The debate for the hardest songs to play on the guitar has raged on for years as new generations come to the scene with different ideas. Here we are talking about some of the most complex, intricate and skill-demanding songs that are out there for you to try on your guitar. The list we have for you below includes electric and acoustic guitar songs so you can give them a go no matter what type of instrument you have. If you can’t play the entire song, don’t be a guitar hero. Just take them step by step and use the handy video tutorials we have included to help you along. Let’s get started.
1. Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnson
If you’re unfamiliar with the Cliffs of Dover by Eric Jonson, it’s a great rock song that has been well-written to include stunning melodies and some intricate guitar solos. The song is more than ten minutes in length and there’s not a lot of repetition so it will really challenge your guitar playing endurance. Even some of the most seasoned guitarists in the world find this one tricky.
For the guitar techniques used in this song by Eric Johnson, you will have to know pulls, hammers, slides, bends and palm-mutes. The track is incredibly challenging as it bounces around from note to note. The good part is that this Eric Johnson classic will be a bit easier to memorize because it’s in the rock genre and features scales typically used in that type of music.
2. Round Midnight by Wes Montgomery
Compared to the note marathon you will need to face in the Cliffs of Dover, Round Midnight by Wes Montgomery is a slower jazz song that will need more of your guitar technique. You have to be accurate and ready for your fingers to change to the constant changes in both the key and the tempo. Most jazz songs will give you this challenge though.
Round Midnight is a hard song to play because you will need to navigate the fretboard of the guitar while using your fingerstyle technique to pluck at the strings. You won’t be hitting many single notes if you try your hand at this one, and prepare your stamina to get through the eight-minute harangue of guitar skills that will have you using every chord ever made.
3. Country Guitar by Phil Baugh
Hard rock and heavy metal music were the places where fast-paced solos and shredding were made popular. However, it was actually in country-folk music that these playing styles were pioneered. Phil Baugh famously played a double-neck guitar and it would be him who would set the bar at a ridiculous height for generations of musicians who came after him. One of the more intricate tracks in his catalog is Country Guitar.
One of the things you will need to go into this song with is some rapid finger action because there are a lot of notes to hit. As you are playing the guitar you will have to swap between fingerstyle playing, slides, downstroke picking and a whammy bar addition in both the rhythm and guitar instrumental sections.
There isn’t one part of Country Guitar that isn’t complex right from the beginning to the very last note. Most of the notes you will play are on the upper register of the instrument. As far as challenging songs go, there are a few breaks in there that will help you prepare yourself for the storm of notes that are the pre-bridge sections.
4. Frettin’ Fingers by Jimmy Bryant & Speedy West
If you got yourself a stack of Marshall amps and a distorted Ibanez, Frettin’ Fingers would easily be a great gritty heavy metal song from the past millennium. The song has ties to bluegrass and country music thanks to the rhythm section with the upbeat bass sections.
During this two-minute song you will hear Speedy shredding those strings at record speeds. What makes this song more metal than country is the notes that the duo chose to play. If you are a country guitar player through and through you may not know much about the minor pentatonic scale. This is key if you want to nail the solo introduction to the song. You will also want to have some knowledge about chromatic scales which will help you transition between the solos and piano parts.
5. YYZ by Rush
YYZ by Rush is often said to be a piece of progressive music that encompasses a lot of different techniques and styles. When it was released it was clear that it was years ahead of its time, even though it was composed over forty years ago which really speaks to the band’s technical abilities.
The reason YYZ is on our list of hardest songs is that it features weird time signatures, unusual scales in terms of rock music and a type of guitar playing that a lot of people won’t be used to. This will be especially true if you aren’t a fan of Rush. It’s fair to say that this song is experimental because it mashes together R&B, swing, groove, oriental and reggae influences, particularly in the second section.
While it’s not the fastest of the challenging songs on our list, it’s the unpredictability of it that makes it difficult when playing guitar. The chord progressions flit about to unobvious choices which will make it a hard one for any guitarist to master.
6. Polaris by Megadeth
We hope you don’t end up wanting to Rust in Peace when you take on Polaris by Megadeth. Compared to their earlier work this is a bit of an oddball even though it’s one of their most popular songs. It will challenge you to play guitar in terms of style, tone and grit.
The riffs that take you through the verses are heavy, slow and sludgy, requiring you to accurately shift between power chords into single-note vibrations. The solos are the really challenging part that any fan of the band will be able to tell you.
