22 Easy Bluegrass Guitar Songs for Beginners (With Tabs, Tuning, and Videos)

Bluegrass music has a charm all its own, and learning to play traditional bluegrass songs will enrich any guitarist’s skills, repertoire and broaden their musical horizons. And if you’re worried that bluegrass songs may be too complex or tricky for you to play, don’t worry.

Marcus Mumford Playing Easy Bluegrass Guitar Songs
Photo by Rob D

Even if you’re a beginner on the guitar, don’t worry, we’ve put together a list of bluegrass songs that’ll be really easy and fun for you to learn! Today, we’re sharing 22 easy bluegrass guitar songs for beginners that’ll familiarize you with this unique genre real quick. Scroll down to learn them all.

Here is a List of Easy Bluegrass Guitar Songs

1. Keep on the Sunny Side by The Carter Family

Release Date 1928
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Keep on the Sunny Side

This popular tune was written way back in 1899 by Ada Blenkhorn, who was rather struck by her differently abled nephew’s request of always wanting his wheelchair pushed down “the sunny side” of the lane. In 1928, famous American folk music group, The Carter Family recorded their own rendition of “Keep on the Sunny Side” and turned it into a radio sensation, inspiring many bluegrass versions of the song.

In their inventive, signature style, the Carters played the melody notes on the bass strings, while all the strumming took place on the treble strings. We’ve linked a super easy three-chord version of the song to help you get started.

2. On Top of Old Smokey by The Weavers

Release Date 1951
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for On Top of Old Smokey

“On Top of Old Smokey” is one of the folk songs that most Americans have heard in their childhood but are clueless about the recordings that made them famous in the first place. In the case of this old Appalachian tune, it was the 1951 recording by folk group The Weavers that took it mainstream. The group’s cover became quite a rage, enjoying an impressive run on the charts and clocking over a million copies in record sales.

What makes this song such a great pick for new learners? For starters, it has only three chords! That’s right! You only need C, F, and G7 chords to make this song happen. It also has a slower tempo and is played with three beats per measure.

3. Kentucky Girl by Larry Sparks

Release Date 1987
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Kentucky Girl

For those of you new to the guitar as well as the bluegrass genre, it cannot get easier than “Kentucky Girl” by Larry Sparks! A capo on the second fret and just two chords- G and D- are all it takes to play this gorgeous song. A tender love ballad delivered in traditional bluegrass style by Sparks, “Kentucky Girl” is a joy to play. Check out the tabs above and add this to your vault. You won’t be disappointed!

4. Nine Pound Hammer by Flatt & Scruggs

Release Date 1962
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Nine Pound Hammer

Nearly every big name in the bluegrass genre has recorded their renditions of this emotionally charged work song used by railroad laborers in post-Civil War America to motivate each other to keep going. What’s wonderful about “Nine Pound Hammer” is it sounds great in both fingerstyle and flatpicking. There are so many fantastic versions varying in style and skill level, but the one we’ve got here for you is perfect for beginners!

Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs’ up-tempo version can be played with just three easy chords- G, C, and D in a straightforward strum pattern. Once you’ve got the easy version down, you can branch out to Tony Rice’s mind blowing solos in his relatively complex flat-picked cover of this classic Bluegrass tune.

5. Blackberry Blossom by Norman Blake & Tony Rice

Release Date 1988
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Blackberry Blossom

Ask any bluegrass aficionado to pick a song they’ll recommend to get acquainted with the genre. Chances are high it’ll be the famous “Blackberry Blossom.” Now a bluegrass standard, the tune was first brought to public attention by old time fiddler Arthur Smith. Since then, the tune has been in countless covers and included in over 250 tune books!

The version we’re referring to here features flatpicking royalty Norman Blake, Tony Rice, and Doc Watson. Although all three have released their own interpretation of the tune, we’d like you to check out the one featured in their collaborative album Norman Blake and Tony Rice 2.

