Easy Folk Guitar Songs: 9 Masterful Tunes

These easy folk guitar songs will help you supercharge your chord vocabulary – let’s get started!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • 9 easy folk guitar songs
  • How to use songs as studies for chord changes
  • How to tackle chord changes more easily
  • How traditional music has been passed down over the years

Get Ready To Sing Along With These Easy Folk Guitar Songs!

Folk music, by its broadest definition is any piece of music passed down orally through the years.

Folk music puts babies to sleep and wakes grown people up. Folk music is, most of all, a force of community.

  • Of the centuries worth of songs out there, we’ve compiled a list of 9 easy folk guitar songs for you to enjoy and share with other people.
  • Whether you want to soothe your child, feel better when you’re feeling awful, or just feel like singing, there are plenty of easy folk guitar songs to accompany you (or for you to accompany).

Easy-Folk-Guitar-Songs

Easy Folk Guitar Songs I – The Decemberists – “Sons & Daughters”

Here’s a lovely contemporary folk song by a contemporary folk-rock group.

This song is in the key of D and uses two chords, D and G.

To play it, use these chords with a swinging rhythm.

You can make your easy folk guitar songs swing by strumming constantly with the down strums a bit longer than the up strums.

D (xx0232)

Easy-Folk-Guitar-Songs

(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)

G (320003)

Easy-Folk-Guitar-Songs

Sons & Daughters is an amazing singalong.

  • The American version of The Office used it in an episode, and it is a frequent “first night of guitar class” singalong.
  • Easy folk guitar songs like these are great because they are straightforward, and easy to memorize.
  • Put this one in your songbook!

Easy-Folk-Guitar-Songs

Pro-Tip: When you’re learning any one of these easy folk guitar songs, try learning it in the folk tradition by listening to the song to learn when the chords change.

  • Two-chord songs are excellent for this exercise, and you can learn a lot of easy folk guitar songs quickly!
  • If you’d like more two-chord songs, check out this lesson here.

Easy Folk Guitar Songs II – Traditional – “Down In The Valley”

Here’s another one of the many two-chord easy folk guitar songs!

Johnny Cash’s impossibly low version of “Down In The Valley” is one of countless recordings of the song which tackles one of the main themes of folk music: incarceration.

  • It has also been recorded by The Andrews Sisters, Burl Ives, Leadbelly, Jo Stafford, and Slim Whitman.
  • This song is in 3/4 time, which means the chords are strummed in groups or measures of three beats apiece instead of the usual four.

Folk-Guitar

To get the hang of strumming in 3/4, try strumming the first beat of each measure a bit louder like so: ONE two three ONE two three.

You can navigate these easy folk guitar songs easily when you can keep the groove going.

Let’s try “Down In The Valley” in C. Your two chords are C major and G major – listen for the changes when the lyrics rhyme.

If you want a folkier sound, you can try the G7 in place of the G.

C (X32010)

Easy-Folk-Guitar-Songs

G (320003)

Easy-Folk-Guitar-Songs

G7 (320001)

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Here’s bluegrass masters Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’ version to help you along!

Easy-Folk-Guitar-Songs

Easy Folk Guitar Songs III – Habershon/Gabriel – “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”

No matter who or where you are, at some point in your life, you are going to need this song.

Although “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” was initially written in 1907 as a hymn, it has been played as a bluegrass and folk staple so often for so long that the song has come into the public domain, as have most of these easy folk guitar songs.

  • The song is commonly played, as a bluegrass and folk staple, in the key of G, bluegrass’s favorite key.
  • The chords are G major, C major, and D major.

You can strum it bluegrass style at any speed – down, down, down-up, down-up, a great strumming rhythm for most easy folk guitar songs.

G (320003)

Easy-Folk-Guitar-Songs

C (x32010)

Easy-Folk-Guitar-Songs

D (xx0232)

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Fun Fact: A variation of this song was featured in the video game Bioshock Infinite, sung by one of the main voice actors, with the other on guitar.

  • Check out that version here.
  • The chord changes are a little more interesting in this song!
  • Here’s a chord chart to help you get started. Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

Easy-Folk-Guitar-Songs

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Easy Folk Guitar Songs IV – Elizabeth Cotten – “Freight Train”

Then there was that time a girl guitar player changed the face of music forever.

Don’t watch her fingers!

  • Elizabeth Cotten is one of those lefties who play a righty guitar upside down.
  • She wrote “Freight Train” when she was a teenager, and The Beatles played it when they were teenagers.
  • Trains are another theme of folk music, and this song is the ultimate train folk song.

“Freight Train” is almost always played in the key of C. Check out this handy chord chart.

C (x32010)

G7 (320001)

E7 (020100)

F (xx3211)

Fmaj7 (xx3210)

If you have trouble making the four-string F major chord, there is absolutely nothing wrong with substituting in the Fmaj7. It is a great gateway chord to F major!

Any strumming pattern works with this song, but if you are ready to play some fingerstyle guitar, here is a tablature version of “Freight Train” that is suitable for beginning fingerstyle guitar but also sticks close to Cotten’s arrangement.

If you like easy folk guitar songs and are curious about fingerstyle guitar but haven’t been able to figure it out just yet, check out this lesson link below!

Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons – 5 Easy Ways to Sound Amazing

Best-Folk-Guitar-Songs

Pro-Tip: When first learning fingerstyle guitar, it’s important and helpful to remember that the picking thumb is mandatory, keeping the beat and playing the root or foundation of the chord.

  • The fingers are ornamental, but they help to outline the upper register of the chords you are playing.
  • Keep the thumb going and the fingers will follow, and don’t be afraid to experiment to find new sounds!!

