Gifts From the Guitar Gods – Easy Songs that Sound Hard

“Hey Zeus, check out this cool riff I learned!”

A couple days ago a Notebook reader was telling me how much she was enjoying learning “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd, and asked me if there were some similar songs I could recommend.

“Wish You Were Here” is such a great song for beginning and intermediate guitar players. Usually, gorgeous guitar songs are out of a beginner’s reach–a student will often ask me to teach them a song by a guitar god like Jimi Hendrix, John Mayer, Suzanne Vega, or Dave Matthews, and I have to either simplify the song until it’s barely recognizable, or tell the student to wait (which throws my little teacher’s heart into spasms).

But every once in a while, the guitar gods hand us a gift–a song that’s both beautiful and easy to play.

Here’s a list of Gifts From the Guitar Gods, starting with the easiest songs I know for total beginners, and ending with some divine intermediate songs for mortal fingers. Most titles are linked to chord charts I’ve written for my students. For the songs that involve more than simple strumming, I recommend searching for “tabs” or “tablature” on the internet, or using PowerTab Editor.

Gifts for Total Beginners

These are the most common songs and riffs I use in the first few lessons with my beginner students.

For What it’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield – No one knows the name of this song, but most adults recognize it by ear. It can be played with just two chords (E and A) if you simplify the chorus. It’s the easiest guitar song I know, and it sounds great when I play the electric guitar riff over it. Use the folk strum.

Eleanor Rigby – Beatles – My guitar arrangement of this song has just two chords during the verses (Em and C), and a very cool-sounding voice leading part in the chorus (Em7, Em6, C, Em). I teach it using the folk strum or 8th note downstrums. With really young kids–5 through 8 years old–I mute the three bass strings with a piece of felt. Then they can play the whole song using just one finger on the second string: 3rd fret for Em7, 2nd for Em6, 1st for C, and open for Em. When I play along to fill in the bass notes, it sounds great.

Good Riddance – Green Day – Most of my younger students are into the pop-punk bands like Blink 182, Bowling for Soup, Sum 41, All American Rejects, Good Charlotte, and of course, Green Day. Unfortunately, most require power chords, which are easy to play after a few months of practice, but what do you do in the mean time? Most easy songs sound like Mary Had a Little Lamb to these kids’ ears. Thank goodness for Good Riddance–a four-chord acoustic song that, when slowed down and strummed using the folk strum, is easy but still rocks

Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple – Young students are often best introduced to the guitar with single-note riffs or licks instead of chords. The Smoke on the Water riff, played in “E” on the 6th string, is super-easy and sounds cool. If students want to learn the whole song, I re-tune them to drop-D and have them play power chords on the 6th and 5th strings.

The First Cut is the Deepest – Sheryl Crow – Just four easy chords. Listen to little Helena Klein, just 7 years old at the time this was filmed, sing this at one of my Coffee Shop Jams.

Be Here to Love Me – Norah Jones – Not a very well-known song, but if you love Norah, you’ll love this one. Four easy chords.

Come as You Are – Nirvana – If you strum this song in Em (using, you guessed it, the folk strum pattern), it’s just four easy chords. Another favorite first song for beginning rockers.

Wasting Time – Jack Johnson – A simple bass-strum song by a pro-surfer-turned-moviemaker-turned-musician. It’s nice and slow but my students always rush it. I’ve found that imagining you’re sitting under a palm tree on Maui helps to keep the tempo down.

Gifts for Intermediate Players

Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd – The intro to this song is made easier by a technique used in many sounds-hard-but-isn’t songs. The third and fourth fingers are parked on the second and first strings, third fret, creating a G chord if you strum the 1st through 4th strings. The first and second fingers cruise around the bass strings, changing the bass notes from G to A to C to B, to create different variations on the G chord. I call these songs G-whiz songs, as in, “G-whiz, I can actually play this!”

Closer to Fine – Indigo Girls – Another G-whiz song, and a campfire favorite.

Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town – Pearl Jam – Yet another G-whiz song. Easier to play than it is to say!

