When it comes to learning guitar, being able to play certain songs is a bit of a rite of passage. There are certain songs that almost every guitar player has in their repertoire, whether for enjoyment or professional reasons.
The following songs fit that criterion, and you can be certain that a good majority of players know these songs. Some of these make for a great common ground when you’re playing with others for the first time.
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“Ripple” by Grateful Dead
As far as a generational following is concerned, The Grateful Dead is certainly one of the most impactful. After all, they were one of the first groups to ever have a traveling fan base with their own economy.
Part of what made this band so unique was their willingness to experiment sonically. Another part of it had to do with the band’s thoughtful lyrics, often penned by the writing collaborator, Robert Hunter.
The song, Ripple, comes from the album, American Beauty, which is often hailed as one of the band’s best. This album has a folk sound, much of which can be attributed to the use of mostly acoustic instruments.
Ripple is fairly easy on a compositional level, consisting of some common open chord shapes. The tricky part is playing both the lead melody and the rhythm parts simultaneously.
In the right circles, Ripple is definitely common knowledge, especially amongst audiences. The end of the song has a convenient singalong part that people will join in with.
“Wagon Wheel” by Darius Rucker
If you’re out busking on the sidewalk, chances are likely that you’ll get a request for the song, Wagon Wheel. This happens to be a massive favorite amongst music fans of all varieties.
It happens to be the most requested largely in part because so many guitarists happen to know the song. The thing is, if you’re not familiar with country music, this song might have missed your radar altogether.
This is one of those songs that is worth learning, even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of the genre. It will definitely please a crowd, which goes a long way to gaining personal fans of your own.
“The Weight” by The Band
The Band has definitely been responsible for some of the most gargantuan hits of rock music. Amongst guitarists, The Weight is one song that has become common knowledge in repertoire material.
This track has an iconic opening played on the acoustic guitar, making it easily recognizable. The acoustic guitar is played primarily throughout, providing an organic feeling to this cosmic hymn.
There are a few key components within this song, primarily with regard to its descending line. While this is mostly played on the piano, it can easily be adapted to the guitar.
Many musicians know The Band’s material by heart. It’s not uncommon for local musicians to replicate The Last Waltz, a concert featuring The Band’s music with multiple collaborators.
“Blowin’ In The Wind” by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is often hailed as one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. A good portion of his catalog is known by both musicians and those who just enjoy listening to music.
If you’re looking to learn some Dylan, a great place to start is with the song, Blowin’ In The Wind. This track has all of the Dylan staples, including his lyrics of depth which seem to have layers of meaning.
Perhaps the best part about the song is that it really only centers around 3 different chord shapes. These chords (G, C, and D) tend to be some of the first that guitarists ever learn how to play.
“Fire On The Mountain” by Grateful Dead
While we have already mentioned the Grateful Dead, we haven’t touched on their improvisational aspect. This band’s ability to create sonic landscapes on the fly is a major reason for this band’s cult-like following.
If you’ve been playing guitar for a while, you probably have some idea of how difficult great improvisation can be. While you might have some preconceived musical ideas, most of it comes out of thin air during the current moment.
A great place to start with improvisation is with the song, Fire On The Mountain. Most guitarists know how to play this song, making it a great choice for jamming with a group of musicians.
Fire On The Mountain is based on 2 chords, making it super easy to learn in a matter of seconds. It’s worth learning some of the song’s signature lines so that you can give a nod to the original composition.
“Iron Man” by Black Sabbath
It’s a pretty common story for new guitarists to be drawn to heavy sounds. Quite often, Black Sabbath tends to be a band that gets quite a bit of attention in this scenario.
And really, there’s nothing wrong with this, as much of Black Sabbath’s music is perfectly suitable for beginners. At its core, Black Sabbath is rudimentary metal music, without the over-complexities heard in modern times within the genre.
Just about every guitarist knows how to play the song, Iron Man. Nearly every part of this song is iconic in its own right, much of which consists of basic power chords.
“Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream
Another song that tends to be one of the first songs learned by guitarists is Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love. This track has a signature opening line that, despite its simplicity, is quite catchy to the ear.
