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How to Use Open Mandolin Chords

open mandolin chords

Let's talk about open mandolin chords. Some of the first chords you learn when playing any stringed instrument are open chords. As their name implies, these chords include open strings, or strings that are not being fretted. Later on, you’ll learn how to barre them, eliminating those open strings that might not fit well into a new key.

These types of chords, typically known as closed or barre chords, all use open chords as their foundation, so it’s important to learn these before attempting anything more complex.
When learning open chords on your mandolin, It’s a good idea to learn basic major and minor chord patterns in the open position. Anything and everything you will ever play will branch from these basic concepts.

Instead of jumping in and learning all the chords, some people do better learning them in sections and most efficiently being able to incorporate them into song. At its root, a song consists of a basic chord progression that involves at least 3 of these chords.

open mandolin chords 2

Although, there are many progressions that include 4 chords or more. One of the most common chord progressions is known as I-IV-V-I.

This is based on a numeral system in which each number correlates to a note in whatever scale you’re playing in. In G-major, for example, G is I, A is II, B is III, C is IV, and so on. In this progression, the chords correspond to G-C-D-G, all major.

Start with the open G chord. Place your index finger on the 2nd-string, 2nd-fret while placing the middle finger on the 1st string, 3rd-fret. Strum every string to hear what this sounds like. Next is the C-chord. This follows the same pattern as the G-chord, but moved up to the next set of strings.

Place your index finger on the 3rd-string, 2nd-fret while placing your middle finger on the 2nd-string, 3rd-fret. Once again, strum every string.

Next is the D-chord. This one is a different pattern placing the index finger on the 4th-string, 2nd-fret while placing the ring finger on the 1st-string, 2nd-fret. Once again, strum all four strings.

mandolin op[en chords

By playing these chords in order, from G, to C, to D, and back to G, you’ll start to hear what sounds like the chords to a song.

Of course, the more chords you know, the more progressions you can play. Another very common progression is ii-V-I, which incorporates a minor chord.

To play this in C, you’ll need to know D-minor. This is very similar to the D chord you just played, but instead, you should position your index finger on the 1st-string, 1st-fret and put your middle finger on the 4th-string, 2nd-fret.

My moving one note down by just a one fret, you’ve turned a major chord into a minor chord. Play this with the chords you learned above, in the order of Dm, G, and C, and you’ll start to hear another recognizable progression. 

Once you’ve gotten a handle on the various open chords, you’ll be able to play all kinds of progressions in many different keys. It’s just a matter of practice!

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