When we first start playing guitar it is common to learn just a couple of easy guitar chords, and most new players are pretty anxious to get playing their guitar as soon as possible. In this post we are going to provide some great examples of easy songs you can play with a limited number of basic guitar chords. That way from the very beginning you have something to show for each step of your guitar learning path.
Before jumping to the song list, here are two useful resources that will help you learn songs:
There are so many songs of every genre out there, were should you begin when you start getting the hang of playing the guitar? Below are some examples of songs specifically for electric and acoustic guitar. We are going to stick to pop rock, rock, and folk examples, of course some folks love heavy metal and punk, but let’s keep to the more popular genres to start. In this article we are going to use songs with easy chords, starting from simple songs with only 2 and adding one chords or two while we advance in the list.
- 1 Skip to My Lou
- 2 Jambalaya (On the Bayou)
- 3 Down in the valley
- 4 He's Got the Whole World in His Hands
- 5 Achy Breaky Heart
- 6 Give Peace a Chance
- 7 Banana Boat Song
- 8 Mary Had a Little Lamb
- 9 Paperback Writer
- 10 Everyday People
- 11 Earth Angel
- 12 Monster Mash
- 13 I'm Yours
- 14 Hey Soul Sister
- 15 Right Here Waiting
- 16 No Woman No Cry
- 17 Soul to Squeeze
- 18 Beast of Burden
- 19 Save Tonight
- 20 Hey Ya
- 21 When I Come Around
- 22 I’d Love to See You Tonight
- 23 Leaving On a Jet Plane
- 24 Hey There Delilah
- 25 Otherside
- 26 Runaway Train
- 27 Ziggy Stardust
- 28 Fun Fun Fun
- 29 Who'll Stop the Rain
- 30 Under the Bridge
- 31 There’s Something About Mary
- 32 Where Do You Go to My Lovely
- 33 Let It Be
- 34 Like A Rolling Stone
- 35 Here I Go Again
- 36 It Never Rains in Southern California
- 37 Summer Song
- 38 Just Like a Woman
- 39 The Boxer
- 40 Yellow Submarine
- 41 You Got It
- 42 Get Together
- 43 Five O'clock World
- 44 Cats in the Cradle
- 45 Hello I Love You
- 46 Rocky Mountain Way
- 47 Hold On, I’m Comin
- 48 Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye
- 49 It's Still Rock N Roll to Me
- 50 I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone
- 51 Big Rock Candy Mountain
- 52 Please Mr. Postman
- 53 Friend of The Devil
Chords diagrams for playing these songs
In this first section we are going to stick to one of the common keys and in this case the Key of C. Most new guitar players immediately learn C major and G major so let's find a list of music that can be played with just those two chords. Remember in the Key of we have the chords C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, and A minor… G major being the fifth in this key. In western music the easiest and best sounding interval is the root and the fifth, that's why it is so easy to write simple songs using only the chords C major (root) and G major (fifth). Most two chord songs of the root and fifth are going to be in the folk, gospel, and country genre, but we have a few that fit in the modern rock category!
This song dates all the way back to the 1840's, so while it may be a simple children's song we have to give it some respect for such staying power. It transitions back and forth quite simply between C and G without much fuss and is a great beginners song. It sounds fine with basic strumming, but it sounds much better with a little finger picking, give it a try and see what sounds best to you! (If you have an electric guitar plug it into and amp and give this old folk tune some rockin' amplification!)
It just doesn't get much better than Hank Williams, who wrote Jambalaya back in 1952 (well he most likely co-wrote it based off an old Cajun melody). This is another simple two chord melody that can be strummed or picked. Sometimes when playing simple two chord songs we want to add a little spice to the strumming since we don't have too much going on musically. Once you have the basic melody and song down, experiment a little!
This is a folk country song from the 1920's also known as “Birmingham Jail.” If you look this song up you will see some have it chorded with only C and G, while others use G7. Many folk songs that have two chords will sometimes use the 7th, if you haven't learned G7 yet that is fine as you can still play the song, but you may come across this 7th again with two chord songs so keep an eye out. (As a beginner it is usually ok to play just the G major, but hey it doesn't hurt to learn it now!)
