When you first start learning to strum the guitar, you start itching to really play it. But many songs you would like to play are just not within your skill set....yet! Here is a list of more than a dozen super easy songs that even a beginner can actually play. Not only will you be able to play rhythm guitar on these easy songs with a minimum amount of trouble, you can learn something new from each one and steadily improve your skills- all while strumming real songs.
All of these songs feature easy chord progressions, some at a faster tempo than others. They all use simple, open chords. Once you can confidently strum rhythm on these easy progressions, challenge yourself to learn some of the lead lines and solos featured in these songs, as well.
Easy Beginner Songs to Play on Acoustic Guitar
Horse With No Name - AmericaAmerica is a great band to listen to if you play acoustic guitar; they will certainly inspire you. This song may be the easiest song to play rhythm guitar of all time. You can play the whole song using just 2 chords! One of them happens to be one of the easiest chords of all, E minor. The other chord is the new thing you will learn here, since it is not a common chord, and the name makes it sound complicated- D6/add9/F# (I have also seen this chord labeled D2). But it is easy, as easy as the E minor in fact, with just 2 fingers, on the same 2nd fret, this time on the low E and G strings. Try switching between these chords and I am sure you will agree that this is the easiest chord change ever. These chords change on every measure, but try counting them differently to develop the rhythm for this song. On Em, count 1-2-3-and-4, and then on the other chord, count 1-2-and-3and-4 and- before switching back to 1-2-3-and-4 again when you move back to the E minor chord. This song is a great place to learn about the different rhythmic variations achievable by changing between up and down strokes.
Broken - Jack JohnsonJack Johnson is one of those classic artists that most everyone can enjoy. He writes interesting songs and you could learn a lot from him. He tends to rely on barre chords for his signature sound, though, so a lot of his songs are not so easy to play. This song is gorgeous but couldn't be simpler to play rhythm. This was the very first song that I managed to really play. It's in the key of D and the only changes are from D to G back to D in the verses, and Em, G, D for the chorus. Listen to the solos on this track to learn important lessons about dynamics!
Sloop John B.- traditional, the Beach Boys, othersThis song has been recorded in several keys. It is super easy to play, especially in the key of G, which is most favorable for guitar. The progression in this key would be G-D-G-C-Am-G-D-G, but you will find yourself vamping on G for most all of this song. Because of this, this is a good song to practice making arpeggios of the chords- that is, picking the strings one at a time rather than strumming the full chord. Listen to Dwight Yoakam's stirring performance of this song on youtube for a wonderful example of this. Dwight is playing the song using the G chord family shapes as listed above.
Green River- Creedence Clearwater RevivalThis fun song vamps almost exclusively on E and E7 chords; you can forget about chord changing at all for most of this song. The only changes are a couple of bars each of C and A, near the end of each verse. This song is a great choice for learning an easy lead part, and is what gives the song it's fun.
Bad Moon Rising- Creedence Clearwater RevivalThis one is pretty fast, and so is great practice in playing at faster tempos. It is an easy, simple, progression using only 3 chords. There are 2 repeating sections, verses with a D-A-G-D turnaround, and chorus progression G-D-A-G-D. The bouncy tempo makes this great fun to play, but the lyrics sure are depressing! Maybe a fun song for a parody or to change the lyrics, if you don't enjoy the original lyrics. Start playing this more slowly, at an even tempo, and gradually work up to playing at full speed in no time at all.
Islands in the Sun-WeezerJust an easy four chord turnaround of Em, Am, D, G, and so much fun to play! The bridge part goes D, G, D, G, C, Am, D. Get the strum pattern right to nail this song; on the D you'll do a couple quick upstrokes.
Wagon Wheel- OCMS, Darius Rucker, othersThis popular song is fun to play. The whole song is one ever repeating turnaround, or looked at another way, 2 turnarounds strung together and repeating. Using a capo on three, play this G-D-E minor-C, G-D-C. There are some variation to the strumming style and speed in different parts of the song, so that no one gets bored playing this crowd favorite fun song. Just listen and you will easily hear where to slow down your strumming.
