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5 Challenging Songs to Play on the Acoustic Guitar

Are you a relatively new acoustic player looking to up your unplugged skills to the next level? There are more people picking up musical instruments - especially the portable acoustic guitar during the pandemic.

If you fancy yourself the next folk guitar hero or a prolific strummer able to play at any occasion with a vocabulary of open chords, here are challenging songs of all genres to help you on your path to acoustic guitar mastery. These songs are great for both beginners and intermediate players to practise and push their abilities.

1. Fast Car by Tracy Chapman

One of the most memorable hits by Tracy Chapman, Fast Car is an enduring classic radio play. Chapman’s lyrics make one yearn for a different life and also part nostalgic. Her guitar and performance evoke both in the heart of the listener.

The song consists of only four guitar chords. The progression goes from C-G-Em-D in the verses and at the end of the chorus, it omits the G chord. The addictive intro to the song is played by lightning the first finger on the C to make C major 7. G is played open, but Em is played with the first finger on the fifth string at the 7th fret, and the 8th fret on the second string. Pluck the open third string in between them for a spacious.

2. The Man Who Sold the World by Nirvana

The David Bowie classic was played on MTV Unplugged in 1994 by Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. The cover was so memorable that Cobain refused to do an encore, insisting he could not top the band’s cover of the Bowie song.

The intro to the song is all on the third string, starting on the 2nd fret (2-2-2-0-2-3-2-0). Although it was played on acoustic, it was routed through a Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion pedal. The clean verse chords include A, Dm, F, and C, while the chorus introduces a Db.

3. Pink Moon by Nick Drake

Pink Moon was the last album released by English singer-songwriter Nick Drake before he passed away at the age of 25 in 1974. The song is a short and intense masterpiece by Drake who was suffering from depression.

While you can play Pink Moon in the standard tuning, Drake went to great lengths to discover unique tunings that expressed the sounds in his head. Tune to CGCFCE to get to the sound of this tune, adding a capo on the 2nd fret. If you can play a full barre, it is reasonably easy in this tuning.

The opening chord is all open strings except for the third string, 2nd fret. This 2nd fret finger then skips onto the fourth string and then the fifth. Barre the 7th fret next and fret the third string 9th fret with your third finger. Holding the barre, add your fourth finger to the 9th fret second string, and remove your third finger. Repeat those two shapes two frets lower before moving back up.

4. The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel

The song sounds so simple to play but it takes skills to play this convincingly to impress everyone. The song rarely requires you to pick more than one string at a time, which in that respect makes it easier than playing other songs such as Blackbird or Freight Train.

5. Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell

This classic tune by Joni Mitchell showcases great singer-songwriting skills. A simple chord structure becomes a classic thanks to creative rhythm and melody alongside thoughtful lyrics.

The chords are A, B, and E with embellishments. Tune to open D (D A D F# A D), with a capo on the 2nd fret. Start by barring all six strings at the 7th fret. For the embellishment, add your third finger on the 9th fret of the fifth string. This looks like an E-shape minor 7 barre in standing tuning, but it creates an A6 chord. Do the same thing two frets higher for B. The E chord is simply played with all the strings open.

Interested in bettering your acoustic guitar skills? Find out more on how you can learn from our experienced and dedicated instructors at Ritmo Music Studio.

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