When people are considering taking up the guitar as a hobby, maybe it’s been a dream of theirs since childhood, or maybe they’re just looking to try something new, it’s easy to be given the impression it’s years and years of hard work in order to get good.
While it’s true that the guitar can be a lifelong pursuit which you’ll never truly master, you really can learn to play hundreds, if not thousands of popular and legendary songs in just a few days, using just a few chords.
So today we’ve put together a list of 30 songs you can learn as a complete beginner. We’ve even included both video lessons and guitar tablature so there’s no excuse not to start learning!
- Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival
- Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash
- The Joker by Steve Miller Band
- Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol
- Common People by Pulp
- Desire by U2
- Not Fade Away by Buddy Holly
- Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty
- Happy Birthday
- Hound Dog by Elvis Presley
- La Bamba by Ritchie Valens
- Leaving on a Jet Plane by John Denver
- Louie Louie by The Kingsmen
- Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum
- The Gambler by Kenny Rogers
- Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen
- The Tide Is High by Blondie
- Three Little Birds by Bob Marley
- Wild Thing by The Troggs
- All The Small Things by Blink 182
- Blowin In The Wind by Bob Dylan
- Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis
- Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen
- Come on Everybody by Eddie Cochran
- Love Me Do by The Beatles
- Marry You by Bruno Mars
- TNT – AC/DC
- Love is a Rose by Neil Young
- Bottoms Up by Brantley Gilbert
Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
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Probably one of the most iconic, catchy, and memorable opening riffs ever heard in a song before. This is from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s second album ‘Second Helping’. It was one of their biggest charting singles and has become something of a cultural phenomenon, with the State of Alabama even purchasing the rights to use the phrase “Sweet Home Alabama” as an official slogan.
The three chords you’ll need in this song are D, C, and G. The opening riff is played as single notes with a few hammer-ons and pull-offs peppered in. It’s a ton of fun to play and although it might look quite ‘notey’ at first, as you learn it everything will feel comfortable in the hands.
Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival
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A classic rock/country rock single from CCR which was released as a single for their album ‘Green River’. The song was written after the lead songwriter, John Fogerty, saw a movie that had a scene involving a hurricane in it, which inspired him to write the song about an incoming apocalypse. It’s a favorite for many and has been covered/re-recorded by over 20 different artists.
Using the chords D, A, and G, it’s an incredibly simple and fun song to play. When looking at the tablature it’s easy to get the impression that the strumming requires very specific targeting of strings, don’t sweat it! Those are more rough guides and once you have learned the strumming pattern your hand will naturally gravitate towards those specific strings.
Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash
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The song was originally released by Anita Carter, with the songwriting credits given to June Carter and Merle Kilgore. However, in the autobiography of Johnny’s first wife, Vivian Cash, she revealed that it was Johnny who wrote the song while drunk and he decided to give June the writing credit because she needed the money.
You’ll just be using the chords G, C, and D here. One of the coolest things about this song is that within the chords there is a clear melody being outlined at the same time, so even though the song might at first glance appear busy, you can utilize that melody to ground you in the progression making it much easier to play!
The Joker by Steve Miller Band
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Some of you may already have heard the cover of this song from popular UK artist ‘Fatboy Slim’. This is from Steve’s 1973 album also called The Joker. Then, many years later it would end up suddenly hitting the number 1 spot on the UK Singles Chart after it was used in an advertisement by the popular jeans brand ‘Levi’s’. An unexpected, but I’m sure appreciated, way to suddenly get some additional exposure!
While the song uses only three chords, they are voiced a little bit more interestingly using G, Cadd9, and Dsus4. So this is a great one to learn if you wish to expand your chordal vocabulary. It predominantly outlines those chords using single notes.
Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol
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This was a song that benefited greatly during that initial transition from physical album sales to digital downloads, selling almost 4 million copies in the US over the years following its release, making it one of the best-selling rock singles ever. It’s part of their fourth album ‘Eyes Open’ and has been featured on some popular television shows including ‘Grey’s Anatomy’.
This uses the chords A, D, and E, but you won’t be playing them as open chords, for this one you are just playing a very simple melody in between two open strings which follows the chordal movement of the song.
Common People by Pulp
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This song dives into the topic of gentrification, which is the process of wealthier people moving into poor areas and displacing them. It’s a scathing critique of the rich wanting to be like common people. Topic aside, it’s also an exceptionally well written Britpop song that has essentially become the band’s signature tune.