While most people might begrudge learning songs from the 1960s, this song holds up quite well in today’s age. Part of the song’s effectiveness definitely has to do with the overdriven crunch of the guitar tone.
If you’ve never learned this song, it’s worth your time to do so. It blends lead and rhythm concepts without ever being too overly difficult.
Plus, if you’re playing with some other guitarists, it can be fun to morph this song to your own needs. You could even harmonize the lead lines for a unique take most people have probably never heard before.
“Smoke On The Water” by Deep Purple
If you didn’t see Smoke On The Water coming, you probably haven’t been around the instrument too long. As far as beginner riffs go, this is definitely one of the most definitive.
In fact, you’ll find that this song has become the basis for guitar jokes within various guitar communities. Its simplicity is part of why it’s so funny, but despite this, it’s still worth learning.
If you do decide to learn this song, be sure to take the time to learn the entire thing. Most people learn the signature riff and move on, all the while missing out on some great musicality.
“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” by Eric Clapton
The song, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out is a true standard amongst musicians. Jimmy Cox originally wrote the song in the early 1920s and has been covered by too many musicians to count.
Perhaps the most recognizable version in today’s society is Eric Clapton’s, taken from the MTV Unplugged album. You’ll find most guitarists today emulating the style in which Clapton plays the tune.
For the most part, this is a fairly basic blues song, though it does have its tricky spots. However, it can be played mostly with open chords, making it suitable for advancing beginners.
This is a song that many musicians can readily identify with, especially if they’ve been around the block. Music doesn’t often pay the bills, and guitarists are certainly no stranger to an empty wallet.
“Layla” by Eric Clapton
When Clapton first released Layla with Derek And The Dominoes, it was a surefire hit. The song is packed with lightning licks and a beautifully cinematic piano-driven section to end the track.
It could be argued that, in some ways, the original version doesn’t properly emote the song’s story of unrequited love. When the 90s came around, Clapton reinvented the song for his MTV Unplugged album.
The result, of course, provided plenty of evidence that the song was a smash hit, regardless of form. This acoustic version also gave guitarists more of an open platform when playing with other musicians.
“Blackbird” by The Beatles
If you’re just getting into playing fingerstyle and utilizing fingerpicking techniques, Blackbird is a logical choice. This song by The Beatles is certainly one of the most iconic fingerpicking songs of all time.
Chances are likely that you’re fairly familiar with the song, too. This makes it much easier to learn as you can properly sync your playing to the recording.
Blackbird is often one of the first songs people learn when attempting fingerstyle concepts. It’s a great choice as it utilizes fingerpicking while moving the fretting hand all over the neck with different shapes.
“Cocaine” by J.J. Cale
The song Cocaine is a pretty famous song in the realm of classic rock. While J.J. Cale is credited with original authorship, the song is most famous for Eric Clapton’s version.
If you’re just learning barre chords, the song Cocaine makes for a prime song to learn. The entire song has a simple composition centered around 1 barre chord shape while playing different chords.
Furthermore, if you’re a veteran at playing barre chords, learning this song will be a breeze. A few minutes of time is all that’s required for a song you can jam on with others at any time.
Most of the songs featured on this list have been taken from the repertoire of rock guitarists. What if you wanted to get started playing jazz guitar?
For jazz guitar, you’ll find that the repertoire is mostly built from standards that everyone seems to know. One of the most popular for beginning jazz guitarists is the song, Autumn Leaves.
It’s almost guaranteed that, if you learn this song, you’ll find other jazz musicians who know how to play it. This utilization is part of the reason why it’s such a great number to learn.
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” by Otis Redding
If you plan on playing gigs at a local establishment, your repertoire needs great consideration. More often than not, it’s preferred to have a catalog of well-known songs that most audiences are familiar with.
This can be a bit of a challenge if you’re playing by yourself on stage. You might feel a bit limited with regard to the layers you can provide to a song overall.
Otis Redding’s (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay makes for a great choice in this scenario. Plus, it has a memorable whistling part that just about everybody will help out with.
