Folks songs have a timeless appeal that makes them popular even in the 21st century. Traditional folk songs are tracks that are passed down from generation to generation, telling tales about heritage in these beautiful pieces. Most folk songs can be easily played on the guitar by beginners if you are interested in exploring this genre of music.
If you’re a beginner and you’re looking for easy folk songs on guitar, you’re in the right place. We have both male and female guitar songs for you to enjoy. Each track comes with its own video tutorial that will help you progress on your guitar journey. Read on to find out the best tracks for you in our easy folk guitar songs list.
1. Van Morrisson – Brown Eyed Girl
Let’s kick off our list of folk music with a classic – Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrisson. Morrisson is known to be able to play a lot of different instruments which include the keyboard, saxophone, harmonica and of course, the guitar. He played for many different Irish bands before he became a name for himself. Morrisson’s fans nicknamed him ‘Van the Man and he first found fame by being the lead man of the rock band Them.
When Morrisson’s solo career started to take flight in 1967, it was this track that became popular. It’s a folk song with rock influences and many artists have gone on to cover it since its release. If you are a fan of his style then you will know he takes influences from rock, jazz and Celtic folk music. Brown Eyed Girl has more of a folk feel than many of his other tracks.
The song is made even better by how easy it is for guitar playing novices. The track is super catchy and can be played using the chord shapes G, C and D. The rhythm is your standard 4:4 common time which makes it very beginner friendly. There is one minor chord included but this only appears during the bridge.
2. Peter, Paul and Mary – If I Had a Hammer
A great guitar piece that can cater to a lot of different skill levels is If I Had a Hammer by Peter, Paul and Mary. This was released in 1960 and was intended to be a protest anthem. It was originally written by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger and was recorded by the group The Weavers in 1950. The Peter, Paul and Mary got it and they got it the attention it deserved.
When the song was released it went into the top ten charts and also won two Grammys. It became the freedom song thanks to the political tone and was heavily American Civil Rights Movement. The song is one of the easy folk guitar songs on our list but it’s not for absolute beginners. You will need to have a good knowledge of barre chords before trying this one. The strumming pattern gives you the chance to pick up on some techniques that beginners will need to add to their repertoire including quarter notes, syncopation and eighth note strumming.
3. Various Artists – Amazing Grace
In the 1960s the USA found a new interest in folk music. Many artists from this era decided to cover the traditional folk song Amazing Grace and give it its own twist. Amazing Grace was originally a Christian hymn that’s been around for centuries. The makeover it was given to turn it into a folk song is what made it so popular.
Artists such as Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, Judy Collins, Johnny Cash and Rod Stewart are all of those who recorded and then released their own versions of this song. You can choose any of the versions to learn on your guitar journey. The three chord version uses only the G, D and A7 chords which is a good place to start as a beginner. If you choose to play one of the versions with more chord shapes, place a capo on the second fret. The song is slow which makes it easy to switch between the harder chords.
4. Bob Dylan – Blowin’ in the Wind
Bob Dylan has to be part of any list of easy folk guitar songs. Blowin’ in the Wind is a great folk ballad that leaves its mark on anyone who listens to it thanks to the powerful lyrics. The questions of freedom, peace and war are all addressed in the verses.
It only took ten minutes for Bob Dylan to pen this signature song which is no surprise thanks to how talented he is. The original was covered by Peter, Paul and Mary which took the song up a notch. You can play the most basic version of the track using guitar chords G, C and D. The strumming pattern is also pretty common. Once you have nailed the chord vocabulary from the song then you can try some of the more advanced embellishments that are featured in the original track.
5. Johnny Cash – Down in the Valley
Johnny Cash is known for his country music but he also took on the American folk song Down in the Valley. it’s a great two chord song that will help you become familiar with folk music. The ballad is themed around reincarnation and has been covered by other well-known artists including Connie Francis and The Andrew Sisters.
The version Cash performed is an easy one for beginners to nail. You will use two major chord types of C and G which are both simple to play. If you want to make sure your performance of the track is truly folk, you can swap out different chord shapes from G to G7.
You’ll be using 3/4 time as a strum rhythm so each of the chords will be played in measures of three beats instead of your usual 4/4 common time. One tip is to strum the first beat of the measure a bit louder than the next two. You may also want to play along with the original song so you can familiarize yourself with the guitar chords and how they change.
6. Bon Iver – Skinny Love
Bon Iver are an American indie-folk band and Skinny Love was released in 2008. The lyrics are powerful and are sung brilliantly by lead singer Justin Vernon who can belt out a falsetto full of passion. It’s one that will never fail to move listeners. The lyrics are about a relationship Vernon was in that fell apart in a not-so-nice way. When the track was released it instantly became a hit for the band and featured in top charts for many different countries.
Birdie also did a cover of this song which is worth a listen if you want to play this type of folk music. As far as easy folk guitar songs go, there is a lot of prominent guitar parts here that blend well with the layering of the vocals. The version from Birdie features more piano but this can also be translated into guitar music.
If you want to make your song truly authentic to the folk style then opt for steel or folk guitar strings. Tune the guitar to an open C which then turns all of your chords into open positions. Every time you strum the strings using this tuning, you play a C major chord. The tuning may feel a bit odd to begin with but using a simpler version like this makes the song easier to play.
