50 Easy Guitar Tabs For Beginners and Instructors
Tablature, or TAB, has been around since the catgut-flailing, knicker-wearing fretheads of the Renaissance. Not much has changed; I mean, yeah, we traded catgut (or rather sheep intestines that were used for strings) to steel, that weird-shaped lute for a neon-colored, solid-body with a whammy bar and knickers for spandex.
But, a musical shorthand that helped you sidestep actually learning how to read standard music notation has been around for centuries.
TAB notation became standardized in the 80s when magazines and note-for-note transcription books began to gain popularity. Gone were the days of only one guitar player learning a note-for-note solo and then earning a few bucks by teaching the neighbourhood kids one at a time.
The mystery of how did he play that is over.
Fast forward to the early days of the internet—who remembers OLGA—the OnLine Guitar Archive?
The ASCII form of TAB was born making lyrics, chords, solos, licks and riffs available on a global scale. That is, to anyone eager enough to troll cyberspace searching for an accurate song sheet. OLGA was the Napster of TAB, making songbooks obsolete. It’s also rumoured that OLGA eventually became Ultimate Guitar.
Kind of like the Napster technology became the iTunes engine—or, at least, what the engine was based on.
I actually worked as a transcriber/music book editor for a little over a decade and watched the development and adoption firsthand. It’s amazing how much information is readily available for those willing to put the time in. I am a fan of technology, but, OLGA and Napster put me out of work. However, that’s a story for another time.
In this article, I’ve put together a list of songs that meet a few simple requirements:
- Easy and fun to play
- Quick to learn
- A reliable TAB
- And, a little something for everyone
They are presented in no particular order.
For guitar students: Just go to the songs and bands that you like. Use the YouTube video for reference and then begin working your way through the TAB.
For guitar teachers: This is just a simple reference list when you’re looking for ancillary teaching material.
That’s it. Grab your guitar, plug in and log in. Enjoy!
Seven Nation Army (White Stripes)
This classic White Stripes tunes is in Open-A Tuning. The main riff is a single-note passage played on the 5th string and the Open-A Tuning makes it very easy to play the one-finger, chord riff (which is played using a slide in the chorus). And, the solo is pretty straight ahead, just follow the TAB. A great tune to get started playing slide guitar.
Zombie (The Cranberries)
“Zombie” uses a four-chord riff. The four chords are: Em–Cmaj7–G–D/F#. For the verse, use the first-position chords and the chorus uses the same chords except that they are the power-chord versions. The single-note phrases are relatively easy and a great way to practice your legato phrasing.
You Really Got Me (The Kinks)
This Kinks’ classic was also covered by Van Halen; however, for this article we’re going to look at the original version. The Van Halen version stays pretty true to the Kinks version with a slight key adjustment. Not only is this a great song to get your power-chord playing in shape but also the perfect tune for your first band.
The piano riff for “Clocks” can be used as an arpeggio exercise and the TAB has notated a guitar version that makes it easy to play. The guitar chords are pretty straight ahead making this a fun tune that is simple and quick to get under your fingers.
All the Small Things (Blink 182)
When I teach rock guitar techniques for the first time to a student, we usually begin with power chords and palm muting. “All the Small Things” is a wonderful way to get started with rock-style rhythm guitar playing.
Louie Louie (cover by Motorhead)
This three-chord, garage band classic by The Kingsmen was considered a corny rock tune from the 50s. That is, until Lemmy and his cohorts got a hold of it. The Motorhead version contains a rhythmic variation; however, both versions are in the key of A and would make a fun addition to your setlist.
Closing Time (Semisonic)
Power chords and octave riffs make up the four-chord riff that is “Closing Time”. The TAB also includes the main riff that is played on the piano and the piano solo arranged for guitar. An enjoyable tune that creates a lot of different textures with just a few chords.
Summer of ‘69 (Bryan Adams)
Syncopated eighth-note, open-chord strumming and arpeggios are prominent in this ‘80s classic. The TAB also includes the keyboard riff arranged for guitar as well as the lead guitar riffs that are played during the outro.
Mony Mony (Billy Idol)
This Tommy James and the Shondells tunes was revived by Billy Idol and his guitar ace Steve Stevens. Steady eighth-note rhythms played with distortion and power chords make up the bulk of this classic.