Here is another great example of the G7 being used in this old time American spiritual. However, it is fine to play G major in the place of the G7. It will still sound fine and your audience will never know the difference!
If you grew up in the early 90's, you probably wanted to scream after hearing this song played a bazillion times! It wasn't written by Billy Ray Cyrus, but he sure made it popular. Despite it being played into the ground back then it is actually a great song for beginning guitar players. In fact, if you know a drummer and bass player, all three of you can play this with minimal practice making folks think you are just a regular band.
Even the great and talented Beatle John Lennon wrote his share of really simple songs. Give Peace a Chance makes a great campfire song, especially for the chorus. This song was written by John during his famous Bed-In with Yoko… ironically like playing this song, peace is really not complicated!
This 50's song had a big comeback after the movie Beetlejuice, it is a traditional Jamaican folk song made popular by Harry Belafonte. While this song is simply C major and G major like the rest on this list, the key to playing it is to get the strum right. Jamaican and reggae type songs often have an emphasis on the 2 and 4 beat, strum with a percussive type effect on these beats as you play the Banana Boat Song.
As mentioned before, most songs that only have these two chords in them of C and G will often be kid's songs or folk songs. However, it is always good to know these really simple songs like Mary had a Little Lamb because you never know when you will have a young audience that will want to hear a familiar tune!
I included this great song by The Beatles because it is a good example of how even a two chord song can be a little difficult to play. You will find much of the verse is in G with a short part in the C major chord, in fact many sites have the chord as G7. As you learn to play it, it will seem strange that you are staying in that same G chord for much of the verse. I find this can be fixed by good strumming and switching between G and G7. It's really all about using your ear. G7 is not that much different than G major and now is a great time to pick it up and start using it. With Paperback Writer you see that even two chords in a song it is not always easy!
Sly and the Family Stone has always been one of my favorite bands, and their song Everyday People fits our two chords of C and G perfectly. This song sounds great on an acoustic or electric guitar, just remember to add a little bit of soul and funk to it! Another song about peace and equality and all it needs is two chords! (Technically this song is in the Key of G, but it fits our needs for only using C and G)
Chords shapes for these songs
Barrè tip:If you find difficult playing the F major chord with full barrè (133211) you can always play it like this: XX3211
Now some beginners may have trouble with barring the F chord, however that’s ok because for this song it sounds ok to play the F as XX3211, the C as X32010 and the G as 320001. It can be played with fingerpicking or for beginners with a very simple strum and sounds best when you pluck the bass note of the chord and then strum the the rest of the strings.
Our lesson series on easy guitar songs that you can play with just some basic chords continues here. In the section above we talked about songs with just 2 chords: here is where our songs really start to expand, by adding the A minor to our C major, G major, and F major chords. In fact, the progression I-V-vi-IV or C-G-Am-F is known as the "Axis of Awesome" because so many songs have this chord progression. It is actually a little crazy how many tunes follow the pattern of C-G-Am-F. Also, there is the Doo Wop progression I-vi-IV-V or C-Am-F-G which is made up of the same chords. There are so many choices for 4 chord songs that below we will simply pick the easiest ones to represent them.
The Penguins released the song Earth Angel in 1954 and it was one of the first songs to crossover from the rhythm and blues charts to the pop charts. Which along with a few other songs from that era helped pave the way for the Rock explosion. Doo Wop songs nearly always followed this same progression as Earth Angel.
Yes of course this is a novelty song by Bobby Boris Pickett, but it is so easy to play and fun. Halloween really isn’t a holiday of many songs, so this is always a great one to know. And Monster Mash follows the exact progression as most other Doo Wop songs.
Tab. Note: the tab is in the key of G: G - Em - C - D, transpose it to C - Am - F - G
This song by Jason Mraz is a little more recent than the others mentioned so far and a big hit, catchy and a very simple progression throughout. Just like the Doo Wop progression mentioned above, the chords for "I’m Yours" are known as the Axis of Awesome. The progression is known as the Axis of Awesome because thousands of songs share it. It consists of I-V-vi-IV, so in the case of “I’m Yours” the chords are G-D-Em-C repeated throughout the song except for the bridge. Once you have learned this axis of awesome you will be able to play way more songs than just this one by Jason Mraz. Even if you do not like this song by Mraz, you will surely find one with the same progression that you love! guitar tab
If you happen to play the ukulele along with the guitar you probably already know this song! However, it is another Axis of Awesome progression and still sounds great on the guitar. Like Nickelback some people love Train, some don’t… but this song will always impress at least half your audience!