7. Ben E King – Stand By Me
Ben E King intended Stand By Me to be a recreation of a gospel hymn but what he ended up producing is one of the most influential songs from the 20th century. The popularity of this track lead to many different cover versions appearing from famous artists in the industry. Since the release of the song in 1961 it’s hit the US Billboard Hot 100 nine times.
You can use four basic chord shapes to recreate this track. You will use G, Em, C and D, placing a capo onto the second fret. Beginner guitarists shouldn’t find anything too difficult in this chord progression. The rhythm is one of the harder parts of playing guitar to Stand By Me. Pay attention to the accents of the song and also where the bass note changes in the original recording.
8. John Denver – Leaving on a Jet Plane
There are some easy folk guitar songs that will simply never get old and Leaving on a Jet Plane by John Denver is one of those tracks. It gets its timeless quality from the melody and relatable lyrics that are incredibly heartfelt. You can tell that those lyrics were personal to the artist when he wrote them. Denver famously wrote the song in an airport during a layover. It details his misery at always having to be on the move away from those he loved.
The original track was released in 1966 from the album titled John Denver Sings. Once again, Peter Paul and Mary made a rendition of the song which was big chart-topper for them.
There is a standard song structure of verse-chorus is used throughout here and you will be using the chord progression of G, C and D. You can also include chords A, D and E if you want the song to sound fuller. For each chord, strum for downstrums. Once you have that rhythm nailed and you’re comfortable with it, move on to the syncopated strumming which will get you closer to the original track.
9. The Decemberists – Sons and Daughters
Indie rockers the Decemberists are from Portland and have gained an entry onto our list of easy folk guitar songs thanks to their versatility. They love telling stories in an upbeat style with lavish instrumental sections. The song Sons and Daughters was released back in 2006 and it’s a great composition to start with as a beginner to folk music.
You’ll only have to use two chords to get the main part of the song which are D and G major. You’ll have to play them in a swinging rhythm which is a good technique to get used to if you want to play more folk songs.
A swinging rhythm means that you will have to let your downstrums on the strings linger a bit longer than any upstrums you play. You may also want to listen to the original track to pick up on where the chord changes happen.
10. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama
If you want to play a song that gets a lot of attention with not much effort then Sweet Home Alabama is the track to go for. It uses simple chords of D, C and G which are played in that progression. That’s all you need to know. The only part that you may find tricky as a beginner is the F chord which is a hard one to master. If you already know the chord, you will be able to play the entire song right away.
Beginner guitarists and more advanced players will find something on offer in this track. Novices will want to get into the song’s rhythm. If you have a little more experience then focus on those solos.
Sweet Home Alabama was the first chart topper for Lynyrd Skynyrd and it went on to be featured in many different tv shows and movies. The track is so well played everywhere that it’s almost impossible for someone not to know it.
11. Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah
Hallelujah has long been a song that evokes goosebumps and Jeff Buckley’s version was the one track to surpass the original in terms of popularity. It became one of the definitely folk songs for the 21st century. Unfortunately, the cover got attention a bit too late. It ended up being released a decade after the singer died in 1997.
Buckley’s rendition of Hallelujah was put into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2014. This is a library of sound recordings which represent life in the US. You can play the song using chords C, Am, F, G and E7. Place your capo on the first fret.
12. Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
Another iconic folk song is Suzanne by Leonard Cohen. It’s beautiful to listen to and lovely to play. Cohen is a Canadian musician and poet, and this track from him inspired many covers since it was released back in 1967. The lyrics describe the romantic relationship Cohen had with Suzanne and he uses his baritone voice to emphasize the words.
This is another song that didn’t get the recognition it deserved until much later on. It was the covers of the song that eventually bought attention to the original. Since the song became known it is one of this artist’s most famous songs and has been covered by huge musicians such as REM and Bruce Springsteen.
You’ll need four chords to be able to play Suzanne – E, F#m, G#M and A. The slower tempo makes it a straightforward song to play and is ideal for beginner guitarists. The strumming pattern is standard and remains the same for most of the song which a slight change in the chorus.
13. John Lennon – Working Class Hero
Complex emotions and masterful songwriting that express some complicated emotions are what all go into Working Class Hero. Written by John Lennon and released after he left the Beatles, this was a song intended to start a revolution.
Intended as a political track, the lyrics describe the clear divide between social classes and how the haves and have-nots are brainwashed into following their classes rules from day one. Even from their birth, Lennon believed their fate was sealed. No matter how hard these people try they will never be able to break through that glass ceiling set out by their social class and eventually go on to achieve their full creative potential.
If you want to play this powerful track then you will only need to know the Am, Gm and D chords. Pay close attention to how the progression of the chords plays out. Once you’ve got this part down, you should be able to play the entire track without running into too many issues.
We hope you enjoyed our list of easy folk guitar songs and that you found something in here that will help your guitar playing skills. All of these songs have a technical skill that you will want to learn as a budding musician. If you want to play other guitar songs from various genre then make sure to check out some more of the guides featured here on our website.
Is folk guitar easy?
Folk guitar is neither easier or harder than any other type of guitar. If you want to find easy guitar songs for beginners you can do so here on our website.