All I Want is You – U2G-whiz, another one?! You could spend your whole career playing guitar in the key of G and never get bored….

Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Green Day – Once my Green-Day-obsessed students learn Good Riddance, they often graduate to this song. All the chords are easy except for the B chord, which I have them play as a power chord at the 7th fret, 6th and 5th strings. They usually
have to slow down for that one chord, but it’s a small price to pay for being able to rock like Billy Joe Armstrong!

Building a Mystery (live acoustic version) – Sarah McLachlan – The guitar part is kind of complicated, with little embellishments at every turn, but they’re all nice and ergonomic–no big stretches or difficult picking.

Cannonball – Damien Rice – One of my recent discoveries, Cannonball is a great two-guitar song, with a G-whiz rhythm guitar part and an easy-but-hard-sounding lead riff.

Over the Hills and Far Away – Led Zeppelin – This is a challenging song for a beginning or intermediate guitarist–it’s fast and furious the whole way through–but Jimmy Page divides the work between the left and right hands through liberal use of hammer-ons and pull-offs. I learned this song in high school, and got by for the next ten years having terrible right hand technique–I just hammered-on and pulled-off every note that was too fast to pick. Just think of what you can do if you learn this song AND practice scales every once in a while!

Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin – I’ll never forget my buddy Paul McCann telling me “You gotta hear this song by this band Led Zeppelin! It’s like eight minutes long and it starts off all slow and then it starts rockin’ and I think it’s about suicide!” Since then, I’ve heard Stairway to Heaven approximately 7 gazillion times, and I still like playing it. The intro/verse progression is lovely, and it’s easy to fret and pick.

I hope you have fun with these Gifts From the Guitar Gods. What’s that? You were hoping for a ’58 Gibson Les Paul? Sheesh….

Comments 110

  1. BB

    Hi Rob,
    Just letting you know I really enjoy your blog. I play around on the guitar myself. I use to play in a church music group but just play at home now every so often.

    I’ll be back 😎

  2. underdog2win

    Other easy songs are: House of the Rising Sun, Pigs on the Wing & Mother by Pink Floyd, Basket Case by Green Day, Blackbird by the Beatles, Dust in the Wind, Harvest Moon by Neil Young, Give a Little Bit by Supertramp, Times Like These by The Foo Fighters, Behind Blue Eyes by The Who, City of New Orleans by Arlo Guthrie, Bring it on Home by Led Zep and Iron Man.

  3. Rob

    Great list! These are more of the kinds of songs I’m talking about–Blackbird has this droning open G string that covers your tracks as you move from one chord shape to the next, and Harvest Moon has this lovely hook that also takes advantage of droning open strings as you play chord shapes high up the neck. Thanks Underdog.

  4. My Eyes Love You

    Rob,
    Hey, u have a nice blog 2! I never expected someone’d really read mine tho ^^. I started to play guitar a few years ago, first I play folk, pop, and rock tho. My favor back at then was Jim Croce, and I still love him so much. As I grow up, things started to change, started to like those big guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, SRV, Van Halen… That’s when I start to really learn guitar.
    Used to just play around, but as I start to make my own money, I started to invest more on this, I think I keep doing that so I will just play this thing until the day I die!! Of course, started w/ a cheap guitar, n a better one, n I think I just found my dream one last christmas. I dunno what u think, but I like Ibanez, coz I love Joe Satriani ^^. Fender is good of course, but I dun really like single coil, humbuckers sound better to me, that’s why I pick it. And, most fender are out of my budget 😛
    PowerTab, that’s my favor ever! I first come up w/ guitarpro, but… it’s kinda weird, and i have to pay for that. The best thing about powertab, it’s free ^^, and it’s powerful. I’m also using it to learn little wing. Voodoo Child (haven’t started yet), JS’s songs…. a good way to start learning.
    Intermediate song… what bout GNR’s patience? RHCP’s under the bridge? Those 2 songs sound kinda easy, mostlh strumming, rite? Santana’s El Foral is a good one 2.
    Keep going, u really have a nice blog ^^

  5. Rob

    Gosh, I haven’t heard Patience in years! That was a favorite guitar song when I was in high school. It’s great for practicing suspended chords.

