How to Play Five Easy Mandolin Chords

How to Play Five Easy Mandolin Chords

2017-08-31T15:32:24+00:00 By |Categories: Learning Chords, Mandolin Chords|7 Comments

One of the best ways to begin playing mandolin is by strumming chords along with your favorite songs. But what are chords? Chords are simply groups of notes (or sounds) that are played together by strumming with your right-hand pick all the mandolin strings while holding down certain strings with your left-hand fingers.

As you may already know, there are a lot of chords and for each chord there are many ways to play it, i.e. many variations. So, is there a set of chords that a beginner can play?

Yes there is, and this set of five easy mandolin chords covers the majority of songs and is at the same time easy to play.

 

Playing two-finger “open” Easy Mandolin Chords

The left hand is the difficult one when trying to play chords. So, a good idea is to focus on the simplest chords, i.e the ones that require only two fingers of your left hand. These are the G, C, D, A and E, when played on a specific way.

These simple chords and their chord progressions, i.e. series of chords played sequentially, are a basic part of many songs. Actually, there is always a chord progression in every song and although the mandolin is frequently used to play the melody, it can also be used to accompany the melody, by strumming along with chords and therefore playing or keeping the rhythm.

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The five chords described in here, can be described as open chords, as they include strings that are played unfretted or “open”.

How to practice playing chords

For each chord you try, follow the following steps to ensure that the chord is played properly, after placing your left hand fingers on the fretboard:

  1. Strum first the chord (all strings) once – Notice how it sounds.
  2. Strum now each string separately – Check that no string is muted. If a string is muted or you hear a buzzing sound:
  3. Try slightly changing your fingers position on the fretboard – Is now the sound clearer?
  4. If that does not work, try pressing your fingers harder on the fretboard – Is the sound better?
  5. Strum again the chord (all strings) – Notice how now the chord sound is fuller.
[alert type=”notice”]Note that pressing your fingers harder on the fretboard may hurt a bit at the beginning, but the more you play and practice the less your fingers will hurt. Why? Your fingertips will develop calluses!.[/alert]

Once you understand how to play these easy two finger chords, you can use one of the best tips around to get to the next level. Practice mandolin chords, by struming along recorded songs.

This has two benefits:

  • You will get a good feeling of rhythm.
  • You will see how most songs actually use just a few chords.

Two-finger G Major “open” Easy Mandolin Chords

G Major - Easy Mandolin Chords

This is how you place your left hand on the fretboard:

  1. Index finger on second fret of second string. This way you play the note B on the A string.
  2. Second finger on third fret of first string. This way you play the note G on the E string.
  3. Leave third and fourth string pairs un-fretted.

The G Mandolin Chord described here, contains the following notes:

  • G (unfretted G string)
  • D (unfretted D string)
  • B (2nd fret of A string)
  • G (3rd fret of E string)

Two-finger C Major “open” Easy Mandolin Chords

C Major - Easy Mandolin Chords

This is how you place your left hand on the fretboard:

  1. Index finger on second fret of third string. This way you play the note E on the D string.
  2. Second finger on third fret of second string. This way you play the note C on the A string.
  3. Leave first and fourth string pairs un-fretted.

Note that because the first note is G, we call this chord C/G, meaning that this is a C Major with the first note being G.

The C Mandolin Chord described here, contains the following notes:

  • G (unfretted G string)
  • E (2nd fret of D string)
  • C (3rd fret of A string)
  • E (unfretted E string)

Two-finger D Major “open” Easy Mandolin Chords

D Major - Easy Mandolin Chords

This is how you place your left hand on the fretboard:

  1. Index finger on second fret of fourth string. This way you play the note A on the G string.
  2. Second finger on second fret of first string. This way you play the note F# on the E string.
  3. Leave second and third string pairs un-fretted.

The D Mandolin Chord described here, contains the following notes:

  • A (2nd fret of G string)
  • D (unfretted D string)
  • A (unfretted A string)
  • F# (2nd fret of E string)

Two-finger A Major “open” Easy Mandolin Chords

A Major - Easy Mandolin Chords

This is how you place your left hand on the fretboard:

  1. Index finger on second fret of third and fourth strings. This way you play the note A on the G string and the note E on the D string. Alternatively, you can place your second finger on second fret of third string.
  2. Leave first and second string pairs un-fretted.