Easy-Folk-Guitar-Songs

Easy Folk Guitar Songs V – The Carter Family – “Wildwood Flower”

Here’s another example of a girl changing the face of music forever.

Maybelle Carter invented the Carter Scratch, a fingerstyle technique you can see pretty clearly in this video.

Chet Atkins took Mother Maybelle’s style and inverted it, using the thumb and bass notes for the harmony and playing the melody on the high notes.

“Wildwood Flower” was originally a parlor song, written by J.P. Webster in 1860, but it has gone through the folk process and is now one of the quintessential easy folk guitar songs.

To be fair to Chet Atkins, just because the song is easy does not mean that his arrangement is!

Here are the chords:

C (x32010)

G7 (320001)

F (xx3211)

If you are strumming this song to learn it, you can use a constant strum or a down, down, down-up, down-up pattern.

Easy-ed-sheeran-songs-guitar

Pro Tip: Picking up a little bit of fingerpicking is good for you no matter what level of guitarist you are. Fingerpicking gives us a different understanding of how our guitar is voiced,

The interplay between our thumb and fingers gives us a new way of looking at chords and can open up a whole new realm of rhythms inside your guitar playing.

Better still, it will give you a brand new approach to these easy folk guitar songs. Give it a shot!

folk-song-guitar-lesson

Easy Folk Guitar Songs VI – Woody Guthrie – “This Land Is Your Land”

If there is one folk song that has burned itself into the collective consciousness of the US, this is it.

Woody Guthrie wrote this song in 1940 as a response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” a song he found irritating.

  • Although “This Land Is Your Land” is frequently sung in schools, all of Guthrie’s political verses were removed long ago.
  • It’s the point of folk music to say things that other people would rather not be said, so make those verses that mean the most to you the loudest ones!

“This Land Is Your Land” can be played in any key you like, but we’ll try it here in the key of D. Here are the chords you will need:

G (320003)

D (xx0232)

D7 (xx0212)

A (x02220)

Here is a chord chart for “This Land Is Your Land.”

  • One of the markers of a great piece of songwriting is that it can work with plenty of different grooves, rhythms, or strumming patterns.
  • Keeping the constant down-up motion going, try hitting and missing the strings at different times to create your own rhythm!

If you would like some support with rhythm for your easy folk guitar songs, check out this lesson on strumming patterns from your friends at the National Guitar Academy.

How-to-play-folk-songs-on-guitar

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

Easy Folk Guitar Songs VII – Traditional – “Scarborough Fair”

Now, here’s a song that’s so old, nobody knows who wrote it!

This is a significantly less old but early-ish recording of “Scarborough Fair” by Ewan MacColl, whose version was copped by Martin Carthy, whose version was copped by Paul Simon, and so on.

  • That, friends, is how a folk song gets to be 400 years old.
  • The only reasonable key to play this song in is E minor, although it’s really E Dorian, but we’ll get into that sort of theoretical nitpicking later.

Right now, we just want to play some easy folk guitar songs, and here are the chords you’ll need to play this one.

Em (022000)

D (xx0232)

G (320003)

A (x02220)

“Scarborough Fair” is in 3/4 time, just like “Down In the Valley.”

Use the same strategy for getting accustomed to strumming in 3/4 time, and try a down, down-up, down-up strumming pattern.

Here is a chord chart for “Scarborough Fair.”

  • If you are interested in learning the Simon & Garfunkel version of “Scarborough Fair/Canticle,” you can check out this tablature.
  • It’s pretty close to the recorded version and therefore also pretty close to Martin Carthy’s version!

Fun-Folk-Songs-To-Play

Easy Folk Guitar Songs VIII – Traditional – “Dreadful Wind & Rain”

We never said all of these easy folk guitar songs would have a happy ending. Some of these tunes can have some pretty dark contexts.

This Northumbrian ballad dates back to at least 1656, judging from the large number of Scandinavian and other European variants.

Here are the chords you’ll need to play “Dreadful Wind & Rain”:

G (320003)

C (x32010)

F (xx3211)

Dm (xx0231)

The chord changes come pretty quickly in this song, but because these chords appear in so many songs together, you can use this song as a chord-changing exercise.

Short chord progressions like these do a great job of helping us learn to navigate different chord shapes more rapidly.

Here is a chord chart for “Dreadful Wind and Rain.”

Folk-Song-Guitar-Chords

Easy Folk Guitar Songs IX – Bob Dylan – “Blowin’ In the Wind”

You didn’t think we’d let you get all the way through a set of easy folk guitar songs without bringing Bob Dylan into it, did you?

This guy is a reigning king of easy folk guitar songs that are fun to play and sing. Why wouldn’t you bring Bob into it?

This lesson in philosophy from 1962 came out when Dylan was 21 years old, and it has been recorded by Stevie Wonder, Peter Paul and Mary, Neil Young, Glen Campbell, and Dolly Parton.

It’s been played and sung by everyone everywhere, and now it’s your turn!

To play “Blowin’ In the Wind,” you’ll need the following chords:

G (320003)

C (x32010)

D (xx0232)

Here is a chord chart for “Blowin’ In the Wind” with a suggested strumming pattern for you.

Bring this powerful song to your next jam session!

Easy Folk Guitar Songs Are Meant To Be Played In Groups!

It doesn’t really need to be said that music is something that creates and binds a community.

Don’t wait for your songs to be in perfect condition before sharing them!

As soon as you can get through it without stopping and starting, join or form a group of people to play and sing with.

You’ll learn guitar faster, and you’ll generally feel better about the state of things.

Have fun with your easy folk guitar songs!

Recommended Resources

If you enjoyed this guide to our top 9 easy folk guitar songs, you’ll love some of the other content we’ve got for you below:

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