I’ve written a lot of lists full of the best songs to learn on guitar, and have read a lot of the lists other people have written. In this post, I’m going to do something a bit different. I’m going to personally list all the songs that I know how to play on guitar, and that I’m currently learning.
So this isn’t just another generic “best songs” guitar song list… These are actually the songs that I think are the best to learn on guitar – and that’s why I’m working on playing them myself!
What Makes This List of “Best Acoustic Guitar Songs” So Special?
This page will be an incredibly valuable resource because unlike most other “best song lists” you’ll find on the internet, this is a list of the songs that I personally know how to play or am actively learning on guitar. I wanted to put together a list like this so that I could keep a journal for myself of all the songs that I know how to play, rather than constantly forgetting cool songs I’ve learned a while ago. Instead of keeping this journal / record of songs I’m learning to myself, I wanted to share it with other guitarists.
This also means that as I’m learning new stuff, I will update this page… so it will continue to include more and more of the best guitar songs to learn in the future. So make sure to check back here every once in a while for cool new guitar songs I’ve learned or am working on learning to play.
What You Need to Play These Songs on Acoustic Guitar
One final note before we get started: don’t forget to tune your guitar! These songs won’t sound right if your guitar is out of tune… If you need a great tuner, here’s my favorite clip-on guitar tuner (on Amazon).
Also: you will need a capo to play some of these songs. If you don’t have a capo (or want to upgrade to a better one) here’s my favorite capo (on Amazon).
With that out of the way, let’s jump into this list of the best songs to learn on guitar:
The 75+ Best Songs to Learn on Acoustic Guitar (with Chords)
Scarlet Begonias – Grateful Dead
Scarlet Begonias is one of the Grateful Dead’s more famous tunes, having been covered by other artists such as Sublime.
A Hunter-Garcia masterpiece, the lyrics feature gambling, loss, and fairy-tale imagery and symbolism – all common Grateful Dead lyrical themes. It’s no wonder this is a favorite song among many favorite Deadheads.
For fans of the live performances, there are many legendary performances of “Scarlet > Fire” – wherein the song is paired with/followed by Fire On the Mountain.
I Got a Name – Jim Croce
My favorite Jim Groce song, and one of the deepest tracks on this list. To me, this song is about the purpose or life mission that we are all destined for.
Take This Heart of Gold – Mandolin Orange
This poignant lovesong by Mandolin Orange aims to reconcile our urges to travel and discover new horizons, with the equally strong urge to settle down and build a home with the one we love.
Bertha – Grateful Dead
Bertha first appeared on the Skull & Roses studio album, but was played in many live performances thereafter. It’s one of my favorite dead songs to play on the acoustic guitar.
The main chords in the song (C, G, and D) are pretty simple and familiar to most acoustic guitarists.
Something In the Way She Moves – James Taylor
This is one of my absolute favorite James Taylor songs. It is pure JT – just his voice and an acoustic guitar. No frills necessary. In this way, it captures the simplicity and grace of his music, in my opinion.
Something in the Way She Moves is a romantic song, with a certain transcendence and beauty that is inspiring:
There’s something in the way she movesJames Taylor, Something in the Way She Moves
Or looks my way, or calls my name
That seems to leave this troubled world behind
I’m not the only one who thinks so. The opening line of the song alone inspired George Harrison to write the Beatles’ #1 song Something.
Sweet Baby James – James Taylor
The title track off the Sweet Baby James album, Sweet Baby James is simultaneously melancholic and upbeat.
The song celebrates solitude and beautiful landscapes, though it is touched with a hint of loneliness:
There is a young cowboy, he lives on the rangeJames Taylor, Sweet Baby James
His horse and his cattle are his only companions
He works in the saddle and he sleeps in the canyons
Waiting for summer, his pastures to change
You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go – Bob Dylan
My favorite song from my favorite Bob Dylan album (Blood on the Tracks). This is an upbeat Dylan tune with a lot of bluegrass influences and of course the great lyrical abilities that Dylan is famous for.
Upside Down – Jack Johnson
A fun and relatively easy tune to learn on the acoustic guitar – Jack Johnson’s inspiring song will help silence the critics in your life and return to your inner creative energy. This one is also imbued with a bit of childhood nostalgia for me.
Ripple – Grateful Dead
Ripple is perhaps the Grateful Dead’s most popular studio acoustic song – and for good reason. The beautiful lyrics and compelling melody continue to attract new listeners to this day.
