23 Easy Folk Guitar Songs for Beginners (with Video Lessons, Tabs, and Chords)

Even in the 21st century, folk songs retain their timeless appeal for people around the world. Traditional folk songs have served an important purpose in passing down tales through generations, and reliving this heritage through these songs is a beautiful feeling. The best part? Most folk songs are quite easy to play and can be mastered by beginners with absolute ease!

Leonard Cohen Playing Guitar
Photo by Takahiro Kyono

So if you’re a guitarist just starting out on your instrument, learning how to play folk guitar songs is a great way to get comfortable with your instrument and earn a nice repertoire in the process. Today, we’ve rounded up 23 easy folk guitar songs for beginners by legendary musicians like John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and even Vintage groups like the Carter Family. With easy chords and simple strumming patterns, these songs are easy and fun to learn.

List of Easy Folk Guitar Songs To Play For Beginners

1. Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrisson

Chords G, C, D
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Brown Eyed Girl Tabs Here

Van Morrisson’s half-a-century-long musical journey started as a multi-instrumentalist when he was still a teenager. Morrisson played a range of instruments, including guitar, harmonica, keyboards, and saxophone, for several Irish bands before becoming a well-known name in his own right. Nicknamed “Van the Man ” by his fans, Morrison shot to fame as the frontman of rock band Them.

His solo career took off in 1967 with the release of the ultra-famous ‘Brown Eyed Girl.’ A wildly popular folk-rock song, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ became Morrisson’s most requested and played track, inspiring hundreds of awesome covers since its release.

If you’re clued into Morrisson’s music, you’ll notice most of his compositions have their roots in Celtic, folk, jazz, and rock and roll styles. ‘Brown-eyed girl’ is one of his folkier works. With its timeless tune, the song is still quite a rage at parties and weddings.

And it’s amazing how easily one can play this catchy track! G, C, and D in a 4X4 rhythm are all that it takes to nail the beginner-friendly version. There’s a minor chord, but it pops up only at the bridge.

2. Down in the Valley by Johnny Cash

Chords C, G
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Down in the Valley Tabs Here

Country icon Johnny Cash’s rendition of the American folk song “Down in the Valley” is another two-chord wonder that’ll help you get acquainted with a folk guitar. This traditional ballad deals with the theme of reincarnation. It has been covered by around by several well-known musicians, including Burl Ives’, Patti Page, The Andrew Sisters, Jo Stafford, and Connie Francis.

Cash’s version is relatively easier to nail down. It uses two chords- C major and G major. Both chords are pretty simple to play. To make your performance sound more authentic and folksy, try swapping the G chord with G7.

Strumming-wise, the song plays in ¾ time, so you need to strum the chords in measures of three beats instead of four. It’s always a great idea to strum the first beat of every measure slightly louder than the other two—play along with the original to match the groove and get familiar with chord changes.

3. Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan

Chord G, C, D
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Blowin’ in the Wind Tabs Here

How can we put together a folk list without having the legendary Bob Dylan in it! ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ is a spell-binding ballad that leaves its mark on the listeners with its reflective, evocative lyrics. It raises questions on war, freedom, and peace before the ever recognizable refrain, “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind’.

But did you know it took him all of ten minutes to pen down his signature song? Well, that’s the lyrical genius Bob Dylan is!

As much as we loved the original, its cover by prominent folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary was the real gamechanger that took the song to another level altogether! Both versions are pretty easy to play. The most novice-friendly of the track can be played using G, C, and D in a common strum pattern. Once you perfect chords, try picking up some of the embellishments that are in the original.

4. Skinny Love by Bon Iver

Chords Am, C, Dm, G/B
Tuning C G E G C C
Tabs See Skinny Love Tabs Here

American indie-folk band Bon Iver’s ‘Skinny Love’ is a short but potent sonic fare! It’s a captivating blend of minimalistic melody, poignant lyrics, and frontman Justin Vernon’s passionate falsetto that never fails to move the audience. The song’s lyrics center around one of Vernon’s relationships that fell apart bitterly. Released in 2008, “Skinny Love” swiftly became a worldwide hit, appearing in the top ten charts in many countries.

There’s an equally awesome cover version of this track by Birdie that’s worth checking out. Both renditions are pretty great and have shown up as a soundtrack for many movies and tv shows. And whIle the original is atmospheric, featuring prominent guitars and beautifully layered vocals, Birdy’s rendition is more piano-driven but still quite good.

