The capo can certainly be a beneficial tool to have in your kit for giving your compositions a unique sound. Some musical passages can evolve from mundane to animated and full of life just by simply changing the key.
However, capos can be a crutch for beginners that aren’t willing to learn chords beyond the basic open shapes. The following songs are quite easy and will have you playing both open chords and barre chords.
“Stand By Me” by Ben E. King
The minor barre chord (specifically the 6th-string rooted variety) can be a challenge to play cleanly. It’s not uncommon to find guitarists struggling with this chord if they don’t make it a point to use it.
A popular song utilizing a chord of this type is Ben E. King’s mammoth hit, Stand By Me. Don’t roll your eyes, because your familiarity with this song will actually help you learn it much faster.
For the most part, you’ll be playing simple open chord shapes that you’re probably used to. The only tricky part is incorporating the F#m barre chord at the 2nd fret.
Of course, if you want to kick it up a notch, take the time to incorporate the bass line. You can play this using the 5th and 6th strings, playing the chords within the spaces of the melody.
“The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King
If you have ambitions to, at the very least, play with others, it’s important to learn a blues song. Sure, if you’re younger, you’ll probably scoff at the mere mention of this in disgust of anything “blooz dad”-oriented.
However, the blues are incredibly important to study, especially for understanding where much of today’s modern music came from. The fact that many blues tracks share similar progressions makes it easy to learn the ropes.
Plus, if you have ambitions to play guitar solos, a blues track makes for a great backing track. B.B. King’s classic, The Thrill Is Gone, is one of the best choices you could make in this regard.
You’ll have the option to variate what chord formations you wish to use here. However, it’s best to at least challenge yourself by playing both barre chords and open chords.
Once you get the foundation worked out, give it a run with a loop pedal. This will give you a great foundation for working out improvisation ideas.
“On The Road Again” by Willie Nelson
Sometimes in life, there’s nothing better than being with those that you consider to be your friend. If you ever find yourself with a guitar in hand, consider playing Willie Nelson’s, On The Road Again for them.
This song perfectly encapsulates the joyous feeling that one often feels at the start of a road trip. Of course, everybody knows that a good road trip is nothing without a good friend or 2 to join in.
For the most part, you’ll be utilizing a combination of standard open chord shapes and barre chords here. The song also has an odd timing in its composition, which can be fun and keeps you on your toes.
“Tennessee Whiskey” by Chris Stapleton
Chris Stapleton’s track, Tennessee Whiskey is perhaps the closest representation of whiskey in musical form. Even if you’re not a country fan, you can’t deny that this track is velvety smooth with a subtle burn.
If you have ambitions to play in front of audiences, chances are likely that you’ll be playing in a bar. Pulling out Tennessee Whiskey at the right time is sure to strike a chord with the right people.
This song’s foundation is incredibly easy, too, which comes in handy if you’ve had too much Tennessee Whiskey yourself.
“Twist” by Phish
If you’re drawn even slightly towards playing lead guitar, it can help to study the masters. With regard to improvised music, Phish is in a caliber of their own.
With a career spanning nearly 40 years, it can be challenging for newcomers to find an accessible gateway. Consider the fact that they are known for their live shows, rather than studio albums, and you could be overwhelmed.
For the curious guitarist, an easy Phish song to learn is the track, Twist. It’s primarily played with barre chords, utilizing minor pentatonic scales in its jam.
If you’re a newcomer to Phish, learn the progression and check out various recordings of Twist through the years. You’ll see that the band has the capability of taking this track anywhere.
“Heart Of Gold” by Neil Young
Are you an aspiring singer-songwriter? You would do yourself a massive favor by studying Neil Young’s work.
A great place to start with his catalog is with Heart Of Gold, one of his most famous songs. Chances are likely that you’re probably familiar with this track on some level.
Heart Of Gold is quite simple, primarily using open chord shapes that you’re probably familiar with. With that being said, this makes for a great entry-level song to learn the harmonica, as well.
“Down On The Corner” by Credence Clearwater Revival
Have you ever wanted to learn all of the parts of a song, but felt like it was an impossibility? Consider learning Credence Clearwater Revival’s classic track, Down On The Corner.
As far as easy goes, this song ranks up there, and you won’t be using a capo to play it. You will, however, have a bit of a choice with regard to what you want to play within the song.
If you know this song, you probably know it from the doubled signature riff between the bass and guitar. It’s definitely in your best interest to learn this riff, especially if you’ve never learned a riff before.
Aside from the riff, some basic chords (that you probably already know) are used to fill out the riff.
“Japanese Cowboy” by Ween
Chances are likely that you might not be familiar with the band, Ween. However, if you are, chances are likely that you’re an absolute die-hard fan.
For nearly 40 years, this band has been enjoying cultish success while remaining obscure from the mainstream. Part of their success has to do with their free-spirited approach to music and a hefty dose of humor.
Take the album, 12 Golden Country Greats, which has 11 songs on it, and features some of Nashville’s best musicians. The song Japanese Cowboy comes from this album, and is humor dressed up in a classic country sound, seriousness included.
Songs like these make for excellent obscure songs to have in your repertoire. When you play this for the right audience, they will absolutely lose their wigs.
“Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix
Let’s face it, many guitarists are drawn to Hendrix but are afraid to learn his music. Many fear it’s not worth their time to learn because they’ll never be able to play like Jimi.
