What song should I learn on the guitar first?
March 26, 2008 6:54 AM   Subscribe

I've just bought my first guitar & amp. I want to teach myself. What songs are easy for a complete newcomer to pick up?

Right now I know one chord (D) and I am not very good at that but boy am I looking forward to learning chord no. 2. I have a teach yourself guitar book which I will work through, but I want to get onto proper songs as soon as possible.

Bonus points for things I like (Talking Heads, 90s Indie, New Wave, Springsteen...)
posted by handee to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (27 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Are you a fan of the Ramones or Nirvana? Because that would be a great place to start - Smells like Teen spirit, I wanna be sedated, etc couldn't possibly be any easier to play.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:02 AM on March 26, 2008

Forget the books. I tried learning guitar via book for about 6 months and quit. A year or so later I just started looking up tabs of songs that sounded "playable" to me (i.e. I was on an acoustic so anything that sounded like a simple acoustic guitar). A year or so later I could play Clapton's acoustic version of Layla in it's entirety. It's a really easy instrument to learn if you're trying to play songs you like, because the music will sound great to you, even while you're terrible.
posted by BirdD0g at 7:19 AM on March 26, 2008

If you're mainly concerned with being able to rock out, tabs are probably the way to go. You'll pick up fingering and strumming more quickly if you're working towards playing a song you like.

None the less, there is definitely value in having more formal training. I've done both. It depends on what you want from your playing experience.
posted by zpaine at 7:21 AM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

the first song i learned to play acoustically was wonderwall -- very easy strumming pattern, and your pinky and ring finger stay in the same spot during every single chord. highly recommended as a learning tool.
posted by modernnomad at 7:29 AM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

You're welcome to browse my del.icio.us page - mostly rock/folk, mostly basic chords suitable for the beginner.

Oh, and meet Chord No. 2
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:33 AM on March 26, 2008 [5 favorites]

I've had good luck just hitting up YouTube for quick lessons on popular songs. There's a huge spate of "How to Play Guitar Hero/Rock Band Songs on Guitar" videos up.

Songwise, I like playing the 12 bar blues, but I think it's driving my wife crazy.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:38 AM on March 26, 2008

Do not "forget the books." Get a few tab books. The kind made out of dead trees, not tab from the internet. You can't possibly know if the stuff online is valid -- I've seen some egregious errors.

Or buy a few issues of Guitar World -- a surprisingly intelligent magazine that always has tab for a few songs in each issue. Since they're trying to appeal to the broadest possible audience, Guitar World typically has at least one beginner's song mixed in with the more challenging ones. I read it a lot when I was learning guitar.

If I were in your position, I would get the Nirvana Unplugged DVD and the tab book of the Nirvana Unplugged album and go to town! This seems perfect: simple but great songs; all the guitar is clean (so you can hear the notes clearly); you can watch the DVD to see the chord formations, etc.

Other reliable choices would be Bob Dylan or some of the Beatles' more straighforward songs (for instance, go ahead and learn "I Should Have Known Better," but don't try to tackle the Abbey Road medley). If you want to focus on the alternative-rock power-chord type of guitar playing, there's plenty of easy-to-play music from the '90s -- examples of really easy, guitar-heavy albums with some great songs would be Green Day's Dookie and Hole's Live Through This (it doesn't get much more basic than "Doll Parts").

Or scrap all the suggestions in this thread and just try to make a list of a few guitar-heavy albums that you love to listen to that sound like they mostly have pretty simple guitar parts. Track down the tab and just start trying to learn songs by trial and error. This will, of course, be easier if you take lessons -- you could simply tell your instructor: "I want to take just enough lessons so that I can play these songs." The best songs for you to learn guitar are the songs you'll really want to play -- not necessarily the textbook beginner guitar songs.

And for God's sake, learn C, G, A, E, E minor, A minor, and D minor ASAP!
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:39 AM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Foreginer's Double Vision. That was my first.
posted by tr33hggr at 7:43 AM on March 26, 2008

The first song I learned to play was the Talking Heads' Psycho Killer. It's made of pretty basic, easy chords. Plus, it was an absolute favourite of mine at the time - so I was motivated.

Since you're a fan and you've got your D chord down, you might want to try the Talking Heads' Love -> Building on Fire.

