Just starting out on guitar can honestly suck sometimes. Between developing your calluses and hitting sour notes left and right, learning music on the six-string can be less than inspiring.
In one of the first instruction books I ever used, the first transcription was a one-string version of “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” I appreciated the author’s effort to start his readers off with a song that essentially everyone knew, but nothing was more humiliating than plugging in my red Squire Stratocaster and wailing on—okay, butchering—a children’s song. Other songbooks’ suggestions were no good either; you’re only admitting your own amateur status by practicing “Smoke on the Water,” and who wants to hear “Sweet Home Alabama” more than once in a day?
If you’ve got a handle on basic chords and have been practicing your scales, but you’re dreading learning the songs in your antiquated instruction book, fret no more. We’ve hand-picked eight simple songs to make this fun again for beginners.
1. Arcade Fire – “Wake Up”
Who knew it would be so easy to play one of the decade’s most triumphant anthems? If you’ve mastered your basic major/minor barre chords, this one should be a breeze. For those who are still trying to sing and play along, here’s a good place to start. After all, the only word you need to remember half of the time is “Woah.”
2. Bon Iver – “Skinny Love”
Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago probably made a lot of heartaching dudes in their mid-20s imagine what they could accomplish with a lone acoustic guitar, so it’s fitting that one of the album’s rawest, most personal cuts would be easy for many to pick up. With simple chords all the way through, this is an early lesson that you don’t need a whole lot to make a bold statement. For what it’s worth, it probably sounds better on this guitar, too.
3. Bright Eyes – “First Day of My Life”
Here’s an easy track for all you romantics out there that will also give you an excuse to break out that capo you bought and have no idea what to do with. “First Day of My Life” is filled with tons of common chords and should allow beginners to navigate the first few verses with ease. While it’s a quick one to pick up early on, there are a few tricky formations that will stretch learners’ fingers and knowledge.
4. Mikal Cronin – “Weight”
If you’re looking to be ultra-current in your guitar playing, look no further than learning Mikal Cronin’s absolutely gorgeous MCII album opener, “Weight,” which was released only last week. Here, Cronin delights with an airy, Beatles-esque burst of pop. And with a wiry, simple lead, you get bonus points if you can pick it out yourself.
5. The Men – “Open Your Heart”
The Men released their fantastic breakthrough album, Open Your Heart, last year. The title track is delightfully sloppy, a simple song that started on guitarist Nick Chiericozzi’s acoustic guitar. And playing along will show new players that a band’s personality isn’t only in their precision. There’s greatness in this grit.
6. Ramones – “Blitzkrieg Bop”
For many pursuing a career in punk rock, your education starts and ends with “Blitzkrieg Bop.” For early adopters of the electric guitar, here’s a good one to justify cranking the amp after a few run-throughs.
7. The Shins – “New Slang”
The song that changed Natalie Portman and Zach Braff’s lives in Garden State can also be picked out by pretty much anyone who’s played guitar for over a month. It’s a no-frills acoustic track that relies only on four chords, but one that has no problem getting a room-sized singalong going at a party. Find a friend with a tambourine and you’re well on your way.
8. The Smiths – “I Want the One I Can’t Have”
Here’s a chance to work on your speed, beginners. Although this song is insanely straightforward, the pace that Johnny Marr swaps chords in and out is an exercise in its own. The bad news is that once you’ve got these basic chords down, it’ll probably take a decade to play the lead parts with a hint of Marr’s style and flash.