The 20 Best Bluegrass Songs to Learn on Guitar (Chords Included)

best bluegrass songs for guitar

The acoustic guitar is a blast no matter what kind of music you’re playing, but there’s something special about learning bluegrass songs on acoustic guitar specifically.

One great thing about bluegrass music is a lot of songs have the same underlying chord progressions and structure. So once you’ve mastered the foundations, you’ll be prepared to tackle all of these great bluegrass guitar songs.

To help you out, I’ve also included chords for all of these songs where I could.

Need help learning bluegrass guitar? I recommend picking up my crash course guide for beginner bluegrass guitar, where I break down all the licks, chords, techniques and gear you need to get started, all as simply as possible:

My Crash Course Guide for Bluegrass Guitar

One final note before we get started: don’t forget to tune your guitar! These songs won’t sound right if your guitar is out of tune… If you need a great tuner, here’s my favorite clip-on guitar tuner (on Amazon).

Also: you will need a capo to play some of these songs. If you don’t have a capo (or want to upgrade to a better one) here’s my favorite capo (on Amazon).

Read on to discover the list of my most recommended bluegrass songs for you to learn on guitar:

Freeborn Man – Tony Rice

Get the full chords here

Freeborn Man was a song that was the first single by American Guitarist Tony Rice. It was featured in his album ‘The Guitar.’ This album was released in 1973, and the first thing that happened was that it gained instant recognition by Red Clay Records, a Japanese bluegrass album label, as they issued the album. 

This song is a relatively easy one when learning it on guitar. The chords are more manageable compared to other pieces. Rice is one of the most respected practitioners of bluegrass guitar.

Shady Grove – Doc Watson

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The famous Appalachian folk ballad “Shady Grove” is thought to have originated in eastern Kentucky around the turn of the twentieth century. Before becoming widely embraced in the bluegrass repertoire, the song was famous among old-time musicians in the Cumberlands. 

Doc Watson is credited with popularising “Shady Grove” after receiving it from Jean Ritchie, who got it from her father. The song is upbeat and pleasant to listen to, and learning it is a lot of fun.

Think Of What You’ve Done – Ricky Skaggs

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Ricky Skaggs is an American singer, guitarist, producer, and songwriter specializing in neotraditional country and bluegrass music. He included the song ‘Think of What You’ve Done’ in his album Family and Friends,’ released by Rounder Records in June 1982. 

Ricky is one of my favorite artists because he understands the foundation of country music and has a very versatile catalog of music. It helps that he’s a fiddle and mandolin virtuoso, that he sings in a beautiful tenor rooted in bluegrass and gospel, and that he knows what he wants and how to get it in the studio as a composer.

Head Over Heels – The Bluegrass Album Band

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In 1980, Tony Rice and J. D. Crowe formed the Bluegrass Album Band, a bluegrass ensemble. Initially, there were no plans to develop a permanent band, and the collaboration was primarily to record a solo album for Tony Rice. 

They discovered that collaboration might work, and the result was The Bluegrass Album, which was released in 1981 and was followed by five more volumes of music. The song Head Over Heels is about falling in love with a woman, and the guitar strums are rapid and efficient throughout.

New River Train – Norman Blake & Tony Rice

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Norman and Tony’s flat-picking guitar mastery is legendary. Generations of ambitious guitarists have been motivated by their records and concerts to delve deeper into the mysteries of their incredible playing. This song ‘New River Train’ was one of their most flawless collaborations. This is a traditional American folk tune.

Church Street Blues – Norman Blake 

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Norman Blake composed Church Street Blues. In 1978, Norman penned and recorded the song.

Tony Rice also covered the song himself five years later. This song demonstrates how thoroughly he has perfected the skill of guitar playing. 

Ginseng Sullivan – Norman Blake

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Norman Blake wrote the song Ginseng Sullivan, initially recorded and produced in 1972. It was included on Norman’s album Home at Sulphur Springs. “Ginseng Sullivan,” tells the story of a man looking for his big break in the ginseng market so he may return to his “muddy water Mississippi Delta home.” 

Due to its connections to the touring/traveling lifestyle, it is one of Norman’s most popular bluegrass songs, and it has had a regular presence as a cover for other artists ever since its debut.

Foggy Mountain Top – Flatt & Scruggs

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Earl Scruggs’ “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” popularized the banjo as the star element in bluegrass music more than any other work. He was a well-known banjo musician, and several performers went on to cover this song and learn from his unique technique of banjo playing.

Flatt and Scruggs had a slight issue attracting listeners after breaking away from Monroe in 1948 and forming their band, the “Foggy Mountain Boys,” named after a classic Carter Family song, “Foggy Mountain Top.” The song (linked above) is the perfect piece that you can play your guitar to and enjoy at the same time.

Rosa Lee Mcfall – The Grateful Dead

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The Grateful Dead performed this song a couple of times in acoustic shows between 1970 and 1980, and on March 7, 1964, Garcia performed it with the Black Mountain Boys. He also played it in 1987 with the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, and on The Pizza Tapes.

The song has a sorrowful tone to it. The piece depicts how a man fell in love with Rosa Lee Mcfall, who was all he desired. But he lost her and can’t seem to find someone who reminds him of her.