In addition to the acoustic guitars on the studio version, Jerry’s friend David Grisman also played the mandolin – an acoustic instrument often associated with bluegrass.
Since the chords are relatively simple and the melody is very strong, I think Ripple is a great Grateful Dead tune to start off with learning.
Cinnamon Girl – Neil Young
One of Neil Young’s best songs from his earlier recording days. If you like heavier music, there is also an amazing interpretation of this song by Type O Negative. But for acoustic guitar, nothing beats Neil’s version above.
Jumper – Third Eye Blind
This is my favorite third eye blind tune, and an easy one to learn since it uses just 5 chords.
This is also a song everyone is sure to recognize regardless of their musical taste, so it’s a great all-around crowd-pleaser to play and sing on the electric or acoustic guitar.
Fire and Rain – James Taylor
One of JT’s most loved songs is Fire and Rain – and deservingly so. The song is a deep, moving, classic tribute to a childhood friend who committed suicide.
The song also explores other prominent themes that appear elsewhere in James Taylor’s songs, such as drug addiction, depression, fame, and more.
Old Man – Neil Young
This Neil Young song was written for the caretaker of the Northern California Broken Arrow Ranch, which Young purchased for $350,000 in 1970.
The song compares a young man’s life to an old man’s and shows that the young man has, to some extent, the same needs as the old one.
Atlantic City – The Band
Atlantic City is originally a Bruce Springsteen song, but I have to admit I’ve always preferred this version from The Band. I like the spiritual message in the chorus of the song:
Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies some day comes back
The Weight – The Band
The Weight has amazing lyrics that are open to a wide variety of meanings. They contain several Biblical allusions… The protagonist encounters multiple characters who all ask favors of him, and he ends up with quite a heavy cross to bear, so to speak.
High and Dry – Radiohead
High and Dry” was recorded as a demo during the sessions of Radiohead’s first album, Pablo Honey (1993), and remastered for inclusion on The Bends.
Two music videos were produced for “High and Dry”.
Tom Yorke said the lyrics were about “some loony girl I was going out with”, but became “mixed up with ideas about success and failure”.
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door is a great song to learn for new acoustic guitarists – there are only a handful of chords and they’re all quite easy. Plus, it’s a very recognizable tune and can be adapted to a lot of different musical styles, done by everyone from Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton to Guns n Roses.
The Middle – Jimmy Eat World
This one is sure to be remembered by all the 90s kids. Another D, A, and G chord classic, The Middle is Jimmy Eat World’s most popular song by far, and one of the easiest and coolest songs to learn on guitar (even though it uses just 3 easy chords!).
Closer to the Sun – Slightly Stoopid
This is a great song to learn if you want a relatively simple tune where you can infuse a bit of a reggae feel over the chords. Slightly Stoopid’s guitarist is very underrated, and their songs tend to feature a lot of amazing acoustic guitar playing. This one is no exception.
Shady Grove – Doc Watson
Shady Grove is a traditional Appalachian folk song, with many variants existing in the bluegrass catalog. Even bluegrass versions/interpretations of Shady Grove differ widely from one another, but the song is a classic nonetheless, with amazing versions from Doc Watson, Jerry Garcia, Tony Rice, etc.
Brokedown Palace – Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead’s lyrics were part of what first inspired me to become a writer and musician. They remain very powerful to me to this day – especially the Hunter-Garcia songs. Brokedown Palace has particularly beautiful and deep lyrics. It is rumored that Robert Hunter wrote this song, To Lay Me Down, and Ripple in the same day! Now that’s lyrical talent.
Walk on Boy – Doc Watson
This is a Doc Watson classic about John Henry Brown … a great tune if you want to chance up your song list with something a little bit darker (and in a minor key).
Raining Here This Morning – Tony Rice and Norman Blake
Tony Rice and Norman Blake were two of the first players I heard who made me want to get really good at the acoustic guitar. This is one of my favorite songs of theirs, from their Blake and Rice 2 album (which is just them trading rhythm, solos, and vocals over many acoustic masterpieces!).
New River Train – Tony Rice and Norman Blake
New River Train is another amazing traditional tune that Norman Blake and Tony Rice have played together on several times.
Lay Down My Old Guitar – Tony Rice and Norman Blake
One of Tony’s best albums are the “Blake & Rice” series he released with Norman Blake. In it, these two guitar masters team up on some traditional and bluegrass favorites, showcasing incredible guitar licks all along the way. New River Train is one of my favorites from the album. You get to hear Tony and Norman switch off, taking turns on vocals and lead guitar breaks.
