same worldwide renown as some of the other songs on this list, you can still essentially guarantee everyone will be able to sing along with this Incubus classic. Drive is a wonderfully catchy song that uses great chord voicings and a memorable chorus melody and is sure to have people hooked by the final chorus.
The song uses some great 7th and minor 9th chords, played with an interesting rhythm, which can make it challenging to both sing and play at the same time. If you are performing together with somebody else, this is an ideal song to split the guitar and vocals up. Fortunately, it still sounds great solo if you’re performing alone.
Fast Car – Tracy Chapman
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Fast Car is one of the most famous songs by singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman, topping the charts in many countries and selling over 1 million copies in the UK alone. The YouTube video for the song sits at 180 million views. The song has a very simple melody that plays a lot with intervals instead of full chords. But where the song really shines is with Tracy’s emotive, soulful, and rhythmically interesting vocal performance.
You’ll need a capo on the second fret to play this song, and it can be played with all fingerpicking or with strummed chords if you’re not confident with finger style. The majority of the song follows the same pattern until the chorus where you will just be strumming open C, G, and Em chords. Overall this carries a lot of power and is sure to go down well at a bar gig!
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day
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While generally known for their high gain, electric guitar-driven punk/pop tracks, Green Day has had success with several melodic and acoustically driven songs, which have proven to be every bit as popular as their heavier singles. Good Riddance in particular, having racked up 92 million YouTube views. The song is a classic and something that people of all ages will be able to enjoy and sing along to.
This is a vocals-focused song with the guitar part playing just 3 easy chords which are G, Cadd9, and D. These chords are comfortable to play, and use a similar rhythm throughout the length of the song. It’s an iconic and easily-identifiable tune right from the first chord, and is sure to quickly spark the interest of your audience.
Half the World Away – Oasis
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Oasis’s album The Masterplan was full of songs that are absolutely perfect for any acoustic bar show, known the world over and enjoyed by audiences young and old alike. Brits in particular will recognize it as the theme tune to the classic comedy show The Royle Family, with its memorable vocal melody that is both a little somber and quite energetic.
Although there is some light percussion behind the song, the core is just Noel and his acoustic, which makes it very doable as a solo performance. All the chords have a simple strumming pattern (look out for the wonderful sounding Fm on the chorus), which also makes it very easy to sing over.
Layla (Acoustic) – Eric Clapton
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Layla is a Clapton masterpiece, which he first performed with Derek and the Dominoes, and later brought to new audiences as an acoustic track on his Unplugged live performance and on the album of the same name. Interestingly, the acoustic version received as much commercial recognition as the original, and might even be more recognizable amongst the average Acoustic Night crowd.
The ‘unplugged’ version of Layla has some fairly involved playing, with interesting chord voicings. There’s minor use of triplet timing and even some tasteful blues lead playing. It holds a fantastic groove and is sure to get the crowd moving. Vocally, the melody is quite stripped down and simplistic, so you can focus more on tonality and making sure the energy translates into your performance.
Photograph – Ed Sheeran
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Ed Sheeran is undoubtedly one of Britain’s most popular singer-songwriters of the modern era. At only 32 years of age, he’s already sold over 150 million records worldwide, making him one of the best selling artists of all time. This is mostly due to his ability to marry intricate and emotive acoustic playing with heartfelt and soulful vocal performances that resonate well with almost everyone.
This song has a central motif in which you will be moving the bassline around until the verse, where you will be muting some open notes which have some interesting little gallops peppered in. Then by the time the chorus kicks in, the crowd should be so into it that they’ll be singing along with you.
Redemption Song – Bob Marley
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The great thing about performing Bob Marley songs in a bar is that they always lift the mood and spirits of the audience. Redemption Song in particular, which was already an acoustic-only tune, carries a hopeful message about freeing your mind. It translates extremely well into a cover scenario due to its overall major tonality.
The song starts with an easy to play single-note melody before jumping into the main chord progression which is played using the open chords G, Em, C, and Am with a simple strumming pattern. One thing that’s important in this song is the vocal delivery. Don’t worry about emulating the accent, but do try to convey the emotive elements of the vocal performance!
Shake It Off – Taylor Swift
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Something that always makes a song a perfect choice to play in a bar setting is a ‘singalong’ chorus, and few songs have choruses that resonate quite so well as Shake It Off by Taylor Swift. This is the main single from her fifth studio album, 1989, and it even went Diamond in the US, with 10 million copies sold.
On the original song, the instrumental is largely electronic, which gives you creative license to play the song how you wish. Feel free to check around YouTube for how others have performed this for inspiration. The song uses G, Am, and C throughout, so it’s exceptionally easy to remember. Try to bring the energy upon the chorus and prompt the crowd to join in for the maximum effect.