Notice that you need to press the 2nd fret on both G and D strings. You can easily do that by using just one finger (the first finger of the left hand). If you think this is difficult, try using instead first and second finger of the left hand.

The A Mandolin Chord described here, contains the following notes:

  • A (2nd fret of G string)
  • E (2nd fret of D string)
  • A (unfretted A string)
  • E (unfretted E string)

As only two notes are played (A and E), we are missing the third note of the chord, which is C#. Therefore this chord is neutral, i.e. can be used as both a Major or a minor chord. Think of it as a simpler version of the A Major chord.

Two-finger E minor “open” Easy Mandolin Chords

E minor - Easy Mandolin Chords

This is how you place your left hand on the fretboard:

  1. Index finger of left hand, on second fret of both second & third string pairs. This way you play the note E on the 3rd string (the D string) and the note B on the 2nd string (the A string). Alternatively, you can use your second finger of left hand, on second fret of second string. This way you play the note B on the 2nd string (the A string).
  2. Leave first string pair un-fretted.

The E mandolin chord described here, contains the following notes:

  • G (un-fretted G string)
  • E (2nd fret of D string)
  • B (2nd fret of A string)
  • E (un-fretted E string)

This chord is an inverted version of the E minor chord, as the bass note is G and not E. Also, we use again one finger to hold two string pairs.

 

 

 

About the Author:

I’m Chris, a mandolin lover from Greece, trained in Music, Mathematics and IT who makes a living on technology but enjoys life through music and arts. Welcome to my adventures!

7 Comments

  1. Ben February 9, 2014 at 00:41 - Reply

    Great job!

    What do the smaller white numbere circle represent?

    P.S. How did you create your cool animation? Did it take long to do? Was it difficult to do?

    Thx,

    Ben

    • Chris February 9, 2014 at 00:55 - Reply

      Hi Ben,
      thanks for your kind words.The smaller white numbered circle on the fretboard represents the fret number, e.g. (3) is the third fret of the mandolin.
      The animation was not that difficult to create, as I used a software called “layerslider”, which is actually a plugin to WordPress, the content management platform that I use for the site.

      Best Regards,
      -Chris

  2. Marc January 1, 2015 at 19:12 - Reply

    Hello-

    Thank you for your work. I believe, However that the “Two-finger E Major “open” Mandolin Chord” as shown will actually produce an E MINOR chord. The open G string provides the minor third.

    Yours truly,

    Marc

    • Chris January 2, 2015 at 00:40 - Reply

      Hi Marc and thanks for this. You are of course right. Although the chord chart describes the chord as Em/G, inside the article it is (was) described by mistake as E major.
      I have corrected the article and now it is described correctly as E minor.
      Thanks Again!
      – Chris

  3. Lauren July 9, 2015 at 06:06 - Reply

    What songs would you suggest for beginners. I would like to learn how to play kids songs, such as wheels on the bus, itsy bitsy spider, etc, for my little ones, but I’m having a hard time finding anything online to learn. Maybe you can help or point me in the right direction of the chords for the mandolin

    • Christos Rizos July 10, 2015 at 11:35 - Reply

      Hi Lauren,
      that is actually a great idea! I am definitely willing to help, and this is what I am thinking:
      what about I create scores/tabs for a few of these songs, just like I did for some Christmas songs in the past?
      ( see this link https://www.themandolintuner.com/portfolio-items/jingle-bells-mandolin-tab/ )

      I guess you would prefer to see chords instead of the melody, right?
      -Chris

  4. Peter Gowen July 6, 2016 at 16:15 - Reply

    An easy song that incorporates all of these chords and a good one to really get involved with is….
    ‘Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World’: Neil Young. The chords for the verse are Em, D & C. The chorus is G, D, C & Em. Then there’s a linking chord (A5) between chorus & verse. It’s quick and easy to learn and great fun to play.

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