If you’re looking for some awesome songs to play on your alto guitar, you’ve come to the right place.
Since the most common variant of the alto guitar has 11 strings, I’ll be focusing on 11 string alto guitar songs in this article.
(And if you want to learn more about extended-range guitars, check out some of my posts about the 9 string guitar.)
The alto guitar is a beautifully versatile instrument with an extensive harmonic range.
But with so many strings, you may have trouble finding a suitable arrangement for most popular songs.
This unique instrument’s creators designed the alto guitar to play classical music written for a lute, but with the tonality and flexibility of a guitar.
Thus, I have rounded up 10 great alto guitar songs for you to play.
This list includes pop songs, folk, as well as western classical.
So no matter your genre, you will have a lot of fun playing these!
1. The Sound of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel) covered by Daniel Estrem, 11-string guitar
Daniel Estrem’s cover of ‘The Sound of Silence’ (1964) by Simon and Garfunkel – is a wonderful example of classic pop songs played on an alto guitar.
This song makes for a great start for those newly venturing into the alto guitar territory. Written by Paul Simon in February 1964, the song propelled the group to mainstream popularity. Producer Bob Johnson actually released an initial version of this song without Simon’s permission, making it “the quintessential folk rock release” we now love. According to many metrics, this is the duo’s second most popular hit in the U.S. after “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.
Simon and Garfunkel wrote The Sound of Silence in the key of D♯ Minor. The three most important chords, built off the 1st, 4th, and 5th scale degrees, are all minor chords (D♯ minor, G♯ minor, and A♯ minor).
This particular arrangement for the 11 string guitar by Daniel Estrem is perfect for those wanting to learn this classic folk-rock on an alto guitar. The already melancholic melody is made even more haunting by the alto’s deep bass and high treble.
2. Nils Klöfver plays Fantasia by S.L. Weiss on an 11-string alto guitar by Heikki Rousu
Fantasia is a prime example of the melodic writing of Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1668-1750). Weiss wrote this song in the key of C minor likely around 1719.
Weiss wrote this song for the Lute but Nils Klöfver performs it in the above video on an 11-string alto guitar made by luthier Heikki Rousu.
Many consider Sylvius Leopold Weiss one of the more celebrated lutenist of the eighteenth century and the most prolific composer in the instrument’s history. Folklore has it that a jealous violinist once assaulted him attempting to bite off his thumb.
Weiss wrote the majority of his work for sonatas on the Lute alone.
But he has also composed some concertos and chamber music for the instrument.
He was harmonically adventurous to the extent allowed by the diatonic tuning of the Lute’s bass strings, especially in his later pieces.
3. J.S.Bach – Chaconne from Partita No. 2 BWV 1004 (Arr. M.Wasser) Guitar cover by Moran Wasser
Widely credited to be one of his best works and probably one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, J.S Bach’s Chaconne moves many on a spiritual level. Chaconne is a solo instrumental piece that forms the fifth and final movement of the Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004. Bach wrote this for a solo violin.
Many consider it one of the longest and most challenging solo pieces ever composed.
Moran Wasser’s performance of Bach’s Chaconne in D minor on his 11 string guitar will likely inspire you. If you are not convinced of the beauty of the alto guitar already, this cover will make you want to become a pro. Dieter Mueller built the 11 string guitar played here.
4. “Seven” by Taylor Swift (2020) – Daniel Estrem, 11-string guitar
Taylor Swift and Aaron Dessner, the song’s producer, co-wrote this popular song. You will find it on her eighth studio album, Folklore, released in 2020.
“Seven” debuted at number 11 on the Rolling Stone Top 100, number 35 on the Billboard Hot 100, and number 7 on the U.S. Hot Rock & Alternative Songs following the publication of Folklore. In Australia, Canada, Malaysia, and Singapore, it made it to the top 30.
Swift wrote this song in the key of E major, and Daniel Estram’s arrangement for the 11-string alto guitar perfectly complements the melancholic and haunting melodies. For Swift fans and alto guitar players, this is a match made in heaven.
5. Revolving Rondo – Nils Klöfver (11-string alto guitar)
Revolving Rondo is the titular song from the eponymous album by Nils Klöfver, and he has performed it here on an 11-string alto guitar. With Nils background in alto guitars, this arrangement is a beautiful composition that makes full use of the alto guitar’s extended range and harmonics.
According to the artist’s youtube channel, a beautiful photograph by Danelia Goyes Tellez inspired this composition. This photo features an artistic impression of the London Eye from a tantalizing angle that made it seem both familiar and alien at the same time. Someone looking to play original alto guitar compositions and push their skill boundaries will likely enjoy this piece.
6. Bach – Sonata BWV 1001 – Fuga – 11 string guitar – YouTube
Bach composed the Sonata BWV 1001 – Fuga roughly around the year 1720. He wrote this song in the key of G minor, yet it has only one flat in its key signature. Paulo Martelli performs this piece in the above video.
7. Pachelbel Lute Allemande – 11-string alto guitar
Johann Pachelbel composed this piece for the Lute in the key of F# minor. Leyenda Editions performs this piece on the 11-string in the above video and Asturias of Japan created the gorgeous instrument played in the video. Johann Pachelbel (1653–1706), a German organist and composer, was one of the generation’s greatest organ masters before Johann Sebastian Bach.
8. People Are Strange (The Doors) covered by Daniel Estrem
“People Are Strange” by The Doors is a 1967 song written by Jim Morrison and Robby Krieger. It appears on the band’s second studio album, Strange Days, released in September 1967. The artists wrote this song in the key of F Minor.
It is arranged here for an 11-string guitar by Estrem. The alto guitar lends it a heavier, darker sound with more macabre. But it still retains the funky groove of the original, making it a very fun song to play. You can check out more of Daniel’s covers if you’re looking for some inspiration – A Day in the Life (Beatles), Smoking Gun/Smoke on the Water
9. Partita in C minor BWV 997, Sarabande / J.S.Bach – covered by Göran Söllscher on 11-string Guitar
This composition is a prime example of the versatile range that you get on the alto guitar. The alto guitar is perfect for playing the music of the Baroque and Renaissance period.
This composition was written by the German composer and musician Johann Sebastian Bach between 1738 to 1741. Playing something like this on your 11 string guitar is sure to leave your audience speechless for a long time and is as close as you can get to playing the original lute suite.
10. Anonym – Le Rossignol
Le Rossignol was composed in the 16th century and has anonymous origins. It has been covered here by Katja Fernholz-Bernecker and Andreas Koch (Duo Accords Galants). This song is a perfect example of why the alto guitar is perfect for those wanting to play renaissance music.
Alto Guitar Songs: Conclusion
So, there you have it! 10 awesome songs to learn on an alto guitar!
I hope you found this list useful, and if you know of any more alto guitar songs, let me know in the comments below!