14 Easy Nirvana Songs To Play On Guitar

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Nirvana is one of the world’s most influential bands. They revolutionized music in the 1990s and introduced the world to an entirely new style of music: grunge. With so many memorable guitar riffs and catchy songs, it’s easy to see why people still want to listen to and play their music today!

If you’re a beginning guitarist who wants to learn some of rock’s most iconic songs and riffs, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’re going to cover 14 easy Nirvana songs to play on guitar to help guide you through some awesome songs that will still be sure to inspire and impress. Read on!

1. “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

It’s hard to think of Nirvana without thinking of their most popular song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Featured on the 1991 album Nevermind, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and its music video catapulted Nirvana to worldwide fame.

The good news is Nirvana’s most famous song is easy to play! Consisting mainly of only four two-note power chords, it’s a great place to start when beginning to learn Nirvana songs.

This song is a great choice when you want to play something recognizable and powerful which will get the crowd moving. Give it a try now! 

2. “Come As You Are”

While “Smells Like Teen Spirit” might be Nirvana’s most popular song, “Come As You Are” is probably their most recognizable guitar riff. The repetitive, single-note riff is a great place for beginning guitarists to start who want something simple yet undeniably cool.

Once you’ve got the main riff down, the song is practically mastered! The chorus of “Come As You Are” involves some power chords, but it’s still easy to pick up.

Even cooler, after learning the main riff and the chords, the ambitious beginning guitarist can also pick up the guitar solo. Rather than being a fast, technical solo, Kurt Cobain opted for a slow and melodic one that won’t take too long to nail.

3. “All Apologies”

From Nirvana’s third studio album, In Utero, “All Apologies” is a perfect choice for the singer-guitarist who wants a simple yet powerful song in their repertoire.

The main riff consists of a single repeated line, which, despite its easiness to play, is one of those perfect riffs that made Nirvana famous. True to grunge’s direct appeal, the chorus consists only of a single chord.

Once you’ve got the riff down, you can focus on the soulful singing, which, despite the esoteric lyrics, is direct and sure to command attention from your audience.

“All Apologies” is great to play live and will be sure to please a crowd without demanding too much in the way of guitar playing.

4. “About A Girl”

For the more chordal-inclined guitarist, “About A Girl” from Nirvana’s first album, Bleach, is a great choice. It is perfect for aspiring singer-guitarist who wants to express their love for a special someone!

The intro and verse use just the basic guitar chords, E minor, and G major, which makes the song easy to pick up and allows the guitarist to focus on their singing.

Due to the limited number of chords, you can quickly shift to varying strumming patterns and find the rhythms that work for you. Be sure to check out the version on the acoustic album MTV Unplugged in New York for a softer and more intimate version of the song.

5. “Love Buzz”

While Nirvana’s first album, Bleach, which came out in 1989, isn’t their most well-known album, it still contains recognizable great music. “Love Buzz” is the debut single from the album, but it was actually written by the band Shocking Blue in 1969.

The opening guitar riff is insanely cool and easy to play on guitar! While the fast tempo might initially pose some trouble, you’ll be able to get it under your fingers in no time.

Even though the bass usually plays the riff on the recorded song, guitarists can easily play it on the guitar to get a crowd moving and inject energy into a room. 

6. “In Bloom”

One of the heavier singles from Nevermind, “In Bloom,” is a grunge guitarist’s dream. Despite the massive sound of the song, it consists of just a few power chords, so it’s accessible for the beginning guitarist and relatively easy to master.

Not only that but for those who wish to sing, the bass does the heavy lifting during the verse, which allows the guitarist to concentrate on the vocals. If you want to inspire a crowd to headbang quickly, you can’t go wrong with “In Bloom”!

7. “Heart-Shaped Box”

The first single from Nirvana’s third album, In Utero, is “Heart-Shaped Box,” and bolstered by its music video, the song is probably the most famous one from that album.

The verse provides an easy riff that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has heard the song. The simple chorus turns up the distortion and lets you rock out with power chords.