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham had a lot of chemistry both on stage and off stage. The beautiful interaction between Stevie’s vocals and Lindsey’s guitarwork is evident in this duet. The chords are open-position C–G/B–Am and G–D/F#–Em played at the 3rd fret with a capo. The fingerpicking pattern may take a little getting used to, but definitely worth the effort.
Sunshine of Your Love (Cream)
First, you take two single-note pentatonic-blues riffs, than you add three chords, sprinkle in a little Clapton mojo and you have an instant rock classic that will stand the test of time. “Sunshine of Your Love” is a rite of passage for any young gunslinger learning how to turn the pentatonic scale into the blues scale.
TNT (AC DC)
Open-position power chords! If you don’t know ‘em, then you haven’t played enough AC DC. The Bad Boys from Down Under have provided us with enough Rock 101 riffs to get our rhythm playing in line. What’s a Rock 101 riff? Power chords and eighth notes. In “TNT” the eighth notes are syncopated, and that’s where the fun lies.
Breaking the Law (Judas Priest)
Quarter notes and syncopated eighth notes are used to drive the “Breaking the Law” riff. The main riff is based on the A natural minor scale. Power chords and sliding power chords fill out this tune. So, break out the leather jackets and rev up those Harleys.
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (AC DC)
This tune was part of my first band’s setlist. Open-string power chords and moveable power chords are used for the syncopated chord riffs. The solo is typical Angus: tasty pentatonic licks with bluesy phrases plus the double-pulloff licks during the final cadenza put a stamp on it.
Come Together (The Beatles)
The Beatles were masters of songwriting and major contributors to the Rock 101 curriculum. The main riff falls nicely under the pentatonic box pattern. The verse uses power chords (the classic power 5 to power 6 move made famous by Chuck Berry). Finally, the solo is pure pentatonic licks with some bluesy bends. Enjoy.
Paranoid (Black Sabbath)
Fast-rewind back a thousand years ago when 12-year old me was trying to grow his hair long and heading into my first guitar lesson. I walked out with three power chords and a basic understanding of palm-muted, eighth-note rhythms. I then raced to the record store to buy the album of the same name. I have since continued the tradition and taught “Paranoid” to the masses. I’m proud to say that my 13-year son is keeping the tradition alive.
Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple)
Don’t you hate it when old guys say “Back in my day…” Well, get over it, back in my day social networking was going to the guitar store and rewriting tabs that your guitar teacher gave you for your friends. “Smoke on the Water” was the first tune that I learned from a friend. It introduced me to inverted power chords, arpeggiated rhythms and Ritchie Blackmore.
Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)
I was a snotty, know-it-all Berklee student when this song came out and a student of mine asked me to teach him the main riff. Power chords, percussive strumming, and the two-note verse riff (yes, two-note verse riff) plus pentatonic scale solo were too much for my over-complicated mind to understand. The only thing that I knew for sure is that the music slapped me in the face and I hated it so much that I loved it. “Here we are now, entertain us…”
Come As You Are (Nirvana)
If the Beatles and AC DC offered us Rock 101 riffs then Nirvana continued the tradition with Rock 102 riffs. The difference is mainly the tuning. Tuning down a half step was made popular by Hendrix and Van Halen. But, a whole step? This gives the open-string, main riff a dark and moody feel that spoke to droves of misunderstood teenagers.
Cocaine (Eric Clapton)
My early Rock 101 education came in the form of older players telling me who to listen to and what to play. My tastes developed from listening to the radio and hanging out in record stores. “Cocaine” came from the latter; that is, I heard it on the radio. It was also a rock standard that was heard at open mic nights and jams all over town. The moveable major-chord riffs are a must for every guitarist. Plus, the solo will give you a preview of Rock 201 lead guitar techniques.
Basket Case (Green Day)
The pop-punk sounds of Green Day were a welcome ray of sunshine to the otherwise gloomy, grunge-filled 90s. Tune down a half step and use your power-chord riffage skills to play the driving, eighth-note laden riffs. Once you get used to the tempo you’ll find that it’s AC DC meets the Sex Pistols meets The Beatles.
Everlong (The Foo Fighters)
Power chords, inverted power chords, plus interesting chordal colors are presented by Dave Grohl and his crew. Again, the 90s gave us some interesting rhythm guitar techniques that could be considered part of Rock 102’s required listening, learning, and playing.