A little softer of a song so far than the rest on this list, this tune has been composed by Richard Marx back in the 80’s. He writes really catchy songs and they are always great for the guitar. Right Here Waiting is perfect for a beginner to play for a loved one.
Bob Marley is truly a legend; one can only wonder what songs he would be writing today if he were still around. No Woman No Cry is not only four chords, it is a simple strum. It doesn’t have the ska feel of other reggae songs so it is often easier for a new player. This song is perfect for summer campfires, a must for any guitarist! If you notice in the chord link, there is a G/B chord. This is simply a G chord with a B note in the bass instead of a normal G. Until you are comfortable with that concept it is fine to play the normal G chord.
Tab. Note: in the tab you find the G/B chord, it means a G major with a B as a bass note. If you are a beginner you can simply play G major
This Red Hot Chili Peppers song was a B-side that happened to be an unexpected hit. The video was hugely popular being played in heavy rotation. If you know C, G, Am, and F this song is easy to play, a true crowd pleaser.
Tab. Note: the tab is in F major key (F - C - Dm - Bb), in C key you play these chords: C G Am F
This song was primarily written by Keith Richards for the Rolling Stones album Some Girls. This song almost uses a Doo Wop progression but leaves out the G at the end for most of the verses. By rarely using that last G chord it gives the song a completely different feel than a regular Doo Wop song.
Tab. The tab is in E major (E - B - C#m - A), in the key of C is C - G - Am - F
This was the popular song by the Swedish rock musician Eagle Eye Cherry back in 1997. This particular tune is different than the other Axis of Awesome and Doo Wop tunes in that it starts in A minor. It uses the same four chords, but that slight switching up of the chords gives it a whole new vibe compared to the rest.
Anyone alive in 2003 would have heard this song played all the time, the video was a huge hit. Later it was released as an acoustic version by the artist Obadiah Parker, that is why I have included it in this list, it is a great acoustic guitar song. Like the last one this song uses these 4 chords in a different way, ending on the A minor this time.
Chords for the following songs
Now so far we have learned some easy songs to play on the guitar using the I, IV, V, and vi of the Key of C major. While there are many songs that are simply four chords, once we add more in, it allows us to enhance our playing. So along with C major, G major, F major, and A minor; the next chord to add in is the iii chord, E minor. A very simple chord to play on the guitar making this new addition very easy. Of course there are a plenty of easy guitar songs that have these chords so we pick the best to play on our guitars.
This song by Green Day is usually played with power chords on the guitar. Power chords are not complete chords, the are only the root and fifth and are common in punk, grunge, and 90's music. However, it is still a fine song to play with regular chords
This was a hit song by England Dan Seals and John Ford Coley, Seals being the younger brother of the musician from Seals and Crofts. Even though this song is only five chords it will take a little time to practice, getting the chord changes just right isn’t easy, but worth it as it is a great song!
Love him or hate him, John Denver wrote many songs and many hits. However, this particular tune was made famous by Peter, Paul, and Mary. In fact it was their final and biggest hit, back in 1966. This is a great song when you begin playing these five chords, slow and easy changing between each chord.
This song was the first hit by the band The Plain White T's, Time magazine even put it on there list of best songs of 2007. They make great use of these five chords and are a great song to have in your repertoire.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are great at writing songs for people learning to play the guitar! This song was released in 2000 and as usual is about their struggles with addiction, and they always knew how to make great music from serious issues. This song has the five necessary chords we are using however it starts on an A minor, giving it that solemn and serious feel.
