Guitar Songs You Should Learn

by Mark Starlin

There are certain songs that every guitar player should try to learn. Either they are commonly requested or they have cool guitar parts that will expand your playing skills. I am going to list songs in several styles of music and explain why I think they should be add to your “play list.” While most are electric guitar songs, there are some acoustic songs also.

Obviously, this type of list won’t ever be comprehensive, and no doubt, many will disagree with my choices — and find many ommissions. But I have choosen songs I think are worth learning.

This is a huge list and will take most players years to complete (if ever.) That's alright. Just take them one at a time. Each one has something good to offer.

  • 1950ís

  • Johnny B. Goode
    Johnny B. Goode - Chuck Berry

    Chuck Berry defined a new way to play guitar for the rock and roll generation. From the cool rhythm parts to the sliding double stops and unique bends, this song is a crash course in 50’s style guitar playing and paved the way for much of what was to follow.

  • Folsom Prison Blues
    Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash

    Johnny Cash's driving, train-like "boom chucka, boom chucka" alternating bass/chord rhythm created a new standard for guitar rhythm for both country and rockabilly guitarists for generations.

  • Rock Around The Clock
    Rock Around The Clock - Bill Haley & His Comets

    An early rock and roll classic from the era when players still used jazz guitars and played jazz chords. The ninth chords still sound way cool and the manic solo is a blast to play.

  • Surf

  • Wipe Out
    Wipe Out - The Surfaris

    Back when instrumental rock was cool, Wipeout ruled. A catchy riff/melody and easy three chord rhythm make this a classic. Drummers love it too, making it more likely to be requested. Grab a Strat, a clean amp, slap on some reverb (or tremolo) and get busy.

  • Walk Don't Run
    Walk Don’t Run - The Ventures

    Another cool riff, but the way cool descending barre chord intro alone makes this one worth learning.

  • Riff Based

  • 25 Or 6 To 4
    25 Or 6 To 4 - Chicago

    This one has a very cool, and easy to play, single note intro. Plus jazzy chords for a rock song. And a great wah solo. Get together with your horn playing friends and rock out!

  • Day Tripper
    Day Tripper - The Beatles

    Many of The Beatles’ songs were based on cool riffs, but this s a good choice due to its instantly recognizable riff, chunky chorus, and guitar solo.

  • Smoke On The Water
    Smoke On The Water - Deep Purple

    The song that put the "power" into power chords. Sure, everyone knows the opening riff, but can you play the verse and chorus? If not, get busy.

  • Purple Haze
    Purple Haze - Jimi Hendrix

    The granddaddy of all hard rock riffs by the man who reinvented guitar playing in the 1960's. Extra credit if you can learn any Henrdix solo note-for-note.

  • Sunshine Of Your Love
    Sunshine of Your Love - Cream

    Take a great opening riff and mix it with galloping chords that end the chorus and you get this classic rock guitar standard.

  • Bridge Of Sighs
    Bridge Of Sighs - Robin Trower

    A moody, slow burning blues/rock masterpiece. This classic moves from an opening trill to a combination of riffs, chords, and fills. It then features unusual (for rock) chords in the chorus and a simple, yet highly effective, single note riff as an outro.

  • High Gain Rock (Standard Tuning)

  • Outta My Head
    Outta My Head - Daughtry

    This one is just fun to play. All power chords and riffs with chords played stacatto. Add some tremolo effect on the pre-chorus and a cool fill after the chorus and you have a cool rocker that is not too hard to learn.

  • Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love
    Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love - Van Halen

    Great arpeggio riff will give you a picking workout. It also contains one of the few Van Halen solos normal humans can play. Add some flanger and play the harmonics in the bridge for a cool sound.

  • Crazy Train
    Crazy Train - Ozzy Osbourne

    The awesome intro riff is not as hard as it sounds, but the galloping rhythm is more challenging. And the fills are insane. Master this one and you are a shredder.

  • Rock You Like A Hurricane The Scorpions
    Rock You LIke A Hurricane - The Scorpions

    Ignore the non-rhyming chorus. The simple power chords make this fun to play, but the unusual timing of the palm-muted verse power chords makes it a little more interesting. Great fun to solo over also.

  • Soul/R&B/Motown

  • Soul Man
    Soul Man - Sam & Dave

    Some guitar players have an instantly recognizable style of playing. Steve Cropper is one of those players. He played on many soul and R&B hits. This is a good introduction to his playing style. It features the way cool opening riffs and some infectious fast treble string chord playing. The Blues Brothers version may be better known to some, but this is the original.

  • (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay
    (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay - Otis Redding

    Another Steve Cropper classic. This one is a masterclass in how to use riffs/fills (hammer-ons, double stops, slides, etc.) to create a truly memorable guitar part. The chromatic walk down (C, Bb, B, A) in the chord progression is cool also. Just walk down the neck using barre chords.

  • Ain't To Proud To Beg
    Ain't Too Proud To Beg - The Temptations

    "Chopping" the treble strings of a chord on beats 2 and 4 is a staple of Motown and 60's R&B music. This song also adds a cool riff in the chorus. To chop (stacatto) the chords, simply play the high three strings (1st, 2nd, 3rd strings) of a C and F chord at the 8th fret. Right after you strum, let up on the chord. Add reverb. Perfect guitar parts don't have to hard. You can find the treble string chord fingerings for major and minor chords by looking at barre chords and only using the top three strings.

