Building more easily fretted chord forms on mandola

  1. Explorer
    At some point, in order to really maximize my use of a CGDA-tuned, longer-scale instrument, I started filling a notebook with my own "chord book." I went to one of those websites which allow you to print diagrams of the fretboard showing any given desired scale degree (root, major or minor third, fifth, flat seventh, whatever.).

    Here's one I've used. I had to set the tuning for cello, with tuning C,G,D,A.

    I'd print diagrams for all the chords i wanted to use, in the keys of G and D. (The reason for those two will be revealed in a monpment.)

    Then, I'd look for potential chord forms which followed a few rules:

    Either the root or fifth must be on the bottom string.
    The chord must include the third, as well as the seventh if the seventh is in the chord.
    The chord should have the fingertips used in order, going from index on the lowest string, through to ring or even pinkie on the highest string. However, this isn't critical as long as the chord form can be formed comfortably.

    These rules can be broken, but I've found them to be optimal. I abandon them when a particular chord form jumps out as really easily formed, even if stacked in a less-than-optimal way.

    So, using the chord of G major as an example, looking at the sheet laying out the scale degrees, we see the following chord form starting at the seventh fret:


    The reason I suggested using G and C as the roots is that one can use those resulting forms as movable chord forms for any chord whose fifth or root is either the open note, or the first fretted 6 frets, on the bottom C course. This gets you the maximum bass presence while still leaving the chord firmly anchored. Moving that G major chord form (7-7-9-10) down one half-step at a time gives you the major chords from F# (6-6-8-9) down to C (0-0-2-3).

    Here's a good example of a still easily fingered chord stacked in a less than optimal way, but too easy to discard. This is the chord G7 (G dominant 7th).


    This is 7th-3rd-root-5th from top to bottom, formed 5 (middle finger) 4 (index finger) 5-5 (both fretted with the ring finger).

    I did these charts for major, minor, the various sevenths both major and minor, and the movable diminished and augmented chords.


    There's an amazing series of videos by Tony Lombardo regarding a style of backup rooted in the playing of Count Basie's guitar player, Freddie Green. Green played standard 6-string guitar, but normally only played the two middle strings (D and G) of his guitar, often just playing the third and seventh of the chord. Lombardo investigated applying those chording concepts of Green in the context of playing CGDA tenor guitar, on the two lowest courses (C and G, with the two Gs' oitches identical and the tenor C being a whole step below the 6-string's D). This is a powerful concept for jazz comping, as relatively small movements on the fretboard define big changes.

    Here's a search link which should have his 8-part series.

    I've used the Freddie Green chording concepts on both the bottom two courses, and on the middle two courses with either the root or fifth on the bottom course. The three-pitch chord was used a lot in the playing of Django Reinhardt, due to his having lost fingers in a fire. I first encountered that approach to minimal hand-movement chording and voice leading in the guitar book "Django Reinhardt and the Gypsies" by Ian Cruickshank, and it's proven to be a powerful and useful tool since.

    These suggestions and resources might not be everyone's cup of tea, but hopefully at least one person may find it useful or even inspiring.

    Whatever path you choose, good luck!
  2. Beemer
    This is 7th-3rd-root-5th from top to bottom, formed 5 (middle finger) 4 (index finger) 5-5 (both fretted with the ring finger).

    Not sure why you used that fingering?
    I would have thought to have index on 5 and middle on 4??
  3. DougC
    I've started the same process of gathering useful patterns. However in my case, I want to avoid 3ds and 7ths.And I've found that the progression and or cadence, requires that I use certain 'voicings' to make transition to the next chord easy. The chords need to be in the same position and hopefully use the lowest pitched strings.

    So now I have a little list of 'useful' two or three string chords based on the tune I'm working on. (Klezmer modes require a careful use of 3ds and 7ths. It is often more traditional to avoid them anyway.) Tony Lombardo's instruction is wonderfully clear and easy to understand. Too bad I'm not playing jazz. He's a great teacher.
  4. Explorer
    Beemer, have you tried fretting it? Give it a shot, and see which one works more easily, and which works *less* easily.

    Looking purely at the upper three courses, there's the 4-5-5, which would be easily fretted with one finger on the 4, and a single-finger barre on the remaining 5-5. In fact, one of the movable chord forms, for G as an example, can be formed as 2-4-5-5.

    Using the middle finger for the 4 and the index on 5 as you propose requires the middle finger either wrapping above or below the index fnger used on that 5. To me, that seems pretty twisty and unnecessary.

    That being said, my personal chord book consists of what I came up with as easily applied with *my* own hands. This was after I found that available books had chord forms which didn't fit my particular needs. The great thing is, you can also make decisions based on what works specifically for you.
  5. Explorer
    DougC -

    You do have root-fifth power chords all over the fretboard, requiring just one finger fretting across two courses at the same fret. It'a valid to you to choose to eliminate all thirds and all upper extensions.

    My own choice to have root or fifth on the bottom is to anchor the chord. The third and (if necessary) the seventh are needed to establish the tonality of the chord, at least for my purposes.


    Just to mention something related to one-finger power chords, I once worked on material from former Police guitarist Andy Summers. He was commenting on his personal tastes regarding avoiding thirds in chords, preferring to use a ninth. In the case of a D9-3 chord on mandola, this would be fretted 2-2-2-X using mostly barre chords of this type, one can easily play the song Message in a Bottle on mandola.
  6. DougC
    Ah yes, power chords. They are terrific and dead simple to use. I should have mentioned that I'm also working on 'inner' voicings that make up implied harmonic movements. There is an idiomatic style to modal folk music, klezmer in my case, that requires tasteful use of implied harmony and drones. And simple is always best.

    Like Irish music, klezmer suffers from other genre's choice of accompaniment. I see jazz klezmer, hip hop klezmer, bluegrass klezmer. An amazing amount garbage out there posing as genius...
  7. Explorer
    That sounds interesting, although more specialized than the easily fretted general chord forms this particular topic is addressing.

    Although I don't have any knowledge of that area, there's an area of the Café, with more people and foot traffic, which has more of a focus on that. More than once, I've had to translate the mandolin stuff to mandola, but at least there's the possibility of something.

    I did do a little searching, and found a topic on another forum with someone pursuing klezmer accompaniment on tenor banjo.

    If you do decide to figure out how to get in touch with that person, it will be intriguing to hear where you wind up exploring.

  8. DougC
    Explorer -
    Thanks for the links. The banjo guy is working on the same chord voicing arrangement situation. I may be able to help him on some things. And the Zoom conference, although past the date, (and it does not seem to be available now) includes musicians that I've studied with in Montreal. Small world, huh?
    I appreciate your help!
  9. BlackSwan
    Great information. Thank you ��
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