“I’d Love To Change The World” by Ten Years After
Chances are, you might not be familiar with the band, Ten Years After. However, you’ve probably heard their colossal hit, I’d Love To Change The World, a time or two on the radio.
This is one of those obscure songs that people will definitely recognize. Part of its memorable sound lies in the arpeggiated guitar part centered around basic open chord shapes.
I’d Love To Change The World is also a prime choice to play with other guitarists. There are plenty of rhythmic accents that can be added for a deep, layered effect.
“House Of The Rising Sun” by The Animals
Speaking of arpeggiated guitar lines, there is perhaps none more famous than in the song, House Of The Rising Sun. This song’s guitar part centers around very basic open chord shapes, with each string plucked individually in a cascading manner.
Truth be told, it can be a little tricky to play this guitar part cleanly and effortlessly. However, that’s exactly one of the main reasons why you should learn this song, to begin with.
House Of The Rising Sun is a bit of a traditional standard in its own right. The song’s origins are hazy and could be over 300 years old, with the first recorded instance from the 1930s.
“Badfish” by Sublime
Sublime was truly a unique band that managed to blend reggae and ska elements with dub music stylings. In the 1990s, they truly stood out on their own with regard to their unique, original sound.
The album, 40oz. To Freedom remains culturally significant to a wide audience even today. There is something addictive about Sublime’s sound, which provides enough accessibility without being flat and overly commercialized.
Badfish is a very popular song to come from this album and is one that most guitarists know. It utilizes a folk-style guitar in the intro before erupting into full-on reggae stylings.
This song is a great choice if you’re primarily used to playing simple rhythms. Reggae requires you to play on the off-beat, which can be a little tricky for some players.
“Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses
If you’re just getting into lead guitar concepts, consider checking out the song, Sweet Child O’ Mine. This tends to be another popular choice for guitarists because of the song’s signature opening guitar line.
While this isn’t necessarily too difficult, it can be tricky if you aren’t used to playing leads over multiple strings. Take your time and you’ll see that this lick is based on simple triad shapes.
Sweet Child O’ Mine is a great choice if you play with other guitarists. The song has multiple guitar parts throughout, ensuring that everybody has something to play.
“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd
Whether around a campfire or on a stage, Wish You Were Here is guaranteed to please a crowd. It’s partly the reason why it’s a common variable in the repertoires of guitarists around the world.
This song is one of the best to learn, primarily because it can teach you both rhythm and lead concepts. Plus, the song’s structure is based on multiple guitars, making it great to play with friends.
Pink Floyd’s music is often regarded as some of the 20th century’s most important. Wish You Were Here is a song that everybody knows, audiences included.
“Crossroads” by Cream
By now, you’re probably a little tired of seeing so many references to Eric Clapton’s work. However, one of the biggest staples amongst guitar repertoires is the song, Crossroads.
While the song has origins from Robert Johnson, it is Cream’s that is most widely recognizable today. Most guitarists who play the song will use this version’s musicality as the primary basis of the song.
This song sounds more difficult than it actually is, partly because of the signature riffs throughout. At its core level, Crossroads is a simple blues progression no different than any other blues progression.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
If you’ve just gotten your very first distortion pedal, you’re probably wondering what you should play. Nirvana’s gigantic hit, Smells Like Teen Spirit, is a perfect candidate for this kind of scenario.
In fact, it’s almost a bit of a rite of passage for guitarists to learn this song. Most beginners should be able to wrap their hands around this without too much of a problem.
For the most part, simple power chords are going to be used throughout the song. During the verses, you’ll really only have to worry about playing 2 notes.
Easy Guitar Songs Everyone Knows, Final Thoughts
Those are the best guitar songs everyone knows. If you’re ever unsure of your own personal progress on the instrument, take the time to learn these songs. Having these songs learned is a great way to measure your progress to the bigger picture of guitar skills.
Plus, it never hurts to have a repertoire of depth, as you’ll have more songs to utilize on short notice. These songs are a surefire way to be able to play with others, while also pleasing an audience.