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Photo: NessieNoodle

You don’t need dreads. You don’t even need a goatee. All you need’s a guitar.

GUYS, HOW CAN you sit idly by while guitar dude swoons all the girls? And ladies, you do know how sexy it is to see a chick pluck out and sing Me and Bobby McGee, right?

Previously, we brought you the 50 Greatest Campfire Songs of All Time (more like 100 with all our readers’ great additions).

Now it’s time to learn some yourself, and it ain’t even that hard.

Guitar lessons schmitar schmessons

Yes, you can easily go down to your local laundromat and find a handwritten ad with tear-away phone numbers for guitar lessons. And yes, you can hop on Craigslist and have someone over in a jiffy, eager to take your money and teach you Blowin’ in the Wind.

But why pay for what you can have for free? All you need is a cheap guitar and the Internet. So, assuming you now have both, let’s begin.

No need for this Photo: hermmermferm

Tablature: sheet music for dummies

Dummies like me, that is. I pretty much learned how to play guitar solely through tablature (‘tab’ for short). What’s this you say?

Tablature is a graphic representation of the strings and frets of the guitar, and where your fingers go to make pleasant sounds when you strum the strings.

In this way, you don’t need to know how to read sheet music. All you need is a tiny bit of patience while you work out how to configure your fingers on the guitar.

First, some basics you should know

*Guitar strings are numbered 1 to 6. 1 being the first string from the bottom — when you’re holding the guitar in a normal position — and 6 being the top string (lowest note). When each string is plucked open (nothing pressed down) they each play a note. From top to bottom (6 to 1) the notes are: E A D G B e.

*A fret is a section of the guitar neck. When a string is pushed down inside a fret, it produces a lovely note. Frets are numbered starting at the first fret, which is at the top of the guitar. To make things easier, most guitars have little markers indicating the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th frets, so you can quickly find your way along the neck.

*For the purposes of guitar tab, your fingers are numbered: 1-index, 2-middle, 3-ring, 4-pinky (you would rarely have need for your thumb).

So, here is an example of how to make an E Minor (Em) chord — chosen for its simplicity:


From the above graphic, you place your 2nd (middle) finger on the 5th string/2nd fret, and your 3rd (ring) finger on the 4th string/2nd fret. Now strum all the strings. You’ve just played an Em!

A website like is money when it comes to learning how to play a specific chord. Say you want to learn how to play Neil Young’s Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World. You could pop over to, search for the song and find that the verse is simply Em, D, and C (chuck in an A for the chorus).

Now go find those chords at, take a few minutes to learn them, then play along with the song.

So where do I start?

Find artists/songs that use minimal and basic chords. For this reason, most of the first songs I learned were Bob Dylan and Neil Young; both musical geniuses. Perhaps the most genius thing is that their songs were so simple. Here are some very easy songs to get you started:

1. Bob Dylan – Knockin on Heaven’s Door (G, D, C)
2. The Wallflowers – Three Marlenas (G, D, Am)
3. Neil Young – Keep on Rockin in the Free World (Em, D, C, A)
4. Guns ‘n’ Roses – Patience (C, G, A, D)
5. Bob Dylan – Blowin in the Wind – (G, C, D, Em)

Online resources

There is no shortage of websites that teach you how to play guitar, all for free. and both have a section for beginners with easy songs to learn.

YouTube is fantastic. Besides learning how to play guitar, you can also learn how to bake naan bread, change a tire, and unclog a drain. But you’re here to learn guitar songs, right?

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

The Beatles – Let It Be

Pearl Jam – Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town

Lastly, don’t listen to what anyone says about Stairway to Heaven. It’s not an easy song to play, and when done right, is pretty sweet. The truth is, most guitar players know how to play it. So it’s kind of ironic that they make fun of it.

While it’s not difficult to learn to play guitar, it’s not super easy either. Don’t get frustrated and let the guitar sit in the corner gathering dust. Keep at it.

Rock on!


If you’re planning on traveling with a guitar — or any instrument for that matter — check out Essential Gear for the Traveling Musician. Just don’t be too surprised if United breaks your guitar.

Once you’ve got some practice and have a few songs under your belt, you might want to try your hand at busking. Here are the World’s Best Places to Busk.



About The Author

Carlo Alcos

Carlo is the Dean of Education at MatadorU and a Managing Editor at Matador. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He lives in Nelson, British Columbia.

  • Lola

    Yayyyy! I know how to play “Elderly Woman”…..

    Cool article Carlo!

  • Hal

    Hey Carlo, I didn’t know you played! We’ll have to have a Trips singalong at some point.

    Another good starter song is Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” just around 5 basic chords there. Also, any blues tune, including made up ones.

    • Carlo Alcos

      Yeah, good one! Gotta love the Neil Young. And yeah, once you learn the basic 12 bar blues riff, you’ve learned a thousand songs!

  • Christy

    Ahh my mum has a guitar and it just sits there more like an ornament, think I am going to have a go at this now :) thanks for the links and tips!!!

  • Christine Garvin

    Sweet, I wanna be able to get all the guys with my rendition of “Me and Bobby McGee.” ;)

    Elderly Woman…ah, old school Pearl Jam. I loved that album.

  • Trip Reviews

    Great songs! I would prefer “Hey Jude” from The Beatles instead of “Let it be” but that’s just my suggestion. When you are at a campfire, the guy with the guitar becomes the center of attention so its good to know some good songs.

    Great article,


  • easy guitar songs

    This stuff is solid gold. I’m a guitar newbie – just getting the hang of a few chords and some easy songs. This is just what I need to become a campfire hero – better get off and practice now – Thanks.

  • violin lesson

    Inspirational – I’ve blown the dust off my old guitar – well done

  • Jariel James

    @Carlos: I’d definitely put this page to the list:
    (Not sure how I found them on google, but its and awesome compilation for beginner guitarists like me)

    • Carlo Alcos

      Thanks for adding the link Jariel

  • Guest

    The campfire with someone playing the guitar cool stuff, I wonder if kids today still do that? They don’t know what they are missing.

    Check out this guitar lessons for beginners website!

    • Draco_951

      The stupid thing is here in Belgium making campfires is illegal… But I wanna do it so bad with the guitar and all the cool songs… it’s a shame!!! Well, guess its me turning my sound wide open and let the whole neighbourhood listen to these great songs!!!

    • Ryanstrudeau

      I am actually 17 years old, and I stumbled upon this page after i searched for cmapfire songs to play on my guitar at bonfires I have with a bunch of friends. Kids now, usually dont do it, but a friend and I are trying to keep the tradition

    • Guest

      Don’t worry, we still do :) My friends and I’s favorite past time 

    • Kch236

      I taught my sister to play last year around a campfire and now everytime we go camping, it’s always “Can we bring the guitar? Can we, Can we?!” so in that respect, it definitely isn’t a lost art.

  • Chelsea_trussell

    hi…. ummm i’m so bored

    • Chelsea_trussell


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