    Under the Bridge is a sweet song, and if you use open chords in the key of D, it is relatively easy–except for the Ebmaj7 at the end! Yikes!

  6. Axel Olsson

    Hi Rob and thanks for the tip, could really use some more advanced tutoring, after all I’ve just about learned everything I know now by myself.

    You’re site isn’t bad at ALL keep up the excellent work man. Too bad I’m in Sweden… the music teaching isn’t what It used to be.
    Well well, guess I’ll see you around some time, I’d be priveliged to link your site man.

    Have a good one / Axel

  7. jake

    hey man thanks alot i have rly impresed my parents with these songs im only 13 and i didnt think i would eva learn stairway to hevan thz soo much now i can show my band membembers remeber our band name cause 1 day it will be famous….GONE WITHOUT NOTICE…thz again

  8. Jax

    Hi. Thanks for the Jack Johnson and Sheryl Crow song. I’m a very new student and I’m looking forward to trying these. Do you have any more Jack or Tristan Prettyman songs?

    Thanks!

  9. Rob

    No Abbie, sorry. I just checked her out on iTunes—I’d heard her name but not her music—and she sounds great! Sooner or later one of my students is bound to request one of those songs…

  10. Dan

    Hi, The greenday – boulevard or broken dreams song has the chords needed to play the song but no strummin pattern, does it use the same strumming pattern as good riddance?

    Cheers

  11. Rob

    Hey Dan,

    Yeah, sorry about that—I wrote that song out before I started including strum patterns.

    Here’s the strum pattern. B=bass note:

    Verse:
    B B D DU
    1+2+3+4+

    Chorus:
    D D D DU
    1+2+3+4+

    Have Fun!

    Rob

  12. Dan

    hello again, cheers for the strumming pattern but whats the bass note? the lowest note of the chord?
    E.G) the bass note of Em and G is the 6th string and the bass note for D is the 4th string and the bass note for the A is the 5th string?

    Dan.

  13. John

    Just to let you know, when I click on both Led Zeppelin songs, it brings you to a different website and not the tab for those songs.

    Take care,
    John
    Thanks for all the great songs!!

  14. Rob

    Hey Vlad, yeah, the bass strumming is hard! Try this for the verses…

    D R D D U
    1+2+3+4+

    The “R” means “rest” – move your arm as if you were strumming down, but don’t hit the strings.

    Have fun!

  15. dave

    Hi, Great site. Have you ever thought about having students over the internet? I am just getting started and would pay for some additional pointers. Like for instance whats the strum pattern for elderly woman?

    thanks,

    dave

  16. Rob

    Bozza,

    There’s a lot going on in Cannonball–several guitar tracks doing different things–but this strum pattern works well (B=bass note):

    B B D DU
    1+2+3+4+

    Dave,

    Sorry, no distance learning (for pay, anyway). But the strum pattern for elderly woman is in 3/4…

    D DUDU
    1+2+3+

    Have fun!

    –Rob

  17. Dan

    hey hey, strumming pattern for The First Cut is the Deepest by Sheryl Crow? I can play all chords but to no pattern. would appreciate any help.
    Cheers
    Dan.

  18. Frank

    Hey! I’m a fellow guitarist and i’m only 12! I really needed the chords for Boulevard of Broken Dreams… Thnx for the chords. I figured out the strum pattern my self to sound more like my style.

    C ya

  19. Logan

    Hey! I’m a begining guitar player, I really liked your lesson on Folsom Prison Blues, can you post anymore Johnny Cash solo’s including Get Rhythm?
    Thanks!

  20. Brett

    Maaaate….

    This is fantatsic, I am all the way “down under” and I love your site. Just been to the Chris Isaak shows down here in Melbourne, great shows and some great songs, not just his but he also threw in one from Elvis and Buddy Holly.

