10 Great Songs for Beginning Guitarists

By Mark Phillips, Jon Chappell, Hal Leonard Corporation

One of the best reasons to pick up the guitar is to play a song that most everyone knows and can sing along with. Following are ten songs that are ideal for playing and singing, either alone or with other people around to help out. All the songs here can be played in a number of keys, using just a few simple chords.

“Blowin’ in the Wind”

Along with rock ‘n’ roll, the 1950s and 1960s popularized folk music, bringing acoustic guitars into the spotlight as performers sang out on topics ranging from love to social protest. Bob Dylan was the most famous of this new era of popular performers known as singer-songwriters, and wrote many songs that he himself made popular, or that other artists covered. “Blowin’ in the Wind” was a hit for both Dylan and the harmonizing folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary.

The chorus begins with the line “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,” and that’s the part where the harmonies come, so make sure someone tries to sing the harmony part if you have more than one person in your group who likes to sing.

“Brown Eyed Girl”

Written and recorded by Irish rock singer Van Morrison in 1967, “Brown Eyed Girl” remains one of Morrison’s most beloved love songs and is a popular song choice for cover bands and karaoke participants. The verses are followed by a vigorous chorus consisting largely of nonsense syllables (a mixture of sha-la-las and la-las and a couple of la-dee-dahs), which is where the harmony vocals come in.

“Hang On Sloopy”

In this 1965 hit by the McCoys, a boy encourages his girl to keep her grip and assures her that it doesn’t matter what her father’s occupation is nor that she’s from the wrong side of the tracks. “Sloopy” is the official rock song of the state of Ohio and is found in the repertoire of many marching bands. The chorus is jubilantly optimistic, driven by three major chords (the same ones that propel the verses).

“House of the Rising Sun”

The Animals, the British band, took this traditional folk song — a minor-key cautionary tale about a house of ill repute — electrified it, altered the lyrics, and turned it into a rock classic. The song doesn’t contain a chorus, just a succession of verses (including an instrumental, played by the organ), which are all accompanied by an arpeggiated right-hand pattern over simple, first-position chords.

“I Saw Her Standing There”

Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and recorded by the Beatles, “I Saw Her Standing There” was first released as the B-Side of the Beatles’ American No. 1 January 1964 single “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” It became a chart hit in its own right in February 1964, and has been covered by Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and the cast of Glee. Paul McCartney (who sang the original lead vocal when the Beatles did it many decades ago) regularly performs it in his live shows. Female cover versions (with “her” changed to “him” in the lyrics) include those by Tiffany and the Supremes.

“I’m a Believer”

Many of the Monkees’ songs, including their hits, were written by non-band members. “I’m a Believer” reached No. 1 in the United States and was featured in the movie Shrek (sung by Eddie Murphy as Donkey). Neil Diamond, a well-known songwriter and singer in his own right, wrote the song, which is a testament to Diamond’s songwriting talent because it sounds so quintessentially Monkees. The chorus begins with the line “Then I saw her face,” and the next line, “Now I’m a believer,” is where the harmony vocals jump in.

“Leaving on a Jet Plane”

Colorado-based singer-songwriter John Denver (who recorded his own version) wrote this folk favorite. The trio of Peter, Paul & Mary had a hit with it, in 1969, enhancing the arrangement with their signature vocal harmonies on the chorus. (Frank Sinatra, Spanky & Our Gang, Trini Lopez, and the cast of the TV show Glee also have covered the song.)

“My Girl”

“My Girl” was a hit for the Detroit-based Temptations, recording for the Motown label, but it was another Motown star who actually wrote the song, Smokey Robinson (who had his own successful career with his band the Miracles). This song features harmony vocals on the chorus and has a simple but effective guitar lick introducing the verses. If you have more than one guitarist in your midst, having one of you play this infectious guitar melody with the other strumming the chords may be fun.

“Stand by Me”

Performed by the former lead singer of the Drifters, Ben E. King, who also wrote the song (partnering with the noted songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller), “Stand by Me” was a Top 10 hit in 1969, where it blasted out of every jukebox, transistor radio, and P.A. system in America. It became a Top 10 hit again, in 1986, when it was featured in the Rob Reiner film of the same name.

“Twist and Shout”

The R&B band the Isley Brothers got to the charts first with this song (where it ranked in the Top 20), but the Beatles produced their own version, which reached No. 2 on the US charts. The song became popular again when it was featured in the films Ferris Buellers Day Off and Back to School. Most people are probably more familiar with the Beatles version, where the Fab Four perform their famous harmonies on the ahs in the middle and end sections.