Nirvana is one of the most influential rock bands to come out of the 1990s. In fact, I would even go as far as saying they are one of the most important bands of all time. A three-piece band made up of frontman Kurt Cobain, bassist Kris Noveselic, and drummer Dave Grohl, Nirvana brought grunge to life and mainstream success.
I often give Nirvana songs to beginner guitar students as they’re both easy to understand and incredibly fun to play. While Kurt Cobain was a very technically proficient guitarist, the simplicity of his songwriting and the stripped-down “grunge” sound makes Nirvana’s songs fairly easy to play on guitar. So, in this article, I’ve compiled a list of the 25 easiest Nirvana songs on guitar, including their loudest anthems and some soft acoustic classics.
1. Come As You Are
Even if you aren’t a huge Nirvana fan, you have probably heard “Come As You Are” at least once in your life. The lyrics are a suggestive conversation with the listener and are meant to make you feel a false sense of security. The song is from the band’s second album, Nevermind.
“Come As You Are” is considered the perfect summary of Nirvana’s primary composition choices. There is an even blend of soft and heavy parts, and most beginners should be able to play the iconic intro riff within an hour or two of learning it. There’s also a very simple, hypnotic guitar solo to learn before the final pre-chorus.
Kurt Cobain was a compelling but undoubtedly conflicted songwriter. He often turned to dark lyrical content to translate his ideas, and the stories behind some Nirvana songs can be pretty disturbing to some. “Polly” is a song about a sexual predator and his victim, written as a way for Cobain to express his support for women’s rights.
“Polly” is made up of two sections, each with a super easy three-chord structure. The great thing about “Polly” is that you can play both sections using power chords, which is how Cobain has it tracked in the original recording.
3. Something In The Way
“Something In The Way” is one of the few songs where Cobain makes direct references to himself and his living situation. During the recording process, Cobain softly whispered the lyrics on a studio couch. Producer Butch Vig quickly brought a mic over to him to capture this moment, and this is the version that was used on the studio album.
“Something In The Way” is one of the easiest Nirvana songs to play on guitar. However, with that said, it is tough to play without feeling some kind of sadness or dread. The pace of the song almost drags as you play it, and the C over G chord used in the arrangement has a melancholy harmony, even played solo on an acoustic guitar.
4. Territorial Pissings
Compared to most of his work on the Nevermind, “Territorial Pissings” has a much more playful and lively atmosphere to it. Towards the end of the song, Cobain even disregards his chorus lyrics and simply starts wailing and squealing into the microphone. The song is about Cobain’s childhood desire to become an alien and escape Earth.
“Territorial Pissings” is one of the easiest and shortest Nirvana songs to play on guitar. The entire song is made up of one three-chord progression that you can play using power chord shapes. The hardest thing about playing this song is keeping up with the fast tempo, but most guitarists should be able to quickly nail this song with some practice.
5. Smells Like Teen Spirit
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” is one of the songs responsible for Nirvana’s global success. The song is still played in clubs worldwide, with the music video garnering billions of views on their Youtube channel long after Cobain’s death. Cobain named the song after a popular American deodorant, and it remains Nirvana’s biggest release to date.
Playing the intro chords of this song requires you to know how to palm mute, which isn’t rocket science, though it is a skill that takes some practice. The song then opens up with the same progression for the verses but with added sustain. The solo in the bridge of this song mirrors Cobain’s vocal melodies and is one of the best beginner-friendly guitar solos to learn.
6. You Know You’re Right
“You Know You’re Right” was released after the death of Kurt Cobain. The song is the opening track on Nirvana’s Greatest Hits and was a haunting prediction of the untimely demise that Kurt Cobain would bring upon himself and his band. Ironically, this is one of my favorite Nirvana songs, as they will sadly never perform it live.
This song is one of the simpler Nirvana songs on guitar. The arrangement uses the same 4 chord progression throughout, with slightly different structures in the verse and chorus. The verses also have a secondary hook over the C-D turnaround that can be played on a second guitar.
7. In Bloom
“In Bloom” is another song where you can easily hear Cobain’s distaste for Hollywood and corporate America. The lyrics are Kurt hatefully describing some of the more affluent fans Nirvana had found with their success. The music video for this song is a hilarious satire, with the band performing on a soundstage that slowly comes apart as the song progresses.
This song is one of the few Nirvana arrangements that use more than four chords per section. “In Bloom” might be a bit daunting to new players on the first try, but I recommend learning each section separately before chaining the arrangement together. A handy tip is to use Cobain’s voice as a guide, as it will often help you feel which chord is coming next.
8. Heart-Shaped Box
The rumor behind “Heart-Shaped Box” is that the song was an abandoned demo that Kurt had penned at the start of the band’s career. The lyrics detail a toxic dependency on a lover, and several people think the song is about his relationship with then-girlfriend Courtney Love. The song was released on the band’s third (and final) studio album, In Utero.
