Learning songs is incredibly important for any guitarist who desires to grow on the instrument. This teaches you techniques and musical vocabulary you likely wouldn’t have thought of on your own.
Intermediate songs are those that should employ your foundational skills to a high degree. While some may be easy, others might be a little more challenging, pushing you to advanced levels of play.
Here are some of the best intermediate acoustic and electric guitar songs that will help you excel as a guitarist.
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“Layla” by Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton has certainly had his fair share of hits throughout his entire career. He’s also probably the first modern guitarist to be called “God” by mainstream society.
The 1990s saw Clapton’s career hit a new wave of popularity, no doubt aided by his iconic Unplugged performance. Layla is a true classic, which is perhaps just as popular in this rendition as the original version.
On the whole, the song is relatively easy. Common barre chords are employed throughout, which should be common knowledge at this level.
However, you might get a little tripped up if you’re used to playing strictly barre chords. The song uses some single-picked notes to help outline the song’s iconic melody.
Once you get this down, feel free to learn Clapton’s solos, which can be mentally remembered with enough listening. Of course, the song makes a perfect platform for you to create your own solos.
Don’t be shy, use a loop pedal and improvise your own solos over the progression. This can help you develop your musical identity and make the song yours.
“Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd
It would probably be quite difficult to find a guitarist who hasn’t been inspired by Pink Floyd. There is no denying that, since the 1970s, they had an important role in defining the history of rock music.
David Gilmour’s influence can be heard everywhere, even if a guitarist isn’t exactly an avid listener. In a sense, his vocabulary has become a part of common nomenclature, being passed around from guitarist to guitarist.
The band has had a massive range of hits, whether it be mainstream hits or underground hits. Each song seems to pack its own unique punch, whether it be doused in psychedelia, theater, or pensiveness.
Comfortably Numb is one of the most glaring examples of Gilmour’s excellent guitar work. It is mostly focused on melody, with excess flash kept to a minimum.
While it might be fairly simple, it conveys a tone of emotion that many fail to properly emote. It’s a good part of the reason why its solo is ranked as one of the best ever recorded.
“All Along The Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix has quite a few songs he is known for. However, All Along The Watchtower is probably one of the most instantly recognizable.
From the track’s opening guitar chord stabs to the blazing solos throughout, it’s obvious that it is Hendrix. The song is so effective that Bob Dylan said that it was (from that point on) a Hendrix song.
Just having one of the greatest songwriters say that is a massive accomplishment. Especially so when it was he who wrote the song.
All Along The Watchtower will give you something to put those barre chords to use. Plus, you’ll learn some iconic solos you can likely already sing from memory.
This song has an important lesson in solo exposition. Pay attention to how Hendrix almost peaks the solo but instead opts to sing another verse.
By doing this, he adds a degree of anticipatory tension. After the verse, Hendrix peaks the song out with another solo and hits the glory note everyone was waiting for.
“Under The Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
It seemed that, in the 1990s, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were everywhere. Of course, when you release an album like Blood Sugar Sex Magik, it all starts to make sense.
The album is drenched in heavy funk with that unique Chili Peppers twist only they can seem to do. In fact, there were 5 different songs released as singles from this album, all receiving high acclaim.
One of those songs is, no doubt, Under The Bridge. Compared to the other songs on the album, this is a pretty sobering ballad.
When you realize exactly what the song’s about, it adds that much more power to the song’s potency. Feel free to look it up yourself, we’re not going to give it away (pun intended).
Under The Bridge will give you a workout in connecting chords between melodic passages. You’ll also learn some iconic Frusciante chord theory.
Plus, it’s one of the most recognizable songs to emerge from the 1990s. It helped define the darker side of the landscape that was popular music at that time.
“Every Breath You Take” by The Police
The Police probably aren’t held in such high regard as they were at the height of their career. But you can’t deny that the band possessed a skill for producing some unique hits.
Maybe it was the era that it was recorded, but Every Breath You Take is one of these songs. Sure, it might be a little cheesy by today’s standards of music, and you’d be forgiven for thinking so.