Use a folk or a steel string to make your performance more authentic. If you want to play this song the way Bon Iver does, tune to Open C. The alternate tuning of Open C will change all your chords to open positions, making them sound like a C major chord every time you strum. If this tuning feels a bit strange to you, don’t fret! There are many online tabs that share a simplified version in standard tuning.

5. Stand By Me by Ben E King

Chords G, Em, C, D
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Stand By Me Tabs Here

In his effort to recreate an old gospel hymn, Ben E King ended up producing one of the most influential tracks of the 20th century. “Stand By Me’s” massive popularity gave rise to several cover versions by famous names in the music industry. Since its release in 1961, the song has appeared a whopping nine times on the US Billboard Hot 100, both original and covers included! ‘

So what are you waiting for? Whip out that folk guitar of yours and start playing! This soulful masterpiece can be emulated with four easy chords- G, Em, C, and D and a capo on the 2nd fret. Beginners will also learn simple and useful chord shapes and changes along the way. The rhythm can be a tad tricky. You could start by paying close attention to accents and bass note changes when you play along with the recording.

Once you are through with Ben E King’s rendition, check out some of this song’s other noteworthy versions by John Lennon, Tracy Chapman, and Muhammad Ali.

6. Leaving on a Jet Plane by John Denver

Chords G, C, D
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Leaving on a Jet Plane Tabs Here

Some musical masterpieces will never get old. John Denver’s “Leavin on a Jetplane” is one of them. The song’s timeless appeal comes from its simple yet beautiful melody and honest, relatable lyrics that tug at your heartstrings. It’s not hard to make out that Denver’s lyrics were heartfelt and deeply personal to him. Incidentally, this classic took shape during a layover at an airport. Denver, miserable at always being on the move, away from people who mattered to him, simply poured his heart out in this one.

Denver released his original in his 1966 album John Denver Sings. But popularity came knocking when the famous folk trio, Peter, Paul, and Mary, released their rendition two years later, which also became their biggest chart-topping hit.

“Leaving on a Jetplane” follows a typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure which can be played using three beginner chords- G, C, and D. Some guitarists also use A, D, and E chords instead, that sound just as good. Start by strumming four down strums per chord. Once you get comfortable with that, move to syncopated strumming to sound closer to the original. This is one of my personal favorite easy folk guitar songs to play and I highly recommend giving it a try!

7. If I Had a Hammer by Peter, Paul, and Mary

Chords G, C, D, and Em
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See If I Had a Hammer Tabs Here

If you want to pick up some zesty folk pieces that cater to guitarists of varying skill levels, be sure to check out the famous trio Peter, Paul, and Mary’s rich repertoire. Their 1962 protest anthem, “If I Had a Hammer,” is one of the easier ones to play.

The song was originally written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays and recorded by another folk group, The Weavers, in 1950 before it fell into the trio’s lap. Peter, Paul, and Mary’s rendition got the ballad the attention it deserved. A spot in the top ten charts and two Grammys later, the song took on a more political tone as the freedom song of the American Civil Rights Movement. We did mention that this song is easy to play, but it’s not an absolute beginner level. You need to know barre chords before attempting it, which shouldn’t be too hard to work out. Even the strumming pattern offers a chance to learn plenty of useful techniques for beginners, such as a syncopated, quarter note, and eighth note strumming.

8. Sons and Daughters by the Decemberists

Chords D, G
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Sons and Daughters Tabs Here

Portland-based indie rockers, the Decemberists, is a versatile group that loves telling historical tales in upbeat, instrumentally lavish arrangements. Their 2006 single “Sons and Daughters” is a delightful composition that’s perfect to kickstart your folk guitar journey,

It’s a super simple song that uses two chords- D major and G major. The only catch is that you need to play them in a swinging rhythm. This particular style of strumming is a great technique to master, especially if you want to play a lot of folk songs.

Swinging entails strumming continuously with letting the down strums linger a bit longer than the up strums. That’s easy enough, right? Besides swinging strumming, it’s also helpful to listen closely to the recordings to pick up the chord changes.

9. Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Chords D, C, G
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Sweet Home Alabama Tabs Here

If you’re looking to play something that grabs maximum attention with minimal effort, then ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ is the song for you! You don’t need to be a PRO to strum this Lynyrd Skynyrd classic. Simply start by playing D, C, and G chords in straightforward D-C-G progression. That’s it! The only place where beginners can get stuck is while tackling the F chord. But if you already know this chord, then this track gets a whole lot easier to master.

We feel this hugely popular Southern rocker offers something for guitarists of every skill level. While novices can get busy with the song’s rhythm, more experienced, guitar players can figure out the sweet solos without much trouble.

‘Sweet Home Alabama’ was Lynrd Skynrd’s first chart-topping hit that went on to feature in countless movies and tv series. The track is so frequently played almost everywhere that there’s a slim chance any music-loving earthling would have managed to escape its presence!

10. Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley

Chords C, Am, F, G, E7
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Hallelujah Tabs here

This goosebumps-triggering rendition of “Hallelujah” even surpassed the original in popularity, becoming the definitive version of the folk classic among the 21st-century crowd. And it’s not hard to see why. Jeff Buckley’s lyrically emotive, ethereal vocals, backed only by a guitar, could move even the toughest among us.

Sadly, Buckley’s cover got mainstream attention a little too late. It was released ten years after the gifted singer’s tragic passing in 1997. The single quickly climbed the charts, garnering widespread acclaim. It became a favorite at televised talent competitions and got featured in several notable films and television dramas. In 2014, Buckley’s rendition got inducted into the coveted Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry, a compilation of sound recordings representative of life in the United States.

You can play this song using C, Am, F, G, and E7 with a capo on the first fret.

11. Suzanne by Leonard Cohen

Chords E, F#m, G#m, A
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Suzanne Tabs Here

Here’s another iconic folk song that’s as beautiful to hear as it’s easy to play. Originally written and recorded by Canadian poet and musician Leonard Cohen, “Suzanne” became an influential composition that inspired numerous covers since its release in 1967. It’s an insightful, romantic account of Cohen’s relationship with a certain person named Suzanne, powered by his unmistakable baritone.

Surprisingly, this gem of a classic did not get its day in the sun until much later. Cohen’s“Suzanne” could not even crack the first 100 on the charts. A slew of covers following Noel Harrison’s rendition brought attention to the original recording. Since then, the song has become one of Cohen’s most well-known songs, appearing in many prominent films and getting covered by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M, and Joan Baez.

With a slow tempo and just four chords- E, F#m, G#m, and A, “Suzanne” is one of the easiest songs in this compilation. It’s perfect for those just getting started on their folk guitars. The strumming pattern pretty much stays the same throughout the track, changing slightly during the chorus.

Popular Related Article: Easy Acoustic Guitar Songs That are Fun to Play

12. Working Class Hero By John Lennon

Chords Am, Gm, D
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Working Class Hero Tabs Here

This song is a masterclass in using songwriting for expressing complex emotions in a manner that can kick start a revolution – and personally, it gives me goosebumps with its power! Working Class Hero is written by John Lennon and released after Lennon made his exit from the Beatles and the band broke up.

The political track talks about the deep and clear social class divide between the world’s haves and have-nots and how the world’s working class is somewhat brainwashed to obey and follow the rules since the day they are born – their fate is sealed already. And no matter how hard they work, they will never break through the glass ceiling of their social class and reach their fullest creative potential.

To play this iconic track, all you need to know are the Am, Gm, and D chords, but pay to the progression of the chords – but once you get the progression right, you’ll be able to play the entire track without any issues.

13. Abacus by Fionn Regen

Chords F#, C#, B
Tuning D A D G A D
Tabs See Abacus Tabs Here

Fionn Regan’s “Abacus” is a mesmerizing piece of music that’s in Celtic tuning, an alternate tuning that goes brilliantly with folk compositions. A lot of folky-sounding songs are played fingerstyle in unconventional tuning. That’s what gives them an air of mystique. And this enchanting track fills the bill to a T.

“Abacus” is perfect for those of you who are looking to pick up a song that has a simple yet captivating fingerpicking pattern. The Irish singer-songwriters’ soothing vocals backed by soulful fingerpicking make this song a joy to the ears.

Play it with a capo on the 4th fret to sound truer to the recording.