“Heart-Shaped Box” is a wonderful example of Kurt Cobain using a combination of open and power chords in the same arrangement in his songs. The song uses a very cool drop D progression that has a deep and open sound. The verses use rotating three-chord progressions, and some open chords turn into power chords during the choruses. This song also has some secondary guitar riffs that are played using a slow string bend.
9. About A Girl
“About A Girl” is one of the first releases off of Nirvana’s debut record, Bleach. You can still hear the youthfulness in Cobain’s voice on this single, as he sings a fictional tale about a man that falls hopelessly in love with a local sex worker. The woman in the song is a metaphor for Cobain’s girlfriend at the time, Tracy Merander.
The verses in this arrangement use just two chords: Em and G. This was a very common choice for Cobain, and you can find it in several Nirvana arrangements. The chorus is a turnaround from the verse chords, and you can play this progression using regular power chord shapes.
The song “Lithium” is a perfect example of the loud-soft rule that Cobain enjoyed using in his songs, where two parts would have drastically different levels of volume and velocity. The song is a fictional account of a man who attempts to find religion after losing a lover.
This song can be slightly trickier to play for beginner or new guitarists, particularly if you aren’t familiar with barre chords and sharp notes. There are three separate chord progressions in this arrangement, with the bridge riding a very satisfying back-and-forth between G and Bb.
11. Where Did You Sleep Last Night
Some of Nirvana’s most powerful performances and releases are covers of songs by their favorite artists. Kurt Cobain was a massive fan of the blues singer and guitarist Leadbelly, and he showed his love for him by covering Leadbelly’s rendition of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”, which is a traditional American folk song that originated in Appalachia.
“Where Did You Sleep Last Night” sounds superb when played on an acoustic guitar. The song uses a simple four-chord progression that carries a series of verses throughout the arrangement, and there are no other parts. Its composition is more similar to a nursery rhyme than a modern pop song.
12. Man Who Sold The World
Another popular Nirvana cover is the Davie Bowie-written “Man Who Sold The World.” The song is a beautiful, somber tale of a space traveler that trades the world off to a fictional alien race. There is a wonderful version of this song on Nirvana’s MTV Live Unplugged concert.
Fun fact: The acoustic guitar Kurt Cobain used at the MTV Unplugged concert is the most expensive guitar ever sold, selling for $6 million!
One of the best parts about learning this song is the super cool bending riff used in the intro. The bend gives the song a distinctly exotic tone. The chorus also has a nice ascending bassline that can be played over the chord shapes.
13. All Apologies
It might not be evident at first, but one of Kurt Cobain’s most significant influences was The Beatles. Cobain often referred to his love of the band in interviews, and you can see the influence in some of his songwriting. “All Apologies” is one of the songs that clearly shows Cobain’s Beatles influence.
“All Apologies” is a very easy Nirvana song on guitar that uses a very similar structure to “You Know You’re Right” but in a major key. Most of the verses drone in a single chord that resolves in a two-chord turnaround for the chorus. The ending rides out in C major, but you can also alternate between C and G.
14. Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For a Sunbeam
The melancholic “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam” is yet another famous cover that Nirvana performed at their MTV Unplugged concert. The original version is written by the Scottish band The Vaselines and is a remake of an old Christian hymn song.
This song sounds perfect when you play it alongside another guitarist. One player can hold down the primary strumming patterns, while the other can fingerpick the same chords higher up on the neck.
A funny takeaway from Cobain’s arrangement of this song is that he uses the chord Gsus (Jesus), and you have to wonder if this was intentional.
“Sliver” is one of the deeper cuts from Nirvana’s three-album catalog, but it is also one of their catchiest songs. The original arrangement is just over 2 minutes long, but they have performed live versions that run well over 5 minutes or longer.
“Sliver” is a delightfully simple and fun Nirvana song to play on the guitar, especially if you’re into loud, fast electric guitar. The verse mostly comprises bass parts that you can double on the guitar. The chorus uses a two-chord progression with a dense C/G power chord not often found in rock music arrangements
16. Love Buzz
“Love Buzz” is one of the lesser-known Nirvana tracks to most common listeners or guitar players. The song was initially recorded as a B-side demo and later added to the band’s debut album Bleach. Bleach is Nirvana’s most primal album, and “Love Buzz” truly showcases the band’s ability to create a dynamic arrangement out of what is evidently just a freestyle jam
“Love Buzz” is also the easiest Nirvana song to play as a rhythm guitarist. There are certain sections of the song where the rhythm guitar just drones away in E Minor, but the backing bass part is also well worth learning on guitar. It can be pretty hard to recreate the noisy guitar leads that Cobain does towards the end, but it can easily be replaced with your own improvisations.
