1. Born to Be Wild – Steppenwolf
Written by Mars Bonfire, and often thought of as one of the first heavy metal songs, this classic track contains few chords, no solo and a great chugging rhythm which make this a perfect number for beginners.
You’ll learn: E5 power chord, muting, the legendary E7#9 chord, some simple fills.
Tips: The toughest thing here for beginners will be muting any unwanted string noise during the rhythm parts. You can do this with a combination of fret hand and palm muting to get that chugging rhythm nice and clean. There’s no solo to worry about but there are a couple of fills during the pre-chorus. Switching between the chords and the fills will be tough at first so start slow and bring it up to speed. You can of course leave the fills out and chug on the E5 power chord.
2. Smells like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
The opening track from Nirvana’s 1991 album ‘Nevermind’ is beautifully simple and a great one for anyone starting out on guitar. Apparently it was Kurt Cobain’s attempt to rip off the Pixies and write the ultimate pop song.
You’ll learn: Power chords, muting.
Tips: The important thing here is to get the intro/chorus rhythm part right although it doesn’t have to be too perfect as that’s not the point here. I’ve heard pro guitarists demonstrate this riff and it’s a little cringeworthy to hear it played too well. The verse part shouldn’t give you any trouble.
3. Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Green Day
A modern era puck rock classic from American rockers Green Day and a great one for practicing open chords and power chords in the same song.
You’ll learn: Em, G, D, A – a very useful chord progression used in thousands of songs.
Tips: The original is played with a capo on fret 1 if you want to play along to the recording. This should also make it easier to finger the chords. In the verse part the top E string isn’t played on the Em and G chords, it probably sounded too bright, so be sure to cut your strum off so as not to hit it or mute it with the third finger of your fretting hand.
4. Club Foot – Kasabian
This pounding track from the British indie rock band’s first album back in 2004 features a political lyric, but only two chords throughout the entire song.
You’ll learn: How to keep a rhythm going, power chords
Tips: You have two options when changing from the first chord (C5) to the second chord (F5); you can either slide up from the 8th to the 13th fret or simply move the power chord down to the next set of strings. I think the slide sounds better but by all means experiment with both as it makes a great exercise for simple chord changes.
5. House of the Rising Sun – The Animals
A true classic and one which probably spawned many REM songs from the originators of ‘jangle-rock’, this is a great one for practicing chord arpeggios.
You’ll learn: 6/8 time, pick stroke control, chord arpeggios
Tips: The song is in 6/8 which shouldn’t put you off and is in fact a great reference for this time signature. The critical thing here is not to rush; take your time to get the chord arpeggios as clean as possible then gradually speed it up.
6. 7 Nation Army – The White Stripes
This classic White Stripes track has an unforgettable riff and is a great one to tackle if you’re just starting out with guitar solos.
You’ll learn: Fast shifts between power chords, melodic soloing.
Tips: I don’t think Jack White plays this in standard tuning but it can easily be adapted as in the tab above. The solo is a great example of playing slight variations on the melody of the song instead of the scalar approach and features single note lines and minimal bends.
7. We Can Work It Out – The Beatles
Many Beatles songs sound deceptively simple and are actually quite intricate when it comes to playing them well. This one features a simple strumming pattern with some open chords and a few barre chords to deal with which provide a good work out in this tricky area for beginners.
You’ll learn: Open chords, barre chords.
Tips: The strumming pattern shouldn’t take too long to master but the tricky part for beginners here will be the barre chords which have a shifting bass note on the Bm but nothing that should present a problem after consistent practice.
8. Creep – Radiohead
Radiohead’s classic from way back in 1993 is a great one if you’re up for a challenge as you need to build up the strength and coordination to hold down various barre chords while arpeggiating them.
You’ll learn: barre chords, barre chord strength.
Tips: Take it slowly at first as the main difficulty here will be holding down the barre chords for an extended amount of time. You don’t have to play it exactly as it’s written but make sure you’re getting the general idea right and it’s sounding good.
1. Born to Be Wild – Steppenwolf