Well, if you operate from this mindset, you’re doing a disservice to the unique guitarist inside of you. Plus, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to realize just how easy something like the song, Hey Joe could be.
Yes, you read that right, Hey Joe is relatively easy to play if you look past Jimi’s guitar solos. A song like this is great for occasions when you’re playing with other musicians.
“Fire On The Mountain” by Grateful Dead
Today’s musicians have a lot to thank the Grateful Dead for, particularly when it comes to live performances. Their sound man, Owsley Stanley, truly pioneered innovative technology for the band, much of which has become commonplace today.
Aside from that, this band was also responsible for giving an example of the possibilities available in music. Each performance was unique and propelled by improvisation to take the audience to a new sonic landscape.
One of the easiest Grateful Dead tunes for any guitarist to learn is Fire On The Mountain. This song only has 2 chords but opens the door for some tasty Mixolydian solos.
It’s almost a running joke that this is usually the first song a band will play when getting into improvisation. Don’t let this deter you, rather, think of it as a rite of passage.
“Suzie Q” by Credence Clearwater Revival
Are you looking to incorporate more leads into your blend of rhythm guitar playing? You might want to consider learning the song, Suzie Q.
If you have even the smallest amount of exposure to classic rock, you probably know of this song. It has a dark, driving sound, ultimately guided by its iconic guitar riff playing throughout.
This song is relatively easy, especially if you already know your basic open chords and some barre chord shapes. The riff itself is a great exercise in playing a melody across nearly all of the strings on the guitar.
If the riff is too much, you can opt to just play the chords within the song to the same effect. You’ll at least want to know how to do this if you’re playing with somebody else playing lead guitar.
“Oye Como Va” by Santana
Santana is one of the most celebrated guitarists to come from the late 1960s and 1970s. Part of what he’s known for is his highly melodic guitar lines, many of which can be easily sung.
Another part of the winning formula is the fact that Santana had an absolutely killer band behind him. The Latin beats especially created a complex tapestry for many layers of sound to take place.
One of Santana’s most popular songs is, Oye Como Va. While this song does have some famous leads, it’s a great platform for jamming with other people.
For the most part, you’ll only really be playing 2 chords throughout the entire song. Try out the barre chord shapes to add more versatility to your toolkit.
“When I Come Around” by Green Day
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering why there has been no mention made of punk music. Of course, punk rock purists would burn a village down if the song, When I Come Around, was considered punk.
Green Day is often lumped into the category of punk music because, fundamentally, their music is punk. Take the song, When I Come Around, for instance.
This song is played primarily using simple power chords that almost any desiring beginner can play after some time. Sure, it might be way more pop-oriented than the most punk song ever, but it’s a good starting point.
While it might be simple, this song will get you moving your hand around the fretboard.
“Baby, I’m An Anarchist” by Against Me!
Against Me! is a band that has had an interesting trajectory over the years. Speaking purely about the music, the band today is certainly not the same as they used to be.
In fact, Against Me! won an audience in their early career by blending folk and punk into a unique aesthetic. Much of their earlier recordings are marred with a roughness, injecting a sense of “real” into their music.
Even as the band went electric, they managed to find a way to keep their unique sound. The song, Baby, I’m An Anarchist, is a great example of this, featuring a standard progression and memorable lyrics.
In some ways, this track became an anthem for underground punk fans. It has certainly withstood the test of time, so far.
“Black Magic Woman” by Santana
Another popular Santana song for guitarists to learn is, Black Magic Woman. Most people are probably familiar with this song because of all of the signature guitar parts.
In fact, out of Santana’s work, this track has his most singable guitar lines. Even a non-guitarist can likely sing some of Santana’s solos purely from memory.
However, if you aren’t quite there yet, in terms of playing lead, Black Magic Woman is still great to learn. There are really only 4 different chords to have to worry about here.
Plus, something like this is another great selection for the repertoire. Audiences can sing along, and any skilled musician will love to jam with you on this track.
“Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison
If you ever decide to play for audiences in local establishments, you might get a request for Brown Eyed Girl. This is a golden oldie that truly does make people feel good when they hear it.
You might have tried your best to steer away from having to learn this. Maybe you don’t want to be cliche, or maybe the iconic intro scared you off.
Well, either way, it’s in your best interest to learn this track, as it will truly please a crowd. Aside from the intro, it relies primarily on simple open chord shapes you probably already know.
“Love Me Do” by The Beatles
You don’t have to throw a stone very far to find somebody who’s a fan of The Beatles. If any of your Beatles-loving friends know you play guitar, you might have gotten a request.
Of course, if you’ve never learned anything from this group, it can be hard to decide on what to learn. So many of their songs are classics in their own right, which one should you pick?
A great starting point in adding Beatles songs to your repertoire is the song, Love Me Do. This is a simple track using open chord shapes, and you’ll certainly get a few people singing along.
Easy No Capo Guitar Songs, Final Thoughts
There’s definitely nothing wrong with using a capo if you're using it to expand your creative boundaries. But, if you aren’t well-versed in your chords, you could fall into the trap of the capo crutch.
Consider learning these songs to get you more familiarized with the neck beyond the first few frets. You’ll beef up your repertoire and have fun learning things you’ll use for life in the process.