One of the hardest parts of learning guitar is not getting bored along the way. One strategy I have found useful is to work through songs instead of drills and exercises. A tricky task for beginners is picking songs that are playable but also challenging. Here is a list of eight songs that should bring you from square one to intermediate skill, by the time you’ve worked through these eight, you should notice a marked difference in both your mechanics and muscle tone.
- Three Little Birds – Bob Marley
This one is a classic for the beginner guitar player. The definition of an easy three chord song. Bob Marley delivers a simple but fun melody that is a great confidence booster. Chords used: A, D and E.
- Mad World – Gary Jules
Here’s another easy starter song to work on chord changes and finger accuracy. This one has one extra chord, but the melody and chorus share the same progression. An added bonus is that its minor, so the heartthrob factor is definitely increased. Chords used: Em, G, D and A.
- Don’t Panic – Coldplay
As a huge Coldplay fan, I was really excited when I could move on to this one. I think “Don’t Panic” is a great one for the starting guitar player because it sounds complicated, but the left hand is actually very simple. The best part of this track is definitely on the chorus when you get to make that Dm6 chord ring out with just a lift of the ring finger. Chords: Am, C, Fmaj7 (a really cool sound), Dm, Dm6 and G.
- I Want to Hold Your Hand – The Beatles
This Beatles classic isn’t tough in terms of chords, but the speed was really a challenge when I first started on it, especially the chorus. I started to think of it as a chord change drill that was also fun to play. Get this one down and you’ll have enough dexterity to play any non-bar chord piece. This is also a great piece to play around with your rhythm guitar patterns. Chords used: G, D, Em, B7 (this one is a squeeze!), and C.
- Only Living Boy In New York – Simon and Garfunkel
Welcome to the F-zone! Tom get your bar chords on time. I could barely make an F sound when I started on this Simon and Garfunkel classic. This song’s progression is as simple as can be, F to C to F to C, it couldn’t be better designed to build finger strength. Good luck, this is the big hurdle that all guitar players have to overcome. Chords used: F, C, Dm, G, and Dm7.
- While My Guitar Gently Weeps – The Beatles
F is fun, but there’s a lot more bar chords out there, and some of them live on the fourth fret. Getting your fingers to be strong and quick takes a lot of practice, and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is really great for building those traits. The right hand strums quarter notes, while the left hand gets to dance (or clumsily stagger) up and down the neck. This one really hurt to work on, but the beautiful and haunting melody makes it worth it. Chords used: a ton.
- Such Great Heights – Iron and Wine
Time to throw some finger picking into the mix. Iron and Wine’s cover of “Such Great Heights” teaches two great skills. One of which is bar chords, which should be becoming pretty familiar to you by now, the other is basic finger picking, which for me took quite a bit of time to get comfortable with. Getting these two down means that you have two of the biggest pillars of intermediate guitar mastered.
- Blackbird – The Beatles
Blackbird is one of my favorite pieces and was my original goal when I first started learning guitar. The left hand isn’t too tough, but the picking on the right can be quite challenging. I’m still practicing to get this one sounding as good as I’d like.
Don’t forget, the most important thing to learning anything new is persistence. Even when your fingers are killing you or your hand cramps up, come back ready to keep trying. I hope this little guide helps you on your path towards becoming a better guitarist, and don’t forget to curl your fingers.