Are your kids looking for easy songs to play on guitar? Get them started with these great suggestions from guitar teacher Willy M.…
That first guitar lesson is critical for establishing a love of playing in our students, but most of the time teachers approach the instrument as though we need to prepare the student for the worst. “It will be difficult… You have to put in a lot of practice… Your fingers will hurt, etc.” These things only serve to discourage the student and the parent, who just shelled out a lot of money not only for an instrument, but also for the lessons. Why not hook them first, then teach them the hard stuff? This is easier than you might think.
Every guitar student I have taught came to class that first day strumming their guitar, as if hoping it actually made a nice sound in standard tuning (or heaven forbid out of tune standard tuning). The first thing I do is to tune my student’s instrument to an open tuning, such as open D, G, E or C.
In open tunings, the guitar is already tuned to a chord when all strings are strummed without fretting. New chords can be formed just by holding down all the strings at the same fret. I let little kids strum away in open tuning while I play a simple song and immediately they are hooked, but what’s equally important, their parents are impressed as well!
When the student learns that playing a simple song is as easy as holding down the strings on the fifth and seventh frets, they realize they too can play real music, and they’re hooked. This revelation has helped me reach a lot of students, but it requires songs that are simple enough for the students to learn, and fun to play and sing.
There is a whole treasure trove of easy songs to play on guitar that most of us have ingrained in our subconscious from an early age, and those songs are folk tunes. Here are four folk tunes that can all be played just using the chords D, G, and A, plus one extra song that every kid should know how to play! In open D tuning, play a D chord by strumming all strings open. Play a G chord by holding down all strings at the fifth fret, and play an A chord by holding down all strings at the seventh fret.
1. 10,000 Miles Away
This song has been recorded by a great deal of artists, but my favorite recording is by Dan Milner on an album about pirate songs and sea shanties. This tune is fun, fast and is about adventure on the high seas. A perfect song for imaginative, active kids who want to learn to play guitar. The melody is very memorable and lends itself to open tunings.
2. Barbara Allen
Perhaps the most famous folk song of all time, “Barbara Allen” tells the story of a young man who died of love sickness! It’s a perfect love song for sensitive, dreamy children learning to play guitar. Like other folk tunes, there are hundreds of different versions. Find one that suits your child and they will be playing it quicker than they expected.
3. I’ll Tell Me Ma
This classic Irish song is fun to play, with a popular melody that has been preserved by tons of Irish bands, but also in cartoons like the Looney Tunes. There are several versions, and all are easy to play in open G and D tuning. But what makes this song fun, aside from the galloping pace, is the fact that the “young lads” playing the song can insert their names as the one the “Belle of Belfast City” loves the best.
4. The House Carpenter
This is an old song that tells the story of a ghost that came back to find his love had married another. It is a perfect song to tune the instrument to a minor chord and teach kids about minor keys. Many people have recorded this song from Joan Baez to Bob Dylan, and there are hundreds of variations on it.
5. Froggie Went A-Courtin’
Everybody has heard some version of this song, either from the old Tom and Jerry Cartoons, or from the “Crawfish Song” version. This is a fun tune to play in open tunings, and if you have a group of youngsters, it is a fun song for the kids to sing. I find that it is even fun to speed up each verse as you go and really get the kids strumming along. My favorite recording of this song is Bob Dylan’s version from the “Good as I Been to You” album.
Related: Find more easy guitar songs to play with simple chords.
Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston, NC. He is the author of the Dead Man’s Tuning series of mandolin songbooks, and is a former member of the American Federation of Musicians. Willy has been teaching for 20 years, and his students have ranged in age from young children to folks in their 80’s. Learn more about Willy.
Photo by Frédéric de Villamil