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Mandolin Lessons: Open Chords

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Okay, it's time for chords now.
We're gonna start with the most basic
probably you already learned the G chord.
I'll start you off right here with the
second fret on
the second string, the B note.
And the top note is played with the second
finger on the third fret.
That's your G chord.
It's really simple.
Now the thing about playing chords is your
position is different than playing single
Your thumb is still riding up here, but
for some chords,
your hand may find itself in some crazy
I might even, there are times when I even
will bring the palm up in for
certain kinds of chords or the thumb over.
So all bets are off once you're playing
chords on a mandolin.
Mostly because, again, a mandolin is very
hard to press all the strings down.
It takes a lot of pressure and a lot of
strength from your left hand.
And all the angles have to be different
for each finger when you get into more
complicated chords, but we'll start off
with the simpler ones.
A G chord and a D chord, D chord is the
second fret on the low string and
the second fret on the high string, the
outside strings.
The A, low A note, and the high F-Sharp
I'm gonna just play, oh,
something really simple like, Shortening
Bread, with these two chords.
And if you've never played any music
before, you don't necessarily read music.
One of the simplest things to do, I
remember when I first learning chords,
you change chords on the word of the song,
you know?
[LAUGH] So if you're playing a tune like.
That's where the D chord goes,
right on the the shortening.
The last shortening.
So just practice that.
Just getting from that D to that G.
I would even turn that into an exercise.
Playing like a bar of each.
Just going back and forth so you can get
the hand used to making those moves,
and try and keep a nice, swinging rhythm
with your right hand.
Now we talked a lot about right hand when
it came to playing single notes.
But when you start strumming, then of
course, the hand has to be freer,
and it's moving in a much wider strum
So the pick, the, the hand is no longer
mounted the way it was for single notes.
For single notes,
we were mounted back here with the fleshy
part of the palm behind the bridge.
Soon as we start strumming, we're freed up
Again, the fingers are still curled, nice
and relaxed.
The index finger is curled on the pick,
the thumb goes over it.
No tension allowed anywhere.
here's a couple of really simple strum
Down, down,
and down, down, up, down, down, up, down,
down, up.
When you do the first down,
you're kind of focusing more on the lower
strings, and
when you do the down up, you're focusing
more on the high strings.
That's a general area that we're hitting.
Low, high, low, high.
And again, you have to hold these strings
down, continuously so
it takes a lot of strength.
your basic two beat folk strum pattern.
The other tune we'll do,
our friend Tony Trischka was teaching this
one, so I thought it'd be a nice addition.
You are my Sunshine.
We're gonna use the C chord on this as
well as the G and the D.
So the beautiful thing about the mandolin
is, is it's tuned symmetrically in fifths.
So you have a G chord here.
If you move your fingers just up to the
next pair of strings, voilà,
you got a C chord.
G, C.
Back to G, and then the D, then the G.
So that's all were doing is just lifting
it across.
Here comes the C.
Back to the G.
Back to G.
Coming to the C.
Still hearing that same strum, strum,
diddy, strum, diddy.
Back into C.
Back to the G.
Now if you wanna get a little bit fancy,
you actually pluck the low note.
And then pluck the,
pluck the fourth string, strum down, up,
on the high strings,
pluck the third string, strum down, up, on
the high strings.
You turn the mandolin into almost a
This is what guitar players would do.
it's bass, da, da, bass, da, da, bass.
D chord, same thing,
back to the G chord.
So that's another way of isolating your
right hand and
freeing it up trying to get some,
something a little more interesting.
Now let's try the Nine Pound Hammer.
It's a very common bluegrass tune.
And on the word heavy, you go to a C.
Back to the D and
back to the G.
A G, and
a D, C,
into a G
to the D.
Now I'm getting a little bit chunky.
All right?
This is a trick, this is a little,
left-hand trick.
I'm actually muting with the pinky.
So that it doesn't ring continuously, and
this is if you have a guitar player, and
he is playing a nice ringing sound,
you can play a little more muted, a little
more like a back beat, but
it still kinda has this little bit of folk
Good luck
with those.
Here are some more thoughts about chords.
And just about trying to get a nice groove
You know, a lot of people, when they first
start playing,
they haven't ever figured out how to be
musical with an instrument.
And so, you'll, you know,
you'll start hearing this kind of thing.
So, I'm gonna encourage you to just,
really just focus on playing one chord.
Tapping your foot.
I'm tapping my right foot right now.
And just try and
get that nice swing in your right hand.
Sometimes, even just mute the left hand
and just focus on the right hand.
A lot of times people who just started
playing, the coordination
of getting one hand to do one thing and
another hand to do another thing,
it just takes your attention away from
everything just gets confusing, you know.
So, if you zero it down, and say, well my
groove isn't really happening.
Let me see what's going on here.
And you just try and get that nice swing
in the right hand.
Then you apply it to just,
something simple.
Not trying to play a tune, you're just
trying to play one chord.
And then you're trying to switch chords.
And not have the groove, go away.
That's tricky, believe it or not.
I make it sound easy but I'm a
professional [LAUGH].
So just try and get this part,
the right hand part, really locked, before
adding too much other stuff.
