Playing campfire songs as a rhythm guitar player

Just sitting hear wondering how to do this? I have no ambition to be a lead player (at the moment) and I currently play rhythm behind a lead guitarist and/or a singer, either occasionally live or more often just joining in to a track that catches my attention.

However, without the lead or a singer, I am not sure anyone would recognise the song just from the rhythm guitar strumming. So what is the secret of playing a ‘campfire’ song that people recognise without a singer or lead guitar?

If anyone has a suggestion of a guitarist or video that I could watch of a guitarist playing a recognisable song just using chords and the occasional rift, please let me know.


Hi Tony
Almost everyone recognizes the chords of Hotel California or House of the Rising Sun… and there are many many many more … the big problem is that most people can only sing along to the first lines of even very well-known songs or just the chorus… and then you’re on your own :roll_eyes:

it’s a bit of a dilemma for every novice guitarist who doesn’t want to or can’t sing (yet), but wants to experience a campfire… my advice is learn to sing :blush:

There will certainly be very good songs you can play without singing and I like to play fingerstyle arrangements for the reason that I don’t sing aand some blues lick in riff stuff… or sometimes very recognizable songs that still sound nice even when no one is singing, such as Layla - Whish you where here -Waiting on a friend Angie -One -Crazy little thing called love etc etc etc



The thing to do is use a backing track of the parts you can’t or don’t want to do just yet. It’s not too difficult to find backing tracks for most of the popular songs or you can make your own using an App like Moises.
I don’t sing but I do play lead parts so for me it’s often either choosing a song where I don’t need further contribution or finding a singer track for the song.


This is so true. I’ve found this when I’m learning songs, songs that I’ve listened to dozens of times over the years, but without the original recording I’m lost!


Hi Tony, is there maybe a person in your family or among your friends who would love to sing and accompany you? This could be a solution.


Yes :+1: :smiley:


I am not sure anyone would want to hear the song with just the rhythm guitar strumming, whether they recognised it or not :thinking:
Songs are melodies, usually with words.
Not many people would like to listen to the drum or bass parts of a song at a party on their own. Simple strumming of a chord progression on it’s own becomes tedious quite quickly. If you can incorporate melody notes in the tune, that’s a different story.
Bringing a couple of lyric sheets, so people can sing along is one solution :smiley:


Hey @TonyHS, I’ve been struggling with this issue since I picked up a guitar many years ago. I think the answer depends on if you really want to perform songs for other people (around a campfire or elsewhere), or if you are looking for ways to add to your basic rhythm playing to make a song more interesting (but not necessarily appropriate for an instrumental performance).

If it’s the former (performing for people), then I agree that you really do need somebody to sing. Playing through a chord progression without any vocals around a campfire is not gonna be great. Even if you add some riffage (like in Heart of Gold, say), imo it’s not enough to make the song interesting as an instrumental (well, maybe if you’re playing for your mother :wink:). If others are willing to sing while you play, then you’re all set. There is the problem of people not knowing all the lyrics, as Rogier noted. You could just play as much as people know: the 1st verse, couple of choruses and that’s it. Or people could pull out their phones and find the lyrics online.

I’m mostly in the 2nd category: wanting to play songs that I recognize and get satisfaction playing, beyond the chord progression. To that end, I’ve learned songs with some recognizable riffs, lead lines, etc, like Wish You Were Here, various Neil Young songs (Hey, Hey, My, My, Needle and the Damage Done, Heart of Gold), Simple Man, Wonderful Tonight, Ripple, etc. I sometimes play these along with the original recordings, sometimes I just sing along in my head (the best place for my vocals!)

More recently, I’ve focused on fingerstyle acoustic folk/blues instrumental pieces and I’ve learned a handful of songs. These could be played for an audience (if I had one!), but they are more advanced.

Thanks for all the replies. It would seem that campfire playing is out of the window at the moment :frowning:

I will continue being the backing until I can make my guitar sing,


@jjw thank you. Thinking about it, I think that I am in the 2nd category. I would love to perform instrumentals, and this is my long term goal. At the moment I need to work on playing the song so that’s recognisable to me without the backing track. Thank you for getting me to think deeper into what I really want.

1 Like

Hi Tony,
Good discussion happening here for sure.
Justin did an excellent lesson on “How not to suck at singing” that you can find on the main site.
Designed especially for anyone with these sorts of doubts and questions, for people who want to give it a go, but who don’t consider themselves great singers. I reckon you’d find it really helpful

1 Like

Hi Tony. I raised a similar topic here and got some interesting responses although the bottom line is unless you can play finger style instrumental stuff you need to have a singer.
Christmas/New Year party singalongs

100% agree with that. It’s fine for learning to play guitar and posting as an AVOYP here, but no use in the real world.