Last Thing On My Mind – Tom Paxton / Tony Rice

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Tom Paxton is an American singer-songwriter and musician who recorded his song, The Last Thing on My Mind, in 1964. It’s based on “The Leaving of Liverpool,” a popular mourning song. 

Tony Rice recorded a cover, which reached number seven on the Billboard Hot Country Hits chart, the first in an almost continuous string of top 10 singles he would release over the next several years. When the single was released, it was positively welcomed by critics.

You Were on My Mind This Morning – Hot Rize

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You Were on My Mind This Morning falls in the tradition of country love ballads about a woman. The lyrics speak of lost love, travel, and other timeless bluegrass themes.

Stuck in the Middle of Nowhere – Dan Tyminski 

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Dan Tyminski wrote the song “Stuck in the Middle of Nowhere.” It was the second tune from the album Carry Me Across the Mountain in 2000. Tyminski’s voice has been familiar in this bluegrass tune since his appearance with Lonesome River Band in the late 1980s. 

Barry Bales sings baritone, Justin Moses sings tenor, and the three blends seamlessly with Dan throughout. Moses, for instance, matched Dan’s voice nuance for subtlety, never overshadowing him. Bales’ baritone was spot on as well.

White Freightliner – JD Crowe / Townes Van Zandt

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With his progressive bluegrass ensemble, the New South, J.D. Crowe was a pioneering banjo player. Crowe was a follower of Earl Scruggs and played banjo in Scruggs’ three-finger technique, making him a pivotal figure in the bluegrass industry. He was also an innovator, pushing the genre beyond its traditional and constrictive confines at times.

This song White Freightliner is originally by Townes Van Zandt and was about his ride on the highway in Mexico.

The Girl I Left in Tennessee – Bill Clifton 

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Bill Clifton came from a well-to-do family located 10 miles from downtown Baltimore, Maryland, unlike many first-generation bluegrass players from rural, primarily mountainous, agricultural backgrounds. 

Bill Clifton also recorded The Girl I Left In Sunny Tennessee. He reflects on the girl he left in Tennessee and the circumstances behind her departure in the song. The song may appear gloomy at first, but the country music provided by the guitar playing at the start explains it all. Bill Clifton has created a true bluegrass beauty that will win the hearts of many.

There is also an excellent version of the song by Norman Blake, linked in the “full chords” link above.

Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms – Flatt & Scruggs

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“Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” is a famous American folk tune. It appears to have sprung from the lyrics of the cowboy song “My Lula Gal.” Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Foggy Mountain Boys released the Flatt & Scruggs version as a single on December 14, 1951. 

Buck Owens’ cover of “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” was released as the lead single from his album Ruby in August 1971. From the beginning, this tune has the most stunning guitar strumming. It may be challenging at first, so make sure you have a firm handle on your bluegrass rhythm playing before attempting to play it.

Blue Trail of Sorrow – Alison Krauss & Union Station

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Alison Krauss began classical violin instruction at the age of five. She began playing bluegrass at the age of eight, and by the age of ten, she was performing at bluegrass festivals and receiving violin competitions all over the country. 

Union Station, her band, has some of today’s best bluegrass players, including Ron Block, Barry Bales, Dan Tyminski, and Jerry Douglas.

Some Early Morning – Dan Tyminski

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Dan Tyminski has played guitar and mandolin with Alison Krauss since 1994 and his hugely successful solo career. His unrivaled technical abilities and polished, soulful soprano voice have been vital to the band’s success. 

If you listen carefully to the lyrics of this song, Some Early Morning, you’ll hear him speak about being wrongfully convicted of shooting and being sentenced to prison. He wishes he could wake up early in the morning and be free of this nightmare. The song also features several Biblical references in its lyrics.

Will The Circle Be Unbroken – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

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Will the Circle Be Unbroken is a hymn of optimism and resilience, a reminder that life — and music — goes on, even in adversity and death. 

The Carter Family was the reason for the song’s first popularity since they had written it first. But, many groups and musicians have recorded the song. This song is remembered for its gorgeous piano number and soft guitar string strumming with the lyrics.

I’ve Been All Around This World – Grateful Dead

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The Grateful Dead was an American band formed during the 1960s psychedelic movement in San Francisco, California, and they played music together from 1965 to 1995. The Grateful Dead developed a cult-like following from a fan base that counted millions when on tour but received comparatively little popular radio airtime. 

Nine Pound Hammer – Merle Travis

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Merle Travis was a well-known American western and country singer. He was born in the small town of Rosewood in Kentucky. 

The life and economic exploitation of American coal miners were frequently mentioned in the lyrics of his songs, and this song is no exception. In “Nine Pound Hammer,” he was noted for his unique guitar approach (still taught today as “Travis Picking”).

Ready to Get Better at Guitar, Faster?

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Chords, Tabs & Video Lessons for 100 Epic Songs – This free guide that I created for fellow guitarists gives you chords, tabs, and video lessons for the 100 best songs to learn on guitar… I spent many hours putting this guide together to help you get better at guitar, faster. — CLICK HERE TO GET IT FREE

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. — CLICK HERE TO GET IT FREE

Corbin Buff

Corbin has played guitar for over a decade, and started writing about it on Acoustic World in an effort to help others. He lives and writes in western Montana.

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