Freeborn Man – Tony Rice / The Outlaws
This song was originally written by The Outlaws, but Tony’s playing on it was what put the song on my radar. It features an incredible solo from Tony, and the live version above has an all-star cast holding down the rest of the band – with Bela Fleck on banjo, Sam Bush on Mandolin, and Jerry Douglas on Dobro, and Mark O’Connor on fiddle.
Church Street Blues – Tony Rice / Norman Blake
Church Street Blues was written by Norman Blake, but Tony’s version is a favorite among bluegrass guitarists, and one of the songs that made me fall in love with this genre of music. While Norman’s version is perhaps more “melodic” Tony’s cover above features faster and more complicated flatpicking and crosspicking patterns.
Second Cup of Coffee – Gordon Lightfoot
Gordon Lightfoot is another amazing acoustic singer-songwriter to study if you want to learn some great acoustic guitar songs. Most of his tunes are relatively simple in terms of chords, but have beautiful lyrics. This tune is a great example.
Minstrel of the Dawn – Gordon Lightfoot
Minstrel of the Dawn is a case study in classic Gordon Lightfoot song structure… he starts out slower and softer, then the song slowly builds to an epic crescendo. Give it a listen above to see what I mean.
Early Morning Rain – Gordon Lightfoot
One of my favorite Lightfoot tunes, which went on to be covered by a lot of different artist (including Tony Rice).
Nine Pound Hammer – Tony Rice
The Nine Pound Hammer is a traditional bluegrass tune covered by artists like John Prine, but my favorite version is the live on above with Tony Rice on acoustic guitar.
Old Home Place – J.D. Crowe
I first heard Ricky Skaggs do a version of this song. It’s a great one that captures that feeling of “home is where the heart is.” The JD Crowe version above is excellent as well.
Arkansas – Dailey and Vincent
I don’t know how I first stumbled across this song, but it’s my favorite Dailey and Vincent tune to this day (though they are doing an interpretation of an earlier version of the tune). Simple yet powerful in both its chords and lyrics.
Randall Collins – Norman Blake
Norman Blake’s flatpicking mastery is on full display in this bluegrass song. Another great one if you need an acoustic song in a minor key.
Little Joe – Norman Blake
I believe this is originally a Carter Family tune, but the best version I’ve found so far is Norman Blake’s above. This is another one of the first songs I heard that made me want to learn how to play acoustic guitar.
Jimmy Brown the Newsboy – Norman Blake
This is an old gospel song with an extremely catchy melody.
Way Downtown – Tony Rice
An early Tony Rice tune from his Manzanita album.
Last Thing on My Mind – Tony Rice / Tom Paxton
This song has been covered by everyone from Tony Rice to John Denver, but the original amazing lyrics were penned by Tom Paxton.
One More Night – Tony Rice / Bob Dylan
One artist Tony Rice frequently covered was Bob Dylan. Dylan released this song on The Nashville Skyline album, but Tony’s version is almost unrecognizable compared to the original – yet in a good way. Dylan’s version is very casual, while Tony’s is much more sentimental and the acoustics are more articulated.
Ginseng Sullivan – Norman Blake
Many people don’t know how prolific of a songwriter Norman Blake was. He penned many bluegrass and country-western classics that went on to be covered by dozens of the best artists in the genre today. This song is one of them.
I Saw the Light – Hank Williams
Perhaps the most famous country gospel song of all time, I Saw the Light has been covered by dozens of artists over the years. One of my favorite versions is Hank Williams, because of it’s simplicity. All you need to know to play this gospel classic is G, C, and D chords.
Find the River – REM
My favorite REM tune. To me, this one has always been about choosing a simpler life even if the world is trying to talk you into something different…
Cherokee Shuffle – Traditional
This is a traditional instrumental tune popular in many acoustic and bluegrass circles today. One of the coolest versions is the one above, where Chris Eldridge, Andy Falco and some other amazing acoustic musicians trade solos with each other.
Peace Train – Cat Stevens
With classics ranging from Peace Train, to Moonshadow, to Sitting, Cat Stevens has a catalogue of some of the most catchy and artfully written acoustic music ever made. From a guitar perspective, Peace Train is one of my favorites because of the chord sequence.
Hallelujah I’m Ready to Go – Ricky Skaggs
Ricky Skaggs is a unique musician in the bluegrass world, as he’s done traditional bluegrass classics, straight up gospel tunes, and has also recorded several mainstream country hits (like “Highway 40 Blues”). He truly seems to have done it all.