14. The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel

Chords Am, G, F, C, C/B
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See The Sound of Silence Tabs Here

This one here is a must-add to the setlist of any folk guitarist. “The Sound of Silence” is an unforgettable folk melody and the reason the highly influential duo of Simon and Garfunkle came into being. It featured on their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., which, believe it or not, was a commercial flop prompting the musicians into packing their bags and returning to their separate lives.

Their disbandment was short-lived as “the Sound of Silence” slowly started gathering steam with growing prominence over the radio. A remixed release later, it swiftly grabbed the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100, turning the duo into a worldwide sensation.

Playing this song would become a whole lot easier once you familiarize yourselves with the melody. Listen to it carefully a few times before you get started. You can play the entire track with five chords- Am, G, F, C, and C/B with a capo on the 6th fret.

15. Amazing Grace by Various Artists

Chords G, D, A7
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Amazing Grace Tabs Here

The 1960s United States saw a renewed interest in folk music. Several well-known musicians from that era started covering popular gospels, hymns, and traditional folk songs, giving them their own twist. It was during this time that the Christian hymn, which has been around forever, Amazing Grace, was given a secular makeover to widen its appeal.

From Judy Collins, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Rod Stewart, and Johnny Cash, many music bigwigs recorded and released their interpretations of the song.

You can pick and choose any of the versions to play on your guitar. There’s a three-chord version that’s super simple and uses G, D, and A7 chords. You could also explore Elvis Presley’s version to add a bit of flair. Presley’s “Amazing Grace” can be played with a capo on the 2nd fret using Am7, G7, F, C, C7, Am, and G chords. Thankfully, the slow pace of the song makes it easy to keep up with the chord switches.

16. The Circle Game by Joni Mitchell

Chords C, F, G, Em
Tuning D B G D G D or E A D G B E
Tabs See The Circle Game Tabs Here

With her thought-provoking lyrics, unorthodox tunings, astonishing guitaring, and charming vocals, Joni Mitchell changed the face of music forever. Her catalog is packed with breathtakingly intense and amazing to hear folk ballads that shake the listeners to the core. Fans and critics regard Mitchell as one of the greatest and most influential musicians ever, and we agree. Her nine Grammy and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are tangible proofs of Mitchell’s genius.

We bring you one of Mitchell’s easier but impactful compositions, “The Circle Game,” from her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon. The way Mitchell plays might be challenging for beginners. She utilizes open G tuning, which goes D-B-G-D-G-D from low to high. If you want to play along to the recording, you’ll need to slap on a capo on the 4th fret to be in the same pitch.

There are more doable versions that don’t carry as many embellishments as Mitchell’s original but are still a lot of fun to play. You can stick to the standard tuning and use C, F, G, and Em chords to keep it simple.

Related Article: The Full List of Our Favorite Guitar Songs for Beginners

17. 500 Miles by Bobby Bare

Chords Am, D7, G, Em, C
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See 500 Miles Tabs Here

A quintessential American folk song that has the power to leave the crowd teary-eyed, “500 Miles” would make an excellent addition to your folk song bank. This 1961 classic was originally written by folksinger Hedy West, witnessed chart success after being covered by Bobby Bare. Famous folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary further fueled the song’s popularity after including it in their debut album.

It’s a heartwarming tune with simple repetitive lyrics that you’d love to sing and play along to. You’d be amazed to know just how universal the song’s gotten since its release, having been adapted in a host of languages, including French, Finnish, Hindi, German, Czech, and Japanese.

Bobby Bare’s version is one of the easier ones to play. This song is a cakewalk if you know how to work Am, D7, G, Em, and C chords.

18. Donna Donna by Joan Baez

Chords Am, D7, G, Em, C
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Donna Donna Tabs Here

Joan Baez is often touted as the Queen of folk music for her groundbreaking songwriting, calming voice and inventive fingerstyle playing. She, along with the likes of Joan Mitchell, Judy Collins, and Bob Dylan, was a driving force behind reviving traditional, century-old pieces and recreating them in a modern context.

While most of her songs involve intricate fingerpicking, “Donna Donna” from her 1960 debut album is kind to beginners. It’s a Yiddish folk song that’s been translated and recorded in several languages, including Baez’s famous version.

Lyrically gritty but musically delightful, this song sounds marvelous on a folk acoustic. Discounting arpeggios and hammer-ons, it’s a great song to get familiar with fingerpicking. It’s always a good idea to pick up some fingerstyle patterns, especially if you want to widen your folk setlist. You’ll be playing this song using Am, E, E7, Dm, G, C chords with a capo on the 2nd fret.

