Country music has a rich history and a deep fan base, and it’s a great place to start for beginner guitar players. Many country songs are popular, catchy, and captivating while also being easy to play on the guitar.
Storytelling and vocal harmonies are a signature part of country music, but the underlying chord structure is often simple, making it easier on newbie guitar players.
Here you’ll learn a little history on the development of country music and some of the BEST easy country songs that you can learn on the guitar.
A Quick Look at the History of Country Music
Before sharing the best easy guitar songs for beginners, we’ll take a look at the history of country music and the many changes that have happened over the years to produce this unique genre.
Country music had its roots in Southern Appalachia, when immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and England settled there. Country music is a blending of folk music and the blues, brought forward by fiddle players in the south.
This music was often labeled as “hillbilly music” and didn’t start finding a commercial home until the 1920s. In 1922, Eck Robertson was the first country music star to record a commercial album. Although he was the first recording, Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family had a greater impact on the popularity of country music.
In the late 1920s to the early 1940s, some country music started including jazz as an influence, developing something known as “western swing.” The 1940s also began the period of time when people went to the movies to see “the singing cowboys” like Gene Autry, Jim Wakely, and Roy Rogers. During the 1940s and 1950s, some country music became more extravagant with orchestral accompaniment, or musical arrangements more fitting for a Hollywood scene.
The 1950s also saw the development of smooth and sophisticated country artists, as well as honky-tonk tearful songs about heartbreak. During this era, popular artists like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Chet Atkins, and Johnny Cash. The Grand Ole Opry website describes the 1950s like this:
The evolution of the genre in the 1950s was perhaps best captured at the Opry, where it wasn’t uncommon to see honky-tonk, bluegrass, and rockabilly artists perform in succession of each other. In many ways, what happened in this decade would set the stage for some of country music’s biggest moments.
Johnny Cash continued to see success during the 1960s, but other artists like the Bakersfield Sound began to emerge as well. The Bakersfield Sound, a subgenre of country music, was a defiant and rebellious type of country music that wanted to get away from the orchestral, polished, and commercial type of country music. Instead, this music featured twangy guitars, steel guitars, fiddles, and drums. Some of the most famous names in this subgenre include Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.
The 1970s saw the rise of many women artists including Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette. Much like the Bakersfield sound in the 1960s, others went against the grain and bucked commercial conformity in the 1970s. This was known as “outlaw country music” and featured independent artists like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and David Allen Coe.
The 1980s saw the rise of country neo-traditionalists, artists who wanted to bring back the more traditional sounds of country music. While they leaned heavily on the traditional roots, they did include a more contemporary production. Artists in this movement include Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Patty Loveless, Alan Jackson, and Randy Travis.
A binding factor of country music is the rich storytelling. People could relate to the stories of heartbreak, love, loss, and the human experience. These stories and music resonate with people and help them reflect on what it means to be human.
With a brief understanding of the history of country music, the artists who performed it, and the time setting of some of the most popular country songs, let’s get into a line up of some of the best easy country songs on the guitar.
The Best Easy Country Songs on the Guitar
1. “Jolene” by Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton is uber famous not only by country fans, but is recognizable to just about anyone. She has a theme park in Tennessee named after her, and she also had a career that transversed music, television, and film.
One of her most popular songs, “Jolene” was released in 1973. The song is simple but haunting, and repeats many of the same words over and over.
Chords: D Am, C, G OR Dm, F, C
2. “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton
“I Will Always Love You” is another insanely famous song by Dolly Parton. This song became even more mainstream with Whitney Houston’s 1992 cover. This song has a slow strumming pattern that makes it easy for beginners, and there are only four chords to remember.
Dolly Parton wrote this song to Porter Wagoner, the man responsible for the start of her musical career on The Porter Wagoner Show. She was ready to move on with her career, but he was upset that she was leaving the show.
