19 Easy Mandolin Songs For Beginners

The mandolin is just one of many instruments with a strong association with traditional, roots, and folk music. One of the things that makes it unique, though, is its double-course strings, which give the instrument a unique tonal quality.

In this guide, we’ll be looking at a bunch of easy mandolin songs for beginners. Bust out your mandolin because it’s practice time!

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“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan

Song year: 1991

“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is one of those three-chord wonders you pull out when you’ve got nothing else to jam on. The likes of Eric Clapton, Roger McGuinn, Jerry Garcia, Guns N’ Roses, Avril Lavigne, and many others have busted it out on various occasions.

For the beginner mandolinist, it represents an excellent opportunity to practice basic chords and strumming patterns. Of course, if you’re feeling up to it, you could try playing the melody as well.

The song features a moderate tempo, and most of the chords are two-finger chords. The only one that might prove a bit of a challenge for the beginner is the Am chord.

“You Are My Sunshine” by Jimmie Davis & Charles Mitchell

Song year: 1940

I probably don’t even need to tell you that “You Are My Sunshine” has a long history and has been recorded by many artists – 350 to be exact! It’s a great tune to learn for mandolin, banjo, and guitar alike.

Not surprisingly, it’s essentially a three- to four-chord wonder, and it plays very nicely as a traditional, folk, country, or bluegrass song. That leaves plenty of space for the mandolin to shine.

In the video found above, you get to learn how to play the melody, which is very straightforward. I would also work on the strumming, though, for some extra mileage. The more you practice, the better you’ll get!

“Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.

Song year: 1991

Considering the subject matter, I’ve always thought that R.E.M.’s early 90s hit “Losing My Religion” could have been a far angrier, far heavier song. I suppose that wouldn’t have been in keeping with R.E.M.’s musical style, mind you, and the song became huge anyway, so what do I know?

“Losing My Religion” as we know it simply would not be the same without the mandolin, which plays a key role in shaping the sound of the song.

You can cover large sections of the song with simple chording and strumming, but there is some picking as well. Learning to transition smoothly between the two can take beginners a while. So, don’t get frustrated with it if you can’t play it at first. It will very likely take some practice.

If you’re looking for a song where the mandolin is prominently featured, look no further than “Losing My Religion.”

“Maggie May” by Rod Stewart

Song year: 1971

Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” is considered a “perfect” pop song. It’s in the same league as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Hall & Oates.

The thing that resonated was its strong melody, simple but memorable instrumentation, and happy, upbeat vibes, which contrasted with the subject matter. The narrator says he wishes he’d never seen Maggie’s face, so that kind of tells you everything.

Large sections of the song can be covered with simple chording and strumming, which is always good news to a beginner. There are some especially cool mandolin sections towards the end of the song, though, and these make “Maggie May” especially worthwhile.

Of course, as a beginner, you should focus on the strumming sections before you worry about mastering more sophisticated parts.

“Ho Hey” by The Lumineers

Song year: 2012

Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten about the faux folk of The Lumineers. The song truly is about as simple as it sounds. Guitar strums punctuated by “ho” and “hey.”

The good news is that the tune picks up with a bit of mandolin strumming in the first chorus. Again, nothing out of the ordinary, but that is good news for the beginner mandolinist.

Then, the mandolin remains very complementary to the guitar throughout the rest of the song – a good example to follow for all mandolin players.

“Cripple Creek” by Traditional

Song year: Mid-19th century

“Cripple Creek” is a traditional folk song, excellent for acoustic instruments, be it mandolin, banjo, fiddle, or otherwise. You may think you don’t know it, but if you hear the melody there is a very good chance you will recognize it.

The video tutorial shows you how to play the melody, which is very straightforward – perfect for beginners. It also represents a great opportunity to practice your alternate picking, which is an essential technique.

In the video, you can also learn how to play the melody with double-stop harmonies, which can be a little harder, but it sounds great and it makes for great practice.

“Jingle Bells” by James Lord Pierpont

Song year: 1857

It’s no mystery that most Christmas songs feature simple melodies that are easy to play on most instruments, including the mandolin.

Of course, the great thing about any simple song is that you can adapt it any way you want. You can add your spin to it. You can throw some fills in. You can even go off on tangents and solos.

The “Jingle Bells” lesson you’ll find above is admittedly a little more advanced than your average takes on the song. That said, if you’re willing to stick with it, you will learn some excellent techniques.

“Stonehenge” by Spinal Tap

Song year: 1984

A mockumentary on British heavy metal excess, This Is Spinal Tap mostly made people laugh, while it made some cry.

The weird thing about Spinal Tap, though, is they kind of clicked as a band. A few skilled actors (especially Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer) proved that if you had at least some basic facility on your instrument, you too could enter the 80s glam metal arena and sound quite convincing.

Anyway, there’s this progressive rock number they did, known only as “Stonehenge,” a tune that even the band hesitated to retrieve from their archives. The song features the fictional character Nigel Tufnel’s mandolin solo, which sounds kind of like an Irish jig.

Some people say the reason they even picked up the mandolin was that they wanted to learn this solo, and I’ll admit – I was even working on it myself at one point!

It might prove a little harder than your average beginner mandolin tune, but it’s well worth tackling as you continue to improve on your instrument.

“Save Tonight” by Eagle-Eye Cherry

Song year: 1997

Most four-chord songs make for great beginner tunes, and that includes this popular mid-90s alt-rock number.

As with anything, learning to switch between the chords is probably the toughest part for a beginner. The good news is you can mostly play “Save Tonight” with two-finger chords.

This is also a great tune to master if you want to learn to self-accompany. This is a relatively easy song to play and sing, so learning to do both is only to your advantage.

“3AM” by Matchbox Twenty

Song year: 1996

The great thing about many mid to late-90s pop songs was that while they had underlying complexities, at the core, they were very simple. That includes Matchbox Twenty’s “3AM,” which is another four-chord wonder.

Of course, that means it’s a great tune for beginners to learn. The chords – G, C, D, and Em – only require one or two fingers. The strumming could prove a bit of a challenge, but the video tutorial above covers that too.

As with “Save Tonight,” this is a great tune to learn if you’re interested in self-accompanying or even getting others around you to sing along to your strumming.

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