With their mission of passing down the historical lore and lessons through the ages, folk music is a crucial part of the tradition in any era. From the old classic standards such as “Amazing Grace” or “Hallelujah” to the more modern tunes offered by newer bands such as Decemberists, all folk tunes deeply connect with the spirit of the time and reflect the culture.
As most folk songs are simple with easy chords and transitions, folk is an excellent way to get familiar with your instrument and master it. You will not only practice the basic chord shapes, but you will also work on chord transitions and progressions, which will develop your chord vocabulary, listening, and overall guitar playing.
Plus, as most of these tunes are pretty popular and fun-to-sing along with tunes, you can play them in little events to have fun with your friends and family.
Stand By Me – Ben E. King
One of the most iconic tunes of music history is Stand By Me by Ben King. With its slow but impressive melody and famous lyrics, it built up great fame, eventually becoming a folk tune, a part of the American culture.
The song consists of 4 easy chords to play; G, Em, C, and D. The traditional strumming pattern is fun and easy to play with its classic mute on the second beat. All you need to do is to memorize the lyrics and master its easy chords, which won’t take you long for sure.
If you are liking this list so far you probably will like my other list 45 Famous & Easy Acoustic Guitar Campfire Songs – Tabs & Lyrics Included
Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver
Take Me Home, Country Roads is a popular folk tune about West Virginia written by John Denver in 1971. The tune became a national anthem for West Virginia as it is an iconic symbol of the state, which it describes as “Almost Heaven.”
The tune consists of 6 basic chords that would not give you a hard time learning. The strum pattern is also quite a pretty classic one with a high tempo. There is an F chord on the second verse where you will have to use the barring technique. You may take your time and practice it slowly if you are not familiar with the technique.
Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
The Jeff Buckley cover of the Leonard Cohen classic, Hallelujah, is a well-known slow tempo song that features an excellent chord progression along with beautiful lyrics. The tune got extremely popular and became a public folk-like American tune with its iconic chorus.
You can play the tune with five simple open chords. The strum pattern is relatively slow, and you can also use fingerpicking if you are comfortable with the technique. With its sentimental melody and romantic lyrics, Hallelujah is definitely a must for your repertoire.
If you want to play more slow and easy songs, don’t forget to check out my list Top 40 Famous & Easy Slow Guitar Songs For Beginners – Tabs Included
Sound Of Silence – Simon And Garfunkel
One of the most heartfelt tunes of American music history is Sound Of Silence by the American folk-rock duo Simon And Garfunkel. Almost everybody is familiar with the iconic melody and lyrics.
The original recording is played with arpeggios, but you can also use strumming to play the tune too. You will have to deploy a basic strum pattern along with five easy chords. Only the F chord may be challenging as it needs the barring technique, which can be challenging in transitions for absolute beginners.
Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl is an extremely popular rock ballad from the ’60s. It is one of the most sung and covered songs of all time and has been played at countless parties and events thanks to its simple yet beautiful melody and lyrics.
You can play the song with five easy open chords, G, C, D, Em, D7. You will need a pretty classic strumming pattern with down strums on each beat. Still, you can play different strumming approaches if you feel comfortable with the chords.
If you like bluesy tunes, do not forget to check my blues article Top 30 Famous & Easy Blues Songs For Beginners – Tabs Included
Leaving on a Jet Plane – John Denver
Leaving on a Jet Plane is the famous American folk tune written by the folk singer-songwriter John Denver in 1969. The tune is about an unfaithful traveling musician, like John Denver himself, who often had to leave his girlfriend to do his shows.
With only three chords, D, G, and C, it is a straightforward tune to play and master. The mid-tempo strum pattern features a classic strum pattern. It is also a great tune to sing along with to practice your singing while playing the instrument.
Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Sweet Home Alabama is a famous tune by the southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. The tune is the most successful song of their entire career, and it is considered an American classic.
This song is in the key of G and is played with three simple chords; D, C, and G. Be wary; there is a tiny, quick part of the song where you have to use an F chord. Overall, it is quite an easy and fun song to play.