Surrender (Cheap Trick)
Power chords, moveable chords, and slash chords (like C/G) make this another “gotta-know” tune. Rick Nielsen also has one of the craziest guitar collections around. I mean, a rock star who’s gone broke for buying guitars!? Don’t let the silly hat fool you… Rick can play!
Sweet Home Alabama (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Southern Rock is known for it’s hard-rocking, whisky-soaked riffs that are sizzling with sweet distortion and hickory-smoked, major-pentatonic riffs. The open-position D–C–G are harmonized and spiced up with open-string pentatonic fills.
Living After Midnight (Judas Priest)
This one also came from my first band setlist. This tune uses moveable-major bar chords for the main riff, a great exercise for those of you that are new to these shapes. Plus, some syncopated eighth notes and a classic Pete Townsend move in the bridge section. As a bonus, the solo is a great place to start for aspiring flamethrowers.
Hey Joe (Jimi Hendrix)
In addition to the CAGED chords (which make this a popular guitar-teaching song) is the chromatic bass-line riff. Also, everybody loves the intro, and, the open-string, double-stops are based on the open-position E minor pentatonic (a must for every aspiring lead guitarist).
House of the Rising Sun (The Animals)
The open-string chords are the easy part. It’s the picking pattern that can be a bit tricky. The linked TAB offers the clearest and best way to play this tune. Also, The Animals didn’t exactly stick to the song form and this TAB follows the recording true to form.
Despite the annoying intro (samples of various people saying “Wonderful”), this song is easy and fun to play. G–D–C–D, strummed and arpeggiated. “Na na na na na na na na.”
Never Can Tell (Chuck Berry)
Everybody knows Chuck Berry and every guitar player has to play “Johnny B Goode” at some point and time. “(You) Never Can Tell” is pure Berry at his best: double-stop licks, power chord riffs and a great story about an Airedale and Mademoiselle. Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction not only reignited John Travolta’s career but introduced us to this Chuck Berry classic and gave us some tweetable quotes.
Pyro (Kings of Leon)
The main riff to “Pyro” is a cool open-string riff. The verse uses arpeggiated power chords that are actually quite easy once you get the picking pattern down. Follow the TAB, it’s pretty straightforward, and there are only a couple of riffs to this song. Add another tune to the setlist.
Satisfaction (The Rolling Stones)
Great jam song. I suggest that you learn the chords first and strum along. Then, add the riffs that are clearly illustrated in the TAB.
Under My Thumb (The Rolling Stones)
Another Stones’ classic, “Under My Thumb” is made up of five chords (barre-chord shapes and open-string chords). But, if you listen closely, there are some cool double-stop licks and bluesy riffs mixed in. They’re all easy to play, just follow the TAB.
Start Me Up (The Rolling Stones)
Rumour has it that Keith would use the open-G tuning and cut off the 6th string because he never used it. Actually, people would joke that it was so that he wouldn’t get confused. Whatever the case, he did give us some immediately recognizable riffs. Open tune your guitar to G and follow the TAB for Guitar 1. You’ll see and hear how instantly cool—and easy—it is to sound like a Stone.
Stranglehold (Ted Nugent)
Don’t be intimidated by the Motor City Madman. This tune is made up of variations on the same riff. The main movement is an A5–C5–D5 riff and another A5–G5 riff. Power chords and open strings are followed by some A minor pentatonic mayhem.
Down on the Corner (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
I remember that the older guys in the neighborhood would get together and form a band. They would pick a few CCR tunes as filler because they were easy. “Down on the Corner” is no exception to being an easy song to play but that bass riff is very funky and fun to play.
Simple Man (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
First, the bad news: you have to tune down a half step. Now, the good news: C–G/B–Am are easy-to-play, open-position chords. Follow the picking pattern as notated in the TAB. Next, add the C5–G5–A5 power chords. Lastly, A minor pentatonic at the 17th fret. Don’t forget to warn the neighbors.
The Joker (Steve Miller Band)
I remember learning this tune and feeling that somehow Steve Miller managed to put a spin on that ubiquitous G–C–D chord progression. Years later, I taught it to an adult and watched him smile as he was reintroduced to three of his favorite chords. I hope that you have the same experience.
Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love (Van Halen)
I’d been playing for a few months when I got together with some friends, put together a band and set forth to conquer the basement. Part of the plan was “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”. The picking pattern during the main riff gave me the most trouble, but, once I tackled that, the power chords and guitar solo were a breeze. Another tune from the first setlist. Also, this song gave me a reason to buy and use a flanger.
Running with the Devil (Van Halen)
With the success of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and growing ever tired of playing the same three songs, my first band decided to add another song from the Van Halen I record. “Running with the Devil” introduced me to double-stop chord inversions in the main riff. The arpeggiated guitar solo is also Lead Guitar 101 material.
Twist and Shout (The Beatles)
Three-chord rock, D–G–A, Rock 101. Use open-string versions or moveable-barre shapes, it doesn’t matter, this song works great with either version. The harmonized guitar break can be played on one guitar—it’s a little tricky, but possible.
Are You Gonna Be My Girl (Jet)
A student brought this tune to my attention, not only did it take just a few minutes to figure out but it was so much fun to play. We ended up jamming it for a few lessons afterwards. Key of A: power chords and double-stop riffs.
Batman Theme (The Ventures)
We’ve done so many power-chord riffs that I needed a cool guitar riff played in octaves. I learned this during my first few lessons. It’s a 12-bar blues and the Ventures’ version is in G. I couldn’t find a Ventures video, but the audio that I’m referring to is available on Spotify. Also, this was the best YouTube video I could find.
I Wanna Be Sedated (The Ramones)
Here’s a life lesson: I was playing one of my first gigs, a high school party at someone’s house. We play our Van Halen, Judas Priest and AC DC covers and all the guys thought we were cool. We played “I Wanna Be Sedated” and all of the girls danced, sang along, and talked to the outsider band guys. If you play guitar to get girls then play songs that girls like. “I Wanna Be Sedated” is typical Ramones: power chords and eighth-note, downward-strummed rhythms. And, to my guitar-solo-loving surprise, a lot of fun to play.
Blitzkrieg Bop (The Ramones)
“Hey ho, let’s go.” Just read the section above and it’s the same recipe. Everybody sings along and if you can play power chords with eighth-note rhythms, you’re all set. And, for those of you that missed it the first time, chicks dig these types of songs.
18 and Life (Skid Row)
Skid Row took the late 80s and early 90s by storm with power ballads “I Remember You” and “18 and Life”. Beautiful storytelling framed by solid songwriting are featured in this tune. The arpeggios of the main riff will probably offer the biggest challenge and are very Rock 102 in nature. The rest is power chords with eighth-note rhythms. The solo is not a beginner solo by any means and offers some challenges for late beginner and intermediate players.
Tune your guitar down a whole step for this modern rock song. The chord riffs sound dark and heavy yet are simple and transmit the lyrics and feel of the tune very effectively. The double-stop lick that is prevalent throughout the song is played with one finger. Enjoy.
Taking Care of Business (Bachman Turner Overdrive)
C–Bb–F is the chord progression to this 70s classic and played with the Chuck Berry-style power chord riffs. This was another garage-band jam taught to me by the “older guys of the neighborhood”. Jimi Hendrix also does a cool cover of this tune.
Every Rose Has It’s Thorn (Poison)
This 80s power ballad is less power and more ballad. However, chicks dig it. Tune down a half step and strum through the key of G open chords. But, as a bonus, check out C.C. Deville’s solo. The boy could play and his solo does a beautiful job of displaying the use of the E minor pentatonic box shape with some added movement outside of the box pattern. He does this to play over the chords and create some wonderful melodies.
Wild Thing (The Troggs)
I–IV-–V in the key of A. No drunken college singalong is complete without a version of “Wild Thing.” An impromptu addition to any setlist, a rock standard, and a must for open mic night. The flute-like ocarina solo is actually included in the TAB. Your friends will love you for it.
Personal Jesus (Depeche Mode)
Some simple riffs and a few moveable chord shapes make up this tune and Johnny Cash did a cover version of this. If it’s good enough for the Man in Black then it’s good enough for me and a nice way to close out this list.
Thanks for letting me be a part of your journey. I hope that this list has helped you in some small way and that you simply keep playing. The guitar is a wonderful instrument and having the ability to find more songs to learn just a keystroke away make this an amazing time to be a guitarist.