“Hallelujah / I’m Ready to Go” represents his skill in traditional bluegrass and gospel singing.
The Martin D18 Song – Tony Rice and Norman Blake
I own a Martin D-18 acoustic guitar, and think it’s an excellent choice for bluegrass, folk, country, rock, or really any kind of acoustic music. Martin guitars are extremely versatile – having been used by everyone from John Prine to Tony Rice to Johnny Cash and everyone in between.
Norman Blake and Tony Rice even have an entire song about how awesome the Martin D-18 is (and it features some awesome guitar playing, of course).
Red Haired Boy – Traditional
There are many examples of musical overlap between traditional Irish or Scottish music with modern bluegrass. One popular tune across all genres is ‘Red Haired Boy,’ the English translation of the Gaelic title being “Giolla Rua” (or, Englished, “Gilderoy”).
“The melody is one of the relatively few common to fiddlers throughout Scotland and Ireland, and was transferred nearly intact to the American fiddle tradition (both North and South) where it has been a favorite of bluegrass fiddlers in recent times”. This type of musical overlap illustrates the heavy influence of Irish and Scottish music upon modern bluegrass.
Whiskey Before Breakfast – Traditional
Whiskey Before Breakfast has become another acoustic bluegrass instrumental classic. Norman Blake’s version of the song is one of my favorites.
Little Sadie – Doc Watson
Little Sadie is a classic bluegrass outlaw song. The song has been performed by many artists through the years, but my favorite version is from bluegrass guitar master Doc Watson.
Rambling Heart – Tim Stafford
Tim Stafford was a founding member of Blue Highway – a powerhouse bluegrass and acoustic band. However, he’s also released several of his own amazing songs throughout the years. Rambling Heart (above) is one of my favorites.
Rosa Lee McFall – Jerry Garcia and Tony Rice
This is one of the first bluegrass songs I ever heard, so I’m still partial to it to this day. I heard it on The Pizza Tapes – a collaboration album with Jerry Garcia, Tony Rice, and David Grisman. After hearing it, I had to figure out how to play bluegrass music!
Think of What You’ve Done – Ricky Skaggs
One of my favorite Ricky Skaggs songs for its simple beautiful lyrics. The chords are also very easy. This is a great one to learn if you’re just starting to learn acoustic music and bluegrass guitar.
Lost and I’ll Never Find the Way – Ricky Skaggs
Another upbeat Ricky Skaggs tune from one of his early albums. This is still one of my favorites to play these days.
What On Earth Will You Do For Heaven’s Sake? – Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash has a lot of gospel influences, especially in the later days of his musical career. This is one of my favorite Johnny Cash gospel tunes.
Franklin’s Tower – Grateful Dead
This was the first Grateful Dead song I learned. i still love it for its simplicity on the guitar. It uses just three chords, so it’s a great Grateful Dead tune for guitarists to get started with right away.
Here Comes the Sun – the Beatles
Of course, every acoustic guitar player needs to know how to play a handful of Beatles songs. This one is one of my favorites. It uses a capo relatively high up on the fretboard, so is a good song to practice if you’re still getting used to playing guitar with a capo.
Gentle on My Mind – Glen Campbell
Lyrically, this is another song that tries to balance themes of love and freedom. It also hints at the idea that love can live on in our memories forever, gently “on our mind.” Originally by John Hartford.
Green Man – Type O Negative
Green Man is a song that perfectly captures the change of the seasons, and the cycles of nature. I find myself listening to this one whenever we transition into a new season… but Type O Negative is particularly powerful during autumn. After all, their album that this song comes from is titled October Rust.
Piece of Wood and Steel – David Allan Coe
If you’re a guitarist, this is a song you need to know. It’s about how your guitar is always there for you, even when the rest of your life falls apart. “All I ever needed was that piece of wood and steel.”
Walls – Gordon Lightfoot
Gordon Lightfoot is an underrated singer-songwriter in general, and Walls is one of his most underrated songs.
Most people only know Lightfoot from The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. While that’s a great song, he has a whole catalogue of great music that goes largely unappreciated.
April Come She Will – Simon and Garfunkel
This song beautifully parallels the “cycles” of love to the turning of the seasons. A great song for guitarists who wish to work on their fingerstyle guitar playing.