Polaris almost repeats itself before it goes off on a complete tangent, picking up speed and changing up the riff so you’re facing a completely different beast. While it isn’t the fastest or most detailed song from Megadeth, it’s the accuracy factor that will put the demand on guitar players.
7. The Black Page #1 by Frank Zappa
Don’t let the 60 BPM tempo fool you into thinking that this song is just for advanced-level guitarists. Frank Zappa was famous for toying around with his time signatures, changing up the tempo at multiple points during the music and using characteristics from other music genres for just a few notes before switching again to make his pieces.
We would say that The Black Page is less of a song and more like a composition and the only way you are going to master this difficult song is to break it down into lots of little pieces whenever the time signature changes. There’s quite a lot of them so you’ll be working at this one for a while in your guitar lessons.
8. Through the Fire and Flames by Dragon Force
If you’ve ever played Guitar Hero 3 then you will probably already know this song which gained fame before it appeared on the video game amongst metal fans. It was thanks to the game though that it quickly became one of the hardest guitar songs from the metal genre you could ever hope to play.
Complexity is the name of the game here and it has retained its difficulty thanks to all of the harmonized solos. When you start playing it you will notice that it is set to a ridiculous speed right the way through which further adds to the difficulty level.
Many guitarists out there who would consider themselves to be perfectionists have learned this piece note by note but still can’t play the whole song through. There are some techniques that Herman Li uses such as his whammy bar which can’t be replicated unless you have his exact gear and skill set.
9. Django by Joe Pass
Jazz by definition is known to be hard and complex and is a genre that is almost exclusively played by classically trained musicians. This is because to master the style you have to understand the various figures, sonic shapes and modes rather than sorting out what the dominant scale is for the song.
Django by Joe Pass is melodic and has a sense of nostalgia to the main tune that changes from somber to cheerful seamlessly. Then it veers off into a guitar solo that keeps building up and will be a challenge for even the best shredder out there.
You will get a slow interlude introduction to lull you into a false sense of security with this piece but it only lasts a minute before the solo starts to come in. There’s a lot of unobvious syncopes and pauses that make this a difficult song to master.
10. Forbidden City by Marty Friedman
Before Marty Friedman joined Megadeth he had a great career as a musician and Forbidden City was one of the songs from his debut album. It showcases how connected he is to his guitar and uses techniques like vibratos and slides.
You could fit this song into a lot of different genres including thrash and neoclassical. You’ll have to be proficient in a lot of musical styles if you want to learn this one and the unpredictability of it makes it hard one to learn. Another difficulty you will need to overcome is the speed that Marty plays at along with his almost surgical-like accuracy.
11. Birds of Fire by Mahavishnu Orchestra
The Mahavishnu Orchestra is different from other music groups out there because their music is perceived differently by everyone. There are so many sounds that go into Birds of Fire and one of the steps you will need to take to learn this song is to distinguish what those sounds are.
The ensemble is a jazz fusion and you will need to progress through some intricate chord changes and odd time signatures which are experimental even in terms of jazz music. When you reach the solos you will hear a touch of hard rock about them because they are played by overdriven guitars and lots of shredding. The characteristics that make up the song are enough to declare it one of the hardest songs to play on the guitar.
12. Flight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov
This song is often one of the hardest songs that is used as a metric to determine who is the fastest guitar shredder in the world. Flight of the Bumblebee offers you challenges to your dexterity more so than other songs that have appeared in this list would.
The original composition arrangement was done with a variety of stringed instruments but this hasn’t put guitar players off through the years. Most classical pieces that are composed in this way require a lot of practice over many months and we have no doubt that you will need that amount of time too before you can match the lightning speed of this track.
13. Fracture by King Crimson
In terms of songs by King Crimson, Robert Fripp said that Fracture is the most demanding one he wrote. If someone as legendary as Fripp thinks this song is complex, what are us mere mortals supposed to think of it?
Fracture is a song that starts out slowly to build up the atmosphere. Once you get part way through the song the tone changes completely and you have to play a three minute shred in a jazz style. It’s a great example of a song that will require you to have complete control over your instrument. The speed, tone and way that Fripp attacks the notes are some of the reasons why not many guitar players will be able t play the full song.
14. Eruption by Eddie Van Halen
We all know the late, great Eddie Van Halen to be an inventive and skilled guitarist who excelled in heavier genres and style. The solo featured in Eruption turned thousands of people to the guitar and was almost the setting stone for the future generation of shredding guitarists.
