Beginning their career in the early 1960s as leaders of the nation’s burgeoning surf music scene, The Beach Boys went on to create their own genre of music. Their unique style — immediately distinctive by their beautifully intricate harmonies, impeccable production and fun-in-the-sun vibe — added many layers throughout the years, but the constant was always greatness.
Looking back on over 100 million records sold worldwide, 36 songs in the US Top 40, multiple Grammy Awards and regular recognition as one of the most influential acts of the modern era, there is no doubt that The Beach Boys hold the title as America’s first and greatest rock band.
The Beach Boys’ story began with their 1961 debut, “Surfin’,” which featured brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, plus cousin Mike love and friend Al Jardine. Even though everyone was still in their teens, it was a hit in their Southern California region, especially in a youth market obsessed, and garnered enough interest to get the band signed to a major record label.
Soon, in mid-1962, The Beach Boys released their major label debut, “Surfin’ Safari,” which hit the Top 20 and ignited the surf rock movement, and it was followed by a hit album of the same name and 1963’s follow up, Surfin’ Safari.
As several U.S. rock bands succumbed to the “British Invasion” — led by the Beatles — in the mid-’60s, The Beach Boys suffered no such fate, putting out wildly popular hits like “I Get Around,” ”California Girls,” “Help Me Rhonda” and of course, 1966’s masterpiece album, Pet Sounds.
Six decades and 29 studio albums later, The Beach Boys are still going strong. Not only do they still tour around the world to sold-out audiences, but you can hear their influences in the work of their peers and some of today’s more daring artists.
Want to learn to play some of The Beach Boys’ biggest hits? In this article, the Fender Play team will walk you through some of the chords and guitar techniques you’ll need to know to play some of their best-known tracks.
THE BEACH BOYS’ STYLE
The Beach Boys’ music was a true melting pot of musical styles … think of a combination of Chuck Berry R&R, Doo-Wop/early R&B combined with a bit of the newly emerging folk music scene during that era.
In the case of Brian Wilson’s vocal arrangements, he was heavily influenced by Tin Pan Alley, The Great American Songbook and Gershwin in particular, along with the smooth yet incredibly dense and complex jazz-influenced harmonies popularized by vocal groups like The Four Freshmen.
With regards to guitars and basses, The Beach Boys — especially Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson and Jardine — played a number of Fender instruments throughout the years. Brian was a longtime aficionado of the Precision Bass, while Carl and Jardine were regularly seen playing various Stratocaster and Jaguar models through Dual Showman or Bassman amplifiers.
HOW TO LEARN BEACH BOYS SONGS ON GUITAR: CHORDS & TECHNIQUES YOU’LL NEED TO KNOW
In this article, we’ll show you how to play some of The Beach Boys’ most beloved songs, tracks that still stand the test of time today. You’ll learn how to play both the chords and the riffs to:
“Help Me, Rhonda”
“Little Deuce Coupe”
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice”
“Don’t Worry Baby”
“ Fun, Fun, Fun”
“God Only Knows”
“I Get Around”
“You Still Believe in Me”
Before you start learning some of The Beach Boys’ songs, it’ll be helpful to familiarize yourself with chords the band regularly used. Here are some of the chords to practice:
And here are some of the techniques you’ll find that are common in Beach Boys songs:
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“CALIFORNIA GIRLS” CHORDS AND RIFFS
This anthem to SoCal youth culture reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, in addition to becoming a top 10 hit in several other countries, making it one of The Beach Boys’ most successful global tracks. Musically, “California Girls” is augmented with unique chord choices and alternate strumming that gives a joyous, sweeping feel.
Chords: A • G • D • E • Am • Bm • Gm • F
Learn to play “California Girls” on guitar.
“GOOD VIBRATIONS” CHORDS AND RIFFS
Released as a single in October of 1966, “Good Vibrations” was an instant critical and commercial hit, rising to the top of the charts around the world with its complex soundscapes that showcased dramatic shifts in key, texture, instrumentation and mood. Even though it only clocks in at just over three-and-a-half minutes, it still feels like a symphony.
Chords: Dm • C • Bb • A7 • A • D • D • F#m • B7
Learn to play “Good Vibrations” on guitar.