It’s a pretty face-paced melody which can seem a bit challenging at first. But don’t fret, as the chords are relatively easy to tackle and go in a short strum pattern. You’ll need to focus on switching from one chord shape to another but with a bit of practice, you’ll get there. Check out the tabs to get started!

6. Wildwood Flower by The Carter Family

Release Date 1928
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Wildwood Flower (Original)

Next up is a classic American song with ubiquity among Bluegrass musicians. A variant of the famous folk tune “I’ll Twine ‘Mid the Ringlets” by Joseph Philbrick Webster, “Wildwood Flower” was first recorded by the original Carter Family in 1928, but the Carter Family’s version firmly brough the song into mainstream consciousness forever.

Even though technically this song can be categorized as a mix of country and bluegrass, there was no way I couldn’t include this priceless track in the list. A bittersweet song about a promising young love that faded away with the years, this song can hit you quite hard when you’re least expecting it. In their original style, The Carters employ a classic folk/country rhythm pattern and an easy chord progression, making it an excellent pick for players of all skill levels.

The lyrics talk about how a young, carefree and beautiful woman was promised love by a man, who failed to honor his commitment, and left her in the lurch and heartbroken. With multiple rhythm guitars, vocal harmonies, mother Maybelle Carter’s prodigious guitar playing and the longing in her voice, this track showcases Bluegrass’s signature melancholy at its finest.

It’ll be a good idea to first master the tune the way it is played in the original record by using Carter-style picking where the melody is played on bass strings and rhythm on treble strings. From there, move on to the crosspicking version which is how it’s played by Bluegrass guitarists. We are linking tabs to the original as well as the Bluegrass version above.

7. Little Lion Man by Mumford & Sons

Release Date 2009
Tuning C A C G C E
Tabs See tabs for Little Lion Man

Influential British roll-rock group Mumford & Sons’ Grammy-winning debut single “Little Lion Man” is a brilliant blend of bluegrass country rock that’ll keep you hooked from start to finish. A bluegrass banjo, piano, bass, acoustic packed instrument arrangement, and catchy harmonic vocals (never mind the profanity!) all come together in creating the iconic shout-along style that’s inspired many groups since.

To play this song, you’ll need to tune your guitar to a variant of Open C, which goes, C-A-C-G-C-E and slap on a capo on the 5th fret. Chords are fairly easy, but as in the case of bluegrass, rhythm is key, which is quite fast here. It’ll be a good idea to use a thinner pick to support the faster tempo.

8. Man of Constant Sorrow by Soggy Bottom Boys

Release Date 2000
Tuning D A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Man of Constant Sorrow

The origins of this Bluegrass classic can be traced to a folk song published way back in 1913 by a fiddler from Kentucky, Dick Burnett. Since then, “Man of Constant Sorrow” remained relatively unknown until it was brought into prominence by influential bluegrass duo The Stanley Brothers in the 1950s. This highly recognized tune was covered by well-known musicians like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and more recently by the Soggy Bottom Boys for the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

The most beginner-friendly version of the song is played in Drop D tuning with a capo on the 3rd fret. If you know Dsus2, Asus2, and G chords, then you’re sorted. You can also play this using E, A, and B7. Try mastering the chords with downstrokes before taking on the actual strum pattern.

9. Cripple Creek by Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys

Release Date 1970
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Cripple Creek

An Appalachian folk melody from the mid 19th century, “Cripple Creek” is a popular bluegrass jam and typically one of the first songs taught to bluegrass banjo or guitar learners. Although recorded extensively by many bluegrass greats, the versions that are credited for taking this tune to a wider audience are by Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys and Flatt & Scruggs.

Bill Monroe’s cover is incredibly easy and can be nailed using just three chords- G, C, and D. Sure, the fiddle gets quite fast, but all you need is to focus on the timing and chord changes to lay down a solid rhythm.