Just Breathe – Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson’s cover of Pearl Jam’s Just Breathe is yet another American folk tune ideal for beginner players. The tune was released in 2012 and is immensely loved by country and folk genre lovers.
The song features five simple chords along with a traditional strum pattern. You will need the chords C, G, Am, F, and Dm7; all have accessible finger positions. As it is a midtempo song, you will have plenty of time for transitions.
If you like to learn and play more country tunes, this list might just be for you Top 50 Famous & Easy Country Guitar Songs For Beginners – Tabs Included
Suzanne – Leonard Cohen
Suzanne is one of the most famous tunes by the Canadian poet, writer, and musician Leonard Cohen. The song later became one of the classics of Cohen and was covered by many artists and used in many movies as a soundtrack.
The song is more than easy to master, thanks to its slow rhythm and basic strumming pattern. It uses four simple chords, including an F# minor chord which is a barre chord. It is a great tune to learn the barring technique as you will have plenty of time to adjust your fingers in the slow tempo.
Donna Donna – Joan Baez
In 1960 Joan Baez covered the Yiddish folk tune Dona Dona to use it in the civil rights protest movements in the ’60s. The tune quickly became an icon of the era and anthem for the younger 60’s generation.
The tune is played with five basic chords; Am, E, Dm, C, and G.The strum pattern is pretty straightforward and traditional, which requires a moderate tempo.
I Walk The Line – Johnny Cash
As one of the earliest recordings of country legend Johnny Cash, I Walk The Line is one of his most iconic songs. Released in 1957, the tune had a big success with the sale amount of 2 million copies. It became one of the pioneer songs of the genre, which created the unique sound of Cash.
You can play an easy version of the tune with C, G7, and F chords along with a basic strum pattern. You can also pick the bass note instead of strumming the first beat to play it more similar to the recording.
Johnny Cash is one of the most unique icons of country and folk guitar history, if you want to learn more of his songs check out my list Top 25 Johnny Cash Songs To Learn On The Guitar – Tabs Included
The Rising Of The Moon – Misc Traditional
The Rising of the Moon is an Irish ballad about the battle between the United Irishmen and the British Army during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The song is still highly popular, and the tune is broadly recognized in Ireland today. It is taught in schools, often played in official and sports events, and also has been covered by many musicians such as The Dubliners, The High Kings, and The Clancy Brothers.
You only need three chords, D, A, and G, to play the tune. These three chords are some of the easiest, and the strum pattern is quite traditional with the down-down-up-down-up pattern.
I Saw The Light – Hank Williams
One of the oldest tunes on the list comes from 1948; I Saw The Light by Hank Williams is a fantastic folk-country tune that is simple to play and will give you some understanding of country-style guitar playing.
The tune can be played easily with G, D, and C chords. It is an absolute beginner-friendly tune when strummed, but you can also try a country-style fingerpicking pattern to make things a bit more challenging.
Drunken Sailor – Misc Traditional
The pirate chanty from the British Isles, Drunken Sailor, is one of the most famous songs of the Irish folk repertoire. It has been covered and played live by many musicians and sang globally in many parties and gatherings, with the most famous one from The Irish Rover.
The tune is exceptionally straightforward, changing between E minor and D chords. The strumming pattern is also pretty easy with downstrokes. It is a great tune to play and sing along with kids or friends since it is quite an entertaining song which everybody is familiar with.
If you feel strumming chords are not for you, you should check my list Top 30 Easy Songs Without Chords For Beginners – Tabs Included
Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right – Bob Dylan
Released in 1963, Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right by the Nobel prize winner Bob Dylan is yet another great tune that shows new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition. The country-folk tune is quite popular and is considered one of the best songs of the artist.
As the tune features seven chords, it is an ideal tune to practice chord shapes and transitions. You can strum the chords or arpeggiate them; however you feel comfortable.
Wildwood Flower – Carter Family
Wildwood Flower is an old American folk song from the 19th century, best known through the folk band Carter Family recordings. The band changed the lyrics and used their unique acoustic guitar playing style, where the guitarist plays the rhythm and the melody lines simultaneously.