Teach Your Children Well- Crosby Stills and NashHere's another beautiful song that is just straightforward with a simple chord progression. This one is particularly easy because of having slow chord changes for much of the song, although beware of the B minor that suddenly appears and a quick trickiness to the turnaround at the end of the verses. Don't be daunted; this is an easy song and you should be able to play it without much trouble!
The One I Love- REMWhat a striking and gorgeous song, and the chords are easy peasy to play. There are lots of opportunities here for ornamentation and embellishment and variation. For example, you could play this song passably using just 5 easy chords (Em, Dsus2,G,D, Aminor) but adding in the (also easy) E minor 7 to the progression, rather than sticking to Em, lends a beautiful difference when playing this song. You can also choose A minor 7,and even G sus 4, rather than G, chords to sweeten your version of this song and expand your chord knowledge. Do learn the lead line when you get to that level, it is superb and definitely not difficult.
Zombie- The CranberriesThis song is made entirely of one rocking, hard edged easy progression. Try strumming this pattern: down-down-up-up-down-up-down-up. There are a few different easy variations in the way you could strum this chord progression. You could play it as Em-C-G-D/F#- and then back to E minor to repeat the turnaround. This is not hard to do if you use your thumb to fret the F# found on the second fret of the 6th (low E) string while holding the D chord on the higher strings (for the slash chord). An easier way to play this, particularly if you happen to be playing an electric guitar, or even if you are playing on an acoustic, is to play E minor- Cmajor7-"half G," with just the G and C notes on the 5th and 6th strings fretted and all other strings ringing open- and then just F#, holding down only the F# note on the fattest, 6th, string. You will see that this way of playing these chords is about as easy as it gets and you won't find many songs easier to play than this.
Talking About A Revolution, Tracy ChapmanYou might not think this song is easy the first time you try to play it! It is a QUICK, ever repeating turnaround of G-Cadd9-Em-D-Dsus4. You strum down twice on the G, up-up-down up on the C add9, down twice on the Eminor, up once on D, once up again on Dsus4, then down up again on the D sus4. Then back to two down strums on G again, and repeat for the length of the song! It's quick changes, and my fingers were tripping all over themselves when I first tried to play this song. It took me a couple of days of practicing to get these quick changes down. But once I got it, I had it, and there's the whole song. Trying to sing it while playing is another level of challenge, but this song is great practice at that essential skill.
Fast Car- Tracy ChapmanOnce you get Talking About a Revolution under your fingers, you can play the chords for another Tracy Chapman hit, Fast Car, which uses a similar progression of Cmaj7-G-Em-Dadd11, with a capo on 2. Try it and you will see how the turnaround progression for these songs are incredibly similar, as if one is simply a variation on the other. Both these songs sound intricately beautiful (and different despite their similarity) with sensitive playing, despite being deceptively simple. This song has a chorus that uses a different progression,going from C to E minor to D.
Proud Mary- Creedence Clearwater RevivalThis one will stretch your skills by switching between A and B chords, and with the quick chordal riff of C-A-C-A-G-F-G-D which takes practice to master, but this song is a lot of fun and not difficult to play. There are a few different fun, easy riffs here. However, you stay on the D chord for most of this song.
Beautiful Brown Eyes- traditionalThis song was recorded by a slew of artists and is one of the easiest songs to play on this list. My favorite version is by Gene Vincent. Play it in the easy key of G like this: G-C-G-D (or D7)-G-C-D (or D7)-G. If brown eyes aren't your favorite, plenty of folks have changed the lyrics for this song to Beautiful Blue Eyes or Beautiful Green Eyes. There are a lot of different subsequent verses for this, or you can do like I did and just make up a few of your own.
While you will definitely find some of these songs to be easier than others, these are each great choices for a beginner guitarist to learn. Work your way through this group of beginner songs and you will feel that your playing has progressed to a new level, and you will have picked up valuable new skills from each of these songs. The most important thing to remember is to have fun!
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*Ode to 972 Miles, photo courtesy of Frankie Leon, Flickr