10. Foggy Mountain Top by The Carter Family

Release Date 1929
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Foggy Mountain Top

It’s pretty evident from the number of times the name “Carter” pops up on this list the incredible amount of influence this trailblazing group had on setting the Bluegrass genre into motion!

Originally recorded in 1929, “Foggy Mountain Top” has been covered by the likes of Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Bill Monroe, and Chet Atkins, just to name a few. The most simplified version of the original, tailored for guitarists of beginner skill level, uses three chords- G, C, and D7. It’s fast in tempo and played in an easy down-down strum pattern—all in all, a great song to warm up to the genre.

11. Soldier’s Joy by Jimmy Driftwood

Release Date 1958
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Soldier’s Joy

Make way for one of the most recognized tunes in the bluegrass world, “Soldier’s Joy,” will make for a great addition to your bluegrass repertoire. As the name suggests, this is a lively, uptempo melody that traveled from Scotland to the US, where it became one of the most played old-time fiddle pieces.

Though there are many versions of this tune that vary in skill level and complexity, the most suited from a novice’s point of view is Jimmy Driftwood’s three-chord rendition. The prolific country singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist composed over 6,000 folk songs, many of which attracted numerous covers. You can play his interesting take on “Soldier’s Joy” with three beginner-friendly chords- G, D, and C. This is one of my personal favorite bluegrass guitar songs.

12. Rocky Top by Osborne Brothers

Release Date 1967
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Rocky Top

Despite its relatively short, two-and-a-half-minute length, “Rocky Top” makes its way into your heart with its upbeat pace and thought-provoking lyrics about a person who misses a simpler way of life in the hills of Tennessee.

This well-known bluegrass song was written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and recorded by the Osborne Brothers in 1967. Since its release, “Rocky Top” has inspired many covers and is a frequent feature at sporting events in Tennessee-based schools and colleges, including the University of Tennessee. The original is played in the key of B, which can get tricky for beginners. However, a capo on the 4th fret will tweak the key to G and place it well within reach of new guitarists.

13. Shady Grove by Jerry Garcia & David Grisman

Release Date 1996
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Shady Grove

The Bluegrass repertoire is teeming with brilliant renditions of traditional Appalachian folk tunes that it’s hard to pick just one. The same holds true for “Shady Grove,” with many iconic versions of this piece by influential heavyweights of the genre like Doc Watson, Tony Rice, Billy Strings, Bill Monroe. To me, it’s legendary guitarist Jerry Garcia and mandolist David Grisman’s interpretation of “Shady Grove” that sounds most alluring!

Their take on the classic is powered by Garcia’s signature vocals and his phenomenal guitar skills with Grisman working his magic on a mandola. The string interplay between Garcia and Grisman will simply take your breath away! For beginners, we’ve found tabs that will enable you to play this version with just two chords- Dm and C.

14. Old Joe Clark by Misc (Traditional)

Release Date Misc (Traditional)
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Old Joe Clark

A frequent feature at Bluegrass jams and country dances, “Old Joe Clark” transports you and your audience to the mountains of Kentucky every time you play it! The song’s playful and quirky lyrics chronicle the life of and death of a Kentucky Mountaineer who went by the name of Joseph Clark.

It’s a mid-tempo tune based on an A major scale with hints of blues scale like the flatted 3rd and 5th. If it sounds a bit intimidating at first, it’s because of all the complex fiddle parts. The guitar work is not challenging and fairly straightforward. A capo on the 2nd fret and three chords-G, D, and F are all you need to play this iconic tune!

15. Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms by Buck Owens

Release Date 1971
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms

An uptempo bluegrass masterpiece that’ll have you tapping your feet before you know it! Like most folk tunes, “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” has been recorded by many artists like Glen Campbell, Dolly Parton, and Hank Wilson.

The legendary Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys introduced or rather re-introduced the tune to Americans in 1951. But the most commercially successful was released by Buck Owens in 1971, which grabbed the number 2 position on US Billboard Hot Country Singles and the top spot in Canadian RPM Country Tracks. We’ve added the tabs to Owens’ chart-topping version above. You’ll really enjoy playing this one!