With C, G7, and F chords, it is pretty easy to learn the tune. Just be careful with the barring technique in order to make all the strings sound.
500 Miles – Bobby Bare
500 Miles is a 1961 tune written by Hedy West and made famous by Bobby Bare in 1963 during the 1960s folk festivals. It is an excellent tune about a traveler far from home, out of money,y and too ashamed to return.
Am, G, D, Em, and C are the chords you need to play the tune. The strum pattern is a classic one, and the tune is great to practice the essential chords.
Skinny Love – Bon Iver
Bon Iver is a contemporary songwriter best-known for his sweet, soft, unique folk music. You probably heard the ghostly echo of this one before, as it is a popular folk tune covered by many modern musicians.
With single bass notes followed by open chords, it is quite an easy tune to master. The only challenging part is that the tune uses a unique Drop C tuning with the strings tuned to C, F, Bb, Eb, G, and C.
This Land Is Your Land – Woody Guthrie
This Land Is Your Land by Woody Guthrie is one of America’s most well-known folk anthems and is honored by the Library of Congress as to the National Recording Registry. The melody is from a Baptist gospel hymn recorded by the Carter Family. Guthrie wrote the lyrics and used the melody to create this iconic country-folk tune.
With four simple chords A, D, G, D7, and a moderate tempo basic strum pattern, it is an easy tune to learn and master. You can play the song to any audience to sing together.
Blowin’ In The Wind – Bob Dylan
One of the most iconic songs of all time is Blowing In The Wind by Bob Dylan. The basic yet impressive melody and great lyrics are the highlights of this tune used in many movies, TV series, events, and protests.
You can play this one with only three chords and a classic down-down-down-up-down strum pattern with a slow tempo. You can whistle the melody while you strum the chords to have more fun.
Working Class Hero – John Lennon
John Lennon’s Working Class Hero is a fantastic tune with amazing lyrics that perfectly depict millions’ life struggles in the U.S.A. It was released in 1970 and was a massive hit with its profound lyrics and simple structure.
Lennon uses only three easy chords, an Am, G, and a D. The challenge of the song is the strumming pattern. You have to pick the bass strings on the first beat and continue with strumming on the rest. You can also use some hammer-ons to spice things up.
St James Infirmary Blues – Misc Originals
St. James Infirmary Blues is an anonymous American blues song that got popular with its Louis Armstrong version. It is also called “The Gambler’s Blues” and has been around since the 19th century.
You will need four basic chords to play the song, and a basic strum pattern will do the trick. As the tempo is moderate-slow, it is also a great tune to practice the barre F chord.
Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
One of the most iconic songs of Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues, sits somewhere between folk, country, and blues. It is a great song composed in 1955 and quickly became a part of the American culture.
The song can be played with single-picked bass notes followed by strummed chords in an upbeat rhythm. It is a great song to learn and master in which you can also get familiar with major 7th chords as the tune features two of them.
Wayfaring Stranger – Misc Traditional
Wayfaring Stranger is a highly famous American folk song, which originates from the 19th century. Its beautiful lyrics tell about a plaintive soul on the journey through life. Many famous artists such as Ed Sheeran, Johnny Cash, and Jack White recorded and covered the tune.
With five basic open chords, the song is relatively straightforward to play. You can adopt a basic strum or fingerpicking pattern to play it.
There Is A Time – The Dillards
There Is A Time is a well-known folk tune by The Dillards from the ’60s. It is one of the most popular tunes of the band, played mostly in The Andy Griffith Show.
Bm, D, G, and A are the chords you need to play this simple tune. Bm chord requires the barring technique so take your time practicing it if you are unfamiliar with the barre chords.
The Circle Game – Joni Mitchell
The Circle Game is a great folk tune by Joni Mitchell in which she tells the story of a child’s journey to adulthood. It perfectly depicts how it is to be a teenager in the U.S.A. in the ’60s.
The chords you need to play this song are C, F, G, and Em. The tune features a slow tempo which is great for absolute beginners because you have more time for chord transitions.
