View Full Version : Playing out of chord positions

Apr-01-2008, 3:41pm
There have been several posts lately discussing the Monroe style of mandolin (there was even talk in a Compton thread) of playing out of chord positions.

Could someone please explain what that means in some detail? Also any books, DVD's, tunes, etc. out there that demonstrate this?



Apr-01-2008, 3:52pm
I aint' no expert, but wouldn't it mean if you are fingering a chord, & then from there taking a break based on the notes in the chord?

Walter Newton
Apr-01-2008, 4:03pm
Check out "Bluegrass Up the Neck" by Niles Hokkanen.

Apr-01-2008, 9:28pm
Todd Collins "Classic Bluegrass Solos for Mandolin" Several songs that utilize playing out of the chord
The Mandolin of Bill Monroe, vol 1-DVD Watch closeups of Monroe's playing.
Niles Hokkanen "Bluegrass Up the Neck"

Apr-04-2008, 2:59pm
Fretboard roadmaps will give you some images of the interrelationships of the notes in terms of chords/arpeggios
and double stops/diatonic harmony.

[pg 25 has a chart error on the F grid picture,
post-it note to the rescue!]

Apr-04-2008, 3:35pm
I tend to think of picking as either being scale based or chord-based. Just 2 different ways of coming up with a point of reference so that you know where the good notes are likely to be found. I like picking out of chord shapes cause I'm a pretty sloppy picker. If you accidentally hit some extra strings while holding on to a chord shape you're likely to play something that sounds harmonious.

Play a standard G chop shape anywhere on the neck, now start doing downstrokes on the A and E strings only, keeping your index and bird fingers locked in right there where they are. Keep downstroking and pick up the ring finger and pinky and see if you can't find some purty notes down there on the A and E string with them. Throw in some hammers and slides and you're liable to bump right into the Man of Constant Sorrow. That's the general idea. Keep as many fingers as possible holding on to the chord shape and move the others around to find melody and harmony notes. Walk and slide from one chord to the other as you move through the chord progression. Get comfortable with it and you can improvise something that sounds melodious over almost any tune they throw at you, once you've identified the chord progression.

Apr-04-2008, 4:43pm
I play out of chord position most of the time. Mess with it. Do you chop along the rhythm using standard chop chords?

If so, try picking out of that chord position instead of chopping. All the notes in the chord are generally in the melody, so the melody is in there some place. Playing out of chord position enough and you'll find the patterns that work to make the melody, if that makes sense?

Apr-04-2008, 8:41pm
I'd suggest both the Mandolin of Bill Monroe videos....the second one where Sam Bush breaks down the tunes would be just as helpful.

When I try to improvise a break and begin by thinking either "chord form" or "scale form", I find that I tend to play stock licks that I know will work but that may have little relationship to the melody. Monroe played out of chord shapes in a way that quoted, suggested or complemented the melody.

It's all about the melody.

It's all about the melody.

It's all about the melody.

If I say it often enough it will eventually become second nature.

Ken Olmstead
Apr-04-2008, 9:09pm
I think of it as learning the relavent scale that resides under the chord shapes or "grips." In Bluegrass it would include learning the "G" blues pentatonic scale notes right where your hand is positioned when playing the "G" chop chord (like picksnbits pointed out.) If you learn licks and riffs around these chords and avoid open strings they are very moveable and can be used in every key. The basic blugrass formula would be to play the G blues pentatonic scale while the G chord is happening. When the progression switches to "C" your grip will change and the C pentatonic scale will be right under you fingers as it was in G. Then again in D. It is hard not to sound like bluegrass with this formula. Monroe used this very often to great effect. Also as pointed out, when playing this way you wind up loading your solo with chord tones which outlines the chord stucture closely and is quite pleasent to the listener.

Andy Statman, in his book "Jazz Mandolin" starts with bluegrass and this idea of playing out of chord shapes and progresses the idea to very sophisticated jazz stuff. It is a great way to visualize where you are going when "taking a break."

The other folks that responded gave some other really good resources to investigate (of course!) Have fun on the journey! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Apr-07-2008, 2:40pm
Another helpful thing may be to consider the sets of "double stops" that make up the chords. For example with the full G chop chord you have 3 sets of double stops to work with. From low to high they are (of course) frets 7 and 5 on the low strings, 5 and 2 on the middle strings, and 2 and 3 on the high strings.

A simple way to start a break is to "pick it up" from the 7-5 double stop (again in G). However, this is most easily done using your index and middle fingers, and so you are not then fingering the whole chord.

Ah well, I hope this makes sense (and helps)!