This is a public version of the members-only Bluegrass Mandolin with Mike Marshall, at ArtistWorks. Functionality is limited, but CLICK HERE for full access if you’re ready to take your playing to the next level.

These lessons are available only to members of Bluegrass Mandolin with Mike Marshall.
Join Now

Beginner Mandolin
Intermediate Mandolin
Advanced Mandolin
Additional Tunes & More
Holiday Tunes
Gear & Setup
30 Day Challenge
Lick of the Week
Tune of the Week
«Prev of Next»

Mandolin Lessons: The Left Hand

Lesson Video Exchanges () submit video Submit a Video Lesson Study Materials () This lesson calls for a video submission
Study Materials Quizzes
information below Close
information below
Lesson Specific Downloads
Play Along Tracks
Backing Tracks +
Written Materials +

+Beginner Mandolin

+Intermediate Mandolin

+Advanced Mandolin

+Additional Tunes & More

+Holiday Tunes

+Lick of the Week

+Tune of the Week

Additional Materials +
resource information below Close
Collaborations for
resource information below Close
Submit a video for   

This video lesson is available only to members of
Bluegrass Mandolin with Mike Marshall.

Join Now

information below Close
Course Description

This page contains a transcription of a video lesson from Bluegrass Mandolin with Mike Marshall. This is only a preview of what you get when you take Mandolin Lessons at ArtistWorks. The transcription is only one of the valuable tools we provide our online members. Sign up today for unlimited access to all lessons, plus submit videos to your teacher for personal feedback on your playing.

