Playing campfire songs as a rhythm guitar player

I hear what you are asking, but I’m not sure that you are asking the right questions.

Play what you can play now as a rhythm guitarist, but learn to add vocals and playing dynamics. Vocals are the difference between a chord progression and a song. Strumfests get boring quickly because a lot of players forget that we don’t have to hit all six strings on every strum and fail to add nuances like muted strums and volume changes (chorus vs verse, etc).


As a young teenager, one of my friends played the guitar and learned the chords for the latest chart hit Uriah Heep’s Lady in Black
He played it for the class, and my jaw dropped. Three minutes of switching between Am & G. (I was mortified for him and thought he must have learned the wrong song :rofl:)
If you are in a gathering and play or sing something that encourages others to join with, you’re on a winner :smiley:
If no one knows the song or folk start paying attention to what you’re playing, it becomes more of a ‘performance’ and, while everyone will be rooting for you, it can become embarrassing if you don’t play well or make it interesting.
As @mathsjunky said above, the spoken song is a good alternative
Take a look at Johnny Cash’s Boy named Sue-
Three chords (ADE), same progression from top to bottom. He sings only the last couple of notes in each verse. So entertaining :laughing:
(William Shatner has perfected the art :rofl:)


Hi Brian,
So your advice is that no one should pick up a guitar in a room if he can only play some swinging chords with small additions but without singing… or singing from someone else… your example misses the point for me… .in any case, as I imagined it…I have done it several times myself and seen it around me …
I have also experienced your example of the boy in class in a living room, both done by myself many years ago and seen others “die”, but … Now we are talking about people who practice their chords every day (not everyone, yes) and can play a nice rhythm for 1 or 2 minutes, varied in dynamics etc… I like listening to that :sunglasses:

Edit : 1:10 minutes of fun if you play it a little slower

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Hi Tony, a lot of good advice has already been offered. I’ve been questioning a lot with my ownself about Rhythm Guitar and Melody in the past. If I’m understanding well you’ll be working on embellishments and Dynamics so I thought…why not trying to follow a side path to this where you start from a simple melody and you work out “what can I add to make a single note melody sound fuller and more interesting to the ear?” It’s a very interesting thing to do because it engages your ear in the first place and all yourself! On one hand you would start from the Rhythm, on the other one you would start from the Melody.

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I want to play classical and fingerstyle, don’t have a great singing voice/range, don’t have confidence singing and have “not wanted to sing” with my guitar.

However, I recently came to a few new realizations. First, I am an adult and shouldn’t care what other people think. Second, and an important one, is that when you play for friends and family, nobody really cares that you aren’t the greatest singer, it just about the fun. Third, melody is important for rounding out the presentation of music and melody can be carried with certain notes, embellishment, dynamics and, of course, voice.
Finally, and the most important, singing, however horribly while playing guitar is super fun and fulfilling.

Sure, it is difficult. A bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time but much, much harder.

But why sweat it? Learn the song well, learn to coarsely bark out the song with it, refine a little over time and you will have fun, and as long as you aren’t charging them, your friendly audience will have fun along with you.

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If your looking for inspiration and want to put in the time and effort learn finger style chord melody and different tunings. I’ve been watching Gabriella for over 10 years, she always has great versions of popular songs. You never said what kind of music you like so here a variety she’s done over the years.


Not at all, Rogier.
If I walk into a room and there’s a guitar there, I will pick it up and start noodling, straight away (if I’m allowed :laughing:), no matter who’s there.
My understanding of ‘campfire songs’ lies in the context of a social gathering (with or without fire or firewater :wink:), where someone decides to either get others to join in a singsong (instruments optional) or entertain the crowd with some sort of musical device, in the OP’s case by strumming rhythm guitar (“just using chords and the occasional riff”)
Absolutely, a couple of cool or funky chords/riffs sound great will make everyone smile, but to entertainingly pull off playing a whole song with only rhythm guitar is well beyond the scope of certainly this beginner.
Your video clip is a good example of a fun rhythm, and even though he was good, the 59 seconds that he played were plenty for me. If he had continued for the whole song, I would have had to stifle a yawn.
If I learned to play that way, I’d go the whole hog and learn the lyrics, even if I couldn’t sing.
I’d speak them instead and shake my cute tush, just like George :laughing:
Lucky for all of you that I can’t yet play that way :wink:


Hi Sylvia, good idea, I might do that.

Thank you for that, she is very good.