You’ll be using the chords A, E, and D, there are arrangements for both the electric guitar. The video tab provides an acoustic arrangement which is a super easy version that’ll have you just strumming the chords. But to make it easier you’ll need a capo on the first fret so you don’t need to barre the chords.
Desire by U2
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U2 are well known for their exceptional sound design and interesting use of effects, all set under a rock and roll umbrella to create a wonderful, complete package. This song is from their 1988 album ‘Rattle and Hum’ and charted very well. It even won the 1988 Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance.
This has some fairly fast strumming parts, if you are not used to strumming 16th notes (twice the speed of the regular quarter notes), do ensure the movement is coming more from the wrist and not the elbow. It uses the chords E, Dsus2, and A.
Not Fade Away by Buddy Holly
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Taken from the album ‘The Chirping Crickets’ which was released in 1957 to very good critical acclaim, it charted highly throughout the world hitting the number 3 spot on the UK chart and number 48 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It’s been covered by various artists including the legendary Rush.
Played using the chords E, A, and D. The strumming pattern has a lot of pauses and quick stops peppered through it so try to listen to the song carefully to emulate them. But don’t worry too much, it’s all good fun!
Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty
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Easily one of Tom’s most popular tracks, taken from his debut solo album ‘Full Moon Fever. Its success also allowed him to play the track live at the February 2008 Super Bowl XLII Halftime Show alongside legendary Guns ‘n’ Roses singer Axl Rose. The song is written from Tom’s perspective, reminiscing about the things he would see during his drives along Ventura Boulevard.
For this song, if you have a capo available use it on the 3rd fret to make the chord voicings a little easier to hold. In addition, you’ll be playing three chords, G, A, and D/F# which you say as ‘D over sharp’ which is essentially an F sharp chord with a low D on the bottom, also referred to as a chord inversion.
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While the original writer of this classic tune is disputed and there has been much drama regarding things like licensing fees, despite it being a ‘public domain’ song, which means that anyone can play it and use the song even if they are earning money from it.
Just using the chords G, D and C you can perform the entire song. You can play the melody as single notes, or if you’re also singing at the same time we recommend playing the full ‘open chord’ version as provided in the video lesson and tab to give it a thicker and more full sound.
Hound Dog by Elvis Presley
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Originally written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stolle for the group Big Mama Thornton, it’s a classic twelve-bar blues piece that, due to its iconic nature, has been recorded over 250 times. But by far the most well known and popular rendition has been by Elvis Presley, who most people believe wrote the song, this version has been ranked as the 19th greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
For this song, you’ll only need the three chords A, D, and E. And you’ll be using them in the classic blues formula which is 4 bars of A, 2 bars of D, 2 bars of A again, then to turn it around you’ll have 1 bar of E and 1 bar of D, then finally 2 bars of A, totaling 12.
La Bamba by Ritchie Valens
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Not really credited to a particular artist, La Bama is more of a traditional Mexican folk song that can be traced back all the way to the 1930s. So while there is technically no singular artist credited with the song as it has been performed so many times, the Ritchie Valens is a more rock n roll version that follows a more traditional and familiar song structure with a verse and chorus.
Easily playable with just the chords C, F, and G, although there are some single note passages in there too. It’s all exceptionally easy to play and is going to be a lot of fun for any beginner to learn. This also works on both acoustic and electric guitar.
Leaving on a Jet Plane by John Denver
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Another folk classic from John which was originally recorded just in demo form which he gave out as Christmas presents. It would later be recorded fully for this album ‘Rhymes & Reasons’. The song describes John’s lonely and anguished feelings that he experienced when he needed to travel for work and had to leave the people he loved dearly at home for extended periods.
You’ll just be strumming at a nice and steady pace with a simple pattern. This makes the song exceptionally easy to sing and play at the same time if you were so inclined. You’ll also just be using the three chords G, C, and D which you can play in their regular open positions.
Louie Louie by The Kingsmen
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Another one you might already recognize for its various renditions that have been used in popular media such as television and movies. It’s also been re-recorded by various artists using a more modern production. But the one we are playing today is the original, and classic, 1957 rhythm and blues one composed by Richard Berry. Which tells the story of a Jamaican sailor returning back home to see his girlfriend.