16. Blue Moon of Kentucky by Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys

Release Date 1947
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Blue Moon of Kentucky

There’s a reason Bill Monroe keeps popping up on this list; after all, the man with his high energy, fast-paced style of country music invented the bluegrass genre. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” is one of Monroe’s best-known compositions, which inspired many acts in bluegrass as well as country and rockabilly.

The classic is sometimes mistaken to be an Elvis original after the legendary musician released his rockier rendition seven years later. Presley’s distinctive take on his waltz-paced original nudged Monroe into re-recording it. This particular version started off slow like the original but surged in tempo, making it faster than Presley’s cover.

Monroe loved the tweaked version so much that he stuck to it for the rest of his performances. In 1988, Monroe’s masterpiece was chosen as the official bluegrass song of Kentucky and made it to number 11 on CMT’s list of 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music in 2003.

17. Uncle Pen by Ricky Skaggs

Release Date 1984
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Uncle Pen

Catchy is what comes to mind when you first hear “Uncle Pen”! With its up-tempo rhythm and infectious vibe, the song never fails to get the crowd going! The track was originally written and recorded by the “Father of Bluegrass,” Bill Monroe, who based it on his uncle who also inspired him to embark on his musical journey.

The most popular cover of this 1950 classic came three decades later when it was recorded by 14-time Grammy-winning artist Ricky Skaggs in 1984. His version wooed critics and fans alike, racing all the way to the number one spot on Billboard Country Chart. The mainstream success of Skaggs’ cover was pivotal in taking bluegrass to a wider, more diverse audience. If you’re looking for easy bluegrass guitar songs for beginners this is a great option.

18. Whiskey Before Breakfast by Misc (Traditional)

Release Date Misc (Traditional)
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Whiskey Before Breakfast

Want to hone your flatpicking skills? Look no further than this hugely popular song that’s still a hot favorite in bluegrass circles. Believed to have been inspired by a traditional Appalachian tune, “Whiskey Before Breakfast” has attracted many fantastic versions over the years. While Norman Blake and Tony Rice’s improvisation on the classic can get a tad challenging for beginners, we’ve managed to dig out a much-simplified way for you to get acquainted with this tune. You’ll be playing this particular version in the key of D with four basic chords- D, G, A, and Em. Click the tabs above and flat pick away!

19. Freeborn Man by Tony Rice

Release Date 1973
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Freeborn Man

Flatpicking legend Tony Rice’s signature tune is not exactly beginner-friendly fare, but it’s such a transcendent piece that I couldn’t help myself from including it here. Originally written by the Outlaws, Rice’s bluegrass cover was released in his 1974 album Guitar. Powered by his inimitable picking, breathtaking intro licks, and a phenomenal solo, the track is an absolute masterpiece! If you fancy a challenge, do give this one a shot! Thankfully we’ve found a version that’s easy on new learners. You’ll be playing it with a capo on the third fret using G, C, D, and G7 chords.

20. Big Mon by The Gibson Brothers

Release Date 2000
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Tabs for Big Mon

Big Mon is the kind of song that’ll make you want to get up and dance, even if you don’t know how to! Originally performed and composed by the father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe, Big Mon is actually a Northern Irish/Scottish slang which means a really strong and physically powerful man, and this thrilling instrumental does sound like a Big Mon chasing someone down crowded streets and Irish pubs. You can definitely hear the Celtic influence in the song.

The steady groove of the double bass, the hectic but energetic mandolin, the swaying violins, the guitars and the sudden finish create such a heady, festive atmosphere that you won’t forget this song for a long, long time to come! Big Mon is a staple at a lot of Bluegrass concerts – I especially like the cover by The Gibson Brothers.