“I GET AROUND” CHORDS AND RIFFS
The opening track to 1964’s All Summer Long, “I Get Around” is a real-time reaction to The Beach Boys’ brushfire rise to fame. It was their first chart-topping hit in the U.S., as well as America’s first chart-topper by a homegrown group in eight months. Sharp listeners might recognize familiar chord progressions that had been previously used in “Little Deuce Coupe” and “Little Saint Nick.”
Chords: G • E • Am • F • D • A7
Learn to play “I Get Around” on guitar.
“HELP ME, RHONDA” CHORDS AND RIFFS
Unlike many other Beach Boys songs of their mid-’60s era, “Help Me, Rhonda” featured a lead vocal from Jardine. Released on The Beach Boys Today!, it took the lead spot on the Billboard Hot 100, making it their second No. 1 single following “I Get Around.”
Chords: G • C • D • Am • A
Learn to play “Help Me, Rhonda” on guitar.
“LITTLE DEUCE COUPE” CHORDS AND RIFFS
With music written by Brian Wilson and lyrics from SoCal radio DJ Roger Christian, this song first appeared as the B-side to “Surfer Girl,” and the car it references is the 1932 Ford Model 18. Glamorizing car culture, it was a little different than what was heard on the radio at the time with a shuffle rhythm that gave it a bouncy feel.
Chords: G • C • D • Am • A
Learn to play “Little Deuce Coupe” on guitar.
“WOULDN’T IT BE NICE” CHORDS AND RIFFS
The lead track off Pet Sounds delivers in so many ways, with its lush Wall of Sound-style arrangements and refined vocal performances. One might consider “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” to be a forebear of modern power pop, as evidenced by its status at The Beach Boys’ most streamed song of the modern era.
Chords: D • G • Em7 • A7 • Bm7 • Am7 • F#m • D#m7 • G#m7
Learn to play “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” on guitar.
“DON’T WORRY BABY” CHORDS AND RIFFS
Released in March of 1964, as the B-side to "I Get Around," this track hit No. 24 on the Pop Charts and would go on to be covered by artists such as Ronnie Spector, The Bay City Rollers and B.J Thomas.
Chords: E • A • B • F#m • G#m • C#
Learn to play “Don’t Worry Baby” on guitar.
“FUN, FUN, FUN” CHORDS AND RIFFS
A standout from the 1964 album Shut Down Volume 2, “Fun, Fun, Fun,” was written by Brian Wilson and Love about a teenage girl who wanted to go hot-rodding with her father’s Ford Thunderbird. Unfortunately, “daddy took the T-Bird away,” which led the protagonists to pursue other exciting adventures. Peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard chart, it’s regarded as one of The Beach Boys’ best.
Chords: E • A • B7
Learn to play “Fun, Fun, Fun” on guitar.
“GOD ONLY KNOWS” CHORDS AND RIFFS
A Baroque-style love song, “God Only Knows” is universally praised as one of The Beach Boys’ ultimate achievements. Expansive in nature, it shifts between keys and utilizes inverted chords to reveal a sophistication not previously seen in pop music.
Chords: C • Am • Em • A • D • A7 • E7 • G
Learn to play “God Only Knows” on guitar.
“YOU STILL BELIEVE IN ME” CHORDS AND RIFFS
A pristine production, “You Still Believe in Me” brings in instruments rarely used in pop music like the harpsichord, clarinets, timpani and the bicycle horn. But it all worked together in harmony, culminating in a heartfelt love song that stays firmly in the key of B major.
Chords: A • Bm • E • D • D • G • F# • A/B • F#m • F
Learn to play “You Still Believe In Me” on guitar.
CHECK OUT THE BEACH BOYS COLLECTION AND EVEN MORE SONGS FROM YOUR FAVORITE ARTISTS ON FENDER PLAY
Considering The Beach Boys revolutionized the sound and feel of modern music — and continue to amass fans around the world to this day — these upstarts from Southern California can teach a lot to aspiring guitarists, no matter the level of skill. To dive in further, check out The Beach Boys collection here, and unlock a world of song and skill tutorials with a free trial of Fender Play.