Blue Sky – Allman Brothers Band
Blue Sky is one of the best Allman Brothers songs to learn on acoustic guitar. The song was written and sung by guitarist Dickey Betts, who penned it about his girlfriend (and later wife), Sandy “Bluesky” Wabegijig. The track is also notable as one of guitarist Duane Allman’s final recorded performances with the group.
Why Georgia – John Mayer
Among guitarists, John Mayer is sometimes laughed off or dismissed as a sell-out because of his pop music career. I think John sometimes gets a bad wrap considering his skill on the guitar. Some of his riffs are beautifully constructed and also just plain fun to play, particularly Why Georgia (above).
If You Want to Sing Out – Cat Stevens
Cat Stevens wrote and played some of the best acoustic music of the 70s. Many of his songs are relatively simple to play, built out of a foundation of C, G, and A minor chords. If You Want to Sing Out is a great “first learn” for any Cat Stevens connoisseur.
The Girl I Left in Sunny Tennessee – Norman Blake
Another excellent acoustic song. My favorite version is by Norman Blake.
Can’t You See – Marshall Tucker Band
“Can’t You See” is a song written by Toy Caldwell of The Marshall Tucker Band.
The song was originally recorded by the band on their 1973 debut album, The Marshall Tucker Band, and released as the album’s first single.
The song, musically, is a cross between country rock and Southern rock.
The lyrics are noted as being dark, reflecting heartache and “a man running as far away as he can to begin the process of healing himself”.
Whipping Post – Allman Brothers Band
Whipping Post has some epic electric guitar riffs, but the song is also a great one to learn on the acoustic guitar. It uses some unique chords that you can apply to your other acoustic songs.
Layla – Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton is most well known for his blazing electric blues and rock guitar playing. However, his Unplugged album shows off his skills with fingerstyle playing on the acoustic guitar. Check it out Layla, above, to see a more mellow soulful side of Clapton’s playing.
Oh Susanna – James Taylor
James Taylor puts a beautiful spin on this traditional folk ballad. His chords used over the song are beautiful, and make for an awesome instrumental even if you don’t want to sing the song.
White Freightliner Blues – J.D. Crowe / Townes Van Zandt
This Townes Van Zandt song went on to be covered by bluegrass legends ranging from JD Crowe to Molly Tuttle. It is a bit tricky to sing because many versions use a falsetto, but a fun one to play on the acoustic guitar.
I Threw It All Away – Bob Dylan
I Threw It All Away is one of my favorites from the Nashville Skyline album – which went on to become one of Dylan’s best-selling albums. If you haven’t given the whole album a listen, I highly recommend it.
It reveals a different side of Dylan, with many of the songs having more of a country western feel compared to his other work. In my opinion, it’s easily one of Bob Dylan’s best albums.
The Fugitive – Merle Haggard
My favorite Merle Haggard tune. This is an outlaw country classic, yet relatively happy and upbeat in its tone and feel.
Head Over Heels – Bluegrass Album Band
A punchy and fun bluegrass song to play on the acoustic guitar, my favorite version of Head Over Heels was done by the Bluegrass Album Band above, featuring Tony Rice and several other acoustic music legends.
Age – Jim Croce
This is a beautiful Croce tune, and one of the simpler songs of his to play because there aren’t too many chords required.
I Couldn’t Believe It Was True – Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson is another artist with lots of acoustic outlaw country songs that are great for learning on the guitar. The above song is quite simple but very fun to play and easy to learn on the guitar.
If the Moon Never Sees the Light of Day – Lonesome River Band
I forget how I stumbled on this song but it’s become one of my favorite acoustic songs to play on guitar. Unfortunately, it’s not extremely popular so it’s difficult to find the chords for it online. I had to figure them out myself. But it was worth it!
Into White – Cat Stevens
This is another great Cat Stevens song to learn. He has said that the lyrics were inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings.
Last of My Kind – Jason Isbell
When I moved to a mountain town for college and felt both alone and excited for a new start, this song was always on my mind. It really speaks to anyone who has ever felt misunderstood or lost in life. I was reminded of it recently when it played in the outro of an episode of Yellowstone (the incredible new Kevin Costner show).
Ready to Get Better at Guitar, Faster?
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Chords, Tabs & Video Lessons for 100 Epic Songs – This free guide that I created for fellow guitarists gives you chords, tabs, and video lessons for the 100 best songs to learn on guitar… I spent many hours putting this guide together to help you get better at guitar, faster. — CLICK HERE TO GET IT FREE
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