17. Pennyroyal Tea
For those that don’t know, “Pennyroyal Tea” is an ancient herbal home remedy believed to have been used for safe domestic abortions. In the song “Pennyroyal Tea”, Cobain lets you in on many of his insecurities and details his battles with depression and addiction. Its melodic arrangement is strangely uplifting, an interesting and ironic contrast.
There are two primary sections in the arrangement of “Pennyroyal Tea”’. Both the verse and chorus use just three chords that combine power chord and open chord shapes. There is a solo section that uses an Asus chord in the album recording, but the band leaves this part out in their MTV Unplugged acoustic performance.
18. Stay Away
Another lesser-known but super fun guitar song by Nirvana is “Stay Away”. The song was initially called “Pay To Play” and has little lyrical Easter eggs that pay tribute to one of Kurt Cobain’s high school colleagues struggling with his homosexuality. It’s one of three songs in Nevermind that use Nirvana’s classic thrash punk tempos.
“Stay Away” is an excellent song for any guitarist that wants to improve their fluidity and accuracy while playing power chords. The entire song moves up and down the neck in the same power chord shape, and your strumming hand needs to stay locked in with the lightning-fast backbeat.
There is no doubt in my mind that Nirvana wrote “Breed” specifically for the 90’s punk and grunge mosh pits. The song is an explosive anthem about the struggles of living in middle-class America during this era, and there are a few quick references to Cobain’s upbringing littered around the verses.
“Breed” is most fun when played with a drummer and bassist. You can even add another guitar to double Cobain’s power chords to make your jam sound super heavy and thick. The guitar solos here use a Chuck Berry-style slide technique over three of the middle strings, an uncommon guitar trick for a player like Cobain.
20. Serve The Servants
This song is very intentionally autobiographical and one where Kurt makes very direct and obvious references to his friends, family, and other loved ones. The composition is likely the direction the band could have gone in if Cobain had not sadly passed away.
The opening guitar riff of “Serve The Servants” is deceptively tricky to play, as Cobain switches between playing chords and lead parts throughout this hook. However, the rest of the song uses very straightforward chord progressions, including a nice descending structure for the outro that intentionally falls apart to signal the end.
“Sappy” has two different recorded versions. The first version was recorded and released as a hidden song on the compilation album No Alternative, which was sold to raise funds for an AIDS initiative. The second version was later released on their 1993 box set and has some of the lyrics changed. Some Nirvana fans may also know this song as “Verse, Chorus, Verse”.
Cobain flexes his songwriting skills in “Sappy”, using a straightforward but effective 5-chord progression that passes back and forth over A maj. The chorus uses the same progression, but the passing chords drop away throughout this part of the song. “Sappy” may not be the most well-known Nirvana song, but it is easy and enjoyable to play on guitar.
One of the most peculiar things about the song “Dumb” is that it’s one of the very few songs that Cobain wrote in a positive light. The song was penned during a happier period in Kurt’s life, and he reflects on his optimism and questions whether his happiness is purely sweet ignorance. The song is from the band’s final studio album, In Utero.
I love playing through the verses on this song, as Cobain’s chord progression works wonderfully for practicing changing open chord shapes. There is a bit of reprieve in the chorus, which moves between an open G and E5 power chords. This is an excellent song for beginners looking to polish their ability to smoothly transition between chords.
23. Negative Creep
“Negative Creep” is one of the more introspective songs on Nirvana’s Bleach album. The lyrics tell the story of a fictional pessimist that struggles to see the good side of things. In certain interviews, Cobain has mentioned that this song is a dialogue on his mental state during the album recording.
This song’s tempo is quite fast, and the chord changes can be a bit tricky to navigate when played alongside the recording. I recommend learning the entire arrangement at a slower tempo before playing this with a band or the recorded version.
There is a sense of quirky sarcasm in the way that Nirvana performed their recorded version of the song “Blew”. The song was tracked after a brief jam session while recording their album Bleach and thrown into the track listing as a last-minute addition.
Most people would be surprised to find out that Kurt Cobain was a much more technically capable guitarist than his recordings show. However, “Blew” has a guitar solo that briefly showcases his true playing ability.
25. Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle
One of the more disturbing Nirvana tales, “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle” is a raw recount of a once famous, but destructive Hollywood actress from the 1930s. Cobain had taken a liking to this character and tried to show the negative effects that Hollywood has on its performers.
This is one of the more advanced Nirvana songs to play, and memorizing all the chord changes and structures will take some repetition and practice. So, break the song down into sections and learn each one separately before attempting the entire arrangement.
Looking for more easy guitar songs to play? Check out my article outlining the best electric guitar songs for beginners for more awesome song recommendations!
“Nirvana” photo by davetoaster is licensed under CC BY 2.0. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/?ref=openverse.
Added changes: “snowfall” filter