Quite honestly, many of the songs from the time period this song was released just do not hold up well. And, on some levels, this song might fit into that sort of categorization.
However, musically, it is a ballad to be reckoned with, particularly on the guitar parts. Simple listening would have you thinking that this guitar part is fairly easy.
The reality is, you need to be extremely consistent to provide the well-known tapestry for the song’s melody. This is no small feat, but it makes a perfect song for an intermediate to learn.
“Plush” by Stone Temple Pilots
The 1990s saw the Stone Temple Pilots enjoying massive success with their unique brand of rock music. When you release albums like Core, it’s easy to see why this band was so popular.
What people don’t realize is, Core was actually the band’s first full-length release. It has hits that are still enjoyed by a wide audience in today’s society.
There aren’t many bands who can say that they had a top 5 chart-ranking album as their first release. It was songs like Plush that really helped to propel the band into the mainstream.
Plush is going to make great use of your barre chord knowledge. But, don’t get it wrong, this song will teach you far more than utilizing chords.
You’ll get a taste of the different possibilities simple barre chords can be used in. Plush has a very interesting musical platform built primarily from the guitar parts.
There is also a fair bit of diversity in these guitar parts. These range from the iconic riff to complementing parts for each section of the song.
“Blackbird” by The Beatles
After you become somewhat familiar with playing simple chords on a guitar, you realize how difficult fingerpicking can be. It requires an innate and intuitive knowledge of the inner workings of different chord shapes.
Listening to fingerpicking songs can be quite dazzling as these parts essentially contain elements of a full band. Because of its highly effective nature, many guitarists are drawn to learning this technique.
One of the first songs many guitarists learn to develop fingerpicking with is Blackbird. It’s an iconic song that everybody is at least familiar with on some levels.
Because of this familiarity, it allows you to learn much faster, simply because you know how it’s supposed to sound. Actually getting that result takes much longer, but can be achieved with dedication.
Not only will Blackbird give you a fingerpicking workout, but it also throws a couple of curveballs at you. The biggest is the moving chord shapes that take place without breaking the fingerpicking pattern.
Get this song under your belt and you’ll be well on your way to learning other fingerpicking songs easier. Plus, there aren’t too many people who don’t enjoy a well-played rendition of Blackbird.
“She Talks To Angels” by The Black Crowes
The early-to-mid 1990s saw The Black Crowes rising to critical acclaim within the music industry. This band possessed a sound that few other bands at that time could muster.
One of the band’s most famous tracks is undoubtedly She Talks To Angels. It actually comes from the band’s debut album and remains a staple on radio stations today.
This is another one of those songs from the grunge era that deals with topics relating to heroin. Unlike other songs from this era, it is not drenched in overtly distorted guitars and attitude.
Rather, She Talks To Angels is a stripped-down song that has elements of roots music at its core. It also features some excellent acoustic guitar work suitable for any intermediate looking to add to their repertoire.
You’ll learn quite a few different musical phrases that can be easily applied to your own music. There’s perhaps nothing better than learning something you can use for yourself.
“Michelle” by The Beatles
Some people might be agonizing at the fact that The Beatles are mentioned more than once in this list. And, sure, this band often gets quite a large amount of credit for their contributions to modern music.
So, rather than repeat what’s already been stated, we’ll cut to the chase. Like so many other songs by The Beatles, Michelle is extremely famous.
In fact, if you’re somewhat familiar, you can likely recall the song's iconic intro, and maybe even the solo. This is part of the reason why this band’s songs are so great to learn.
Michelle is a favorite for any Beatles lover, but it’s difficult enough to throw you for a loop. If you’re used to playing simple open chord songs, this might pose a bit of a challenge.
But, if you like the song, you’ll stick with it because you want to play this classic song yourself. Plus, you’ll learn some interesting jazz voicings that you can apply in your own creative endeavors.
“Waiting On The World To Change” by John Mayer
For years, John Mayer was largely overlooked by the guitar community as strictly a pop artist. When he first appeared at Clapton’s Crossroads festival, the majority of people were a bit disgusted.