21. Angeline the Baker by Stephen Foster

Release Date 1850
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Tabs for Angeline the Baker

An old time American tune, Angeline the Baker has origins in an emotional song by Stephen Foster for the band the Christy Minstrels as far back as 1850. This bittersweet track talks about a person sold into slavery who is remembering his young love that he lost. The song’s upbeat energy and melody sometimes makes you forget the central theme of the song, but I believe it’s important to remember its lyrical roots, so we can honor its origin.

The song’s lyrics have gone through what is known as the ‘folk process’, which means that the original lyrics have been adapted and transformed across generations. The song is popular both as its instrumental version, as well as the one without the lyrics. The instrumental version is an absolute riot of brilliance – the fiddle, mandolin, bass, guitars, all come together for a phenomenal experience. The chores of the track are pretty standard – G, C, Em and D – but the rhythm pattern is pretty fast and furious, so you’ll have to keep up! If you have friends that are violinists and double bass players, ask them to come over and jam on this beauty. You won’t regret it!

22. Mountain Dew by The Stanley Brothers

 

Release Date 2000
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See tabs for Mountain Dew

Also known as ‘Good Ol’ Mountain Dew’ or ‘Real Ol’ Mountain Dew’, this song is an Applachian folk track composed by Bascom Lamar Lunsford, which was later adapted by his friend Scott Wiseman in 1935. And no, the song is not about the soft drink but about the original ‘Mountain Dew’, by whichI mean Moonshine! At the time when it was written, America was in the Prohibition era, where sale of alcohol was illegal. However, the state of North Carolina maintained their tradition of brewing the illegal form of whiskey called ‘Moonshine’. Quite a colorful history already.

But it gets more interesting – the story goes that Lunsford’s pal Scott Wiseman was looking for a final song to complete his album as the music duo Lulu Belle and Scotty. He heard Kunsford’s version and asked if he could use the song in his album, to which Lunsford responded by selling it to him for a mere $25! But Wiseman honored his promise by making sure that Lunsford received 50% of all royalties from the song up to his death. Check out this vibrant version of this iconic song by The Stanley Brothers.

What Is Bluegrass Music?

This unique form of American roots music originated in the 1940’s in Southern rural USA after world war II, and has its origins in the men and women who migrated to the US from Ireland, Scotland, England. Plus, Bluegrass music is also heavily influenced by Blues as well. This genre gets its name from artist Bill Monroe’s band, The Blue Grass Boys, since they began performing it first in the 1930s and 1940s.

There’s another, more beautiful explanation for why this genre is called Bluegrass – when the early settlers came to the Southern US, they looked over at the endless grassy fields of Kentucky and noticed that the fields took on an almost bluish hue under the sun. This may have been because of the purple seeds of the Poa Pratensis grass in Kentucky (now known as Kentucky bluegrass), but it does give a surreal and interesting background to the name’s origins!

Like the blues, Bluegrass music also involved emotions and issues experienced by people on an everyday basis. It could be love, hardship, heartbreak, or just the struggles of daily life – bluegrass began as a genre connected to everyday people.

The interesting off-beat syncopations, stringed acoustic instruments, high vocal tenor and multiple vocal harmonies gives bluegrass a distinctive sound that makes the genre stand out in its own right. So without further ado, here are the 22 easy bluegrass guitar songs to play!

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed learning how to play these easy yet iconic bluegrass songs on the guitar! We’ve kept the list as a mix of the legendary classics as well as some of the newer songs that you must know. It’s pretty incredible to see how musical traditions originate and evolve over hundreds of years, transforming into a crucial part of our cultural history. The evolution of bluegrass music has seen a similar journey, and contemporary bluegrass guitarists are proudly carrying forward this genre’s rich history.

If you’re looking for more easy and amazing songs to play on the guitar, do check out our blog posts on the 23 easy folk guitar songs, 21 easy indie guitar songs, 30 easy two chord guitar songs and 32 easy one string guitar songs. Happy learning!

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