She Will Be Loved – Maroon 5
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She Will Be Loved is one of the songs that first put Maroon 5 on the map. Written by singer Adam Levine, it went 4x Platinum with over 4 million copies sold in the US alone, which is an incredible mark to hit for a debut release. The song is quite toned down and more mellow when compared to some others on the list, so, you can strategically work this into your set to break up the pace and provide a palette reset for the audience.
The song uses some staccato fingerpicked chords through the intro and verse before opening up on the chorus. There is nothing too technically demanding about it, but if you’re having trouble singing while playing, you can always convert the fingerpicking into strummed chords.
Simple Man by Lynard Skynard
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Simple Man is a classic ballad from American rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd’s hilariously-titled debut album, Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd. The song has a great minor/blues feel to it, and it discusses the relationship between a mother and her son. The song is a favorite amongst fans and is a worthy addition to any bar gig setlist.
You will need to tune down for this, as the song is in G sharp minor. So you can think of it as Am blues but everything is down 1 semitone. If your vocal range supports it, you might find it more convenient to bring the song up in key so you don’t need to re-tune. Most of the chords, although simple in progression, are arpeggiated which can make it a little technically challenging to play depending on your ability.
Something Just Like This – The Chainsmokers & Coldplay
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This song is a collaboration between electronic act The Chainsmokers and British rock/pop band Coldplay. The song was a gargantuan hit due to its beautiful marriage of catchy pop-esque vocal melodies and modern EDM electronic production. The song sold 9 million copies in the US and the official lyric video sits at a whopping 2 billion views on YouTube.
There is nothing too challenging in this song from a performance perspective. It’s at a fairly slow BPM of 103, is all in 4/4, and follows a very simple chord progression of Gadd9, Asus, Bm then back to Asus. Because these chords are heavily showcased in the electronic pads, it makes it extremely easy to translate to the acoustic guitar.
Stop This Train – John Mayer
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John Mayer is one of those musicians who can showcase incredible musical talent and technical ability, both in his guitar playing and raspy vocal performance, while somehow still being able to create songs that appeal to literally everyone. It’s a rare skill and is one of the reasons why his music translates so well to a bar gig setting, there is something in his music for everyone.
Part of his 2006 release titled Continuum, Stop This Train has some fairly involved fingerpicking while using the slapping motion of the hand to emulate a percussion section. Your thumb will also be acting as the bass section throughout the song. This is a challenging song to play and sing at the same tone, so don’t be afraid to turn the chords he’s outlining into regular strummed chords. But, if you do manage to pull off a note-for-note cover, the crowd are almost certainly going to go wild.
Teardrop – Newton Faulkner
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This song is actually already a cover that Newton Faulkner performed from English trip-hop group Massive Attack. So when you play it, it will be a cover of a cover! Nevertheless, this is a perfect song to work into your bar gig as its stripped down, slow, and soulful vocal style always goes down well. These days, Newton’s version of the song is every bit as well known as the original.
Even though the song is played at a slower tempo, you’ll be pretty busy performing this as you have to sing the vocal melody, add the percussive elements with your hands, and fingerpick the guitar parts. This can provide quite a technical challenge! So don’t be afraid to simplify anything that doesn’t feel good to play, as playing to your strengths will help your overall performance of the song.
Tenerife Sea – Ed Sheeran
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Released in 2014 as a single from his second album, X, Tenerife Sea is one of Sheeran’s most popular songs. He’s described the song as being a love song through and through, with Tenerife Sea actually referring to the color of his then-girlfriend’s electric-blue eyes. A perfect song for any couples amongst the audience.
The chords the song utilizes are arpeggiated (that is to say, played one note at a time instead of strummed), which means there is a fair amount of technique required. Fortunately, the lessons include simplified versions to make things easier on the guitar, which allows you to focus a little more on your vocal performance.
The Man Who Sold the World – Nirvana
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The original version of The Man Who Sold the World was written by English pop legend David Bowie, but the Nirvana adaption definitely stands on its own. This came from one of Kurt’s favorite albums, and his cover ranked quite high on the MTV charts. It went on to be a regular number in their ‘unplugged’ performances, where they would play acoustic renditions of Nirvana’s tracks.
The song opens with a very easy to play but memorable motif, then after that you will be strumming some simple chords for the length of the song. Try to get the muted notes down to add that percussive feel to your acoustic playing. It’s especially helpful when you don’t have a dedicated drummer playing alongside you and can really add an extra dimension to your performance.
