Bluegrass doesn’t have to be intimidating. When you listen to legends like Doc Watson and Tony Rice, it’s easy to be intimidated by the lightening fast, single note lead lines or the intricate fingerpicking. But much of the acoustic guitar’s role in bluegrass is strumming accompaniment, and often in guitar-friendly keys. Here are ten easy bluegrass songs for beginners that will get a guitarist up and strumming quickly.
How To Learn
When you’re learning these songs at first, just learn the basic chords and a simple strumming pattern. If you listen to recordings (suggestions are included below), you can usually hear the acoustic guitar player doing a simple strumming pattern in the background – that’s what you want.
Disregard the melody line, the fiddle riffs, and the banjo arpeggiated rolls. Those things are amazing, and make the song sound full and complex. But in order to get started, focus on learning the chords and basic rhythm.
How Did We Choose The Songs?
Choosing the top bluegrass tunes is both very simple and very difficult. Because bluegrass has been around for a while and has a healthy ‘jam session’ culture, there’s an established repertoire of songs-you-need-to-know. This provides a simple starting point. The difficult part is that there are different opinions of exactly what that repertoire is. And, of course, if you trim it down to ten songs…which ones can you afford to omit?
In order to make the list, we looked at several things:
- Common recommendations in forums
- Guitar publications
- Instruction books and materials, and
- Popular bluegrass musicians
We plugged all of these into an Excel spreadsheet (yes, a bit nerdy…) and ranked songs by frequency, ease of use, and popularity. So, based on that, here’s….
The Top 10 Easy Bluegrass Guitar Songs for Beginners
1. Blackberry Blossom
Blackberry Blossom is a very common bluegrass tune with a fast melody and cut time feel.
When you listen to the song, remember, don’t get intimidated by the melody!! You’re going to tackle the boom-chick guitar in the background. The chords are easy – G, C, D, Em, A7 – and the pattern is fairly short. The primary challenge here is in moving between chord shapes quickly.
2. Old Joe Clark
A medium-tempo fiddle tune. Often taught as one of the first songs for a bluegrass musician. While the fiddle work is busy, the guitar accompaniment is straight ahead (even as far as bluegrass goes).
3. Wildwood Flower
This is a classic flatpicking guitar song. It was popularized by the Carter family, and that recording is included just below. This song is great because the melody is fairly simple and the tempo relaxed, so it’s an easy one to get started with.
4. Soldier’s Joy
True to it’s title, “Soldier’s Joy” is a happy number. It moves at a decent pace (especially in the recording embedded below), so the primary challenge is to keep moving between chord shapes.
5. Cripple Creek
Here’s another common fiddle tune taught to beginning bluegrass musicians. The fiddle parts are fast but, remember, just pay attention to the acoustic guitar “boom-chick” pattern in the background – that’s what you’re after!
6. John Henry
This song is a story of a man who was driving steel for the railroad and died trying to keep up with the new steam drill.
This song has been covered by all sorts of folks, including (and embedded below) by Bruce Springsteen!
7. Nine Pound Hammer
A great beginner song with very simple changes. The tempo can vary by performer quite a bit, but here’s a version by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with some fun harmonica accompaniment as well.
8. Salt Creek
An old and popular fiddle tune and a standard at bluegrass jam sessions. Check out Tony Rice’s version below.
9. I Saw The Light
This song is more of a Gospel song with a strong lyrical message. But the tune has been taken up by the bluegrass repertoire as a favorite. And it’s a great one for beginners.
10. Man of Constant Sorrow
This is an old song, in fact, but was popularized in contemporary culture by the move O Brother Where Art Thou. This tune is interesting because the tonality is a bit more “flat 7th” and less straight-ahead major sounding, and because the guitar gets to strum a bit more than the usual boom-chick pattern.
Got more suggestions? Think there should be some different ones in the list? Put ’em in the comments below!
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