19. This Land Is Your Land by Woodie Guthrie

Chords A, D, G, D7
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See This Land Is Your Land Tabs Here

Perhaps one of the most well-known names among those who revived American folk music was that of Woodie Guthrie. His politically charged folk compositions influenced generations of songwriters, including Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, and Pete Seeger. In short, the American folk scene would have been very different without Guthrie’s stellar contribution.

Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” is arguably one of the most well-known folk songs in the United States. Fed up of listening to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” on the airwaves, Guthrie wrote this protest song highlighting the plight of the working class and how they deserve the same rights as the elite and wealthy. Guthrie was significantly influenced by the Carter Family’s music, a folk and country group active between the 1920s and 50s. He based his composition on one of their tunes, tweaking the melodic structure slightly.

You can play the simplified version using A, D, G, and D7 chords. It differs a little from the recorded version but does the trick.

20. Wildwood Flower by The Carter Family

Chords C, G7, F
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Wildwood Flower Tabs Here

A classic American folk song with sunny sounding chords and bittersweet lyrics about love, Wildwood Flower is best known through the rendition done by the folk music group “The Carter Family”. The track is actually a variation of the original folk song ‘I’ll Twine ‘Mid The Ringlets” that was recorded way back in 1860. With a classic folk and country rhythm pattern and simple chord progression, this is a great track to play for guitarists of all skill levels.

The song is in standard tuning and uses just three chords – C, G7, and F. The progression repeats all throughout the verse and the chords and doesn’t change at all. There’s also a sweet little acoustic solo in the middle that adds a poignant touch to this melancholic track about love and loss. This is another one of my favorite folk songs to play on guitar.

21. Freight Train by Elizabeth Cotten

Chords C, G, G7, Dm, E7, F
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Freight Train Tabs Here

Written by iconic folk musician Elizabeth Cotten in the early 20th century, Freight Train cemented itself firmly in the Great American folk tradition during the American folk revival of the 1950s and 60s. Featuring gorgeous fingerstyle guitars and a heartfelt singing style by Cotte, the song is an introspective look into our lives, mortality, and the meaning of it all.

The song features an emotive chord progression that takes you through a joyride of happy and melancholic emotions – C, G, G7, Dm, E7, and F. The fingerstyle technique might be slightly tricky to master at first, but when you do the song becomes easy to play. However, beginners can simply strum the chords with an easy rhythm pattern if they aren’t comfortable with the fingerpicking technique. Cotten had been miscredited in many sources, with other musicians claiming credit for the song.

Related Article: List of Easy Guitar Songs with Capo Used

22. Stoplight Kisses by The Cactus Blossoms

Chords E, A, B7, E7
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Stoplight Kisses Tabs Here

Stoplight kisses is an easygoing folk love song by the Cactus Blossoms recorded and released in 2016. Even though it is a recent release, it still retains the nostalgic folk song style in the arrangement and vocal style as well. Featuring an easy strumming pattern and straightforward chords like E, A, B7, and E7, this song can be easily mastered by beginner guitarists.

Cactus Blossoms is a Minneapolis-based folk and country duo that has only recently broken into the music scene, but they’ve released some fantastic music in the past few years. The duo’s double harmony singing style is reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel, which adds to their vintage appeal.

23. Will the Circle Be Unbroken (Traditional Hymn)

Chords G, G7, C, Em, D7
Tuning E A D G B E
Tabs See Will the Circle Be Unbroken Tabs Here

A widely popular traditional Christian hymn, Will The Circle Be Unbroken was written back in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon and composed by Charles H. Gabriel. Being over 100 years old, this folk song is now in the public domain and has been recorded by several artists. This gospel track is usually played during congregations to inspire an uplifting emotion in the crowd, thanks to its pleasing chords and comforting lyrics.

The song uses standard tuning and an easygoing guitar strumming pattern that can easily be played by beginners. The chords are equally simple – G, G7, C, Em, D7. Like most traditional songs, this song repeats the chord progression throughout its duration.

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoy working your way through this list of easy folk guitar songs! Each of these songs has something unique to teach us as musicians, and we’re sure you will enjoy the journey. If you’re curious to explore other easy to play guitar songs, be sure to check out some of our other pages!

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