And keep in mind that when you learn a new
chord the groove is gonna probably go
funky, right, when you're trying to make
that new change,
to get your hand in that new position.
So we're gonna go to waltz time now.
And waltz time means three, four.
And what we've just been playing is two,
four time.
One, two, one, two.
One, two, three, four.
One, two, three, four.
They're very similar four, four and two,
We're gonna go now to.
One, two, three, one two, three.
In the pines,
in the pines where the sun never shines.
You shiver when the cold wind blows.
So it's G, D, G.
To C, and back to G.
G, to B to G.
G, C, back to G.
the strum pattern I'm using is bass, strum
strumma, bass strum strumma.
I'll just do it on a G chord.
Bass, it's bass, down, down up, bass,
down, down up.
Sometimes I'll alternate bass notes.
So I'll do the fourth string, strum,
strumma, third string.
Fourth string
Third string.
Two, three.
One, two, three.
One, two, three.
We've now got three chords.
[SOUND] Nicely comfortable.
[SOUND] Hopefully, you've got the G, C and
D [NOISE] working.
I'm gonna show you the E minor chord now.
[NOISE] [NOISE] the first minor chord.
It's a lot like the G [NOISE] the two
finger G.
Except we're going to bar the middle
[NOISE] pair of strings.
Now this is where your hand goes into a
[NOISE] kind
of a slightly different position.
I, I taught you to keep the tips of the
fingers when you're playing melodies you
always use the tips.
But when you get into chords and
especially if you need to bar.
Most people need to lay that finger flat
across so
that it will [NOISE] it will sound those
two middle strings.
And my fingers are really fat on the tips.
So I can actually get the pairs to sound
[NOISE] while using the tip.
I'm still, I'm, I'm placing the finger
between the two pairs of strings.
And it's still sounding.
But depending on the width of your
strings, you and the width of your finger.
[SOUND] You may have to lay it flat like
The thumb goes into a pretty severe tweak.
[LAUGH] It's bent pretty hard because
I'm planning on applying a lot pressure
This muscle is really tense.
The thumb is kind of on the back of the
I don't like to see this too much.
Sometimes, you have to do it.
But in general, I like to still keep some
of that space there and
the hand should look [NOISE] kinda, it
should be pretty.
You know, it shouldn't be, [NOISE] it
shouldn't have too much tweaked out stuff.
Watch that shoulder.
You know, don't bring it up like this.
Again, it's tension.
[NOISE] And [NOISE] chords are hard to
And they take a lot of strength.
So you,
it's just a matter of building that
You can always go back to my finger buster
that's exactly what they're for is to
build strength.
So that when [NOISE] you are end up in a
situation like this,
you aren't saying, dear, golly, what's up
with my fingers?
[SOUND] So this is your E minor chord.
And were gonna do will the cir, circle be
[SOUND] And [NOISE] sometimes, it gets
played with a minor, sometimes not.
But were gonna do it that way here.
C chord.
putting it right there, that's your E
And D, G, back to G.
Going to C.
And G.
And D.
And back to G.
And again, the strum pattern.
I'm actually fancying it up a little bit.
Check this out, folks.
So it's down, down, down up, down up.
Down, down, down up, down up.
don't be afraid to play these patterns
really slow til they get comfortable.
That's fine.
As long as it's swinging.
It should just feel good.
You can make it feel good at any tempo.
Bass note.
Strong bass.
And G.
another tune that a famous, the most
famous bluegrass tune.
Foggy Mountain Breakdown uses this E minor
And usually it's played pretty fast, but
we're going to do the, the slow version.
The hip, cool slow version.
E minor.
Back to G.
Here comes D.
Back to G.
So I'm just noticing there,
when I go in from the G [NOISE] to the E
[NOISE] minor [NOISE] the hand position
really does change.
You know, you are going from the pinky
from the first finger being bent like that
[NOISE] to being barred.
So that's just an exercise into itself.
I would do that, [NOISE] you know,
[NOISE] just [NOISE] practice going back
[NOISE] and sort of analyze the left hand.
What is the left hand having to do
different, you know?
For me, I go from the index finger being
placed up against and that for
the G chord, to it not being there.
Notice how it's now parallel to the fret
in order to do that bar,
I'm assuming you're gonna bar that.
So just going from this to this is a, you
know, it's a hand shift the thumbs
coming down a little bit for the G chord
the thumbs up here along the binding.
And then when you go to the E minor, the
thumb drops back and
the index finger is parallel pointing
So I'm going from the index finger being
up against the nut to it being down here.
And notice how the thumb shifts.
So sometimes if I'm trying to learn a new
set of chords, I'll really,
rather than focus all my attention on the
tips of the fingers and where or
what frets they need to be on, I'll
actually analyze the whole hand.
And try to memorize the shifting of the
whole hand.
And then that, that, that supports the
notes that much better.
And it, it makes you think about, oh, gee.
If I just move the hand, the fingers fall
into place.
All right.
We've just gone through a whole bunch of
chord material.
It's, hopefully, you learned your first
four chords G, C,
D and E minor and I showed you a whole
bunch of tunes there.
So now it' your turn.
I'd love for you to send me one of those
tunes and
show me one of those strum patterns.
I wanna see that your progressing on that
and we can get this exchange going
back and forth and make you a better
mandolin player.