How to Learn Guitar Songs

Have you ever wondered how quickly you can learn a new song? When you first start learning to play guitar it seems that you will never be ready to create real music. But I can tell you there are a few tricks on how to learn guitar songs and I’m going to share them with you today. You should be learning a song from your fourth guitar lesson.

  • Song Choice
  • Chord Charts
  • Breaking it Down
  • Polishing to perform

Let’s take each of these parts one at a time.

Which Song Should You Learn?

The simple answer is, the easiest one you can find that you like and that you recognize most of the chords. Don’t be too ambitious, as this will put you off.

I’ve recently been teaching my husband how to play the Bass and in his fourth lesson, I chose ‘Comes A Time’ by Neil Young for his first song.

Why? Because chords are really simple. He only had to learn two more chords. Another reason is it is a very well-known song, a guy song and the tempo is nice and slow.

For the girls, this is a great standard that you can learn to play as well. It’s in the key of G, which is a bit low for most girls to sing, so you would put a capo on the second fret to change the key to A. Or you can play it for your partner in G and sing the harmony.

There are many songs to choose from for both girls and guys. Take the time to find a song you enjoy, even better if you have been singing along to it for years. Google the chords for the song. Find an app that shows you how to make the chords, if you don’t know.

What is a Chord Chart and How do you Use One?

When a new song there are various ways that you can view the chords.

  • Above the words in an app (i.e.Ultimate Guitar, Onsong)
  • A Chord Chart for that song
  • A piece of piano music with chords above the melody line
  • Chord Boxes supplied in PDF or by Guitar Teacher

There are some terrific apps available on the internet to download songs with chords. Usually, the guitar chords are mostly above the word in the song where you change to that chord but it helps to know the song.

The Chord chart to your right is a type of chart used by many bands. Where the lead, rhythm, bass, and keyboard players all need to know which chords to play. Each square is 4 beats in 4/4 time or 3 beats if in 3/4 time. Quite often there are two chords in a box in 4/4 time, meaning each chord is played for 2 beats.

Chord Boxes

These are all great ways to learn but you need to find the one that suits you best. If you are just beginning and are learning with a teacher, they will probably give you a sheet with chords and chord boxes on them (showing where to place your fingers on the guitar neck.)

These can be a great way to collect chords for a song in a style that you can easily review. I have sheets of them that I use with the title of the song above.

This way I don’t have to keep looking for chords everywhere, as the ones I need for each song are all together.

This works particularly well for more advanced chords.

Sheet Music

A lot of piano music has the chords for guitar shown above the melody line. Some sheet music even has these chord boxes showing how to form the chords on the guitar neck. There is basically no excuse for not being able to find a simple fun song that you can learn to play in half an hour.

With sheet music, if you have taken the time to learn to read music, you can play the notes of the melody line on the guitar. If you aspire to play lead or even choose not to sing but play notes and chords, this may be a simple way to start.

Breaking A Song Down

Now that you have chosen a song that you are excited about learning. Where do you begin? Your first decision is to learn the chords to the song first and the words separately. This is really simple, especially if you know the song.

First, make a list of the chords, find chord boxes for the ones you don’t know. With the music in front of you, start at the beginning and play the first chord (strum it once). Move to the second chord and so on.

Work your way through the whole song in chunks. Learn the chords for a verse.

Then learn the chords for the Chorus.

Now I want you to think about what chords you want to play before you start and at the end of the song.

The Beginning

Most guitarists will play the first two chords to a song until they are ready to sing or start the verse. It’s great for an audience to have a chance to prepare for the beginning of a new song. You can just launch into the chords of the verse.

There is no wrong way but I suggest that you take the time to really listen to the beginnings and endings on recordings of your favorite songs and decide. If you are doing 10 songs, you won’t want all of them to end the same way, consequently, do some research and vary your presentation.

The Ending

Why is planning the ending so important? How do you know when to clap at the end of aBe brave when you play song? Because it’s obvious that the song has ended! You need to be brave when you finish a song and make it obvious that you are ending.

There are a few ways you can end a song.

The Fade Out. The never-ending same 4 chords until everyone is asleep or a planned ending that signals with a final chord. Choose one or more and vary your endings. Listen to how the professionals end their songs. How does the song you have chosen end on the recording?

Hard Finish. Take notice of how every song finishes. A lot of songs finish on a down strum of the last chord in the song. Make sure that you decide and make a definite decision and let your audience know.

Learning Words

If you can read, you can learn words. Put your song choice on your phone or in the car and sing along. Make the effort to get the words correct and flowing. Memorize them, so that they flow so easily that you have time to think about what emotion you are trying to convey. The better you know the words, the easier it will be to sing them with the chords.

Putting the Song Back Together

There is a little trick I use when learning a new song. Once I know the chords, I start humming the tune along with them, so that the tune becomes part of the chord changes. I have the words and chords in front of me and that way I can slowly sing and play.

Start at the beginning, play two chords until you are ready for the first verse. Strum the first chord and begin to sing the first sentence, move to the next chord, and so on. Then play the chorus the same way. Then another verse. When, finally reach the end, finish it nice and tidy.

Many guitarists are known for having about 6 songs they play but they only know them half-way through and so can never confidently play for friends. Please take the time to learn one to two songs all the way through before moving onto another two.

Polishing Your Song

You will be so tempted to move on when you have learned a new song and that is great. Plan to learn 6 songs in a month. But go back over the old ones at least once a week, to polish them. Analyze which chords you trip over when you have to change from chord to chord.

Practice moving between those chords. Think about which sentences that you are not sure of the words and play that section a few times until you are sure. Play it slowly! No one is listening at the moment. So polish away until it’s nice and smooth. This will give you confidence.

Know that you can pick up your guitar, tune it, and play a song from memory. Using an introduction, verses, a chorus or two, and finally a nice tight ending. Smooth and with lots of joy and emotion.

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Learning Guitar Songs For Fun

This is why we start playing guitar because the thought of making music excites us. Creating your list of songs over the rest of your life will inspire and delight you. One of the easiest ways to learn a new song is to find an original or karaoke version of that song and play along with it.

Most apps have identical chords to the recorded song but sometimes not, so does be put off by this. You may have to put a capo on until the chords sound the same or look for another recording. This is all part of the journey.

If you are planning on playing the melody of the song and the chords, it is possible to find the tablature on the internet to show you how to do this and I will cover tabs in another article soon.

For now, choose a song you love, find the chords, learn the lyrics, plan your practice, and have fun!

If you’ve enjoyed this post or would like some help, please feel free to leave a comment below.


11 thoughts on “How to Learn Guitar Songs

  1. My sister is a big fan of guitar songs. Because of her, I am learning to play the guitar. I hope that someday she can sing to what I play. I like that you have explained here how to learn guitar. I will have to share this with her, so that she can try learning guitar too. I understand what you mean by the song choice and the chords as well. Thanks for your professional advice.

    1. Thanks Henderson,  what exciting news. I hope you will both be singing and playing together soon.


      Lily 😁🎶

  2. hello Lily, I must say that this article is very helpful and informative. I like how you simplified the process of learning to play the guitar because in many places on the Net I found it more complicated. I just want to learn to play for my own soul, I have a new guitar so I will follow your tips, can’t wait to see more of you!

    1. Thank you for your kind comments.  Playing for your soul is wonderful.  Definitely spend some time on my website reading some of my posts on having fun on your guitar.

      Let me know if you get stuck and I can help.

      Lily 😁🎶

  3. Lily, thank you very much for this useful instruction on how to learn a guitar song! I’ve got an old guitar at home as I played a bit when I was a teenager but only simple chords. I’ve been thinking about starting with it again just for fun, to learn a few songs to sing along. I can read sheet music and still got some old piano sheets cluttered somewhere (I played piano for about 8 years) so maybe I could use them for this. 
    I’ve seen there are some apps for guitar playing, would you also recommend them?

    1. Hi Lenka,

      Because you can already read music, you will probably be able to learn to play guitar easily. Your fingers will take a little time to adjust but not long. The apps are great fun. Try Ultimate Guitar as it is easy with words and chords.

      I’m excited for you. 

      Lily 😁🎶

  4. Hello Lily!

    An interesting and educative post about learning to play the guitar. I could have learned guitar songs when I was little and my father had a guitar in the house… in theory it may not be too late not even now. The beginning is the hardest, isn’t it?

    And it would surely be easier for people with inborn inclinations for music, especially if they start at an early age.

    You wrote a good tutorial for people who want to deal with the world of guitar beats. Keep it up!

    Best regards, Peter

    1. Hi Peter,

      Making music is a joy for life. I actually didn’t start playing guitar until I was 16, so it is never too late. My husband started playing the bass at 65. You just have to start.

      Lily 😁🎶

  5. Hi Lilly,

    Good article on how to learn guitar songs. The chord chart method looks interesting to me, I’ll give either Ultimate Guitar or Onsong a try. Your method for breaking down a song sounds very effective as well, I’ll be giving this a go tonight & will see how I get on. Any advice on how to pick a song, in terms of the number of chords etc.

    1. Hi Nate, thanks for your kind comments.  The number of chords will depend on your guitar level.  If you are a beginner 4 chords would work great. Try a Beatles song. They tend to be simple.  I usually pick a song with one new chord I don’t know and have to learn, so that I keep growing. 

      Hope this helps 

      Let me know how you go. 

      Lily 😊🎶

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