The song is often thought to have romantic connotations, but in this case it had more to do with mentorship, friendship, and moving on in her career. In an interview with CMT, Dolly explains, “There was a lot of grief and heartache there, and he just wasn’t listening to my reasoning for my going. I thought, ‘Well, why don’t you do what you do best? Why don’t you just write this song?’”
Chords: G, Em, C, D
3. “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash
You can’t really have a lineup of country music without including something from the iconic Johnny Cash. His music was easy to play, but also authentic, bold, and mixed with other genres like gospel, rock ‘n roll, and folk. Cash’s songs were catchy, and he was above all a storyteller.
Believe it or not, while Johnny Cash was famous for “Ring of Fire” he wasn’t the one who wrote it. It was his future wife June Carter and their friend Merle Kilgore. June Carter wrote the song about Johnny, because she felt like being around him was like being in a ring of fire. At the time of writing the song Johnny Cash had been involved in drugs and was unstable, but she couldn’t deny her connection to him.
June’s sister Anita recorded a version of the song originally called “Love’s Ring of Fire” which sounded more folksy. Cash had a dream about the song that included Mariachi horns, which is what you hear in his version of the song.
Chords: G, Em, C, D
4. “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash
Another acclaimed song by the Man in Black is “I Walk the Line.” The lyrics to the song were supposedly written in 20 minutes by Johnny Cash about his first wife Vivian Liberto. The song was released in 1956, and when he performed it at the Grand Ole’ Oprey, it was met with enthusiastic applause.
Cash is quoted saying, “”I wrote the song backstage one night in 1956 in Gladewater, Texas. I was newly married at the time, and I suppose I was laying out my pledge of devotion.”
This song can be played by strumming only, but as you advance you can learn the playful intro line. Correctly strumming for this song can be a bit challenging, but can still be mastered by the developing guitar player.
Chords: A, D, E
5. “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash
This comical song by Johnny Cash has only three chords, and a simple strumming pattern good for any new guitar player. Cash enjoyed playing this song on his sets for some humor and levity.
The first time he played it for a group of convicts, and it wasn’t really meant for mass distribution. They hadn’t rehearsed the song and barely knew it, but the prisoners at the San Quentin State Prison went crazy for it.
The song was originally written by poet, cartoonist, and songwriter Shel Silverstein. Silverstein said he was inspired to write the song from friend Jean Shepard who grew up being made fun of for having a “girl’s name.” Cash asked him to write down the lyrics to his song after watching his performance, and Silverstein agreed. It was June Carter that convinced Johnny to perform the song because she knew it would be perfect for him.
Cash’s performance at the State Prison was recorded, and there are points of the song where you can hear Cash chuckling because he was realizing the genius of the lyrics along with the rest of the audience.
Chords: A, D, E
6. “Jambalaya” by Hank Williams
Hank Williams, sometimes referred to as the Hillbilly Shakespeare, was only 29 years old when he died but left a big mark on country music.
His most well known songs include “Cold, Cold Heart,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” and of course, “Jambalaya (On the Bayou).”
“Jambalaya” is similar to another song by the name of “Grand Texas,” a song about a woman. However, William’s song is about partying and eating cajun cuisine. This song was covered by many artists including Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.
As a beginner guitarist, this song is very easy to learn. It has a simple strumming pattern and only two chords.
Chords: C, G7
7. “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers was born in 1938 to a large but poor family in Houston, Texas. By highschool, he knew he wanted to pursue music professionally. In 1958 he recorded his first single “That Crazy Feeling” which got him a spot on American Bandstand.
Rogers career moved between solo acts and ensembles, and he helped form many bands as well as performing by himself. In his career, he helped create many hits such as “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” “Love Lifted Me,” and “Lucille.”
In 1978, he released “The Gambler” which is one of his most memorable songs.
For beginner guitarists, the B chord may be a little difficult to master, and the timing may present a challenge at first. It also only has a few chords, so you won’t have to struggle to remember lots of complicated chords. Once you’ve worked through these challenges you can add it to your repertoire of country guitar songs. It’s a crowd-pleaser and one that many people will recognize and enjoy.
