Acoustic Week: Top 5 Songs Anyone Can Play on Acoustic Guitar
Published on 19 August 2019
Songs don’t have to be complicated to be great.
Often, the opposite is true: the simpler and more direct a song is, the more potent its power. Some of the greatest songs ever written have used nothing more than a handful of simple chords, a catchy melody and a good helping of intention. Extra complications can rob a song of its magical essence, dragging it into mediocrity.
For acoustic week here at guitarguitar, we’ve decided to gather together 5 examples of amazing, world-class tunes that also happen to be super-easy to play! These are all very beginner-friendly, so don’t be afraid to have a listen and get stuck in! We’ll give you examples of each song to listen to, plus all of the chords you’ll need to play them.
Arm yourself with these songs and you’ll have yourself half a set’s worth of material that you can use to pick up and play! Open mic nights, busking, camp fires...you name it!
What are you waiting for?
Wild Thing- The Troggs
Wild Thing, you make my heart sing, you make everything...Groovy! How can you not love that? This hit for the Troggs was actually written by a guy called Chip Taylor for an American band called the Wild ones, before the Troggs made it a hit in 1966.
My cover versions have been performed, not least by Jimi Hendrix! It’s a classic Garage Rock song, and you can recreate it on your acoustic with four of the most basic chords out! The main chordal riff for the intro and verse is simply A, D, E and back to D before looping round and starting again.
The other part (“Wild Thing, I think I love you...”) is G to A, G to A.
Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
The type of song that’ll go down well anywhere, this classic Country singalong is infamous for Cash’s famously cold lyric: “I shot a man in Reno, Just to watch him die...”. It’s one of the Man in Black’s most famous tunes and is fairly indicative of his music and themes: death, jail, vehicles & regret.
The good stuff.
This song is all about delivery and attitude. The rhythm is pretty straight forward if you know the song: just keep in mind that it’s all about forward propulsion. Get that train rollin’ on down the tracks! Cash himself played it in the key of E major, and so shall we! There are no choruses to speak of, just verses and the occasional instrumental break. A typical I, IV, V progression of E, A, E, B7 and back to E will get you through the verses. The solo sections just use these same progressions.
Now remember: “Always be a good boy, Don’t ever play with guns!”
Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) - Green Day
Before Green Day hit big with American Idiot in 2004, they were already massive from putting out songs like this. At the time, it was somewhat unusual to hear Green Day coming out with an acoustic ballad, but it became the band’s biggest hit. Births, marriages, graduations...this tune covers them all. Your gran won’t know it, but she’ll like it!
Happily, it’s dead easy to play. Now, before we hit you with a mad chord name like Cadd9, understand that it’s just that thing that you already do, where you were playing a G chord and you move your first two fingers to make the start of a C, leaving the rest as it was. You know the one!
The verses are: G, Cadd9 and D twice, followed by Em, D, C and G twice. The chorus has Em, G, Em, G, D, G, back into the verse part. Keep the strumming light and listen to how Billie Joe divides the strum between the bottom and top strings for colour and shade. It sounds much more complex than it is! Plus, you can do this with fingers or a plectrum. Billie Joe uses a pick so it’s okay!
Stand By Me - Ben E. King
Ben E King’s immortal Soul classic is easily one of the greatest songs ever written. Originally penned by the famous songwriting duo Leiber & Stoller, ‘Stand By Me’ was in fact derived from a Sam Cooke song.
Stand By Me is in the key of A major. To make this as easy as possible, we’re going to recommend sticking a capo on the 2nd fret. This means that when we then say ‘play a G chord’, it will in fact be an A. Follow? Gooood.
The verses, taking into account the capo but using chord names that might say otherwise, are: G, Em, C and D. In fact, those chords stay for the entire tune, making this both a beautiful and easy song to play.
If you don’t have a capo, or don’t want to use one, the chords are the following: A, F#m, D and E. Experiment with playing the bassline and hitting the top end of each chords on the off-beat for a cool integrated sound.
Mannish Boy – Muddy Waters
This great Blues stomp from Muddy Waters is ample proof of how much mileage you can get one of one lethal riff. This song is pure attitude: Muddy Waters lays down a huge amount of authority with his commanding vocal and pounding guitar riff. The extra shouts in the background (allegedly by none other than Johnny Winter!) get extra points for enthusiasm, too. It’s a confident, life-affirming song that is great fun to play. Make up your own lyrics and fit them in: that’s the tradition! This isn't a typical 'acoustic' song but the riff translates really well, making this a quick and effective tune to learn!
Mannish Boy is in the key of A. There are no chords as such, just that classic riff, which goes from A to D and then to C. To play this riff, you can either play the chords, focusing on the bottom end notes, or simply follow the bass, playing you’re a note at the 5th fret of the low E string, and your D note above it on the 5th fret of the A string. You’ll find the C note you need for the riff at the 3rd fret of the A string.
String these together and you have your riff. Repeat to play the entire song! Add swagger. Add more. Enjoy.
These 5 songs are the tip of the iceberg: there are literally thousands of easy-to-play songs out there for the guitar. Some are very well known, others are pretty niche, but the good news is, if you have the desire to play them, it’ll happen for you pretty quickly!
There seems to be some truth in that old Country music chat about there being ‘no money past the 5th fret’. These few songs prove how infinite music is: you can get so many varying results from a small selection of 1st position chords and basic strumming patterns.
Becoming good on a guitar is difficult: we won’t lie. It takes practice and dedication. But being proficient enough to busk out thousands of songs is much easier than you might think! A few months of applied practice will have you tentatively strumming and signing, whilst marvelling at your new abilities! This success in turn will spur you on to practice more, branch out more, and play more! If you’re having fun (and that is what it’s all about) then the time will fly in and you’ll be a proper player before you know it!
Have fun out there and let us know how you get on. As always, thanks for reading.
Until next time