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:sweat_smile: oke
Thank you for your explanation, but that is how your earlier example about total embarrassing came over to me, while I would like to encourage Tony and others to definitely give it a try, and for example was the faith song that I do , and me also do not the entire Faith song, but as indicated a few times by me 1 or 2 minutes of something and certainly Hotel C and House of the Rising Sun are ideal for the 2nd years to get a recognizable and fun tune out of it for 1 or 2 minutes … and then keep your fingers crossed to see if someone will sing along … because then your party has started :sunglasses:

Good night all …and Tony keep practicing and make one song your to go song soon :sunglasses:


That’s what worked for me. My goal when I started (this was my 2nd attempt at learning guitar) was to be able to play songs that people would sing along to around a campfire.

Everyone said it was a lot harder to play and sing so I just wanted to play, had no aspirations or ideas that I could sing.

The first song I learned was Blowin in the wind (From justin’s earlier beginners song book) and I played it rhythm and my wife sang the song.

We must have done that 50 or 60 times when quite by accident I started singing along in the chorus and a light went off in my head - “Hey, this singing and playing isn’t as hard as I thought it would be”



Another idea is to carry lyric PDFs of songs you know on your phone and hand them out at the campfire.

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Great video.

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And that brings me back to my earlier point Rogier. Are you playing ‘for’ people or ‘with’ people?
In your example you’re playing ‘with’ people because you are hoping they will join in.
That is completely different to playing ‘for’ people in which case you are performing for them and they anticipate being entertained. Three or four minutes of strumming, no matter how well done, is not entertaining.


The thing about playing around a campfire is that if you pick the right songs, you only need to sing the first line or two and you will be drowned out by the crowd. By the time you sing “hey where did we go” or “today is going to the day”, everyone else has jumped in with “days when the rain came” or “they’re gonna throw it back to you”. Your not so great singing voice has blended together with everyone elses bad singing voice to form a thing of beauty.

Don’t worry about PDFs, play the songs that everyone knows. People might get the words a little bit wrong, skip verses, try and do the “nah nah nah” bit of Hey Jude way too early but it doesn’t really matter, just keep strumming andit will sort itself out.


I suggest Night Moves by Bob Seger & Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) by George Harrison. They’re both recognizable instrumentals. I’m also working on a getting a guitar buddy - one of us can play lead, the other rhythm. There’s nothing more powerful than working w/others. Keep at it!

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Perhaps I should just quit guitar now, I know I’ll never sing.

Can’t get rid of Asthma, it’s controlled enough for daily life.

I can’t and don’t want to and even if I did, it’s simply not an option.

Sorry, but I have to disagree with that one.



I don’t mean that you HAVE to sing. Just that it is a fun thing to do.

I am sorry you have a condition that prevents singing. By no means should that mean you can’t enjoy and play guitar.

If you could, I would say it is worth trying, but if you can’t, play the music on the guitar and let it be your voice.

I am just encouraging someone to try, like I am, frog voice and all.


Dispensing medical advice online is best avoided.
We are all unique, but just in case it might discourage others, having asthma is not a reason avoid singing.
Singing techniques are often used for people with chronic breathing conditions and there is evidence that it can be beneficial for people with asthma.
(My sister-in-law has cystic fibrosis and sang in a choir until her lung transplant a couple of years ago.)
This is a guitar site and we’re all here to learn guitar. Singing is simply one of those ‘accessories’ that many find enriches their experience.
We should neither persuade nor discourage anyone from having a go.
Encouragement is fine :smiley:


It only comes across that way because I find it so damn difficult to explain this well in English… :joy:
The intention was also to say don’t climb on a real stage or at the front of a busy pub, but on birthdays or visitors…go for it and feel free to play with for people you know :sunglasses:

so some of my personal situations are where that way and other people also just picked up the guitar to play something for others with only chords and no intentions that others would sing , so they were incidents and just luck that someone started singing along … in my last weekend it went completely wrong when that person started singing along because the song was not yet in my head well enough to continue the chord progression for more than 30 seconds so I had to say “sorry, I don’t know more” But I was among friends and vague acquaintances and I didn’t care what they thought about me … my friends know what I can do and the vague acquaintances are still teaching me know … and if not, then not … so I feel free to pick up the guitar to play something for people at a beginner’s level, It`s always beginner level for me (only 2 times last year when there was an electric one in the room) because I have a very long warm-up time and there is usually an acoustic where I can’t play. or can hardly play on it …

I’m not that person who keeps playing poorly in the corner of the room on the guitar or piano (I heard that too last years :hear_no_evil:), but I feel free to play a short chord song for other people with simple hammers on and flick offs and often a chord progression I made up myself and then someone often asks… nice and what song was that, then I usually say that it is probably something familiar but that I don’t know who and what… it doesn’t matter but I stand by there’s just something different about it, but I also grew up hearing that instruments were picked up and played in fun on many birthdays, and that also meant that children and elderly people who couldn’t do anything simply picked up such an instrument and started messing around like the rest stopped for a while… It was probably a part of no shame was built up by that I guess,