Branch Out: The Top Guitar Songs for Different Genres

The guitar is easily one of the most popular and common instruments to have ever been invented. And it certainly helps that it also happens to be one of the most versatile instruments, and in today’s music, it can be found it nearly every genre imaginable.

Most guitarists, and musicians in general, pick a genre or two, and mostly stick to it. But there can be a huge advantage to branching out and trying things that you might not have originally thought were for you. Even if you don’t stick to some of the genres that aren’t your favourites, so much can be learned and even brought into your preferred style to create something truly unique.

So, with this idea in mind, this week we’re going to explore some of the top guitar songs for a few different styles of music.

Folk

No matter what era it’s from, folk music is an important part of tradition, and the songs often pass down historical lore and life lessons through the ages and generations. Some classics, like “Amazing Grace,” have been around for what seems like forever, while a surge in modern artists, like Bon Iver or the Decemberists, have put their own stamp on the genre.

And if you’re just getting started with your guitar, folk music is often a great way to get to know your new instrument, thanks to the simple transitions and minimal number of chords that most songs feature.

Bob Marley – Waiting in Vain

Written by the great Bob Marley, “Waiting in Vain” was featured on his timeless 1977 album Exodus, and reached #27 on the UK charts. This iconic song features two simple one-finger chords to create the reggae beat, and is a fantastic genre piece for beginner guitarists.

Van Morrison – Brown Eyed Girl

Van Marrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” is a true crowd pleaser! Who hasn’t danced along to this classic? The swinging smash reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967, and is widely considered Van Morrison’s best song. With only four chords (G, C, D, and E minor), this is a fairly simple song that can help refine your 8th note strumming and open chord transitions.

Blues

Moving on from folk, out next genre was born out of American folk, and is the predecessor to rock: the Blues. Blues music is all about tradition and emotion, and countless standards have survived decades, with new artists giving each rendition their own flair and style. Most blues standards use only three chords, making many of them perfect for beginners.

B.B. King – Rock Me Baby

Though this tune was originally penned by prolific blues composer Willie Dixon, it was blues legend B.B. King who really gave it soul. This song highlights the blues pattern, and is a perfect way to polish your 12-bar blues form with the G, C, and D chords.

Robert Johnson – Cross Road Blues

Legend has it that this song is about the deal Johnson made with the Devil at the crossroads. The story says he traded his soul for unholy guitar skill. You don’t need demonic abilities to play it though! This song has endured for so long for good reason: it’s got some skillful rhythms and tricky fingerings to keep you working.

Rock

It’s been over 70 years since the term “rock and roll” was first coined, and in that time the genre has split into dozens (or more) subgenres.

From blues rock to folk rock to surf rock, punk rock, psychedelic rock, glam rock, indie, alternative, classic…

The list goes on and on.

But as rock has evolved, there have always been the greats to play a central role in creating some of the most emotionally and socially charged music ever produced.

Cracker – Low

With only four chords to get through (D, C, E, and G), Cracker’s 1993 hit “Low” made it all the way to the #3 position on the Modern Rock Track charts that same year. Though it’s a fairly simple song, it can help with basic chord switching and a consistent strum pattern.

R.E.M. – It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

One of the biggest names in the alternative rock subgenre, R.E.M. always had a very particular sound. This song highlights their “jaunty,” jangly guitar tracks, poppy hooks, and punky spirit. In particular, this song gives a new challenge in chord technique, with quick transitions and a few power chords.

Country

Whether it’s plucked, strummed, or “chicken-picked,” the guitar is, without question, the most prominent instrument in country music. Country guitar songs tend to be some of the easier, and more fun, to learn. And with just a little bit of practice, you’ll be picking right along!

Hank Williams – Jambalaya (On the Bayou)

Hank William’s technique of single-note-picking helped define the country guitar in its early years, and the fact that this single went all the way to the top of the Billboard singles chart proves it. This song features simple chord progressions, which back a catchy melody, making this a country music favorite! You’ve only got two chords to content with!

John Denver – Thank God I’m a Country Boy

Another chart topper, John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” reached the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and the Hot 100 in 1975. This anthem for hard-working, small-town people everywhere was a beautiful blend of folk and country guitar techniques. Studying this tune’s melodic riff and bass note picking will give your guitar technique some twang and spring!

Unfortunately, that’s all the space we have for this week, but this is nowhere near a comprehensive list of the best guitar songs out there. For a bit more fun, try looking into classical music for guitars. You might also learn a thing or two from flamenco, jazz, ragtime, or even metal. The wider you cast your net of skills, the more original your own sound can be.

Branch out!