Bluegrass music is incredibly fun to play on acoustic guitar. But what’s the best way to learn bluegrass guitar? Below I walk you through how to learn bluegrass on the guitar step by step.
We’ll start by making sure you have the right gear, and then work through chords, rhythm, licks and solos in bluegrass guitar music.
Bluegrass is one of my favorite genres of music to play, so I’m super excited be sharing my tips on how to learn bluegrass guitar with you.
Grab your guitar and let’s get started with these 7 steps to learn bluegrass guitar:
1. Make Sure You Have the Right Guitar and Strings for Bluegrass Music
Having the best guitar and strings for playing bluegrass music right from the start will make the whole journey a lot easier and more fulfilling. Now I’m not trying to tell you to go out and dump a bunch of money on new gear. You may already have the right guitar for bluegrass music.
The best guitar for playing bluegrass music is a dreadnought acoustic guitar. This is because the size of the dreadnought produces a “boomier” tone that lends itself equally well to rhythm and lead playing, both of which are heavily utilized in bluegrass style guitar playing.
I have a whole article on the best guitars for bluegrass music if you want more details, but in short, I recommend either the YamahaFG830 (if you’re on a budget) or the Martin D18 (if you’re an advanced player looking for a premium quality instrument that will last a lifetime). Both are excellent dreadnought guitars for playing bluegrass.
As for strings, it’s simple: the best strings for bluegrass music are Elixir Nanowebs. They have an incredible tone, and the coating on elixir guitar strings allows them to retain their tone for 6 months to a year for many players. You can read more about why I recommend Elixir Nanowebs for bluegrass here.
2. Learn the Essential Bluegrass Chord Progressions & Transitions
Next, learn the foundation of bluegrass music by learning the most common chord progressions in the genre. The best foundation is mastering the G, C, and D major chords, as these form the vast majority of bluegrass music.
I’m serious. 80-90% of bluegrass music can be played on guitar by just learning the G, C, and D chords, and how they are used in bluegrass progressions (to learn that, learn some of the famous bluegrass songs…which we’ll talk more about below).
Here’s a tip that will save you some time right off the bat: bluegrass guitarists play the G major chord differently from your typical acoustic guitarist.
Here’s a video on how to play the Bluegrass G Chord:
For more on learning essential chords, check out my article on the first 5 chords to learn on guitar.
3. Learn Bluegrass Guitar Strumming & Rhythm Patterns
Now that you know the essential bluegrass guitar chords, it’s time to learn some bluegrass strumming and rhythm patterns. One simple way to do this is by learning the chords of your favorite songs, and then playing along to them and trying to keep time with the rhythm of the song.
If you want a more detailed approach, Andy Falco (an excellent bluegrass player) breaks down some common bluegrass rhythm styles in this great video:
A more advanced aspect of bluegrass rhythm guitar is crosspicking. This is a kind of playing unique to bluegrass music, which mimics fingerstyle playing, and even sounds a bit like a banjo.
I teach a very simple, very common bluegrass crosspicking pattern in this video here:
4. Learn Basic Bluegrass Guitar Songs
It’s time to tie it all together and start learning some bluegrass guitar songs.
I imagine if you’re reading this article then you already have some bluegrass songs you want to learn. Start there. I always recommend guitarists learn the songs and styles of music that they want to learn. It will keep you motivated and keep things fun.
With the foundation of bluegrass chords and rhythms learned above, you should be able to tackle the vast majority of bluegrass songs on guitar. If you need extra help, try and find video lessons of the songs you’re trying to learn.
Not sure what artists or songs to learn from? Check out these blogs for some inspiration:
- The Top 10 Best Bluegrass Songs of All Time
- The 10 Best Bluegrass Gospel Songs Of All Time
- The 25 Best Country Songs for Acoustic Guitar (with Chords + Tabs)
5. Learn Basic Bluegrass Guitar Licks
All right, let’s step things up a notch by learning a few bluegrass guitar licks. Licks are little pieces of lead guitar solos. By learning licks from your favorite players, you’ll start to develop your own style of bluegrass lead guitar playing and soloing.
One of the most important licks in bluegrass music is the G lick. Yes, THE G lick.
Here’s Bryan Sutton teaching the Bluegrass G Lick:
6. Learn Entire Bluegrass Guitar Solos
After practicing bluegrass licks, you’re ready to start learning entire guitar solos. If you really want to train your ear, you can learn and transcribe the solos yourself by ear.
Or, you can simply learn many bluegrass solos from teachers on YouTube. One great channel is Lessons With Marcel. He transcribes many entire bluegrass guitar solos, like he does with this one from Billy Strings:
7. Learn Bluegrass Guitar From the Pros
Finally, I have to say that the fastest way to get great at bluegrass guitar is to get a mentor and get tutored by the pros. Luckily, with video lessons and courses this has never been easier.
With Bryan Suttons’ ArtistWorks bluegrass guitar course you get access to one of the very best bluegrass guitarists ever, as he walks you through his playing step by step.
This is my #1 recommendation if you really want to cut your learning curve and excel on the instrument.
You can read more about Bryan’s excellent course here.
Looking for More Resources to Learn Bluegrass Guitar?
Check out my other articles on bluegrass guitar:
- The 3 Best Acoustic Guitars for Bluegrass Music
- The Best Acoustic Guitar Strings for Country and Bluegrass
- The 30 Best Bluegrass Flatpicking Guitarists Of All Time
- Where and How Did Bluegrass Get Started?
Ready to Get Better at Guitar, Faster?
Whenever you’re ready to take your guitar playing to the next level, check out my favorite resources below:
Elixir Nanoweb Acoustic Guitar Strings
- Unique polymer coating allows strings to last for months or years at a time, making for an exceptional value.
- Provide the perfect mix of boom, range, twang, and brightness that acoustic music is known for.
- Beloved by everyone from Paul Simon to Gordon Lightfoot, the D-18 is one of Martin’s most legendary guitars ever.
- An excellent, premier quality acoustic guitar for bluegrass, country, folk, rock and more. This is what I play myself.
Chords, Tabs & Lessons for 100 Songs
- This free guide from Acoustic World gives you chords, tabs, and video lesson for the 100 best songs to learn on guitar.
- I spent hours putting this together all by myself to help you get better at guitar, faster!
Fingerpicking vs Flatpicking Guitar
- Learn which picking style is right for YOU by exploring examples, history, and popular players of each style.
- Discover essential techniques and pros and cons of each approach.