Soul Asylum released this power ballad about depression back in 1992, a heavily rotated radio play and video at the time. If you notice so far many of the songs on this list have a much more serious and sometimes sad feeling, that is because the E minor and A minor. Upbeat songs are often always in major keys, as soon as we add minors it can give it a more downcast attitude. This song also has a slash chord (Em/B) where it uses the B in the bass instead of E, however it is fine to play the regular Em if you are more comfortable with that.
It is a true shame David Bowie is no longer around, truly a genius songwriter and musician. Ziggy Stardust is apart of his 1972 concept album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. We could write an entire article about this album alone as it easily ranks on many lists of the best albums of all time. In the meantime, we can play this tune on either an acoustic or electric guitar, it will always sound great!
Brian Wilson and Mike Love of the Beach Boys wrote this song back in 1964, it embodies the California sound and myth. In this fun and simple song there isn’t five chords, only the E minor, the A minor is left out. It also makes use of a G7, but by now that chord shouldn't be too hard!
This is another solemn minor tune and written by Creedence Clearwater Revival. It has a folk rock feel and was essentially a protest song against the Vietnam War. The long fadeout of this song is supposed to represent the rain that will not stop, so when playing this always leave a long outro. It uses the minor chords sparingly, but still has that desolate feel.
As always the Red Hot Chili Peppers make great songs to play on guitar. This song was on their hit album Blood Sugar Sex Magik and pushed them into the mainstream. This song also has a slash chord (C/G) which means the G note is played in the bass of the C chord instead of the C note. However, you can always just play the C chord until you get the hang of slash chords. As you start playing it you will know all the chords necessary, however once you get to the chorus you will find a little surprise... a D minor chord. Once you learn it now you can move onto six chord songs!
Chords diagrams for these songs
Moving into the territory of six chord songs, now we have another minor to add to our playing. The I (C major), the ii (D minor), the iii (E minor), the IV (F major), the V (G major), and the vi (A minor) are now all apart of our music vocabulary! Of course with this extra minor we are often going to be dealing with songs that are going to be a little more on the serious side. Love, loss, introspection, and sadness are much easier to express with the addition of the D minor chord.
In the hit movie There's Something About Mary, the musician Jonathon Richman is a part of a Greek chorus, the purpose being to comment on the action occurring in the play or movie. With this great song he explains the plot of the movie and gets you tapping your foot at the same time! Despite its melancholy vibe, this tune is actually fun and always a crowd pleaser. Before playing this song practice playing just E minor to D minor back and forth, this will be the intro and segue into the rest of the tune.
Peter Sarstedt was a one hit wonder back in 1969 with this song. The 2007 Wes Anderson film The Darjeeling Limited used his tune bringing him back into the limelight briefly. He recently passed away (in January 2017) so it only seems fitting to include this gem on our list. This traditional sounding folk tune/love song is easy for any guitar player who knows these chords.
Of course we always come back to the Beatles, the album titled after this song was released a month after they broke up. Despite being recorded while the band was disintegrating this is definitely one of their best known songs. Interestingly you will find this song listed in four chord song lists, especially because the main verse follows the Axis of Awesome chord progression. However, adding the D minor into the end of the words "let it be" really makes the song all the better. This is a good example of how some songs can be played simply, yet are enhanced as we learn our chords.
Many listeners wonder if this famous Bob Dylan song was written about Edie Sedgwick, one of the members of Andy Warhol's group in the 60's. It’s one of Dylan’s most famous songs, and like much of his early work, not too hard to play. Ironically the record company representing him at the time almost didn’t release it because it had a "heavy electric" sound. Hearing that now seems pretty crazy, but it was a big deal when he went electric.
Recorded by the British rock band Whitesnake, this song is on many 80’s greatest hits lists. It works great for an acoustic or electric guitar, remember to always play the chorus much louder and harder than the verse!
One of the interesting factoids about this Albert Hammond song is that the band playing in the back ground was the Wrecking Crew. For anyone truly interested in rock history if you haven’t heard of the Wrecking Crew, read the link above, these session musicians contributed to so many songs it is quite amazing! They were the best of the best when it came to being a musician.
This hit by Chad and Jeremy has that perfect summertime vibe. It’s uplifting yet reminiscent of a lost summer romance. A great example of how the addition of multiple minor chords can really change the mood of song. Notice the verse is all in the major chords and only in the chorus do we hear the minor, an interesting contrast.