Just using the A, D, and Em chords, you’ll be using a ‘burst’ style of strumming where you’ll strike the chord a few times and then need to quickly mute the strings for a small pause, then move onto the next chord. You can use the outer palm of your right hand to lightly press the strings to mute them as your left hand lifts off the frets and you should achieve those quick and tight mutes.
Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum
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Written by rock powerhouse Norman Greenbaum after he watched Porter Wagoner sing a gospel song on TV and decided to try his own hand at it. He didn’t know anything about Gospel music and has said he wrote the lyrics in about 15 minutes. The song was a great success and sold over 2 million copies, and became the lead single from the album of the same name.
For this song, you’ll just need the chords, A, D, and C. Although they are outlined in a more rock ‘n’ roll bluesy way to fit on the electric guitar. If you wish to play this on acoustic you can easily just play them as open chords as there is also an acoustic guitar underpinning the electric parts on the original recording.
The Gambler by Kenny Rogers
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This was a song originally written by multi-Grammy award-winning songwriter Don Schlitz. But it’s also been recorded by several other artists, the most popular of which is Kenny Rogers who used it as the lead single for his album of the same name. After Kenny’s version, the song became a huge commercial success and it hit the number 1 on multiple pop charts.
Here you’ll just need the chords E, A, and B (or you can also use B7 here if you know how to play that). The original has more of a finger-style approach, however the video tab details a super easy strummed chord version which is much nicer to play, so depending on your confidence level you can pick which one suits you best.
Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen
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From Bruce’s first solo album released in 1982. The song is written from the perspective of Charles Starkweather who murdered 11 people, a dark theme for a powerful song. He became inspired to write this after watching a movie called ‘Badlands’ on television.
The song is primarily played with some single note lines, but do feel free to strum them if it makes it easier for you. The chords you will use for this song are A, D, and G.
The Tide Is High by Blondie
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This song wasn’t originally written by Blondie, it was written by John Holt for the group ‘The Paragons’ for their ‘On The Beach album’. But by far the most well known (and commercially successful) version was by Blondie for her ‘Autoamerican’ album which has an accompanying music video that is currently at over 7 million views on YouTube.
For this song, you’ll be using the chords A, D, and E with an extremely simple strumming pattern. One important thing to note is that the original recording is slightly flat, so you might need to tune your guitar up just a tad to match the tuning of the original song. Don’t worry, it’s a minor adjustment and doesn’t require any change of strings.
Three Little Birds by Bob Marley
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A classic reggae song from the master himself, Mr. Bob Marley. This was one of his most successful singles and was able to reach the number 20 spot on the UK charts. It’s not 100% clear what inspired this song, but it’s known that Bob used to refer to his three backup singers as his ‘little birds’ so it’s very possible the song is in reference to them.
Reggae can sometimes be a little tricky to play for a beginner due to the rhythmic timings and strumming patterns. Fortunately, this one is very simple to play as you can just use all downstrokes on each quarter note using the chords A, D, and E. Both the video tab and supplied tab detail how to do this so you can just follow that.
Wild Thing by The Troggs
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In keeping with the theme of re-recording that become more popular than their original renditions. This was originally written by Chip Taylor but most of its commercial success and notoriety can be credited to the Troggs 1966 single. It hit the number 1 spot on the UK Billboard 100 and was ranked as one of the best songs of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
Here you’ll just be using the chords A, E, and D, super simple! This one is also extra easy to play as most of the chords are left to ring out or be ‘sustained’ meaning you don’t need to pay much attention to tight mutes at a specific time.
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A humongous single from Blink 182’s legendary album ‘Enema of the State’. It was purposely (and this is confirmed by the band themselves) written to be simple, catchy, and basic as it was intended specifically for radio play. The accompanying music video mocks many of the late 90’s boy bands by parodying them which received very heavy exposure from MTV music who enjoyed it a lot.
For this song, you’ll be using the chords C, F, and G. But you won’t always be playing them in their open chord format, you’ll primarily be using power chords which only require you to play the root, the 5th, and depending on how you feel the octave can be included too. It’s also a heavier song so feel free to crank the gain up a bit!
Blowin In The Wind by Bob Dylan
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A well-known track from Bob’s ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ album. It’s been described as a protest song that tackles a lot of issues to do with injustice but also serves as a critique towards those who turn their head away when they witness injustice instead of acting.