Salvation Song – The Avett Brothers
Salvation Song is a folk tune by The Avett Brothers from their 2004 album Mignonette. The song features a banjo, guitar, upright bass, and percussion—a tremendous simple tune to play with friends.
The rhythm guitar plays the chord progression C, D, and G, which is extremely easy even for the most novice guitar player.
Freight Train – Elizabeth Cotten
Freight Train is an American folk song by Elizabeth Cotten, written in the early 20th century and famous during the American folk revival between 1950 and 1960. The song perfectly describes suburban American life as it was inspired by the sounds of the trains rolling on the tracks where Cotten was living as a teenager in North Carolina.
The song is played with easy arpeggios on a slow-moderate tempo. It is an ideal tune to practice fingerpicking.
Old Time Religion – Misc Traditional
Old Time Religion is a traditional Gospel song dating from 1873. It is a protestant hymn and was covered by many artists throughout history.
The slow tempo tune uses four easy chords and a straightforward strum pattern. It will give no hard time to any level guitarist.
Dixie – Misc Traditional
Dixie is a folk song about the Southern United States which is from the mid-19th century. It is one of the most distinctively Southern musical products of the 19th century, as it was used in many musicals back then. It got so popular that it is used as a nickname for the southern U.S.
You can play the tune with four basic chords and an upbeat basic strum pattern.
The Foggy Dew – Misc Traditional
The Irish folk tune, The Foggy Dew, is a product of the political situation in Ireland after the Easter Rising and World War I. It was recorded by many Irish artists as it is a quite popular Irish folk tune full of emotions.
It is an excellent tune for absolute beginners to practice chords as it features five easy open chords along with a slow tempo.
Tom Dooley – Misc Traditional
Tom Dooley is a famous traditional North Carolina folk song that tells about the murder of a woman named Laura Foster in Wilkes County, North Carolina, in 1866. The most prevalent version was The Kingston Trio version which topped the charts in 1956.
It is one of the most straightforward songs on this list as it features only two chords: G and D7.
If I Had a Hammer – Peter, Paul, and Mary
The protest song If I Had A Hammer by Peter Seeger was written to support the progressive movement in the ’40s. Peter, Paul, and Mary covered the tune 12 years later for the 60’s movement, which gave popularity to the song today.
It is a great tune to play with only four chords and a basic strum pattern.
Keep On The Sunny Side – Carter Family
Keep On The Sunny Side is a folk tune from the late 19th century popularized by the Carter family version in 1929. The tune is great for beginners as it only features three basic chords, D, G, A, and a simple strum pattern.
Sons And Daughters – The Decemberists
Released in 2006 by the American folk band The Decemberists, Sons, And Daughters is a great folk tune about suburban American life. It is a straightforward song to play with two of the easiest chords, D and G, along with a traditional strum pattern.
Abacus – Fionn Regan
Released in 2006, Abacus is an excellent song of modern Irish folk by the Irish singer Fionn Regan. It is one o the challenging tunes on this list as it features a relatively high tempo fingerpicking pattern. It is a great tune to practice your picking fingers as the fret positions are pretty easy.
Amazing Grace – Elvis Presley
Amazing Grace is an immensely popular Christian hymn written and published in the late 18th century. It is one of the most famous hymns, particularly in the United States, used for religious and secular purposes.
It was covered by many musicians throughout history, but the most loved one was king Elvis Presley’s version. It is a great version to practice different chord shapes and transitions as the song feature seven easy chords.
Man Of Constant Sorrow – Bob Dylan
Man Of Constant Sorrow is a traditional American folk song released in 1913 by Dick Burnett but got famous with its Bob Dylan cover in the ’60s. Many other artists also covered the tune, such as Joan Baez.
It is played with four easy chords, C7, G, D, and C, along with simple downstrokes – Quite an easy tune to master.
Stoplight Kisses – The Cactus Blossoms
One of the modern folk tunes on the list is Stoplight Kisses by The Cactus Blossoms. The tune is relatively easy to play, but you should be aware of the B7 chord, which has an odd shape. Practice the chord changes slowly to get familiar with the chord shape.