This song is a personal favorite of mine, I find it to be a great acoustic song to play at coffee shop gigs. It was released on Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde album in 1966. It changes chords rather quickly so it will take some practice, but in the end it is well worth it!
This song by Simon and Garfunkel reportedly took over 100 hours to record and produce! Using such instruments as pedal steel guitar and piccolo trumpet, it is a masterpiece. Once you know the basic six chords in the Key of C you can make your own beautiful renditions of this on acoustic guitar (there is a Dm7 thrown in there, just to keep you on your toes!). A version of this song was recently played on the radio show Prairie Home Companion and is worth a listen!
After including many Beatles songs on our past lists, it's only right to have one sung by Ringo Starr! This is of course a well known Beatles song that everyone can sing along too! I end the list with this song to show that minor chords don’t always have to be sad sounding.
Chords diagrams for these songs
In the last sections we have discussed songs that you can play with just two, three, four, five and six chords. We have stayed in the key of C major to keep it easy with the chords C, Dm, Em, F, G, and Am. Of course there are many songs out there that don't stay in one key, and some songs that have strange chords in them, but we are going to take the next logical step; B flat and E flat. Now why is this the next logical step in the Key of C? Well lots of songs use the Key of C blues scale, especially Rock N Roll and pop rock, which means these songs will have a flattened 3rd and flattened 7th. In the Key of C that flattened 3rd is Eb and the flattened 7th is Bb. Adding these two chords to your previous six (C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am) will greatly increase your song knowledge.
After all these chords that work in the Key of C, we have finally come to the two most difficult. For many guitar players the Eb and Bb chords are left to the very end. However, these flattened 3rd and 7th chords really add a whole new dimension to our playing. In the examples below you will notice the variety of classic rock and pop rock songs that can be covered with these two extra guitar chords!
The normal Bb chord is going to take some time to get used to, but a good starter song is You Got It, by Roy Orbison. This song was released shortly after his death and reminded everyone what a great contributor he was to Rock N Roll. Here he turns a simple rock progression into an emotional ballad, notice during the bridge and chorus you will be back into familiar chord territory.
Here we have a simple C to Bb progression most of the time, switching between these chords will not be easy. This song made popular by the Youngblood’s is often used in movies and media when representing the the vibe of the 60’s. With good reason, it is a wonderful folk song to play around a campfire! Notice how the chorus switches all to major chords to give an uplifting feel after the verse.
The Vogues made this song popular back in the mid-60’s, a nice upbeat tune fitting for your guitar. The C to Bb progression mentioned above is actually very common in Rock N Roll, here we share a similar chorded song, but with an added C7. The C7 is a one finger difference and hopefully will, not throw you off!
Now if you thought Bb was hard to play, try adding Eb into the progression! Whether you play the Harry Chapin version above or the more recent Ugly Kid Joe, this is a great starter song adding in both of our difficult chords. Take your time in the beginning and it will slowly get easier.
I hesitated to add this Doors classic in, it fits a perfect common progression of C-Bb-Eb-C. The big surprise is that the end of the song jumps up in key by half a step. However, notice that even in the slightly higher key it still follows the I-VIIb-IIIb-C pattern. As you progress in your song playing with Eb, Bb, and beyond; it is good to notice these patterns, it will help your future jamming abilities.
Speaking of jamming this is a great blues-rock song by Joe Walsh to know, mostly utilizing a C-F-Eb-C chord progression. We already mentioned seeing 7th chords and here we see C7 again and F7, neither should be too difficult to play. At this point anything is easy compared to the Bb and Eb chords!
The great debut album had Sam and Dave with music by Booker T and the MG’s, all that talent together created this awesome song. If you notice this simply switches the Eb and F from the last song making this C-Eb-F-C, and again there are the same 7th chords.
This song uses a chorus progression of C-Eb-Bb-C (with a F6 and Fm thrown in, these are both easy if you switch from the F barre chord). This song was attributed to a band name Steam that didn't even exist! They were simply studio musicians who collaborated to make a one hit wonder.
