Learning guitar is one of those things that doesn’t just take practice, but takes strategic practice.
Pick too difficult a song to start honing your skills and you’ll just end up disappointed, certain you’re never going to master this dagnabbited contraption.
And you may well be right. Not everyone is destined to be Bonnie Raitt or Buddy Guy. (I’ve been playing guitar for 20 years, on a very casual basis, and can still only play about a dozen chords, many of them badly.)
But that’s the thing. I can only play about a dozen chords and that’s still enough to “play guitar”. I stick to the right songs, and no one ever has to know my comfort zone is still in the C, G, D, A, E, Em, Am, Cm range. (Though, I cheat a few harder chords very well. But that’s another article.)
Half a dozen chords is enough to play a LOT of songs. It’s even enough to write songs. Just barely over half a dozen and a few easy picking/plucking patterns, and I’ve written enough original songs for a full album and then some.
The point is, if you want to learn to play guitar, don’t let difficult chord progressions dissuade you. There are plenty of songs you can play while keeping it simple.
The easiest songs to learn provide excellent practice in the most fundamental chords. They may not turn you into the next Bonnie Raitt or Buddy Guy, but, practice enough, and you will almost certainly be better than me.
The Beginner Chords You’ll Need
For the first part of this list, you will need only the easiest chords from our 9 Guitar Chords For Beginners.
For the second part of this list, I’ll add in songs that require a chord or two more, but are simple variations on these easiest chords.
Finally, for the third part of this list, I’ll list songs that incorporate a single barre chord (F Major, also demonstrated in 9 Guitar Chords For Beginners.)
Basically, it doesn’t get much more “beginner” than the top of this list, then slowly eases you into songs with more chords, more difficult chords, and more complicated strumming/picking patterns.
The Easiest Guitar Songs (A/Am/C/D/Dm/E/Em/G)
As the title of this section might give away, our easiest songs incorporate only eight basic chords – A, Am, C, D, Dm, E, Em, and G.
The single letter chords – A, C, D, E, and G are major chords, while the small ‘m’ represents the minor variations of three of these chords – Am, Dm, and Em.
These chords are the first you should learn, as they are some of the simplest chords to finger (even for stubby, untrained fingers) and can get you through a lot of incredible songs.
Here are some songs that fall within this limited chord range with very simple picking patterns, so simple, in fact, these songs can typically be recognized by strumming alone –
(Keep in mind, there are numerous ways to chord a song and still get the same basic melody. I’ve tried to point you to some of the easiest variations.)
- Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival
- Coat of Many Colors – Dolly Parton
- Stand By Me – Ben E. King
- August – Taylor Swift
- Lovin’ You Against My Will – Gary Allan
- Fallin’ – Alicia Keyes
- Blowin’ in the Wind – Bob Dylan
- I Shall Not Be Moved – African American Spiritual
- What’s Up – 4 Non Blondes
- Shake The Sugar Tree – Pam Tillis
- Leaving On A Jet Plane – John Denver
- From A Distance – Bette Midler
- Wild Thing – The Troggs
- When the Stars Go Blue – Ryan Adams
- Am I Not Pretty Enough – Kasey Chambers
- Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash
- Just Like Jesse James – Cher
- Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
- Battle Hymn of Love – Kathy Mattea ft. Tim O’Brien
- Willin’ – Little Feat
- Three Little Birds – Bob Marley
- Hold On – Sarah McLachlan
- Are You Gonna Be My Girl – Jet
- When You Say Nothing At All – Keith Whitley
- Picture – Kid Rock ft. Sheryl Crow
- Chasing Cars – Snow Patrol (an easy variation)
- Life Uncommon – Jewel
- Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan
Some More Easy Songs (Simple Variations)
These next songs incorporate additional chords.
But most of these new chords are relatively simple variations on one of the above chords.
For the most part, the picking patterns on these songs remain simple (and many are still recognizable strummed).
These are good songs to start working into your practice after you’ve gotten down a few of your favorite songs from the list above.
I’ve put them in order of easiest to hardest chords to finger/transition to (in my opinion).
Very Easy Fingering/Transitions
- Fast Car – Tracy Chapman (Cmaj7)
- Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison (D7)
- Down At The Twist and Shout – Mary Chapin Carpenter (A7)
- Eleanor Rigby – The Beatles (Em6/Em7)
- Forgiven Not Forgotten – The Corrs (Am7, Dsus2)
Slightly Harder Fingering/Transitions
- Amazing Grace – Standard (G7)
- Ode To Billie Joe – Bobbie Gentry (C7, D7)
- Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day (Cadd9)
- Every Rose Has Its Thorn – Poison (Cadd9)
- 3AM – Matchbox Twenty (Cadd9)
- I Remember You – Skid Row (Cadd9)
- Not Ready To Make Nice – The Chicks (C/G)
- Clocks – Coldplay (Em/G, Fmaj7)
- Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin (C/G, D7, G7, E7, A7)
Adding The B7 Chord
The B7 chord gets its own special entry, because it’s a great chord to learn as early as you can and adds lots of stellar material to your practice arsenal (as shown below).