Big Rock Candy Mountain – Johnny Cash
Another easy-to-play folk tune is Big Rock Candy Mountain from 1928. It was covered by many artists such as Tom Waits and Johnny Cash. The Cash version is excellent for beginners as it features only three chords and can be played with a basic strum pattern.
Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes – Johnny Cash
Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes is a famous old folk song, covered and recorded by many musicians. The lyrics were written by the English playwright Ben Johnson back in the 17th century. It is one of the first tunes that Johnny Cash played on stage, adding to the tune’s popularity. It is an easy tune to play with five basic chords.
Worried Man Blues – Johnny Cash
Worried Man Blues is a famous American folk tune that passed through generations with oral tradition. Many musicians covered their versions of the tune, including Carter Family, Pete Carter, and Johnny Cash. The Cash version is excellent for beginner guitarists as it features easy chord progressions along with a basic strum pattern.
Red River Valley – Misc Traditional
Red River Valley is an American cowboy song of uncertain origins that has gone by different names in different locations. As a western tune, it originates from the 19th century and is quite popular in the United States. Many artists recorded and performed the tune not only in the U.S. but in other countries too.
It is a very easy-to-play song with four chords and a traditional strum pattern. All of the chords require just three fingers so that you can rest your pinky finger on this one.
Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child – Van Morrison
Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child is a traditional Negro spiritual tune that dates back to the time of slavery in the U.S. The first performances of the tune date back to the 19th century, when the civil rights movement was starting.
With Em, Am, C, and D chords, the Van Morrison version of the song is relatively easy and entertaining to play for beginner guitarists.
Whistling Gypsy Rover – Misc Traditional
The famous Irish folk ballad Whistling Gypsu Rover was written and copyrighted by Leo Maguire in the 1950s. The song is about Irish women’s encounters with gypsies where they leave their homes to be with them.
The song features a basic chord progression with four chords, played at a moderate tempo. It is a pretty fun tune to play and sing along as the chorus is quite catchy.
Will The Circle, Be Unbroken – Traditional Hymn
Will The Circle Be Unbroken is a famous Christian hymn written in 1907 by an English hymnist called Ada Habershon. It is later covered by many folk musicians such as Carter Family and The Doors.
With G, C, D chords, you can quickly learn the basic chord progression. You can just strum the chords once as the hymn features a slow tempo.
Nine Pound Hammer – Flatt & Scrugg
Nine Pound Hammer is yet another American folk song performed by the duo Flatt & Scrugg. It is a short tune with the same chord progression on the whole song, which goes as G, C, G, and D. If you feel comfortable, you can play the tune with fingerpicking which sounds better and closer to the recording.
Down In The Valley – Johnny Cash
The traditional American folk song Down In The Valley dates back to the 1920s and has been recorded by many musicians since then, including the country legend Johnny Cash. The folk ballad is about Birmingham Jail in Alabama City.
The tune is played in 3/4 time signature and is played with only three chords. Be aware of the time signature and listen to the song well to play it correctly.
Scarborough Fair – Misc Traditional
Scarborough Fair is an English folk ballad about a number of impossible tasks given to a former lover who lives in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. The famous tune was performed by many musicians but got its fame thanks to the Simon and Garfunkel version.
The tune is in Dorian mode and uses Am, C, G, D, and Em chords. You can lift your middle finger on and off while playing the Am chord for an excellent atmospheric sound.
Where Have All The Flowers Gone – Peter, Paul and Mary
Where Have All the Flowers Gone is a modern folk tune written by Pete Seeger in 1955. The version of Peter, Paul, and Mary is great for beginner guitarists as it features four easy open chords, G, Em, C, and D, along with a moderate tempo classic strum pattern.
Folks songs are great pieces for beginner guitarists as they are popular, easy to play, fun, and catchy. They use basic chords and structures, and they are known and loved by everyone, making them more fun to play with friends.
You can strum the chords or try fingerpicking to practice whatever you need with these amazing songs. Just grab your guitar, start playing and singing along.
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