Normally Billy Joel songs work best on the piano, but this upbeat number makes a fine guitar cover. It takes us back to many of the chords we have learned in the past and with the Bb. Again and again we will see this flattened seventh in plenty of rock songs.
This last song was a hit for Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Monkees both. It is going to challenge you with one new chord and a progression that is hard to play, but worth the effort! Of all the chords we often see in rock songs along with Eb and Bb, it is common to see Ab. Before we learned that the vi chord was A minor in the key of C, well sometimes in rock they turn it to A major and flatten it! This VIb, is actually known as the Buddy Holly chord because he popularized it during the chorus of Peggy Sue. As you search for songs with the dreaded Eb and Bb you will often see this Ab thrown in the mix. So it can't hurt to learn it now on such a funky and fun song for your guitar.
This song is a classic, still popular to this day thanks to the movie O Brother Where Art Thou, in fact this movie caused a huge resurgence in the mandolin and folk music on the banjo and guitar. Big Rock Candy Mountain was recorded by Harry McClintock in 1928, however there is evidence that it may be a much older folk song that he just made popular. This song is the 3 simple chords of C, G, and F in the Key of C and is perfect on the acoustic guitar. It’s a perfect campfire song and once you can play one verse, they are all the same from there on out. The F and C chords do eventually change back and forth rather fast, but with practice it comes along pretty quick. "Big Rock Candy Mountain is just a great song to have in your playing arsenal and you will have it down in no time at all.guitar tab
"Please Mr. Postman" was originally sang by The Marvelettes and later covered by The Beatles and The Carpenters. It’s not the greatest song in the world, but it is a fantastic beginner song. Why? Because it is the perfect example of the Doo Wop progression, the chord progression that is I-vi-IV-V, in the Key of G is G-Em-C-D:
This Doo Wop progression is the same for many Motown songs, like Stay, Duke of Earl, Beauty School Dropout, and even, The Monster Mash! Once you know how to play "Please Mr. Postman" you will know how to play many more Motown songs, it’s just a matter of changing up your strum. I believe The Marvelettes played the song in thekey of D (D-Bm-G-A) and The Beatles played it in the Key of A (A-F#m-D-E). Whatever key you pick to play it in just stick to that I-vi-IV-V order each time for every line in the verse and chorus and you will have the entire song. Practice different strums, and do your best to put some soul into it as it is a product Motown and Doo Wop! (And don't forget the song can easily be switched for a male or female perspective with a few tweaks of some lyrics!) guitar tab
I am including this last song not just because it is by the great Grateful Dead, but it is a perfect example of a song that can be simple or a little more complicated. If you notice in this link, it is simply chords that you strum, but in the next one it has the complicated bass pattern.
The second example has many slash chords because the song "Friend of the Devil" has a descending bass pattern in the song. And this brings us to an important point, when you are first beginning it is wise to look up as many songs as possible and just try playing them with basic chords you are given. Take the chords you see and flesh out as good strum pattern (sometimes the internet has really bad examples of chorded songs, so you have to use your ear to know what is and isn’t right).
As you begin to practice more you want to start adding in more bass lines, intro melodies, and specific riffs. Which leads us to our next article about tablature, tabs allow you to take that “rough draft” of chords and spice it up a bit. guitar tab version 1 guitar tab version 2
Not all the songs you'll encounter have been originally composed in the key of C. As we are building our repertoire of easy guitar songs sticking to the key of C, if we encounter a song that is not in the key of C we have to transpose the chords from its original key. Here below you find a table that helps you in the transposing process.
Example: suppose we encounter a song in the key of G, that has the following chords: G - D - Em - C - Bm. At the second row of the table, we can see the degrees of the scale of those chords: I - V - VI - IV - III. The chords corresponding to the same degrees, in the key of C (first row), are: C - G - Am - F - Em
Being able to transpose songs will save your life in many situations. To understand better how this process works, be sure to check the tutorial on how to transpose songs on guitar
Our big list of easy songs to play on guitar is completed. We hope you'll have a lot of fun in playing these songs; if you want to learn more chords be sure to download the free guitar chords ebook (pdf format) and play with the online chords progressions generator. If you have any question or feedback please drop a line in the comments section below.