A lot of folk music is simple on the guitar. That is why they are so useful for learning how to play the guitar. Not only will you practice the basic chord shapes, but you will also work on changing between chords for chord progressions. Learning these folk songs will help you develop your chord vocabulary, listening, and overall guitar playing.
Best Folk Songs for Beginners to Learn
Here is my list of 13 easy folk guitar songs. You are likely familiar with many of these songs, but it will help you to learn them if you have a recording and a chord chart that you can refer to.
Learning folk songs takes patience, so don’t try to force yourself to play along with a song right away. Start by practicing the basic chords involved in the song, and then slowly play them along with the melody. Once you’ve done that, you can add the lyrics and improvise as you see fit!
As pioneers of modern folk music, the Decemberists’ “Sons and Daughters” is a familiar and straightforward song that only uses two very simple chords. You will only need the chords D major and G major.
This classic Johnny Cash tune is another two-chord song that you can learn quickly to help your transitioning. The chords are C major and G major.
As you play along to a recording, listen to the melody, and you will hear when the chords change. As you get more comfortable with this tune, you can exchange G major with G7 to give it a more authentic folk sound.
Here is the first song on our list today that will require a capo if you want to play or sing along to the original recording. Place your capo on the second fret and play the chords.
The chords for this song are G major, D major, E minor, and C major. Keep in mind that the duration of each chord will change when you go from verse to chorus. You play the same chords in the chorus, but strum them twice as long as you do in the verses.
Check out our list of the easiest country guitar songs to play next.
“Stand By Me” is an open mic, graduation, or any celebration favorite. It is a song that requires you to use a capo to play along to the original recording. The chords you need are G major, E minor, C major, and D major, with your capo on the second fret.
This song’s rhythm can be challenging as there are some accents and bass note changes to listen for. Remember to strum harder during the accents and listen for the root note changes so you can stay with the recording.
If you don’t know this song by name, you can listen to a recording, and you might find you’re familiar with the opening guitar riff from any beach town karaoke bar.
The chords you’ll need for “Brown Eyed Girl” are G major, C major, D major, and E minor. After you master the song and are looking for some additional progress, you can look into the tablature for the opening guitar riff to play the whole song on your own.
“Sweet Home Alabama” is an American classic that primarily uses three chords. These are D major, C major, and G major.
The challenge with this song is that the progression both starts and ends on D major. You’ll learn to keep track of which part of the chord progression you’re playing, as many students will transition to a new chord at the wrong time. Listen and pay attention as you start and end the chord progression. Try more simple rock guitar songs here.
Bon Iver is a contemporary singer/songwriter who makes sweet, soft, unique folk music. This song has become well known in singing competitions, and you’ve likely heard its ghostly echo before.
The chords you will need are A minor, C major, D minor, and G/B. For G/B, make a standard G major chord on your guitar and then lift your 2nd finger on the low E-string. Play all the strings except for the low E.
The hardest part of this song is aligning the chord strums with the vocals, but you’ll master the song in no time once you get this down.
“Amazing Grace” has been around and sung for hundreds of years. There are multiple singers’ variations, so some versions may be more challenging than others, depending on the variations of chords they use.
This particular version uses a capo on the second fret and light strumming of chords Am7, G7, F major, C major, C7, Am, and G major.
Though it may take some practice to get the chord transitions down, this is a slow and sentimental version, giving you plenty of time to shift fingers between chords. This makes it a great song for guitar beginners to learn!
Woodie Guthrie was famous for portraying his “protest music” in a time of unrest in the United States and soon became America’s voice. This song became one of the countries most well-known American anthems and remains so until this day.
You can find it in many different keys, but Woodie Guthrie’s original is in the D major Key. The chords you’ll need are G major, D major, D7, and A major. The chord progression remains the same except when you will go from D major to D7.
We can’t have a folk list without the legendary Leonard Cohen. This may be one of the easiest songs on this list, as it utilizes just four consistent chords: E major F#m, G#m, and A major.
The strumming pattern is straightforward and repeats through the verses, only varying at the chorus. It’s slow enough to follow along with as you learn to match the chords with the vocals.
One of the most heartfelt songs of its era, the Sound of Silence is a melody that you can’t easily forget. When you’re learning to play new songs, I’ve always found it easier to start with songs where you are already familiar with the melody.
Since this song has been heard by millions of people around the world, it’s a perfect place to start, and it’s pretty easy, too!
This song uses a capo on the sixth fret and has five simple chords: Am, G major, F major, C major, C/B.
Bob Dylan has to be the voice of folk. When you think folk, you think Dylan, so learning to play folk music without adding at least one of his tunes to your setlist just can’t be done.
“Blowin’ In the Wind” requires the chords G major, D major, and C major. Like with “Sweet Home Alabama,” this song features chord progressions that start and end on the same chord. The verse progression begins and ends on G major, and the choruses on C major.
Do not be discouraged when you see the chord names for this song. The chord progression for “Wonderwall” only requires you to move your first and second fingers while your third and fourth fingers stay on fret 3 of the B-string and high E-string.
To play along to Oasis’s original recording, you will need to capo your guitar at fret 2. The chords are Em7, G, Dsus, A7sus4, and Cadd9. If you take a look at these chord shapes, you’ll see that you can transfer between all the chords easily because you just need to move two of your fingers.
Folk songs are great ways for you to develop those key fundamentals of chord transitioning, rhythm, and listening. These songs will give you a solid repertoire of guitar songs that you can perform and practice.
Some Things to Note
You can play these songs with basic chords and then embellish the songs with dominant or seven chords as you become more comfortable. Here is a list of guitar chords you’ll need to play most of the songs.
Guitar Chords You’ll Need
- C major
- D major
- E major
- F major
- G major
- A major
- E minor
- A minor
- D minor
If you haven’t played these chords before, there are chord charts you can look at. Folk songs will help you get used to traveling between different chord shapes to play more songs. Along with these chords, it will be helpful to know some seven chords.
Guitar 7 (dominant) Chords
These chords are a slight variation from their original major chord counterparts. Learning these will be useful for both learning folk songs and the rest of your guitar journey.
If you want to play along with the original recordings of these songs, you may need to use a capo to match the key you hear. Capos are great for helping you play songs in different keys and giving your chords different voicings. Many folk songs require a capo to allow you to play in the proper key.
You’ll also want to play these songs on an acoustic guitar. An electric guitar will have too much distortion in the sound to really get the folk genre’s authentic feel.