Eddie Van Halen invented a lot of different guitar playing techniues and the ones he didn’t create he improved on. Eruption is a showcase of some of his greatest electric guitar skills including triple-finger tapping, divebombs, sliding, arpeggios and sweep picking. This challenging song is one of the few in the music industry to be almost impossible to learn. The melodies are enough for you to want to give it a go though.
15. Just Friends by Pat Martino
You’ll be exploring a lot of different funk elements in Just Friends as Pat jumps around the fretboard a few times. The Hammond organ which plays in the background is the perfect complement to this piece. It’s a more complex jazz song because the composition was made for a musician who could navigate the entire fretboard while being separated from the rest of the music.
Trying to learn the song solely by ear will be a real challenge because every instrument you hear plays at a different speed and time to the other. If you manage to get that far, you will come to Pat’s solos which make this one of the hardest guitar songs because they are a lot more intricate then they first seem.
16. Little Wing by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Jimi Hendrix was known for fusing a lot of different styles and in Little Wing you can hear his influences from rock to jazz music. It’s a slower paced song that came off the Bold as Love album but it doesn’t feature any repetition and the theme changes constantly. There’s also a six-minute solo to battle with to make it an extra challenging song.
Even looking past the song structure it’s Jimi’s style of playing the song that makes it unapproachable for other guitarists. You’ll hear the odd bit of shredding throughout the song but you’ll need a Dunlop CryBaby pedal and a solid Fender Stratocaster if you really want to replicate the tone.
17. Symptom of the Universe by Black Sabbath
When you break it down, Sympton of the Universe is fundamentally not a hard song. Many of the riffs are pretty easy actually, but it’s in the solo parts where you will find yourself with a challenge. Trying to nail Iommi’s signature tone and feel are going to be hard parts to replicate.
Many of the songs by Black Sabbath were done in C# standard tuning so if you’re used to playing in low action and in the key of E, you’re going to have a hard time nailing even the simplest Sabbath riff. And don’t even start on the solos if this is the case.
The faster parts of the song are done in what’s called Locrian mode which is a setting that many guitarists won’t be familiar with. The sound and beat are straightforward but it’s unusual techniques are what make it catapult on the difficulty scale.
18. Dance of Eternity by Dream Theater
There are songs with weird time signatures and then there’s Dance of Eternity. Dream Theater are a band made up of musically trained performers from Berkeley college who are know for creating songs that are almost impossible to play. This one in particular will give any guitarist an extra hard challenge.
Anyone wanting to take on this entry in our tough songs list will experience a 13/8 signature and a 16-bar solo which is compounded by the fast pace and the use of untraditional chord structures. In terms of complexity, this one is definitely up there.
You have to change the way you play after almost every second bar so a tab is definitely recommended for this one. The non-repetition of solos and licks make this is a challenge, even for Dream Theater.
19 – Satch Boogie by Joe Satriani
Satch Boogie is an instrumental rock song that was written by Joe Satriani. It uses methods of improvisation along with divebombs and tapping as you put your knowledge of octaves to the ultimate test. You dexterity is going to come into play here too, and there’s only one single bar that is repeated right at the end of the song.
You won’t be in Country Guitar territory as far as complexity and it’s definitely not as intricate as Forbidden City but don’t let the groove put you at ease. You’ll need some good timing as well as some prowess at bending notes along with a fast fretting hand that you can hold steady.
20. Bad Horsie by Steve Vai
Steve Vai is easily one of the best and most talented guitarists to have ever lived. He was taught by Joe Satriani and has been playing with Frank Zappa since his early 20s. This catapulted him to the heights of the music industry and Bad Horsie is one of this grooviest solo tracks.
To play this song form his solo album you will have to change up your playing style to switch between bar chords and heavy riffs. The solos are the centrepiece and you’ll have to master the way that Vai uses his whammy bar to replicate the song completely. It’s this particular technique that make this one of the hardest songs to play in the guitar world.
So there we have it. Some of the haredest songs to play on your guitar that exist out there today. Many of the most talented musicians int he world came up with these extremely challenging compositions so we’re sure that’s why the music community wants to play them so much. We hope you enjoyed our guide and that you hopefully found at least one track you are able to play.
What is the hardest guitar riff?
It’s usually metal songs that have the hardest guitar riffs because they are fast-paced and use a lot of different notes. You can find some hard guitar riffs in the songs we have included in our guide above.