  • My Girl
    My Girl - The Temptations

    Another classic Motown hit that uses chopped chords. But it is the instantly recognizable riffs in the intro and verses, which outline the chord changes, that make this a good example of how to play simple but effective parts in a band setting.

  • Southern Rock

  • Sweet Home Alabama
    Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd

    Do I really have to explain. Almost every beginning guitar player wants to learn this one. Always a crowd pleaser, you simply have to know this one.

  • Mellisa
    Melissa - The Allman Brothers

    The use of open chord shapes ascending and descending the neck makes for a beautiful acoustic guitar part. It is easier to play than it looks and a great chords progression to practice soloing over.

  • Classic Rock

  • House Of The Rising Sun
    House Of The Rising Sun - The Animals

    Traditional song of lament made famous by UK band The Animals thanks to cool minor key arpeggio chords and emotional vocals.

  • Proud Mary
    Proud Mary - Creedence Clearwater Revival

    Cool intro chord riff and a catchy chorus. And if you ever play at a wedding reception you will pretty much have to know this song (or the Ike & Tina Turner version.)

  • Takin' Care Of Business
    Takin’ Care Of Business - Bachman Turner Overdrive

    Clever twist on the standard Chuck Berry rhythm, plus great solos and witty lyrics that appeal to anyone who ever dreamed of playing in a band.

  • All Right Now
    All Right Now - Free

    Ambiguous chords in the opening and one of the coolest solos of all time make this one worth the time spent learning it.

  • Stairway To Heaven
    Stairway To Heaven - Led Zeppelin

    Nearly every Zeppelin song qualifies, but this is the ultimate Zeppelin epic combining fIngerstyle playing, arpeggios, power chords, riffs, and solos to create a smorgasbord of rock guitar.

  • Dream On
    Dream On - Aerosmith

    One of the most instantly recognizable guitar parts in rock history was written on piano by singer Steven Tyler. A cool climbing and descending solo in the intro also makes it worth learning.

  • Life Is A Highway
    Life Is A Highway - Tom Cochrane/Rascal Flats

    With easy two finger power chords throughout, this one is popular with rock, country crowds, and even kids thanks to the movie Cars. And it is fun to play. Check out the cool guitar octaves intro in the original Tom Cochrane version.

  • The Boys Are Back In Town
    The Boys Are Back In Town - Thin Lizzy

    One of the coolest two guitar harmony riffs ever. Plus a great sounding mix of one guitar playing power chords and another playing barre chords. If you ever get to play this one with another guitar player you won't forget the experience.

  • Acoustic

  • Heart Of Gold
    Heart Of Gold - Neil Young

    Cool driving chords and riff in the intro, and unusal chord progresion in the chorus, sandwiched by an easy verse section. Bonus points for getting a harmonica holder and wailing away on harmonica while you play.

  • Take It Easy
    Take It Easy - The Eagles

    Great sounding open chord progressions are easy to learn and play. The intro has an unusal (for pop music) C13 chord. If you play electric, try the country flavored riff in the beginning also.

  • The Joker
    The Joker - Steve Miller Band

    One of the most recognizable acoustic riffs (bass lines) of all times. Add a little country style hammering in the chorus section and you have a classic. If you are ambitous and play electric also, try the wah/slide guitar "wolf whistle" during the verse.

  • Stuck Like Glue
    Stuck Like Glue - Sugarland

    With a catchy strumming rhythm and fairly easy G, D, Cadd9, and Am chords capoed at the 6th fret, this is a fun one to learn and play. And a good introduction to country pop music.

  • Fingerstyle

  • Dust In The Wind
    Dust In The Wind - Kansas

    Another instantly recognizable guitar masterpiece. If you want to really impress, learn the violin solo on guitar.

  • Blackbird
    Blackbird - The Beatles

    A classic Paul McCartney song that flies up and down the guitar neck like a bird. Very cool.

  • Jazz

  • The Girl From Ipanema
    The Girl From Ipanema - Getz/Gilberto

    Great Bossa Nova chord progression that is as cool as an ocean breeze and great fun to play.

  • Latin Rock

  • Oye Como Va
    Oye Como Va - Santana

    Cool Am7 to D9 rhythm with tasty guitar playing throughout. And of course, the very cool walk-down arpeggios chords before the organ solo.

  • Instrumentals

  • Europa
    Europa - Santana

    Want to add some emotion to your playing? Study this song. Carlos grabs at the heart in the beginning and then goes for the gut at the end. Classic.

  • Christian

  • Big House
    Big House - Audio Adrenaline

    Funky rhythm guitar, fun lyrics, and simply one of the coolest opening riffs of all time have made this song an enduring classic.

  • Switchfoot Meant To Live
    Meant To Live - Switchfoot

    This Drop D monster of guitar riffing has lyrics as powerful as its chords.

  • Amazing Grace - John Newton

    Just about everyone on Earth knows this song. You should too. Three chords.


I consider this list a work in progress. I realize I have left out a lot of styles of music. I intend to keep adding to it. If you think a song is essential for guitar players to know, email me and tell me why.

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