Mind you, this feeling was not caused by his playing, but simply by his inclusion in the festival. Fast-forward nearly 20 years later and society’s perception of Mayer has completely changed.
Now, people are starting to become aware of Mayer’s genius, both as a guitarist and as a songwriter. Sure, maybe some of his lyrics might be weak, but his musicality cannot be denied in any measure.
Just the fact that he has been a touring member with Dead and Company alone should be a tell-tale sign. It is about one of the highest honors a musician could achieve.
Waiting On The World To Change is an excellent Mayer song to add to your repertoire. It’s simple enough to show you that songs don’t need to be overly complicated to be effective.
You’re going to want to work on playing things extremely clean, with that signature light and bouncy touch.
“Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin
Young guitarists are often drawn to the instrument by direct inspiration from Jimmy Page’s playing. Once people start learning the instrument, it’s quite easy to see Page in a sort of godly light.
Let’s face it, Led Zeppelin’s music would not be the same without Page’s signature guitar riffs. He helped forge a path for rock music that would be hinged on riffs as a cornerstone of the song.
The song Black Dog is a perfect example of this and has its own signature riff played throughout. Zeppelin fans can likely recall this riff directly from memory.
As you’re probably now aware, this familiarity is a great tool to have at your disposal. It will certainly serve you well here when learning Black Dog.
Perhaps the trickiest part of the song is the timing of the open spaces between the music. These moments do not seem to fit into any sort of countable meter.
Even playing with the recording, you’ll likely be sitting in anticipation for the band to kick in after the vocals. However, if this induces anticipation from a musician, it’s clearly a result of well-crafted music.
“Fire And Rain” by James Taylor
James Taylor has an iconic sound as an artist, even when it is just him and an acoustic guitar. He is one of those examples where just himself is as powerful as a full band’s performance.
What makes artists like this stand out in such a magnificent manner? Part of it has to do with honest vulnerability mixed with excellent musical accompaniment.
You’ll find no shortage of that with James Taylor’s song Fire And Rain. Though there are moments with other musicians, it is hinged on Taylor’s guitar and voice.
This song does have some tasteful guitar parts that can prove to be the perfect challenge for intermediates. Plus, it has a timeless chorus that cuts to the bone and will forever be relatable.
If you’ve ever aspired to be a singer-songwriter, be sure to learn this one. It’s a great primer for how an excellent song can be crafted, on nearly every level.
“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd isn’t generally known for singalong ballads. However, Wish You Were Here is exactly that when played for an audience.
This song will put to use your open chord knowledge in a song you probably know quite well. Plus, it's a great entry into playing simple guitar solos while also using your voice to sing the solo.
“Sultans Of Swing” by Dire Straits
If you’re up for a challenge to up your soloing skills, it’s time to learn Sultans Of Swing. Mark Knopfler continues to dazzle with his lead work on this song.
The phrasing of his leads is incredibly inventive and will go a long way to beefing up your rhetoric. Play it in a fingerstyle manner like Knopfler and you’ll have a newfound appreciation for this radio hit.
“Never Going Back Again” by Fleetwood Mac
You might not think it, but this Fleetwood Mac song is perhaps the most difficult song on this list. It will truly test your fingerpicking skills in ways you hadn’t considered.
While the album version is the one you want to learn from, a live version has been featured here. This has been done to prove that it is, in fact, humanly possible to play and sing this song simultaneously.
Plus, the fact that this song was written to reflect Buckingham’s relationship with Stevie Nicks makes it even more powerful. To see them on stage together so many years later performing a cutting song is quite a beautiful sight.
Top Guitar Songs For Intermediates, Final Thoughts
As with learning anything, be sure to be patient and kind to yourself in the process. It might seem like a simple concept, but it’s easier said than done.
Life today has conditioned us to expect instant results in any endeavor we might undertake. Some things simply take longer than anticipated and must be given the respectful time allowance they need.
More importantly, have fun with the process. After all, having fun is likely one of the reasons you picked up the guitar in the first place.