Chords: E, A, B
8. “Achy, Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus
Billy Ray Cyrus’ song “Achy, Breaky Heart” was his debut single released in 1992 and has since then been his most famous country song. It was the first country song to reach platinum status since Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ song “Islands in the Stream.”
This song was extremely popular, but has also been thought to be cringey. It could be because for the phrase “achy breaky” or it could be because shortly after it came out it was parodied by Weird Al Yankovich in “Achy Breaky Song” who makes fun of Cyru’s hit and calls it “the most annoying song I know.”
Still, if you want a song that people will instantly recognize and may even (reluctantly) begin singing along with, you can’t really beat “Achy, Breaky Heart.”
For beginner guitarists it’s very easy to pick up with only two easy chords.
Chords: A, E
9. “King of the Road” by Roger Miller
Roger Miller was a honky-tonk country musician who became famous in the 1950s and continued to grow in popularity in the 1960s. He’s best known for songs like “Old Friends,” “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffaloherd,” and “King of the Road.”
This song consists of three easy chords, but there is a key change in the song that is more difficult for beginners, but can be achieved by moving a capo up a fret. You can begin by learning simple strumming for this guitar before trying other techniques.
Chords: A, D, E
10. “Ocean Front Property” by George Straits
George Straits was born in 1952, who released his first hit single “Unwound” in 1981. Other famous titles he released are “I Got a Car,” “Troubadour,” “Amarillo by Morning,” and “Ocean Front Property.”
“Ocean Front Property” was a fan favorite, but also one of his saddest contributions. Although the song may sound upbeat, lyrically it tells a sad story. The songwriter claims he won’t miss the woman who will soon be leaving him, but really the opposite is true.
This song is a good choice for beginners, and can grow with you as you advance. As with many songs, you can make this a simple strumming pattern or add in a little more flair by picking the bass note before strumming. It also includes three easy chords.
Chords: D, A, G
11. “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” by John Denver
John Denver was born on New Year’s Eve in 1943. In 1967 he wrote a song named “Babe, I Hate to Go” which was covered by Peter Paul and Mary two years later under the title “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”
Though he was born with the name John Deutschendorf, he switched his name to John Denver for professional reasons as his career began to advance. His career continued to grow with songs like “Take me Home, Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High,” “Back Home Again,” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”
“Thank God I’m a Country Boy” was released on his album Back Home Again and topped Billboard Magazine Hot Country Singles and Billboard Hot 100 Charts for a week.
The song was written by John Denver’s guitarist John Martin Sommers, and though the song is written with West Virginia in mind, it was more influenced by Aspen, Colorado.
This song’s tempo will take practice as it’s quick, but the guitar chords are simple and easy to pick up. The strumming pattern isn’t too difficult, but if you’re an absolute beginner it may not be the first song you’d want to try. It is a fun choice for bonfires or outdoor gatherings.
Chords: A, D, G, E OR A, D, G, E7
Are These Really Easy Country Songs on the Guitar?
A common theme you may have noticed with these songs is that there are easier and more advanced versions of each one. If you listen to the original recordings, you may be overwhelmed by the playful picking, complicated sounding strumming patterns, or additional chords or sounds.
The thing to understand about guitar music is that there are often easier and more difficult ways to play a song. Most of the songs on this list can be played more simply and more slowly while you learn more about the guitar and train your hands to do new arrangements. As you learn more about the guitar, you can add in new tricks to the songs you learned as a beginner.
If one song seems too difficult, try another one out and see if it works better. Another trick is to pick songs you genuinely like. If you are dying to learn how to play them, you’re going to be willing to spend more time and effort picking up a more complicated song.
Enjoy practicing these songs, and don’t forget to take a moment to reflect on the amazing artists that have made country music what it is today.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.