    Can you tab/chord a few of his songs?

    Cheers
    Brett

  21. Tony

    Hey man
    I apriciate you posting some guitar tabs on the internet that are reliable (which is becoming rather rare) Some good songs for begginers you may want to post might be About A Girl-Nirvana, Heaven Beside You-Alice In Chains, This Lullaby-Queens Of The Stone Age, and Paint It Black-Rolling Stones. There reletivly easy songs that sound great. You cater to much to the punk wild kids.(ever notice all punk sounds like it was done by the same winy, prepubesnt kid that only knows power chords?)

  22. Erik

    I really love blogs like yours. Im from sweden and each and every blog you find written by a swede is either made by some dumb-ass commie or some extreme-feminist retard. Love your work, really makes me wanna move to Seattle : ) I have a few songs you might be interested in:
    1. Oh sister by Bob Dylan – Great song with easy chords.
    2. Helpless by Neil Young – One of my favorite songs to play on the guitar and listen to as well. Easy chords and it also gives you opportunity to try some easy harmonica tunes as you play it.

    Do you teach harmonica as well? If you don’t play harmonica at all I strongly recommend you to buy one and try it out, so much fun! A good song to start out with is Heart of gold by Neil Young, or the other Neil Young song i mentioned.

    Your doing the internet a huge favor by keeping this site up-to-date, thx!

  23. Ron Ferguson

    Wow – I have recently been seeing traces of your stuff while searching. And you have been given the highest recommendation from the website called http://www.howtotuneaguitar.org/. Thanks for your material. Your concept of placing fingering over the chord numbers is excellent, although I would have used x and T in with them if only for the spacing and consistency. Thanks for everything. Ron

  24. Hankster

    Hey thanks, just found you, 52 years young and ready to turn my fantasies into reality! Now here I am bogged down in semantics, BUT on your “Guide to reading chord charts” page you state: When chords are up on the tenth fret and above, I type every other fret number in bold for easier reading. I know, it’s ugly….

    T 123
    C: 8x1098x

    Question 1: Isn’t that impossible? shouldn’t it be: T 321

    Question 2: How do you skip the x strings and still hit the others? is this fingerpicking?

    Now I’m gonna try that SMOKE ON THE WATER while I await a reply-thanksamillion and ROCK ON!!!

  25. Rob

    Hey Hankster,

    Yikes, thanks for catching that bad chord chart. You’re right.

    As for Q2: If you’re strumming, you mute the 5th string with the tip of either the thumb or the third finger. If you’re fingerpicking, muting is optional, obviously.

    Glad you found my site–have fun!

    Rob

  26. bluesman

    chords are alright but waht about some good solos with some real standard notation(pickin not strumin(not chords!!) ). Maybe some eric clapton or some jimi hendrix. or SRV

  27. Jeff

    Love your website. I’m a beginning guitarist and you’ve got lots of great tips and songs with chords.

    One thing is really bugging me though: “The First Cut Is The Deepest” is *not* by Sheryl Crow, it’s by Cat Stevens. I’m sure you know this but many younger people don’t. (I feel old now)

  28. JulieK8

    Hey! Another SUPER easy song to play is Horse With No Name-America. The chords are Em and Dadd6add9 .. if you’re not familiar with that chord you just put your fingers on the Em chord, move your middle finger up one string and your ring finger down one string, and that’s Dadd6add9! Best beginner song in my opinion! =)

  29. Chris Fellowes

    Horse with No Name can be played as Julie says but in a recent Guitar Mag, this song is not in Standard Tuning, sorry, can”t remember the actual tuning. If you get the actual tuning its still simple though. Green Day Wake me up when September Ends, also very easy

  30. Muso

    Great Site. Great Information. Thorooughly have enjoyed all that I’ve browsed through so far.

    Just wandered on here today, looking for some extra info or resources for teaching guitar.

    Some ideas (for anyone who is interested) for teaching children … take some songs from their favourite movies or cartoons, this makes the child more interested or motivated to practice… something that is familiar and fun for them.