And then Heaven, if you're really ambitious.
posted by hamfisted at 8:05 AM on March 26, 2008

Search YouTube for "Learn Guitar", as well as iTunes. I found all kinds of great podcasts and videos that helped me immeasurably.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:07 AM on March 26, 2008

Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd is a great easy song.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:10 AM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Neil Young's Heart of Gold is very simple - mostly E minor and D. I would totally recommend the Justin Guitar website if you're looking for some self-learning.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:11 AM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding "Wish You Were Here." It was the first song I learned.
posted by o0dano0o at 8:29 AM on March 26, 2008

Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd is a great easy song

I'd say the intro would be a little rough on a new player. Perhaps I'm thinking of the wrong song?

About.com has a list of easy songs.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:35 AM on March 26, 2008

Springsteen for ya:

Used Cars - three chords, D, A, and G

Of course, if you have a capo, you can always play songs in different keys by placing the capo so you're always leading off with the Dmajor chord shape. If there's a song in E you can put a capo on the 2nd fret and the D-shape chord you know will be in E.

You can also transpose songs into the key of D as well, although I don't recommend overdoing either - you don't want to get to enamored with just a D chord shape. Gotta learn 'em all to get better.
posted by DawgterFeelgood at 8:37 AM on March 26, 2008

Learn how to play power chords. You can have a lot of fun with just two or three strings.

I always thought that a guitarist should learn how to play bass first. Learn how to play the bassline, then add another string/note into the mix.

Learn to read tablature and chord files. You can play most songs with power chords. If you can learn how to switch between power chords quickly you are there!
posted by ps6000 at 8:45 AM on March 26, 2008

i agree with ps6000. once you learn , power chords a huge expanse of the rock universe opens up. if playing them with three fingers is too hard at first, just use two fingers.

some power chord-y tunes, off the top of my head:
wild thing
smoke on the water
iron man
jonathon fisk - spoon (there's a second guitar in there playing some high stuff, but you can get through it with just power chords)
umass - pixies (they use barre chords, but you can use power chords)

wilco has some great simple open chord tunes. "war on war" i think is only three chords: A, E, Bm. but Bm might be kind of tough for a beginner, but you can play the power chord until you can rock the full chord.

"california stars" is also just three chords i think: A, E, D.

"big dipper" by built to spill is just 4 chords -- A, F#m, Bm, Dm. i think they use barre chords, but until you get comfortable with them you can use power chords.

"magic trick" by m. ward is pretty much just 3 chords - C, F, and G. but F can be a hard one for a beginner.

"in the aeroplane over the sea" by neutral milk hotel is just 4 chords -- G, Em, C, D.

also, in my experience (i taught my self how to play using a chord book) i found the easiest open chords to learn were E and Am (which are are the same shape). after that C and G7 (which are similar shapes). because of their shape, those four are easy for the beginner to goof around with without tripping over your fingers. A and D were a little tougher, and F and B were the toughest. but that's just my opinion.
posted by blapst at 8:47 AM on March 26, 2008

Personally, I would learn all of your basic open chords and practice simple chord progressions until they are somewhat fluid. I know you didn't mention liking Bob Dylan, but I think you might find this site to be of great help. Best of luck!
posted by Rlocurto at 8:50 AM on March 26, 2008

oops, messed up that link Fixed
posted by Rlocurto at 8:52 AM on March 26, 2008

I don't know why I didn't say In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. But yes, that one. All the songs on that record are easy to play, chord-wise.

Also there are lots of great easy Leonard Cohen songs, like So Long Marianne.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:38 AM on March 26, 2008

This is a good first book and very inexpensive, particularly used. Look at the "search inside" feature. Not only does it teach chords, it gives you some nice chord patterns to practice. It can make you sound really good quite early in your guitar career, IMHO.
posted by wittgenstein at 10:04 AM on March 26, 2008

90s indie? "Linger" by the Cranberries is INCREDIBLY easy- D-A-C-G and Bob's your uncle.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:28 AM on March 26, 2008

One more thought: how about the band Live? I'm not really a fan of theirs, but songs like "I Alone" or "Lightning Crashes" might be just what you're looking for.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:46 AM on March 26, 2008

Most anything AC/DC.
posted by Silvertree at 1:05 PM on March 26, 2008

Since you mention Talking Heads, Psycho Killer is pretty easy. Am, G, F and C for the most part.
It's especially fun if you strum the basic song while a (good guitar player) friend improvises over the chord changes.
posted by ctmf at 3:59 PM on March 26, 2008

"Most anything AC/DC"


Until you get to the solo.
posted by stenseng at 4:10 PM on March 26, 2008


E (and E minor) and A (and A minor).

Then you can do barre chords and play nearly anything.


Hotel Yorba by The White Stripes


Teenage Kicks by The Undertones (which is very playable on just the two lowest strings)
posted by so_necessary at 11:28 PM on March 26, 2008

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