Wonderwall – Oasis
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You knew it was coming. Probably the most covered song of all time… Wonderwall. Played at bar gigs to the point where it’d feel odd if you saw an acoustic performance at a pub finish without having played it. It is one of the best selling singles of all time, going quintuple platinum and topping the charts the world over. It was even named the Second Greatest Song of All Time by Q magazine.
Love it or hate it, this song has a really infectious verse melody that almost rivals that of the chorus, and is something the audience will feel compelled to join in on. Guitar-wise, the whole song uses a simple chord progression that’s very comfortable in the hands to play, and in typical Noel Gallagher fashion, the voicings are effective and sound incredible.
Passenger – Let Her Go
This is a great song to open a set with. It doesn’t come out too hard, but is well known enough to get everyone singing along and warm up your crowd in a hurry. The song really shines if you have two guitars, and especially if there’s a male and female voice. Let Her Go was a huge smash when it came out in 2012, and has since become a staple of bar gigs the world over, and it’s easy to see why. It’s easy to play, sounds great, and can be a huge singalong moment in the right atmosphere.
The Chainsmokers – Something Just Like This
There aren’t a ton of acoustic songs that will get people dancing, but this is definitely one of them. It doesn’t hurt that the original was an EDM mega hit, but the acoustic treatment that most people play – modeled on Nicole Cross’ cover – has a very rhythmic and stabbing guitar pattern at the right times that should get people out of their seats without having to resort to tired tunes like American Pie.
Mark Ronson ft Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk
Uptown Funk is all but guaranteed to get people up and on their feet! This Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars powerhouse has been a staple of every bar that has music in any form since its release in 2014. The song is a barn burner for bar bands, wedding bands, and even the right corporate function bands – but, the song is simple enough that you can play a killer solo acoustic cover. As long as your singer has some funk in their bones, that is. Relying pretty much on one guitar line plus two chords, this is one where the guitarist can lay back and let the singer get the crowd going.
Dua Lipa – New Rules
Another fun song for a setup with a dynamic female vocalist, this tropical house song translates so well to acoustic, you’d think it was originally just voice and guitar. Dua Lipa herself has also played this song the world over on radio sessions and the like as an acoustic number, so people won’t have to stop and think before joining in.
Ed Sheeran – Shape Of You
Ed Sheeran has done something few others have ever accomplished – headlined stadiums across the world solo with only an acoustic guitar (and sometimes a loop pedal). However, you don’t need stadium chops (or a loop pedal) to pull off this simple cover. Sheeran typically plays reduced-scale guitars, but you can break out the capo to get that higher, tighter sound and add a little momentum and breeziness to the song. Regardless, this smash hit is sure to be a singalong.
Post Malone – Congratulations
If your bar is anywhere near a college, this one will definitely bring the house down. Post Malone is most known for his rap, but he has recently displayed a talent for many different genres, from punk through country, and this musicality shows in how well his hip-hop-style tracks translate to acoustic guitar.
Guitar-wise, the song is very straightforward, though the rap parts (as per the cover above) will require a little skill. But, chances are the crowd will be loud enough that it doesn’t matter what you do. Definitely one you can have fun with.
Imagine Dragons – Bad Liar
Every setlist needs its up moments and its laid-back moments. This is a great modern song for when you’re trying to slow things down a little. While the song wasn’t a huge smash on release, it’s taken on a life of its own as an acoustic standard, with the cover version above getting close to a hundred million views on YouTube (compared to 250 million for the original). Definitely a song that takes a strong vocal and a little finesse to pull off, but rewarding for everyone when it comes out right.
Justin Timberlake – Mirrors
You don’t need an eight-piece band to pull off this cover, but it’s definitely one that benefits from having more than one performer, as the chorus relies quite heavily on backing vocals. That said, if you can pull it off, this song was big enough that you can play it to most crowds, from college bars to after-work cocktail spots.
Eagle-Eye Cherry – Save tonight
It can be tempting to fill your setlist with modern songs, but quite often you’ll find yourself doing gigs where most of the crowd hasn’t listened to anything new in 15 years. Lucky for you, you don’t have to go reaching for Santeria just yet, as Save Tonight has been a staple of acoustic gigs in bars since it was released in the late ’90s. Even better, the song is just four chords the whole way through, so all you really need to learn is the words – simple!
Final Thoughts On Best Acoustic Covers To Play In A Bar
That’s our list. Hopefully this is helpful enough to give you a good selection of songs so you don’t have to rely solely on Sweet Caroline to get you through the night! Get these all under your fingers and into your head, and you’ll be ready to hit the stage!