    Shrek has a few easy songs :-
    .. I’m A Believer (Monkees)
    .. 500 Miles (Proclaimers)
    .. I’m On My Way (Proclaimers)

    Some other easy songs I teach beginners:-
    .. Blue Suede Shoes
    .. Catch My Disease
    .. Lion Sleeps Tonight
    .. Rocking All Over the World (12 bar blues style)
    .. Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) has alot of easy to play songs also.

    There are heaps of songs to teach beginners. Too many to list them all.

    I also find that if a song is too hard for the student, and if they REALLY want to be able to play it, Try teaching them the melody of the song using tablature.

    I agree with you : it has to be fun for the student, teach them songs that they want to learn. Every song can be used to demonstrate some part of musical aspect .. whether it be rhythm, strumming, picking, embellishments, etc….

    Cheers, (from Australia)
    Keep up the good work on the website.
    🙂

  31. chris

    hey awsome website…great for beginners like myself. by chance can i get the strum patterns for the norah jones songs….my wife really loves “come away with me” thanks

  32. boggz

    hey im a beginner on guitar and like most people have taught myself everything i know but i need help with the strumming pattern for
    the proclaimers – 500 miles
    rocking all other the world

    cheers (england)

  33. JC

    This site is really awsome I must say, thank you thank you thank you! I just started playing guitar but I don’t take lessons so I’m just poking around for tutorials, advice and what not online and real life and this has been a real help. You also have a large variety of tabs [most of them I really like]
    Keep being Awsome,
    JC

  34. shane

    just thought you should know, elanor rigby is not the name of that song, its all the lonely people. i just thought people might wanna try playing along to the songs, and having the correct names allways helps

  35. Jane

    In response to post 69 by Shane, it is called Eleanor Rigby. I know Eleanor isn’t in it much, and All The Lonely People is in the chorus, but I ripped it from my Beatles CD and that’s what it’s called.

    Also, when pointing out a mistake, it’s politer to email it and not word it in a rude way.

  36. Bobby

    JET has a lot of pretty easy songs (you probably know them best for the song “are you gonna be my girl” and “cold hard bitch”

    however I would try “move on” or “come around”. They are also great with first trying to get used to singing while playing

  37. Tom

    Hi everyone, here is my list of easy main riffs/ songs/ intro’s for beginners:

    – seven nation army – the white stripes
    – smoke on the water – deep purple
    – sunshine of your love(tip)- cream
    – black magic woman – santana
    – killing in the name – RATM
    – rock you like a hurricane – the scorpions
    – one (intro lol) – metallica
    – my girl – (forgot name)
    – iron man – black sabbath
    – turning japanese – (forgot name)
    – the godfather (theme song)-
    – assassin – muse
    – come as you are – nirvana
    – the simpsons theme –
    – sweet child ‘o mine – guns ‘n roses
    – smells like teen spirit – nirvana
    – she builds quick machines – velvet revolver
    – just like you – three days grace
    – monsters – matchbook romance
    – perfect world – simple plan
    – 96 quite bitter beings – CKY
    – twinkle twinkle little star –
    – happy birthday –
    – jingle bells –

    Sorry i forgot a few names. I hope this helps 🙂

    PS: im not rlly good with chords, so these are extra easy

  38. mike doig

    great site rob.im teaching myself guitar until im good enough for a lesson but struggling with strumming patterns,you dont happen to know the pattern for staind’s it’s been a while,by any chance

  39. Tom

    Rob,
    You have the best site on the net. You provide good insight on what songs to play. I just wish I lived in Seattle to get on your waiting list. I live on the east coast in DC so that will never happen. Thanks for the great information
    Tom

  40. monica

    I have only been playing for a month,and I really want to learn a good rock song,I have been working on Driftaway by Motley Crue,and still can’t get it to sound right.
    So I thought I would maybe try Smells like teen spirit by Nirvana,because I heard thats an easy one.Im a bit frusterated,not sure what is a good beginner rock song to learn for a very beginer..