@Eccleshall thanks, I have watched that once, will probably have to watch it again, but as far as I’m concerned, those like me who cannot sing and activity dislike singing should take the hint and not sing :wink:

@sairfingers I agree, the only way I can solo will be by doing full instrumentals.

1 Like

Perhaps it is better to stay away from ‘no one likes or everyone wants’ because there have already been examples that this does not apply… a good rhythm guitarist can make parts (or a large part) of a well-known song sound interesting. … especially if the group around the fire consists of people who once tried something in their bedroom for a few hours … I was one of them and so were a few of my acquaintances and 1 friend (last Saturday discussed extensively at a party about making “simple” chord progressions without singing interesting … ) 15 times a well-known song of 1 minute is already fifteen minutes of fun and who knows who will sing along with it … if the guitar is there, just pick it up and the audience is not in the mood for it… you are probably still alive and did something that no one was doing there at that moment, otherwise it would have been played…
just first learn 1 song very well and recognizable and turn it into a 1 or 2 minute song… see how people react and who sings along…

Don’t avoid it…it can lead to some really fun moments…I know it :sunglasses:


That’s a really good point Rogier well said.

1 Like

Repeating myself by saying this, but in a slightly different form:
build up in layers

Song choice

1: pick songs that have recognizable chord progressions (like mentioned above)


2: learn to embellish your chords to make them more interesting
3: find out which embellishments you can use to emulate some of the vocal melody

broaden skill set

4: consider adding rhythm with percussive hits and mutes
5: give fingerpicking a go to alternate fingerpicking and strumming to match verses and choruses or vocal sections
6: be brave and give singing a go :wink:


Thank you Lieven, that’s got to be my next objective.

Just to make it clear, I really have no interest in singing :wink:

Hi Tony - I hear you, but I’m going to say this anyway … :rofl:

I felt exactly the same for the longest time … I mean decades.
In the end I gave in and using a capo found a song or two that I felt I didn’t completely murder. I think that most people think they can’t sing (including me), but I’ve found people are much more likely to join in if you start them off and in my case not being great meant I set the bar real low and made it easier for people to join in. You could find something you can ‘talk sing’ as Justin calls it. You’ll most likely find there are a couple of songs you can get though and the more you do it the easier it becomes.

Anyhow, you made it clear you don’t want to sing and that’s also cool, there’s some great advice here to entertain without it, but as it adds another dimension I thought I’d share my 2c worth in case anyone else was following.


Hi Rogier. I’ve said this before somewhere on the Forum. It depends if you’re playing ‘for’ other people or ‘with‘ other people.

If playing ‘for’ people, then it’s doubtful if you’d get away with strumming the melody, no matter how many embellishments etc you fit in.

If playing ‘with’ people, someone may join in with a vocal or another instrument in which case, yes, some strumming, basic or otherwise, might get things going.

Hi Gordon,
Not with a lot of people I know and the parties or visits I attend … and certainly not when I play a chord progression with many embellishments like what Lieven indicates above and I actually do above that because with a simple adjustment in the strumming pattern with picking some individual notes in between , something like Hotel California can sound very nice for (just tested for almost 2 minutes), with a simple hammer on and chords strumming and that can be a lot of fun for bystanders if you don’t make it too long… of course you and many others may not like that at all when someone does that, but I and some others quite enjoy and enjoyed that …
and especially if you are a novice guitarist and those around you also regularly play an instrument, you should just seize the opportunity and not be guided by the possible reservations of others … don’t stretch it too long because they might wrap the guitar around your head , but a limited guitarist (including myself a while ago) who only plays a few chords can make a room clap along or even sing … and if not, then not , but if you don’t hit, you always mis :sunglasses:
Just try and find out …you are probably with friends and/or acquaintances its fun :smiley:

And if you mean "for people " on a podium in front of strangers… than you probbably drunk then :laughing:

Ps : I usually pick up the guitar in a corner of the room or I pretend ( sometimes real) that I want to let a person hear or see something on the guitar or piano … so I “taste” whether there is interest in the room…and than try something like the songs above

1 Like

Hi Tony, I would venture that playing some chords to a well known song and you not singing would bring forth, without too much encouragement, and the emphasis on ‘well known’, voices joining in with the song. Your problem of not singing solved. :smiley: