Top 10 Songs For Six-String Beginners

Check out a rundown of 10 of the most common gateway songs to guitar mania.

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Beginning to play guitar is like fishing in the ocean for the first time. Where does one cast a line?

The answer has changed over the decades, but there are some songs that remain eternal starting points the base camps at the Mt. Everest of learning the instrument, to cavalierly toss a second metaphor into what's almost always initially a sonic fray.

So, to put this musical starting line (metaphor three!) in perspective, here's a rundown of 10 of the most common gateway songs to guitar mania:

  • "Sweet Child O' Mine": No instrument shop was safe for at least two years after this song became a single in August 1987. Blame Slash. His insanely catchy string skipping Gibson Les Paul riff on the intro to Guns N' Roses third radio hit was imitated by every kid shopping for a first guitar. As legend goes, Slash first played the part during a rehearsal as a joke, but the joke was on every hapless music store employee or patron within earshot.

  • "Eruption": And before "Sweet Child O' Mine" ersatz versions of Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption" solo spewed equally deadly fumes, making Eddie the first guitarist revolutionary to also impair the instrument. Imagine six ambitious young would-be players trying to hammer their way into fame at the same time... in different keys... and the horror of what once was typical guitar store static becomes chilling palpable once again.

  • "Wild Thing": For a generation of players who came of age after 1966, this was common ground the first chapter in the bible of three-chord rock. Originally a hit for first-generation psychedelic rockers The Troggs, it's been unoriginally played by everyone including Hendrix ever since.

  • "Knockin' On Heaven's Door": For every struggling guitar player who can't quite get it down, this beautiful Dylan classic is also the perfect tune for setting up the line, "I'm not really interested in guitar playing. I only want to learn guitar as a tool for songwriting." Excuses aside, this four-chord wonder does have its charm and, since it incorporates a seventh chord, does push the envelope for beginners harder than "Wild Thing."

  • "Rockin' In The Free World": Okay, Neil Young's performance of this number has more meat than its circular Em-D-C-G method. First of all, it's a protest number from 1989 a time, like now, when we really needed protest numbers. And Young's solos rip. The real lesson here for budding players isn't that it's an easy song to play with just a handful of chords, but that a handful of chords can be used to travel to remarkable places. It's a great springboard for ideas and improvisation.

  • "Smoke On The Water": Along with "Cat Scratch Fever," the two-string intro to this number might be the most copped melody of the classic rock era. But does anybody besides Deep Purple actually know the rest of the song?

  • "Iron Man": Another two-string wonder, and a great tune, but if suddenly all the distortion pedals decided to leave the Earth in protest over decades of abuse, would any beginner ever start here again? You bet!

  • "Seven Nation Army": Alternating between three- and two-chord riffs in E, this modern classic by the White Stripes is a perfect example of Jack White's ability to build great mountains out of sonic molehills. It's the same kind of estimable talent that made John Lee Hooker such a great player. You schooled players who scoff, trying playing Johnny Lee's stuff the way he did it and I guarantee all your learnin' will not help your sorry hind quarters play "Boogie Chillen" correctly. Anyway, a song like "Seven Nation Army," which let's a beginner stay in one easy-to-navigate stream yet requires quick, decisive changes, is a good place for anyone to commence.

  • "Working Class Hero": With one chord less than "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," this John Lennon classic is also a crutch for budding "songwriters," but only if it's allowed to play out that way. Unlike Dylan, Lennon throws in an E hammer-on and an open A string, thus giving "Working Class Hero" the higher purpose of illustrating how a held chord can be a living, changing thing instead of a stagnant strum-ble bum.

  • "No Rain": This is ground zero for a generation of jam band players, which, needless to say, makes it a mixed blessing. Some mistake it for a kind of Americana touchstone, but with its E-D-G-A structure, it's pretty much a slacker "Wild Thing" in a frou-frou bee costume. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    Thanks to Gibson for the report.