  41. monica

    oh and by the way im a lefty,so I have to always turn every thing around so it makes sense for me…
    wich adds to my frusteration,but im not giving up,I have a drive a passion if you will,to learn.

  42. Mike Green

    All I can say is WOW. You have got a great site here! I’m a 40 yr old beginner and this info is EXACTLY what I was looking for. Thank you SO much and keep up the incredible work.

  43. Graham

    wow. this is the BEST AND MOST HELPFUL WEBSITE EVERRR!!!!!!!!!! this is exactly what i need. do you have:

    bon jovi
    queen
    rush
    switchfoot

    thx for all the music i am 10 and from canada and learning acoustic guitar and needed music. could you tell me where the monkees is? thx.

    1. Rob

      Hey Graham,

      Glad you’re digging the music here. Welcome!

      I don’t have music by any of those artists, but I’ll bet you can find some at Ultimate Guitar (just google it).

      Have fun,

      Rob

  44. Jay

    Beast and the Harlot by Avenged Sevenfold, just teach yourself to tremolo pick and it very easy. I suggest only learning the beginning

    |------------------------------------------|
    |------------------------------------------|
    |00000[15]0000[17]0000[18]0000[17]0000[15]b|
    |------------------------------------------|
    |------------------------------------------|
    |------------------------------------------|
    

    There is a small piece for you

  45. ama

    Thanks a lot! Enjoying trying out the songs, and the beginner ones are truly beginner. I can’t believe how fast I learned Eleanor Rigby, and it’s in the perfect range for my voice.

  46. Kevin

    Hi Rob. I’m a 2 and a half year beginner who stumbled on your site when looking for “easy songs that sound” great (slight paraphrase there). I picked up Outside by Stain’d which fits the tempo and tone of my voice.

    I have been on a search for songs that I can play easily and sing along to, so that I can fine tune my skills and develop as a player, before I try composing a few of the songs and poems I have been writing for 20 years (motivation enough to finally take up playing).

    I spotted a few songs on the list I’m going to listen to and perhaps learn to add to my growing repertoire. I do have a few suggestions, since I do tend to go for songs that are a bit off the beaten track (most beginners learn “house of the rising sun”, “enola gay”, etc).

    So I have a few suggestions which I played when I started learning;

    Echo & The Bunnymen – Nothing Lasts Forever (5 chords)
    Pulp – Common People (3 Chords)
    Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger (7 Chords)
    Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Yer So Bad (4 Chords)
    Willie Nelson / Elvis – Always On Your Mind (10 Chords)
    Green Day – Good Riddance (4 Chords)
    Mansun – Wide Open Space (5 Chords)
    Blue Oyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper (10 Chords album edit)
    Slade – Coz I Love You (3 Chords)
    Rose Royce – Car Wash (7 Chords)
    Fleetwood Mac – Don’t Stop (6 Chords)
    Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen In Love (with someone you shouldn’t have) (6 Chords)
    T-Rex – Get it on (3 Chords)
    Bob Marley – No Woman No Cry (5 Chords)
    Steve Harley Cockney Rebel – Make Me Smile (6 Chords)
    Rod Stewart – Maggie May (7 Chords)
    The Kinks – Lola (8 Chords)
    Dolly Parton – Jolene (3 Chords)

    Some of these are work in progress and others more advanced which would develop beginners skills with varying degrees of difficulty, incorporate some new (interesting) chords and use capos and barre chords. Hope that helps and we see some of these (with strum patterns) on your blog!

    Nice little site by the way. Keep up the good work!

    1. Post
      Author
  47. bannanaban

    my friend who is teaching me guitar decided for the end of the year he is giving an exam based of my school teachers rubric I have 15 days to learn something any suggestions?

    1. Post
      Author
  48. Jessica

    So, I just got my guitar a few weeks ago and I am learning to play. I only know the super simple basics. Eg. Holding, tuning and the G chord. That practically ALL i know… Got any tips for me???

    1. Post
      Author
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