March 16, 2016

Songs From the Guitar Studio, Vol. 8

David Bowie songsWelcome to the latest installment of Songs From the Guitar Studio!

This series is dedicated to songs my students have played in guitar lessons. Sometimes we’ll pick a technique or concept and find a song to match it. At other times, we’ll pick a song first and see what we can learn from it.

Listed below are just a few of the songs we’ve jammed to over the last few weeks and months. I’ve tried to make the list diverse, featuring various concepts and techniques. As always, I’ve outlined a few of the main elements and takeaway points from each song.

Hopefully you’ll see something here to inspire you!

The Songs of David Bowie

Often, the death of an artist will inspire me and my students to work on some of their material. For the legendary David Bowie, that was certainly the case.

Although Bowie was regarded mainly as a singer and glam-rock innovator, he was also a saxophonist and guitarist, dating all the way back to his Ziggy Stardust days. The guitar plays a prominent role in his songs, whether acoustic or electric, and David always had great players on his songs. Between Mick Ronson, Carlos Alomar, Earl Slick, Nile Rodgers and Stevie Ray Vaughan, there are lots of great riffs, solos and rhythm parts to choose from.

For acoustic guitar, a must-learn is Space Oddity. I’ve been performing this one for years and it is simply a masterpiece of songwriting. For the late-beginner to intermediate guitarist, you get a full complement of open chords and barres to work with, as well as different strum patterns for its various sections.

Bowie also adds a couple cool little gems to the intro to enhance its ominous sound, such as droning the open low E string under an Fmaj7 chord and adding the low 5th to C to create C/G when he sings, “Ground Control to Major Tom”.

For electric guitar, there are lots of great options. In the studio, my students were jamming on tunes like “Suffragette City” (lots of barre chord action), “Ziggy Stardust” (classic sus4 chord intro), “China Girl” (cool double-stop intro, plus the bluesy solo by SRV), “Rebel Rebel” (another groovy, classic intro) and “Let’s Dance” (funky rhythm part by Nile as well as another solo by SRV).

The Songs of The Eagles

glenn frey songsThe death of Glenn Frey also inspired us to explore some Eagles tunes. He was a top-caliber singer-songwriter, to be sure, but Glenn’s guitar playing held its own in a band with Joe Walsh and Don Felder.

Glenn’s vocals graced many Eagles hits, and for the acoustic guitar strummer, there is plenty to choose from. “Lying Eyes”, “New Kid in Town”, “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, and “Tequila Sunrise” all have classic chord changes and are relatively easy to add to your repertoire.

Of course, one of the most popular Eagles tunes of all time features Glenn on lead vocal: “Take It Easy”. This song not only is an awesome strumming exercise, but for electric guitarists, it offers up a nicely challenging country-rock solo as well.

Finally, the all-time classic “Hotel California” continues to be one of the most-requested guitar solos to learn in my lessons. You need to be working at a pretty solid intermediate level to really nail this one, but if you’re at that point, “Hotel” will give you a great challenge and be a notch in your musical belt.

More Songs

Some other songs that my students and I have been jamming on recently include:

“Take Me Home, Country Roads”

This singer-songwriter classic by John Denver is perfect for anybody looking for good, solid strumming songs. Basic chords and the boom-shakalakalaka strum (bluegrass-style bass note + three down/ups) are all you need. Note that in the recording there are various acoustic lead lines and arpeggios. For a beginner player, it’s perfectly fine to simply strum through it.

Personal note: As a kid, I learned most of my strumming and chords by playing along with John Denver songs.

“You Shook Me All Night Long”

This classic rock staple not only has a dynamite rhythm part, but it also has another great solo for the intermediate player and is one of my most requested. This one gives you a great workout in the primary pentatonic pattern at frets 3 to 5, but also moves up the fretboard progressively, eventually hitting its peak at frets 15 to 18. A good confidence builder for those lead players who don’t venture much out of the basic pentatonic pattern. If you play rock guitar, you need this song in your repertoire.

“How High the Moon”

les paul mary ford songsOne of my all-time favorite jazz standards, “How High the Moon” has been covered by lots of great artists. Of course, it was originally popularized by the legendary Les Paul and his wife, Mary Ford. It offers up some nice comping (chordal accompaniment) and soloing opportunities for the late-beginner jazz player, and features plenty of the classic 2-5-1 chord changes that every jazz player needs to learn. It’s also in the key of G (mainly) which is great for pop/rock players transitioning to jazz.

The link here is to a medium tempo version (most versions are blazing fast) so it’s more manageable and easier to hear the chord changes.


It had been a while since I had a student do a fingerstyle piece, but this Beatles tune is an all-time classic. The thing I especially love about “Blackbird” is that you don’t have to sing along with it for it to sound great, as is the case with many Travis-picked songs; the guitar part completely stands on its own. And it features chord shapes that move all over the fretboard, so again: #confidence.

“Breaking the Law”

This Judas Priest classic is one of the first songs I ever learned on guitar as a teenager. It’s great for late-beginner rockers because it features a very manageable (but awesome) guitar riff – Aeolian mode for you theory nerds – and a bunch of power chords. There’s also a Rolling Stones-style chord riff in the bridge section. Highly recommended as an easy addition to your rock repertoire.

“Turning Japanese”

Just recently my student brought in this Vapors one-hit wonder. I had never played it before and, honestly, never paid much attention to it except for the chorus vocals. Well – what a great guitar song! (Who knew?) So many cool rhythm parts in this one, and even if you learned the chorus guitar parts, that would be time well spent. Fun and deceptively challenging!

“Mr. Speed”

I grew up listening to Kiss and their album Rock and Roll Over. Although “Hard Luck Woman” and “Calling Doctor Love” are the big hits, “Mr. Speed” has one of the coolest guitar parts on the whole album. A mix between chords and riffs, the rhythm track is well worth learning. It was like a blast from the past working on this tune!

“Funk #49”

This James Gang/Joe Walsh classic is definitely an intermediate level tune, complete with partial chords, copious amounts of left hand muting, that famous descending pentatonic riff and the “Purple Haze”-style E7#9 chord. Walsh makes it sound effortless – it’s anything but! A great rhythm guitar challenge for the semi-seasoned player.

More Songs From the Guitar Studio

Wanna check out some of the earlier volumes of this series? Need some new inspiration? Follow the links!

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4
Volume 5
Volume 6
Volume 7

QUESTION: Got any song suggestions for other beginner-intermediate players? Leave a comment below!


  1. Sabás González says:

    hey, Jim… I must have lived under a rock all this time… except for 2 or 3 songs, the rest is unknown material for me. Will have to look out for them and try to learn/practice. Thanks!

  2. Robert F Wassam says:

    Malaguena and Take 5 are two songs that are pretty cool to learn. I spent two days learning Malaguena and then spent a week polishing the song. Take 5, originally written for a sax, and later converted to guitar, is a pretty easy song that features some hammer on’s for the beginner. It’s a good song.

    • jim says:

      Thanks, Robert – nice choices! The only guitar version I know of for “Take 5” is George Benson’s, and that’s a doozy! (Then again, so are ALL Benson tracks. :))

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Jim Bowley is a professional guitarist, teacher and blogger. A native of Baltimore, he has over 30 years of playing experience and an advanced degree in Music Education from Towson University. Jim lives in Bel Air, MD where he maintains a thriving private lesson studio and performs with his band, Remains of Radio.

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