Here you just need the chords G, C, and D. There are a few inversions of these chords you’ll need to be aware of but it’s detailed very clearly in the supplied video lesson. You’ll also need a capo on the 7th fret to make the chords easier to hold.
Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis
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While there are various renditions of this song around, the Jerry Lee Lewis one is by far the most popular and was also very notable for its inclusion in the popular movie ‘Jamboree’. It’s also been ranked as one of the best songs of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine and it was one of the best selling singles of that era.
This song uses mostly single note, bluesy motifs with the odd bit of phrasing such as a bend thrown in. You essentially outline a C, F, G progression but they are used in more of a ‘riff’ style as opposed to an open chord style.
Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen
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Taken from Bruce’s 1985 release ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ The song is about a man who is reminiscing back on his life, particularly through high schools which he deems as being his ‘glory days’. It charted on the US Billboard 100 and has an accompanying music video which is currently sitting at 47 million views on YouTube.
This song has a bit of a blues/country flair, utilizing some techniques like hammer ons and pull-offs around the minor pentatonic shapes. Fundamentally you’ll be outlining the chords A, D, and E but they’ll be played in a bit more of a rock fashion using mostly 2 and 3 string versions of the chords.
Come on Everybody by Eddie Cochran
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This is a B side single written by Eddie Cochran and Jerry Capehart, there is also an alternate version of this song floating around called ‘Let’s Get Together’ which instrumentally is the same, it’s just a few of the lyrics are swapped around. This song charted highly in the UK at the number 6 position and even hit the number 35 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Just using three simple chords, E, A, and B7 is enough to play this song in its entirety. And there’s a very simple eighth-note strumming pattern used, nothing should pose any challenge even to the newest of players.
Love Me Do by The Beatles
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We all know that the Beatles went on to be the biggest band of all time, literally changing the face of pop and popular music. But this is where it started, the first single, originally it was only released in the UK to mediocre chart and public reception, but once it was released in the US it jumped to the number 1 position and skyrocketed the band’s career.
You’ll just be using the chords D, A, and E here, the strumming pattern is also very comfortable and easy for beginners to play. With these big 5 or 6 string open chords try to ensure each note of the chord can be heard clearly and that nothing is getting choked out.
Marry You by Bruno Mars
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Bruno was able to make a big impact right from the start with his debut album ‘Doo-Wops & Hooligans’, of which this was a single of. Although this wasn’t released as a single it did somehow manage to get on the US chart hitting the number 85 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Because of its subject of ‘spontaneous marriage,’ it’s often used as a proposal song, further adding to its popularity.
This song uses the chords D, Em, and G and you’ll also need a capo on the third fret to make the chords easier to hold. The strumming pattern is also very simple and easily accessible to players of any skill level.
TNT – AC/DC
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Heading into the heavier side of things with Australian rock legends AC/DC. This song is the title track from their album of the same name (which was called High Voltage internationally). It’s a popular classic from the band that follows all the beats of what makes a great AC/DC song, soaring riffs and catchy, powerful vocals.
This song is full of power chords, microbends, and rhythmic pauses to keep you interested and engaged as you play. It’s all easy stuff and won’t pose any technical challenge, it’s a great way to get into the heavier styles of music. The song uses the chords E, G, and A.
Love is a Rose by Neil Young
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This song has a bit of an interesting compositional timeline, where it was originally recorded in 1974 for the ‘Homegrown’ album which was released 3 years later on a compilation album. But the melody for this song was actually from a different song called ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’ which would be released many years later.
You’ll be using the chords G, C, and D for this song which are played in a very comfortable and regular strumming pattern. The tablature might look like you need to target very specific sets of strings but once you have learned the strumming pattern you should find it falls into place pretty naturally.
Bottoms Up by Brantley Gilbert
A classic from American country rock artist Brantley Gilbert from his third studio album titled ‘Just as I am’. It’s a fairly straightforward endeavor lyrically that follows a man asking a lady to party with him by saying ‘tonight it’s bottoms up’. It achieved very good commercial success selling over 1 million copies.
For this song, you’ll be using the chords D, Cadd9, and Em7. In the original song, these chords are arpeggiated or played 1 note at a time instead of strummed. But do feel free to strum these if it’s easier for you.