Bluegrass music is not only fun to listen to, it is an absolute joy to play. Learning bluegrass chords can also help hone your playing and increase your knowledge of music theory. Perusing the rich history of songs below will diversify your repertoire for gigs as you learn music from the masters who have made bluegrass what it is today.
Welcome to Bluegrass Country
The following sites offering guitar chords and lyrics have been organized by bluegrass genre according to the style's history to help you quickly find what you are looking for. As you learn to play these songs, patience is key. The professionals from these bands below make a difficult playing style sound easy. But, as you will discover, these brilliant musicians put in years of hard work to develop their skills.
Traditional bluegrass represents songs from the early 20th century, with instruments such as the accordion that are no longer used in mainstream contemporary bluegrass. These sites and artists offer a comprehensive treasure trove of traditional bluegrass songs:
- Traditional Bluegrass Archive: Compiled by Radford University in Virginia, this site has a long list of traditional bluegrass songs from the early 1900s with both lyrics and chords combined into a single lead sheet, including such classic traditional bluegrass songs as Blue Moon of Kentucky and Steel Rails. This archive also has a lyrics-only section for a long list of traditional songs.
- Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys: Bill Monroe, known as the father of bluegrass, wrote many of the classic traditional bluegrass songs such as Blue Moon of Kentucky. This page at Ultimate Guitar has Monroe songs not included in the archive above, including classics like Kentucky Waltz and Highway of Sorrow with both chords and lyrics.
- Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys: Not only one of the greatest bluegrass artists of all time, but one of the great American musicians of any genre, Dr. Ralph Stanley has contributed over six decades of timeless "mournful mountain music," as he called it. Still touring in his eighties, his more recent accomplishments include:
- A GRAMMY in 2002 for Oh Death, which was featured in the film O Brother Where Art Thou
- Worldwide popularity for his song Man of Constant Sorrow, also featured prominently in O Brother Where Art Thou
Although those two hits are not available other songs are, including the chords and lyrics for Memories of Mother and Angel Band.
This genre expanded on traditional bluegrass when it permitted electronic instruments and imported songs from other styles such as rock 'n roll. It included such legendary artists as:
- Foggy Mountain Boys (aka Flatt & Scruggs): Flatt & Scruggs, one of the first progressive bluegrass bands, began the transition away from traditional bluegrass with their use of different styles outside of the traditional genre. This helped them achieve Hollywood fame when they recorded music for TV and film, including the instruments and back-up vocals for The Ballad of Jed Clampett, the theme song of the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies. That theme as well as many other songs, like their signature tune Foggy Mountain Breakdown, are lots of fun to play with these available tabs and lyrics.
- The Dillards: Also known as the fictional TV bluegrass band The Darlings on The Andy Griffith Show, The Dillards' famous TV role was just one of their many claims to fame. One of the first bluegrass bands to electrify their instruments, they're regarded as pioneers of the progressive bluegrass genre and they influenced many musical legends from The Eagles to Elton John. Tabs available online include:
- Old Man in the Mill
- There Is a Time
The chords and lyrics are combined into one lead sheet per song.
- Greensky Bluegrass: A modern example of progressive bluegrass, this band hit the bluegrass scene in the 2000s and has built a popular, award-winning reputation for its live shows and its combination of electric guitars and traditional bluegrass instruments. This site features five songs from the band's repertoire including:
- Can't Make Time
- Grow Bananas
- Tuesday Letters
- Elephant Revival: Another superb modern example of progressive bluegrass developed to its logical conclusion, Elephant Revival combines a dizzying array of acoustic-based styles -- Celtic, folk, rock, gypsy, country -- into a bluegrass framework. Chords and lyrics to one of their best-known songs, Sing To the Mountain, will give you a good idea of their signature sound.
As these genres developed, other artists pursued a style of bluegrass that incorporated their faith and spirituality, which eventually produced a genre of its own.
Filled with Christian spiritualism in its lyrics and Gospel-styled four-part harmonies, the following artists embody this genre:
- The Isaacs: With a spiritual journey as interesting as their award-winning bluegrass gospel, The Isaacs have played everything from church services to national anthems for the Cincinnati Bengals. With 25 chord and lyric sheets for a variety of instruments, including guitar and ukulele, this site offers a gold mine for any bluegrass gospel fan, including songs like Another Soldier Down and He Understands My Tears.
- Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out: This legendary band got its start when Russell Moore departed from Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver to start his own group in 1991. Moore and his band would go on to win awards and become one of the most celebrated bluegrass gospel bands alive today. You can access chord and lyric sheets for three of their love songs:
- Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver: Another legendary bluegrass band, Doyle Lawson has been recognized across the board in all musical genres, but especially bluegrass gospel in which he won a Dove award and garnered critical acclaim for his performances of Gospel classics. This site features nine songs with chords and lyrics from this monumental bluegrass gospel band.
In the '90s, country music saw many of its bluegrass artists return to the roots of the genre by playing traditional bluegrass songs or mimicking the style in their instrumentation. These artists, however, added their own twist to the traditional style by moving away from the vocal ensemble sound and featuring a lead vocalist who would sing the song's melody solo. The following artists have helped shape this style of neo-traditional bluegrass:
- Alison Krauss and Union Station: This famous bluegrass band, fronted by the angelic voice of Alison Krauss, has an abundance of chord and lyric song charts at Songsterr, with over 50 songs. Alison Krauss has had the honor of becoming the most commercially successful bluegrass artist in the genre's history, with GRAMMY awards, Oscars, and many other achievements under her belt.
- The Grascals: This Grammy-nominated bluegrass band have taken their unique neo-traditional bluegrass sound to massive audiences in recent years, with sold-out tours in which they shared the stage with legends like Hank Williams, Jr. Country Tabs has chord and lyric charts for nine songs from The Grascals, including Did You Forget God Today and Me and John and Paul.
- Rhonda Vincent: Known as the Queen of Bluegrass, Rhonda Vincent has become a legend in her own time and has performed with other legends such as Willie Nelson. These chord and lyric combos feature some of her most popular songs.
The appeal of these neo-traditional bands with solo lead singers has greatly expanded bluegrass's worldwide popularity. Thanks to the success of these trailblazing artists, the bluegrass world will likely see many more similar artists rise to fame and fortune.
Learn a Variety of Bluegrass Styles
Bluegrass has many sub-genres, and a musician could spend a lifetime exploring all of them in detail. While this may seem overwhelming the best way to learn bluegrass is to pick up your guitar, find some chord and lyric sheets, and dive in. The sheer number of chord collections and lyric sheets available online demonstrates the growing popularity and global appeal of bluegrass.