This is one of those perfect Nirvana songs with a sweet riff, memorable chorus, and powerful lyrics. And the best part is, it’s not too hard to play!

8. “Polly”

For those who don’t want the heaviness that comes with most of Nirvana’s songs, “Polly” might be the one for you. It is one of the band’s quieter songs from Nevermind that is perfect for the singing guitarist.

With minimal other elements, the chord progression and vocals take center stage in this piece. The majority of the song only uses four chords, and none of them are too difficult for the beginning guitarist (no F chords here!).

This is a perfect song to vary the strumming pattern, improve your chordal chops, and experiment with singing. You’ll be playing it perfectly in no time!

9. “Breed”

“Breed” is about as heavy as Nirvana songs get, and it’s pure joy to play. The opening of the song launches into an intense but simple riff that sets the aggressive mood of the song.

Then, the verse lets the guitarist explore some high notes on the instrument, and it’s a nice introduction to the upper strings and positions of the guitar while still consisting of simple chord shapes.

Throughout, “Breed” is easy, energetic, surprising, and fun! It is the perfect song for the aspiring rock guitarist who wants to play uncompromisingly loud and in-your-face.

10. “Stay Away”

Yet another easy song from Nirvana’s album Nevermind is “Stay Away.” Even though it starts with a bass riff, it provides the guitarist with lots to do.

While actually playing the riffs in the song isn’t too hard, it requires good coordination with the bassist and drummer to make the song tightly locked in.

Power chords abound in this piece, and it’s a great way to provide an abundance of energy and get a room moving. If you can, get your own power trio together and rock out with this classic and energetic grunge masterpiece!

11. “Pennyroyal Tea”

Alternating between heavy chorus and intimate verse, “Pennyroyal Tea” is a great tune for the guitarist who wants to show off their versatility. With its sparse sound in the verse, the song provides a great space for the guitarist to experiment with subtle, personal changes to the main riff.

The chorus appears with chugging power chords, which, while easy to play, can create a massive sound and get anyone pumped up. Be sure to listen to the acoustic version on the album MTV Unplugged in New York to get even more ideas for how to make this hit song your own!

12. “Serve The Servants”

From the very first guitar chord of “Serve the Servants,” you know it’s going to be something special. This song has one of those twisting Nirvana riffs that sounds much more difficult than it is. In reality, it’s not that hard to play and consists primarily of basic power chords.

Like so many of Nirvana’s songs, “Serve the Servants” requires more rhythmic feel than insane technical guitar skills to pull it off successfully.

Once you’ve got the arpeggiated power chord riff down, the fun is capturing the tone, getting in the rhythmic pocket, and bringing the bleak and confusing lyrics to life.

13. “Dumb”

From the 1993 album In Utero, “Dumb” has a straightforward chord progression, but the strumming pattern can be a bit tricky. However, that makes it a perfect song to learn for the guitarist who is ready to improve their strumming accuracy without worrying too much about their left hand.

Once you’ve got it down, be sure to find a cello friend to play with you and try and work out the singing. “Dumb” is a perfect song if you want something a little more relaxed but still intense and captivating.

14. “Lithium”

One of Nirvana’s best-selling songs, “Lithium,” is a great choice for the beginning guitarist who wants to improve their picking accuracy and experiment with muting the strings with the left hand.

The chorus consists of fairly basic power chords and a straightforward strumming pattern. However, the challenge comes in the riff that accompanies the verses. While it’s not too difficult, it does require a bit of muting with the left hand and the ability to change strings with the pick.

For a more fun jam time, be sure to play “Lithium” with a bassist if you can, as the bass and guitar lines directly support each other. Try it out!

Summing Up Our List Of Easy Nirvana Guitar Songs

With three studio albums and numerous compilation disks, it can be hard to know where to start when you want to begin learning Nirvana songs on guitar.

Fortunately, whether you want to sing and play, rock out with power chords, or play unforgettable riffs, there’s a Nirvana song for everyone.

With this list, it will be quick to identify which Nirvana songs are easiest to play and get you started on playing songs by grunge’s most iconic and enduring band. Have fun!

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.