  • 179 comments sorted by best / new / date

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      joshuahughes34
      Personally Smells like teen spirit kicked me off. helped me learn up and down picking techinque (yeah im talking about super beginner stuff)
      kinslayerSOA
      To be honest, this is good for riffs, not whole songs. I'd say only 7 Nation Army is a real easy song there. Sweet Child O Mine - for a beginner it's quite tricky, solo especially. Smoke On The Water - Solo isn't a piece of piss to get right. Iron Man - Again, easy but the solo is a bit tricky. Eruption - YOU'RE FREAKIN KIDDING ME RIGHT? 5 YEARS I'VE BEEN PLAYING AND I CAN'T NAIL THAT.
      Salvo416
      Pope Toast wrote: You think Eruption is a good song for beginners? ...Eh?
      Even Eddie can't play eruption perfectly when he plays it live most of the time I heard.
      DeadestMoon
      I thought this was a list of songs that a beginner could learn to play? What the hell? And I keep seeing people say Smells Like Teen Spirit was their first song. Well it was mine too haha.
      stiklyman
      The title reminded me of the part in Wayne's World where he goes into the guitar shop and starts to play Stairway to Heaven, but the salesman points at the No Stairway sign after the first note.
      anjan14
      Eruption is no way a beginner song .It is also not the hardest song but definitely not for beginners . I agree with 7revor .Green Day is pretty good to start out.Also playing the crazy train riff could help a lot .The paranoid riff is also pretty good to start out with especially since it has some hammer on's and pull off's .
      dial-a-death
      ...I can play three of these. Not even interested in most of the others, and never heard of the last one. My first song was Come As You Are. Nirvana is good to start with, as is some Metallica rhythm, i.e Whiplash, For Whom The Bell Tolls, Seek and Destroy, etc. Whoever wrote this is an idiot, Eruption is by no means a beginner's song. Or even intermediate.
      MrDo0m
      "Eruption" is a great song for beginners! Also, "No Boundaries" by Michael Angelo Batio, anything by Andy McKee, Paul Gilbert, and Steve Vai are other good ones for those who are just starting out.
      Abacus11
      "...And Justice For All" is what made me want to get my first guitar and start playing. I couldn't believe that music could be that cool.
      leohimself
      Weezer - Island In The Sun RHCP - Scar Tissue Nirvana - Come As You Are Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit I started with these. They were pretty easy to learn. Never took a lesson in my life.
      Skodward714
      I remember trying to play Eruption when I first started guitar. I can definitely tell you from experience that a beginner would NOT be able to play that.
      xplosive59
      This is a good article for me as I am getting a guitar in a couple of days, I've been a bassist for 5 years playing everything from Prog-Death and Black Metal to Funk and Jazz but felt like expanding outwards into songwriting, and although I already know chords, scales and some music theory it would just help to learn guitar as well.
      vppark2
      vppark2 wrote: john_kimble wrote: That lame "Seven Nation Army" song could be played by anyone. How is it lame? I don't see why everyone rides Jack White's nutsack.
      How is it lame?
      vppark2
      john_kimble wrote: That lame "Seven Nation Army" song could be played by anyone. How is it lame? I don't see why everyone rides Jack White's nutsack.
      mradubz33
      My first song was Santa Monica by Everclear...sweet, sweet power chords. I also started on Wish You Were Here early. Its a great beginner song because it uses the usual chords, but the intro does some nice, simple hammer-ons.
      ledzep426
      Seven Nation army isn't gonna sound good unless you have the DigiTech Whammy to put it down an octave. Otherwise you just sound silly.
      crazysam23_Atax
      Pope Toast wrote: You think Eruption is a good song for beginners? ...Eh?
      No, but every beginner wants to know how to play it.
      limpidgreen345
      In the first hour after I picked up a guitar for the first time (my sister's flowered MIJ Telecaster) I tuned it, played an Em chord, learned to play Mary Had a Little Lamb, and then looked up the tablature to the Comfortably Numb outtro solo.
      rokr258
      Eruption's not even a song...? Eddie just whails on the tremolo and taps like crazy. I will admit when I began, the tapping parts were one of the first things I tried when I was still trying to be a rock star. Then I never used tapping again. Personally, I love Brain Stew by Green Day as a starting song. easy power chords, and there's time to move your hand to reset the fingering in between notes.
      Suckerpunchme!
      Like others' have posted... Eruption, Sweet Child o' Mine, really? As a beginner's song? I agree with Smoke On The Water, Ironman, Smells Like Teen Spirit. I would add Living After Midnight by Priest, Cocaine by Clapton, almost anything by Green Day, What I Like About You by The Romantics, Proud Mary by CCR... you get the point.
      panamex312
      Californication by RHCP was my first, learned it pretty quickly. still jam it all the time.
      ozzrhoads1982
      Iron Man and Smoke on the Water were the first songs I learned to play on my old beat up acoustic my grandma got me
      ChasenPipo
      Yeah, Eruption is a pretty good beginners songs. And if you want easy songs to practice with your garage band, try "Dance of Eternity" by Dream Theater, or even some Animals as Leaders tune.
      Chronologo
      what about Starway to heaven? even in Wayne's World they do a joke about it. Also I think Judas Priest's Breaking The Law is a pretty good beginner song example.
      burnummaster
      im pretty sure this article is about what songs make beginners want to play, not songs that are good for beginners. obviously eruption will **** anyone up
      Daysleeper_05
      I think what they meant y adding 'eruption' is that it's the song that beginners always take a stab at even though they can't get through it. I certainly did, and the same was true for Van Halen's "Panama". It took me almost two years to get Panama down, but it was one of the first things I decided I wanted to learn.
      ToolCreedence
      vppark2 wrote: Kenjamin91 wrote: First full song I learned on guitar was Have You Ever Seen The Rain. Nice, i remember one of the first full songs i played was Bad Moon Rising. Seriously tho i dnt even remember the VERY first song i started out on tbh tho. I did an after school program in 8th grade. It was guitar class. I just played basic easy songs like those for awhile, wich had chord charts, no tabs like probably most of the ppl here.
      I believe I learned Down On the Corner first. Then Proud Mary and Bad Moon Rising. Then about 10 more CCR songs. Incredibly easy and fun to play.
      ricbox
      Bob by NOFX was my first song. Two chords, one single reggae section in the middle, and flowing chords in the end solo. Yeah, maybe Iron Man is a blast to learn riffing right, but nothing's better than stretching your fingers with punk chords.
      Metalface213
      GenerationKILL wrote: ANY Metallica song from the Black Album easily belongs on this list.
      Try playing through the never all down as a beginner,... it still ****s with my arm and it's been 3 years,...