But this can also be a very tricky chord for many newbies.
Not only is the fingering a bit demanding, but it makes for an awkward transition a lot of the time.
If you’re happy with your progress on the slightly harder songs above, though, you’re probably ready to start tackling B7.
And if you really struggle with the finger positions of this chord, at first, this is a great chord to cheat.
On a lot of songs, you can simply drop the first fret and it makes a nominal difference, while making the chord MUCH easier to play.
This isn’t a long term solution, and won’t make you better at guitar. But it’s a good temporary solution if you start to get discouraged.
- Nothing Else Matters – Metallica (B7)
- When the River Meets the Sea – John Denver (B7)
- Sweet Child O Mine – Guns N’ Roses (B7)
- Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen (B7)
- Rodeo – Garth Brooks (B7)
- I Can’t Get No Satisfaction – The Rolling Stones (A7, B7)
- I Walk The Line – Johnny Cash (B7/E7/A7)
Generally speaking, the fewer chords in a song, the easier that song is to play.
(Though, this isn’t always the case. Some three-chord songs have incredibly complicated picking patterns and transitions.)
But how many chords are in a song is only part of its playability.
It matters a lot how easy those chords are to finger, how easy it is to transition between the chords, and the complexity of the song’s pattern.
These few songs still use simple variations on the easiest chords, but are slightly more advanced in their transitions.
And I’ve thrown one song in at the end as a lead-up to the next big step in your beginner guitar song journey – barre chords.
- Marry Me – Amanda Marshall (A6)
- Hands – Jewel (G/F#)
- Black Horse and the Cherry Tree – KT Tunstall (B7, D6, Cmaj7, C9, Em7)
- Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell (D7, G/D, Dmaj7)
Dmaj7 can be fingered like any standard chord, but can also be played as a half barre chord. Practicing the chord in this fashion will start to train you up for the full barre chord to come.
Your First Barre Chord
Barre chords (or bar chords) are difficult for beginner guitar players.
All beginner guitar players.
If you don’t struggle with barre chords (at least a little) when you’re first learning to play, you either have the world’s most flexible hands or are a prodigy.
Barre chords require holding your hand in a largely unnatural position – at least not one most people use on a regular basis – one finger straight up, the rest curled and stretching.
But that’s not all. Barre chords also require you to put a fair amount of strength behind this rather uncomfortable position. Holding six strings down against the neck of a guitar takes some power.
Because of that, barre chords fall into advanced beginner territory. Try to learn them too early, you’re sure to get disheartened. But the sooner you start to practice them, the stronger and more flexible your fingers will become, making it easier to incorporate barre chords over time. (And making all your chording easier, to be honest).
While it’s debatable which barre chord is the easiest to play, I’ve always been partial to the F chord myself.
I think the F barre chord sets your fingers at a natural curve, and since it uses all of them you don’t have to worry about getting any of them out of the way.
Plus, it’s a much-loved chord, used in a ton of popular songs, including these:
- Runaway Train – Soul Asylum
- Don’t Tell Me – Madonna
- Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Breakaway – Kelly Clarkson
- The Thunder Rolls – Garth Brooks
- Bang Bang Boom Boom – Beth Hart
- Baby – Justin Bieber
- Pocket Full of Sunshine – Natasha Bedingfield
- A Better Man – Keb’ Mo’
- Leave the Pieces – The Wreckers
- Hey, Soul Sister – Train
- Hotel California – Eagles (+Dm)
- Dreams – Fleetwood Mac (+Fmaj7, G6)
- Need You Now – Lady A (+G/B, Gsus)
Now Start Practicing Guitar
There you have it, a bunch of (fairly) easy to play guitar songs.
Hopefully, it gives you some encouragement to see just how many new songs you can play (in a variety of different genres) simply by adding one or two new chords to your skill set.
Guitar isn’t something you’re gonna learn in a day (though several of the simplest songs on this list you can certainly get a good hold on in one practice sesh).
Instead, it’s something to build upon. Each chord you learn opens up a whole new set of variations you can slowly start to pick and strum. Until, one day, you’ll surprise yourself with how much you know.
You’ll look up the chords to one of your favorite songs, and realize you can just start playing.