Check out these songs featured in the Beginning Guitar course.
The chord changes in a song are often referred to by numbers rather than letter names. This is called the Nashville number system, but it’s used by lots of musicians, especially in jam sessions and song circles. Learn what it means when someone says the chords are 1–4–5.
Suppose you sing a song in one key and your friend plays it in another. What do you do? One solution is to use a capo to change keys. Learn to play songs you already know in different keys by using a capo.
Here are 24 great roots songs to play, with recommended strum patterns and full performances of each song so you can sing and play along. All songs include Chord and Lyric Sheets.
You can play the popular Beatles song “Eleanor Rigby” with just two chords: C and Em. Learn a handy strum pattern you can use in hundreds of songs in many styles: down, down-up, up-down-up.
This great alt-country song from Lucinda Williams is in 3/4 time and uses G, C, and D chords. You'll learn a waltz-time rhythm pattern as well as how to find the bass root notes of each chord.
This old hymn was first recorded by the Carter Family in the 1930s and has become one of the most popular songs in traditional music. Learn to play it with a simple “bass down-up” pattern using alternating bass notes.
Stephen Stills’ 1960s classic, which Rolling Stone ranked as the 63rd best song of all time, uses E, A, D, and C chords and can be played with a variation of the down, down-up, up-down-up strum pattern. You’ll learn how to mute the strings for a percussive effect. And if the key of E is too low for you, Adrianne also plays “For What It’s Worth” with a capo at the fourth fret.
Woody Guthrie’s song “This Land Is Your Land” has been been sung by everyone, but do you know all the verses? You’ll learn them here. Adrianne shows you the chords in the key of D and a couple of basic strum patterns.
Learn a version of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” arranged for beginners. The original was fingerpicked, but Adrianne shows you how to play it using key-of-G shapes and a gentle strumming pattern.
Old Crow Medicine Show’s hit song “Wagon Wheel” has become a popular song at campfire singalongs and jams around the world. It uses G, D, Em, and C chords, and you’ll learn three new strum patterns.
“Killing the Blues” has been recorded by many people, including Shawn Colvin and Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. You’ll learn “Killing the Blues” in the key of D, using D, G, and A chords, and a strum pattern using all downstrokes.
Originally written and recorded by Ben E. King in 1961, “Stand By Me” has been recorded more than 400 times since. You only need four chords to play “Stand By Me” (G, Em, C, and D), and you’ll learn a couple of new percussive strumming patterns.
The gospel classic “I’ll Fly Away” is a standard at bluegrass jam sessions. Learn the version sung by Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch on O Brother, Where Art Thou?. It’s in the key of D, and you’ll learn how to find the bass notes in D so you can play the alternating-bass pattern.
Hank Williams’ song “Your Cheatin’ Heart” has been covered by Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, and many others. You’ll learn to play it in the key of G, using G, C, D7, and A7 chords, and a new version of the C chord: C/G (“C over G”).
Gillian Welch’s “Orphan Girl” was first recorded by Emmylou Harris on her classic Wrecking Ball album. It has become a bluegrass jam session favorite. You can play “Orphan Girl” with just three chords (G, C, and D) and a simple strum pattern that accents the second and fourth beats of each measure.
The traditional song “Say Darlin’ Say” is a relative of the classic lullaby “Hush, Little Baby.” You only need three chords to play it (D, G, and A) but the chords change in slightly unusual places. Play it old-time style with a simple bass-down pattern or add an upstroke for the bass down-up pattern.
From Wilco’s album Mermaid Avenue, an album of previously unheard lyrics by Woody Guthrie, “California Stars” is a great song for beginners because it uses just three chords (G, C, and D) and has the same chord progression all the way through. You’ll learn the rhythm pattern that Wilco guitarist/singer Jeff Tweedy uses and how to use “palm muting” to get a funky, rhythmic feel. If the key of A was too low for you, Adrianne also plays “California Stars” with a capo at the fifth fret.
Bob Dylan wrote “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” for the 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. You’ll learn a couple variations on Am and C chords as well as the strum pattern Dylan played.
The folk song “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” has been recorded by Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and many others. It’s in the key of A minor, with Am, Dm, E7, and C chords. You’ll learn a simple bass run to play between chords.
“Take Me Home, Country Roads” was John Denver’s most popular song. Adrianne plays “Country Roads” in the original key of A, with a capo at the second fret, using G, Em, D, C, and two new chords: D7 and F. If the key of A is too low for you, Adrianne also plays “Country Roads” with a capo at the fifth fret, which puts it in the key of C.
The traditional folk song “Wayfaring Stranger” has been recorded by lots of people in many styles. The chords you’ll need for “Wayfaring Stranger” are Am, Dm, E7, F, and C. You’ll learn a couple of different ways to play an F chord and how to do a muted bass-down strum with an alternating bass.
Sam Cooke’s classic 1960s R&B ballad “Bring It on Home to Me” is fun to play and you only need four chords to play it, including two new chords: G7 and C7. You’ll learn how to modify G and C chords to play the new chords with a simple percussive strum.
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s hit “Teach Your Children” is from the band’s classic 1970 album Déjà Vu. It’s is in the key of D, and uses four chords, D, G, A, and Bm. Bm is often played as a barre chord, which can be difficult for beginners, but Adrianne shows you a few easier ways to play Bm.
The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek” uses G, C, D, Em, and F chords, played with a capo on the second fret. Adrianne shows you a few different strum patterns, including the “Bo Diddley” beat.
Leonard Cohen wrote and recorded “Hallelujah” in 1984, but the song is better known as a Jeff Buckley song and has since been recorded by lots of people. “Hallelujah” is in 6/8 time, so you’ll learn a couple of different ways to play a simple strum pattern in 6/8.
Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” is a country classic. You’ll learn it in the key of E, with E, A7, and B7 chords, and a capo at the first fret, to match Cash’s recording on Live at Folsom Prison.
The country classic “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” was recorded by Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, and many others. This version is based on Willie’s recording. It’s in the key of E, and you’ll learn a bass run that connects the E and B7 chords.