Most beginner guitarists will start with learning the basics of playing single notes before moving on to something involving more than one digit like simple chords.
Those who have playing experience will remember the difficulty that can come with just getting a single note to sound correct when starting out.
Once this happens, as a teacher or student, it can be encouraging to take this new knowledge and apply it to familiar music.
This can be a great motivating factor for a beginner guitarist that might not be interested in playing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” ad nauseum until their next lesson.
One-string songs like the following are instantly recognizable and offer some great learning experiences for beginners despite the use of only one string.
7 Easy One-String Guitar Songs
1. The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army
This is a song you will likely find on just about every music teacher’s one-string song list.
It’s easy to play with just the right amount of challenge and is instantly recognizable as it’s been used by many major league sports teams since being released in the early 2000s.
The song also features a very simple four-count beat on the bass drum that is easy to follow. This makes it easy to pick out the nuances of the guitar melody in relation to the rhythm of the song.
Like many one-string songs, it still has quite a bit to teach. Aside from the obvious lesson of playing notes on a few different frets, “Seven Nation Army” has a great lesson about note length and timing built into it.
The melody on paper has half notes, dotted notes, eighth notes and rests to add to the mix.
That being said, this isn’t the easiest one-string song because of the note variations and timing. It may be easier to teach by earand example before diving into the sheet music and theory side of it.
The rest of the song can be approximated with one string, but it certainly isn’t impossible to play this song all the way through using one finger on a few strings.
2. Cream – Sunshine of Your Love
If you’re looking to learn something a bit more in the psychedelic rock realm, you could do worse than to start with Cream’s legendary song “Sunshine of Your Love”.
It features one of those riffs that has become synonymous with a particular cultural era – in this case – late 60s psychedelic blues-rock.
Cream’s bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce is said to have taken inspiration for this riff after attending a Jimi Hendrix concert. It isn’t hard to hear the influence in my opinion.
This song has the advantage of being very popular and used in many instances of pop culture. So it should be easier to pick out some of the rhythmic nuances of the riff from a learning standpoint.
It starts up higher in the frets and slowly comes down the scale while bouncing back up along the way a few times in the now ubiquitous late 60s classic.
The note length and timing here are key as there are some lingering dotted notes and punctate rests.
Sunshine of your love is also a nice little introduction to a blues scale/riff. Much of that era’s rock music was based on the blues and this is no different.
Another iconic 70s rock riff out of the UK makes the cut here. Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”.
The central theme is a basic blues scale melody comprised of four notes. While that may not sound like much, one listen to the riff and you’ll instantly know why it’s considered one of the best rock riffs in history.
Something about it oozes attitude, and when you first discover it you may feel that same attitude surging through you as you learn the classic intro for many a bad guy or anti-hero.
From a teaching or learning standpoint, aside from the blues structure of the riff, a good thing to pick up here is note slides.
Some tabs may leave out slides, but I like to play it with a slide on the 5th note up to the 6th and back down the 7th note in the sequence.
Discovering this riff and learning slides makes you feel like a rock star in no time.
There is also some fun timing here to play with a nice long dotted half note ringing out right before repeating.
This is the note that you can extend your arm out after hitting for maximal attitude.
Black Sabbath’s rock classic “Iron Man” was re-popularized in the Marvel franchise movie of the same name.
Not that they were losing any steam, Black Sabbath was one of the most well-known bands on the planet at this point, but the use in the Iron Man movie has brought this song to a new generation of people.
This particular one-string song will get the metal fans and students going quickly. The song starts with some ominous bendy guitar growls before diving into the iconic riff.
This riff can be taught in two ways. One would be a more “entry” level version that simplifies the rapidly alternating notes at the end.
The more true-to-form interpretation has a trill at the end of the riff that offers a bit of difficulty and an opportunity to learn some new fingering skills.
The rest of the song is easy to play in a one-string version but is really best served with some power chords.
5. Henry Mancini – Peter Gunn Theme
The Peter Gunn TV series from the 60s features a theme written by Henry Mancini. For his efforts, he was awarded an Emmy and two Grammys.
It was also revived in the 1980s as it was also used in the very popular Blues Brother movie, bringing it again to the front of pop culture at the time.
The Peter Gunn TV series was a show about a private detective. Having this in mind it’s easy to see why the theme really stuck.
It’s a fun plucky riff with a gritty sort of sound you can really put to the image of a detective on the hunt. It starts with an open string and jumpily plucks up the fretboard before looping back into that open string.
From a technique standpoint, this song is good for learning to land notes from an open palm position by playing the open string between the climbing notes.
On top of this, you can practice different picking patterns and techniques as it is a plucky song with not a lot of fast notes.
6. Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
Nirvana’s most talked about song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is noted to have been the straw that broke the hair metal age’s back in the early 90s.
Though this is debatable, no one would question its seemingly unpredictable and unprecedented rise to the top of the charts across the globe.
Part of its charm is that it wasn’t a mind-melting guitar song with arpeggios, scales, sweeps, etc.
Instead, it’s a few power chords, a two-note verse, and a solo that follows the vocal melody exactly.
Whether intentional or not, it was a breath of fresh air for those not keen on wailing guitars and the over-the-top attitude popularized by the state of hair metal at the time.
The main riff for this one-string song is right in the beginning. It involves four notes that can be played through the verse and chorus with variations on the strumming depending on where in the song you are.
For example, the intro and chorus utilize palm mutes between the note changes, whereas the verses can be played with a more consistent downbeat pace with no mutes at all.
For a one-string song, it would actually be easier to play on two strings as only the first and fourth fret would be used in either string, but this also presents a nice learning opportunity about relative notes on each string.
The one-string version of this song would follow a fret pattern of 1, 6, 4, 9.
Learning that the 6th fret is the same note as the 1st fret on the next string can be quite the eye-opener when learning about scales and or moving on to multi-string songs.
7. John Williams – The Imperial March (Star Wars)
The phenomenon of the Star Wars franchise has lasted for almost half a century at this point.
Millions, if not billions, of people around the world have at least an idea of what it’s about and the cultural impact. What better source to draw from for a familiar song to learn?
“The Imperial March” composed by John Williams, is also called “Darth Vader’s Theme”. From the first line, like many of our songs listed here, the song is instantly recognizable and conjures up images of Stormtroopers and Darth Vader himself.
The theme is based on Chopin’s “Funeral March”, which is characterized by its brooding harmonies and downbeat military pace.
The tune can be played on the D string and walks up and down the fretboard from the 4th up the 11th and back down again.
As this song is so familiar it should be very easy to pick up once you get the picking and pace down. Practicing with a metronome will help you nail that punchy marching pace in no time.
What is the Easiest One-String Song?
The answer here is ironically not going to be so simple, but if I were to pick one, I would choose “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple.
It has few notes, and plenty of room to breathe between notes. It can also easily be played with all downstrokes, which is generally best to start with for beginners.
Learning guitar can be difficult, but with so many great songs available to beginners in a one-string format, it’s easy to get going and play some of your favorite tunes in no time.
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