One of the great things about the guitar is its versatility. From gentle folk music to decibel-defying heavy metal, the guitar reigns supreme.
As a guitarist, you probably already have a repertoire of songs that you like and enjoy playing. You’re probably also on the lookout for new ones to keep things fresh and interesting.
Four great songs we suggest you learn to play are “Drive By” by Train, “Caledonia” by Dougie MacLean, “All I Want” by Kodaline and “Drive” by Incubus. We’ve provided YouTube tutorials, so you can follow along and learn to play the songs correctly.
After reading this article, you’ll:
• Understand proper finger placement, chord progressions and other song dynamics.
• Learn about the song’s history.
• Learn about the song’s meaning.
• See what we like about each song.
Let’s get started!
Drive By – Train
“Drive By” is a buoyant pop-rock song from Train’s sixth studio release, California 37. Written by lead singer Pat Monahan and the songwriting team Espen Lind and Amund Bjørklund, it peaked at no. 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and vaulted to no. 10 hit status in 13 countries.
“Drive By” was the third Top 10 song from the Grammy Award-winning band. California 37 was recorded in Los Angeles and San Francisco and was produced by Butch Walker and Espionage.
The song is about a guy who falls for a one-night stand and wants to turn it into a serious relationship. He tries to convince the woman of his devotion by saying, “I swear to you/I’ll be there for you/this is not a drive-by,” meaning his encounter with her was meaningful and not just hit-and-run.
We like this song because its chorus is bright and buoyant and had us bouncing in our chairs and enthusiastically bobbing our heads to the beat. It’s an extremely catchy song, to say the least.
The reggae-flavored acoustic guitar woven throughout the verses is a nice touch, and the transition to the chorus seems to happen like a sudden burst of sparkling fireworks.
The blog 2 Loud 2 Old Music says, “ ‘Drive By’ has an acoustic riff that gives you plenty of melody and makes you want to pull the top down on your car and crank the music up really loud.”
Grace Mpofu of the Rockhaq blog comments, “ ‘Drive By’ is a most unexpected song from Train. With its high-energy beats and lyrical zip, it reminds me of the best of Bon Jovi.”
“It’s an up-tempo and fun song. The beat is extremely catchy.”
“Musically, it combines pop, rock and folk sounds to create something that appeals immediately.”
“I would highly recommend this song. It’s addictive and amazing!”
“Drive By” is a barre chord-driven song. Learn to play it like a pro by checking out this tutorial.
We also recommend that you learn Dougie MacLean’s renowned “Caledonia” to add a beautiful folk song to your repertoire that you can play on acoustic guitar.
Caledonia – Dougie MacLean
“Caledonia” is a modern Scottish folk ballad from Dougie MacLean’s same-named album. Caledonia is the old Roman name for Scotland, MacLean’s home country, and is used as a poetic device in the song.
In 1977, MacLean wrote “Caledonia” in a whirlwind 10 minutes on a beach in France.
The song has woven itself into countless facets of Scottish culture and has even been dubbed “Scotland’s national anthem.” It’s been covered by myriad artists, and the most popular version is by Scottish rock musician, Frankie Miller.
In his 20s, MacLean was wandering around Europe performing as a street musician with three buddies. But the day after he wrote the lyric, “Caledonia, you’re calling me/And now I’m going home,” he headed back to Scotland.
Other lyrics also tell a tale of homesickness: “In these last days/I’ve been afraid/That I might drift away/So I’ve been telling old stories, singing songs/That make me think about where I came from/And that’s the reason why I seem/So far away today.
We love the simple, delicate poignance of “Caledonia.” We also love that, even though the song is personal to MacLean, it also has universal themes of love, longing and feeling out of place.
In Diana Cranstoun’s blog, she writes, “It’s a song of longing – and belonging – written from the heart. And therein, I believe, lies its magic.”
Blogster Bob Leslie, a Scottish musician who analyzes songs’ technical structure, said, “I simply have to throw up my hands and say, despite all its irregularities, it works! I actually love the song, so we’ll call it a hit and leave it at that!”
“Caledonia” is played in the key of E using open C tuning and a capo on the fourth fret. Play it like MacLean does by watching this tutorial.
It’s always good to have a few ballads you can pull out of your back pocket, and “All I Want” by Kodaline is a great choice.
All I Want – Kodaline
“All I Want” is an achingly beautiful song of heartbreak and despair by Kodaline, a Dublin-based alt-rock band. It appeared on Kodaline’s 2013 album, In a Perfect World, on the B-Unique label.
The song hit no. 15 on the Irish Singles Chart and no. 67 on the UK Singles Chart. It got major exposure when Kodaline played it on American Idol before a viewing audience of approximately 20 million people.
“All I Want” was licensed by Gray’s Anatomy and appears in the smash hit movie, “The Fault in Our Stars.”
Kodaline’s vocalist, Stephen Garrigan, wrote the song to express the grief he felt when his girlfriend went on vacation and came back with a new man. It poses the question that many of us implore when we’re engulfed in bewilderment about why a relationship ended: “But if you loved me/Why’d you leave me?”
We admit it: “All I Want” made us cry. But for all the right reasons. The vocals have a fragile quality, making it sound like Garrigan was barely able to sing because he was so broken.
The music perfectly aligns with this sorrowful mood.
Blogger Helene in Between comments, “I can tell ya that back in the day, it definitely would have made my breakup [song] list. Just listen and tell me if you managed to make it through without crying.”
The blog Littlemissminor says, “I think it’s stunning, even though it’s simple. His voice carries his feelings so beautifully.”
Check out this tutorial, and learn how to play this exquisite, timeless song.
If you’re into alternative rock, “Drive” by Incubus is a song you’ll enjoy learning and playing.
Drive – Incubus
“Drive” is a tune by Incubus, an American alternative rock band from Calabasas, California. It was the band’s breakthrough song, winning Billboard’s Award for Modern Rock Single of the Year in 2001 and reaching no. 9 on Billboard’s Hot 100 the same year.
“Drive,” from the Make Yourself album, has been covered by numerous bands and musicians, including Corey Gray and Jake Coco, Scott Erickson and the Stanford Harmonics (a cappella).
According to singer Brandon Boyd, the song is “basically about fear, being driven all your life by it and making decisions from fear. It’s about imagining what life would be like if you didn’t live it that way.”
The first verse expresses the concept of driving as a metaphor for wanting to overcome fear and take charge of his life, but feeling hesitant about it: “Sometimes/I feel the fear of/Uncertainty stinging clear/And I can’t help but ask myself how much I’ll let the fear/Take the wheel and steer.”
Later, he sings about actually trying to tame that feeling: “Lately I’m beginning to find/That I should be the one behind the wheel.”
We love this song, spearheaded by Boyd’s robust vocals and unique phrasing. It’s powerful without being bombastic, and the lyrics are profound but not preachy. The harmonies are creative and caught and held our attention.
The blog Eclectic Music Lover had this to say about “Drive”: “The song’s superb arrangement is more relaxed and acoustic than their usual alternative metal/funk style.”
Blogger Joel A. Scott says that “Drive” is “the quintessential life lesson.”
“Drive” is written in the key of E minor and is played mostly on acoustic guitar. Learn to play this song, and master its eclectic chord structures, by watching this excellent step-by-step tutorial.
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Guitarists always start in the bedroom – Martine Murray
From pop-rock to folk to alternative, these songs are must-haves in your repertoire. Enjoy listening to them, learning them and playing them!