CLICK HERE for full access.
The left hand,
we're gonna talk about the left hand.
But we're not gonna forget about the right
hand, folks.
Again, the right hand is the most
important, but you do play with two hands.
So, here we go.
[SOUND] The left hand.
Again, it's all about relaxing.
You don't want any tension anywhere.
On the mandolin, you know, it's actually
pretty hard to hold
down these strings because there's pairs
of them.
There's a lot of tension.
Twice as much as say, on a violin or on a
guitar, really.
So be careful that you're the action
[NOISE] on your mandolin,
the height of the stings off the
fingerboard is not too high.
I keep mine [NOISE] fairly low.
But if you're feeling a lot of pain, just
pushing down on the strings,
I would lower it.
Especially, for those of you who haven't
been playing for very long.
I mean, you want it to be fun.
You know, [LAUGH] just you don't want to
have a miserable experience.
And there's all kinds of things you can do
to set up the bridge height or
go with a lighter gauge string so that you
can play the thing.
Because unless you can press the strings
down really [NOISE] and hold them,
you're not gonna be able to get a good
[SOUND] You know, if you're getting a lot
of this sound or a buzzing sound or
it's just the notes just don't ring, it
could be that your action is too high.
So, I don't, mandolins that.
Playing a mandolin it's tuned a lot like a
violin [NOISE] and
we actually hold our hand very similar to
the way violinists hold theirs.
[SOUND] Violinists are taught to hold the
violin like this,
with the, this nice little space here
between the thumb and the and the neck.
And you definitely want that.
You want the thumb to ride along the top
edge of the fingerboard.
[SOUND] And cuz you don't want to,
you don't wanna get the thumb down on the
Cuz you get this very bizarre angle here.
This is something classical guitarists
will do sometimes.
But as mandolin players, it's better for
us to have that thumb right along that top
ridge and you also don't want the palm of
the hand to be up against the fingerboard.
Because you just don't have any ability to
really move the fingers very freely.
As soon as you get the thumb there,
there's a very natural mo,
motion that happens.
[SOUND] And also the fingers should be
coming at an angle to
the fingerboard to the, I mean, to the
You don't want the fingers to be parallel
to the frets.
You want them to come in like this.
And I'm usually pretty conscious of what's
happening with the knuckle of
the index finger.
That knuckle I rest just at the outside
edge of the nut.
Right on the edge of the neck.
And then that gives me a tiny bit of
[SOUND] But getting back to what I said in
one of the earlier lessons.
Make sure your left hand is not holding up
holding up the, the neck of the mandolin.
And that has as much to with what's
happening with your legs and
the position of the mandolin in your arm
as it does with anything else.
So get the mandolin really stabilized so
that this hand is free to do whatever.
Then, there you are.
[SOUND] So that's your left hand.
And some of you probably already play.
So, go back and play some of the things
that you already can play and
see if, if, if the consciousness about
this position makes any sense to you.
But again, do not forget about the right
[LAUGH] As you start getting' your brain
focused here and your eyes focused here.
Always come back to that right hand
[NOISE] and
what kind of sound am I making?
Am I getting a good tone?
How's my picking going?
Always keep a consciousness
here while you're trying to change
something in the, in the left hand.
[SOUND] So here's a couple of really
simple exercises as a way of just checking
in on the fingers.
Cuz basically, playing any string
it's about having independence of the
fingers so that they can move freely and
they can do anything you're asking them to
And as we start to play pieces, a lot of
mandolin players, they first play chords.
[SOUND] And to play chords, your fingers
are really stationary.
They're really static.
You're holding one position for a while.
You're pressing for a long time [NOISE]
you can develop a kind of like stiffness
in the hand.
And it's not until we start playing single
notes that we're asking the fingers
to be agile, to be loose and to be able to
play in every possible combination.
So I've developed some exercises for this.
And they're kind of non musical, but to me
they're really fun because they enable us
to check in on what, what is the hand
Am I able to play these simple little one
finger exercises and
get a good sound and they're fun for
driving your family members crazy too.
If they need, if they need a little abuse.
So I will play a couple of simple
exercises here.
[SOUND] Just the opened G string.
And the 2nd fret.
And here we're,
we're playing down up with the right hand.
And the fingers just, [NOISE] you know,
open 2nd fret.
[NOISE] couple of things to think about.
Of course, that's space there.
Making sure that this is not angled in
some bizarre way.
Making sure the thumb is on top of the
finger board.
And making sure the index finger is
touching on that joint,
right at the edge of the nut.
And make sure you're using the tip of
the finger and not, you're not holding the
finger flat,
[NOISE] the fingers are not parallel to
the fret.
They're coming at it at an angle.
And also that your finger's not having to
raise too high off of the string.
It should be hovering right above
the string [NOISE] ready for action.
Then you go to the next string,
do the same thing.
And these are very simple.
But it's always shocking to me [LAUGH]
even with players who have been playing a
long time.
How, how difficult some of this stuff can
We then start doing some very systematic
looking at all the different frets.
For mandolin,
the kind of rule of thumb is that your 1st
finger is in charge of the 1st 2 frets.
Your 2nd finger's in charge of the, the
3rd and 4th frets.
Your 3rd finger is in charge of the 5th
and 6th and
then your pinky comes into play at the 7th
Sometime, the pinky will come in at the
[NOISE] But for this exercise, it's 2
frets [NOISE] per finger.
[NOISE] That's what we're gonna be doing
[NOISE] in general.
So, but I would just start with some
simple exercise like this.
O and 2.
Four times on each.
Then we're gonna do O and 3.
So that's your 2nd finger.
really get that 2nd finger gets a workout.
Again, not raising too high, none of this.
Make consciousness of the thumb.
Then we're going to do [NOISE] O and 5.
We're gonna use our
3rd finger on the 5th fret.
this takes a little more exercise, it
takes a little more strength.
It's because you're going up to a part of
the string that's
higher off the fingerboard.
then we're gonna use the pinky at the 7th
fret, that's the hardest one.
