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Practice These Key Mandolin Strum Patterns

Click here for free sample mandolin lessons from Mike Marshall!

mandolin strum pattern

The right hand is everything in mandolin. Whether you’re playing solo or with an ensemble, you need to control what your right hand is doing.

In his lesson on Open Chords here at ArtistWorks, Mike Marshall demonstrates a flowing, strumming relaxed pattern. The pattern is down, down up, down down up. The annotation of the bluegrass standard Mike uses to teach “Nine Pound Hammer” is excerpted below. It shows how the pattern is used in the context of a song.

nine pound hammer mandolin tab

Click here for free sample mandolin lessons from Mike Marshall!

With the first downstroke, you want to focus more on the lower strings. On the first upstroke, focus on the higher strings. That’s your basic two beat folk pattern.

Patterns like this are great for solo playing solo, especially if you are trying to sing and play at the same time.

In his chords video, Mike shows how well the pattern supports a solo rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.”

The (Infamous) Chop Rhythm

mandolin chop rhythm

When you’re fluent enough on the mandolin to play chords up and down the neck, the chopped chord rhythm is an effective tool for playing in group settings, where the high pitch of the mandolin cuts through the ensemble.

The chop requires you to strum down and quickly lift your fingers from the fret board, while still keeping them on the strings. Or, if you are playing chords with open strings, you’ll need to quickly mute the strings with your left ring or pinky finger. This creates a percussive “chop” sound.

Typically, the mandolin plays the role of the snare drum in a bluegrass or folk band, while the bass plays the role of the kick drum, creating a “boom, chic, boom, chic” type of feel (or “boom, chic, chic, boom, chic, chic,” in a waltz pattern).

The key here is to strum and immediately lift your fingers off the fretboard to create a quick, percussive sound. Remember, you are the snare drum (chic). Practice this slowly until you feel like you can speed it up.

You’ll primarily be playing on the offbeats, so it helps to count--play on the 2s and the 4s. Lock into the pulse and push the rhythm along.

The most important thing is to build a strong rhythm with solid timing and a comfortable, relaxed right arm. Your ears and taste will help you find patterns you like. And have confidence in your playing—working with a metronome will also help you along. Good thing for ArtistWorks members is that there's a metronome included on every lesson page so you'll always stay on time as you practice.

mandolin lesson on the right hand with mike marshall

Mike Marshall can teach you everything you need to know about mandolin strumming and a whole lot more. Click here for free sample lessons!

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