11 Challenging Guitar Songs To Learn To Expand Your Style

Guitar Neck

Read Time 4 Minutes

Some of you that have read my other articles know that I’m always seeking ways to grow as a guitarist, expand my style, do something different, or break out of the box.

One of the best ways to do this is to pick up your guitar and learn songs for a different reason than you normally would. Rather than learning to add an appropriate song to your setlist, or learning something that will impress friends – why not learn something you wouldn’t normally learn? Why not learn something completely inappropriate for your setlist?

Break out of your personal box, so to speak.

Of course, I don’t know you so I might have chosen a few here that you already know, or that you already were planning on learning – but I’ve included a pretty diverse array of tunes, and each of these songs brings a lesson or two to the table, and that’s the whole point.

We’re going to learn some interesting things from these songs, possibly things that your guitar teachers/books/dvds haven’t covered, things like texture, stamina, touch, feel, and attack.

All the video examples open in a convenient little window so you don’t have to leave this page.

Here we go.

#1 – Sting – Lullaby For An Anxious Child (Dominic Miller – guitar)

You’ll probably want an acoustic for this one, and ditch the pick – you won’t need it. You’ll learn about texture in your right hand technique – how to “attack” each string with varying degrees of intensity without a pick. Your left hand will be busy as well, descending from the upper reaches of your fretboard all the way down the neck fairly quickly. It’s some of Dominic Miller’s best work.

Lesson learned: texture, touch

#2 – Dream Theater – Erotomania (John Petrucci – guitar)

In this piece, you’re going to learn a whole lot about timing and stamina. It’s no secret that John Petrucci is a damn freak of nature when it comes to guitar, and there’s a lot to be learned from this giant. Mr. Petrucci covers alot of lateral space in this tune as well, and there isn’t a lot of time to rest, or even collect your thoughts.

Lesson learned: Stamina, thinking ahead, phrasing, timing

#3 – Jeff Beck – A Day In The Life

Toss that pick again, you’re going to be picking with your thumb on this one. Here you’re going to learn quite a bit about genius phrasing from one of the true masters. You’re gonna have to feel each note or you wont be able to duplicate what Jeff is doing here. Also Mr. Beck is in complete control of that guitar here – from his ever present grip on the tremolo to finding and manipulating the volume knob when he needs it, its the whole package.

Lesson Learned: phrasing, feel, control without being sterile

#4 – Stevie Ray Vaughan – Lenny

I don’t see how I could possibly not include Stevie Ray Vaughan in this list. Lenny is the first tune that came to mind. I’m not going to rattle off much here – I’ll let the example video talk.

Lesson learned: a rare glimpse of being superhuman, feel, connection with your instrument.

#5 Dominic Miller – Adagio in G Minor

Ok, so Dominic gets on this list twice. And for good reason. He’s got a relationship with the guitar that most of us can only dream of. Here, he combines feel with technique in a way that very few can. I just can’t see how learning this song won’t help you grow.
Lesson Learned: feel, technique

#6 Megadeth – Tornado of Souls

Concentrate on the rhythm and timing here.
Lesson Learned: Fast chunky rhythms and impeccable timing.

#7 The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army

This one shouldn’t challenge you too much, but you’ll have to pick up a slide.

Lesson Learned: Slide

#8  Dire Straits – Money For Nothing

I’m sure plenty of you know this one, right? If you don’t its great fun and once you get the riff down, you can have fun experimenting and improvising a bit over the song.

Lesson Learned: Plenty of right hand technique – and as mentioned above, its a great song to develop your improvisation skills.

#9 Baden Powell – Manha de Carnaval

Actually any of Baden Powell’s work will challenge most of us guitar players. He is truly one of the masters. Extra points if you can play it with a cigarette in your right hand.
Lesson Learned: It depends on the Baden song you choose. You will get some right hand technique, polyrhythms –  and gobs of phrasing mastery.

#10 – John McLaughlin – Anything

You can pretty much pick and choose what you like from John’s collection, but I chose this one because you can hear so much of what has inspired many of the guitarists we feature on this site on a regular basis. As with most of these guys you’ll improve your phrasing, if you pay attention to it, and here in this one, some new perspectives on soloing.
Lesson Learned: phrasing, attack, less is more

#11 – Steve Vai – Sisters

I don’t think we hear enough of Steve’s clean work and this song is one of his best. It’s almost Jazzy. It’ll definitely open up your mind a little.
Lesson learned: Creativity, feel, how to quickly moved chords around the fretboard, and everything else Steve does so well.

Similar Posts:

Tim Monaghan

Tim has been playing guitar & bass since he was 12 years old and has been in Jazz, funk, rock & metal bands. Influences include Jeff Beck, Stanley Clarke, Doug Stegmeyer, Baden Powell, Steve Vai, and pretty much anyone else who has a unique style that expresses their individuality. One of Tim’s many hobbies is building, tweaking, and repairing basses and guitars.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x