And what you're, what's happening is you,
you're checking in on the muscles in the
fingers and then, and how the,
how the hand is gripping the neck to do
each of these exercises.
And is it, there's, is there some weird
tension somewhere.
Is there a way to release the tension and
get, and
get things calmed down and relaxed and
still get the nice clear tone?
What happens a lot is as we're playing a
tune and
we're kinda in the groove, it, sometimes
we'll just overlook the fact that we're,
we're missing notes or some note is not
sounding good.
And the, the best players I know are the
ones who can be super conscious and
honest and, and be able to say, hey, wait
a second, I'm, I'm going.
I'm not really playing those two notes
very clearly.
Let me slow this thing down [NOISE] and
zero in on the little area that's giving
the trouble.
And then maximizing your practice time.
So that you only practice the stuff that
needs work and not just playing the tune
through and always making that same silly
mistake in that one zone.
[SOUND] But [NOISE] I'll continue now with
a few more of these.
I call them finger busters.
[NOISE] we're gonna now place the 1st
finger on the 2nd fret.
[SOUND] And it's gonna become stationary.
And we're going to play [NOISE] with the
2nd finger on the 3rd fret.
And the 2nd finger on the 4th fret also.
then we're gonna play on the 5th fret with
the 3rd finger.
And the 6th fret with the 3rd finger.
Again, each finger is in charge of 2
And then [NOISE] the 7th fret gets the
pinky [NOISE] and the 8th fret also.
And then you walk that across the whole
fingerboard [NOISE] to the D string,
[NOISE] you're playing 2 and 3 [NOISE] 2
and 4.
I'm thinking about that thumb [NOISE]
making sure it's where it needs to be.
Making sure there's that space there.
Making sure the wrist is not doing some
goofy thing like this.
Keeping the thumb on the top part of
the fingerboard.
Keeping this index finger [NOISE]
anchored [NOISE] at the [NOISE] just
behind the nut.
2 and 5.
2 and 6.
Again, always holding this down [NOISE]
and this gets painful.
So [NOISE] if it does,
I shake it out this way.
Shake some blood in there.
Never push yourself if you ever feel any
pain at all.
Let it relax and
don't, don't push to the point of pain cuz
you, you can hurt yourself.
[NOISE] So that you take that across all
four strings.
And now [NOISE] we're gonna mount the 2nd
finger on the 4th fret.
[SOUND] And we're gonna play the 4th and
5th fret, 5th fret with the 3rd finger.
then we're going to use [NOISE] 4 and 6.
4 and 7.
And 4 and 8.
And then we're gonna take that acrossed.
you're building this kind of independence.
You can bring the tempo up a little bit.
But not too fast.
Keep it slow,
because you also want to be conscious of
the right hand.
Am I getting the tone.
You know, am I really pushing the face of
the mandolin or am I getting that kinda
stringy sound.
You want that nice dark fat tone.
Now, [NOISE] we do the dreaded 4th, 3rd
and 4th finger.
It's the one everybody hates, but hey, why
Let's go for it.
[NOISE] So 3rd finger on the 5th fret.
[SOUND] Little finger on the 6th fret.
5 and 7 until the fin, pinky comes out.
Then you walk that across.
But this is good stuff.
This is gonna serve you well.
When you play those Texas fiddle tunes.
You're just building the muscles that
it'll take and training the fingers to
really be independent.
[NOISE] Another way to play these
exercises is instead of [NOISE] staying
on one string all the way up.
We play two fingers [NOISE] and
then we go to the next string [NOISE]
right away.
And you can come back.
And of course,
I'm doing [NOISE] four times on each
You could do two times.
Or one time.
Or you go up.
And come back.
of course, you walk that through all the
various combinations of fingers.
And your, your spouse will have a talking
with you.
But I hope this gives you some insights
into the left hand.
Here are a couple other tips,
to think about with the left hand.
Make sure that you're really using the tip
of the finger to press this string down.
And not, you're, you're not using the flat
part of the finger.
The, not the flesh, fleshy part rather
the actual tip where you have your callus
and then.
Make sure that you're not pushing too hard
into the string.
A lot of students that I've had are, are
really using a lot of
pressure on that right hand and then that,
that creates fatigue.
There's a certain place where the string
won't sound.
And then there's a place where it buzzes.
And then just beyond that is the place
where you get a nice clear tone.
If you push harder, like I'm really
pushing in now,
you're not gonna get any more sound, you
It's not gonna do anything except make you
So, try to find where that magic spot is
where the string doesn't buzz.
You know, you don't want the buzzing
sound, you want the clear tone, but
then feel how that feels physically in
your hand, and, and
be sure to not go beyond that.
Likewise on the right hand, don't, don't
kill the strings.
You're trying to get a big sound, but at
certain point it's just gonna buzz.
So, find that magic spot where, where it
feels comfortable.
And also about practicing really spend
trying to find the, the magic spots where
you, where you actually need the work.
A lot of times people will pickup the
mandolin, you've had a hard day at work.
You're like, oh God, I just wanna play.
And of course, that's fine.
And you should play and it should be fun.
But then, typically, you get five minutes
into playing something,
there comes that little hard spot.
Try to find time to work on that, and
it's usually one of these little, little
exercises I gave you.
It's either the left hand that's not
comfortable making some little move or
it's the right hand.
And if you zero down your attention, you
can usually zero it down to like,
going from one note to another note and
that's where the problem is.
And it has something to do with how you're
turning your hand or
you need to lean in or you need to move
Or your pick direction is wrong right at
that moment and it's forcing your right
hand to do something that's a little
upside down for a moment.
So straighten that one problem out and
then the whole tunes gonna, gonna flow.
All right, well I just gave you a whole
lot of information there about
both the right hand and the left hand.
And I'd like you now to please send me a
of you playing both of these exercises.
Both the right hand.
Where you were playing all
the different combinations of string
combinations with the right hand,
just open string exercises.
And then the left hand exercises using all
the different finger combinations.
Like we did earlier.
Just wanna see how you're doing.
And that's one of the great things about
this website, and
I hope we can send you down the right path
and straighten you out.