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9 Beginner Guitar Songs You Should Learn, And Why

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Most beginners on guitar pick their first song by sorting through their music collection. Although the sheer enormity of options out there would seem encouraging, it’s actually terrifying to make that choice if you don’t have the experience, or a good friend to help.

The problem to picking these songs is simple: we often don’t know what’s appropriate for ourselves, and whether what we’ve picked can be played by beginners on guitar.

The solution to this is to avoid any material that doesn’t have a clear guitar part in it. I believe that’s what turns off most people from learning guitar, and you’ll find that a lot of pop music, even hip-hop (trust me), is difficult to play on guitar.

The next thing to do then is start developing an interest in music that does have the guitar in it, if you don’t already. AC/DC, Metallica, and Led Zeppelin, among others, are extremely popular to guitarists because most of their music is written specifically for this instrument.

However, these riffs are also the best music school that anyone can receive…….

Do you know why those guitar books go through the trouble of teaching you lullabies and nursery songs? Because they stick in your mind, and in turn you recognize them immediately.

Beginning guitar players learn these 9 riffs for that very same reason. As I started learning more about Led Zeppelin and other bands, I recognized so much music I already knew, which then became much more fun to play.

But more than the fact that almost every guitar player has learned these riffs, I’m going to tell you what they actually teach you.

Back In Black by AC/DC

----------½---------½------½-3-0------------½--------------------
------3-3-½-3-------½------½-----3-0--------½--------------------
------2-2-½-2---2-2-½-2----½----------2brp0-½--------------------
--2---0-0-½-0---2-2-½-2----½----------------½--------------------
--2-------½-----0-0-½-0----½----------------½--------------------
--0-------½---------½------½----------------½-7-4--7-5--7-6--7-7-

The space between the chords and their proximity to one another makes this a great beginner’s riff. Too many songbooks recommend you learn the G and D chords at first, which can be really challenging to switch between at first.

This riff allows you to build this very basic skill while learning a very popular song.

The pentatonic run is extra credit, but learning it will help you learn the equally important skill of blending chords and open notes seamlessly.

Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple

------------½---------------½------------½------
------------½---------------½------------½------
------------½---------------½------------½------
-5--8--10---½-5--8--11-10---½-5--8--10---½-8--5-
-5--8--10---½-5--8--11-10---½-5--8--10---½-8--5-
------------½---------------½------------½------

Oh boy, why didn’t I start with this one? The ultimate beginner’s riff! It’s because it helps you learn some completely different skills from the previous riff.

This one requires that you learn down picking while moving chord shapes up and down the fretboard in time. It doesn’t require a whole lot of thought to play, but this skill won’t come immediately.

Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes

---------------½-----------½---------------½------------
---------------½-----------½---------------½------------
---------------½-----------½---------------½------------
-------5-------½-----------½-------5-------½------------
-7--7----7-5-3-½-2----0----½-7--7----7-5-3-½-5--3---2---
---------------½-----------½---------------½------------

This riff will help you internalize the sound of E Minor blues riffs. The E Minor pentatonic scale will recur many, many times as you learn more riffs, and this area of the fretboard will become familiar as well.

This riff along with the previous two will help you remember the sound of three types of guitar riffs that you’ll become proficient at.

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Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin

----------------½------------------½
----------------½------------------½
----------------½------------------½
----------------½-9--------9-------½
------5b-----5--½-7--------7-------½
--/7------7-----½---0-0-0----0-0-0-½

This is another E Minor blues riff that’ll teach you how to mix open notes with chords. If you have any desire to learn metal guitar, you will have to learn dozens of variations of this riff.

Besides helping further internalize the sound of the blues, it will also help you learn to palm mute certain strings while playing others open.

Nothing Else Matters by Metallica

--------0------½-------0------½
------0---0----½-----0---0----½
----0-------0--½---0-------0--½
---------------½--------------½
---------------½--------------½
--0------------½-0------------½

This riff will teach you basic fingerpicking skills, and it’s also the easiest song in this article. No chords need to be learned, and it’s played very slowly. There’s a lot more to this song, particularly this part, but it’s very much within the beginner’s reach.

Wish You Were by Pink Floyd

----------½----3---3--3-----3--3-------½---3-3-----3--
----------½----3---3--3-----3--3-------½---3-3-----3--
----------½----0---0--0--0--0--0--0----½---0-0-----0--
--------0-½-2------------2-----------2-½-0------0-----
----0h2---½----------------------------½--------------
--3-------½----------------------------½--------3-----

This riff teaches you how to play bass lines with chords, specifically the G major chord. Lots of riffs will require you to learn both of these skills since all music centers around the use of chords.

More specifically, you will have to learn to handle riffs that break chords like G major into pieces like the one above.

Come As You Are by Nirvana

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--------½-----------------½-----------
--------½-----------------½-----------
--------½-----------------½-----------
--------½----0---0--------½----2---2--
--0-0-1-½-2----2---2-2--1-½-0----0----

This was the first riff I ever learned, and it taught me how to play in time, as well as playing riffs going between two strings.

One thing you’ll also learn is that many riffs can be played in different ways. This riff can be played with two fingers, just a pick, or a pick and fingers. You’re always allowed a little leeway to play a riff, as long as it sounds similar to what you hear on the record.

Another crucial technique, although it’s not quite for a beginner, is alternate picking. This technique will help you conserve motion and play under a lot more control. Downpicking the riff above can be tough and there are easier ways to do it.

Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton

------------------½-----------------½----------------------
--10hbr--8-10v----½-10hbr--8--------½-10hbr--8--8h10--/12--
----------------9-½----------9v---9-½----------------------
------------------½-----------------½----------------------
------------------½-----------------½----------------------
------------------½-----------------½----------------------
-----½---------------------
-13--½-13/17--15v----------
-----½---------------------
-----½---------------------
-----½---------------------
-----½---------------------

I recommend that this become your first lead guitar lick. It will help you learn proper bending and legato, and you’ll also get the joy of learning a very popular song.

You’ll also be surprised to learn that there are lots of lead guitar licks that require these exact same skills, and are not played any quicker than this one.

Iron Man by Black Sabbath

-----------------½-----------------------½---------
-----------------½-----------------------½---------
-----------------½-----------------------½---------
-4---7--7/9--9---½-12/11-12/11-12/11--7--½-7/9--9--
-2---5--5/7--7---½-10/9--10/9--10/9---5--½-5/7--7--
-----------------½-----------------------½---------

Finally, this iconic riff helps you learn how to move powerchords up and down to create a melody.

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A Recap

So the basic skills to learning guitar riffs like the 9 we just went over include:

  • Memorizing and identifying basic chord shapes
  • Moving these shapes in time with the song smoothly, and possibly with other guitar parts like in “Back In Black”
  • Using picking techniques like down picking, alternate picking, and finger picking.
  • Being able to recognize the sound of single note, power chord, and open chord riffs
  • Jumping between phrases on different strings
  • Using lead guitar techniques like bends and legato

It’s not nearly as intimidating as you think, and these are not the end-all-be-all of beginner guitar riffs. The most important thing is learning the skills so that you can play whatever I’ve left out.

If you’re interested in learning more songs to play, and getting the insider knowledge no guitar teacher wants you to know, then please check out my “Clueless Beginners Guitar Course” linked in the image below……

Beginner Guitar Songs, Beginners On Guitar, Beginner Guitar Lesson

 

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