Moving from 2 to 3 Finger Chords

  1. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    2 finger chords are so easy and make playing fun. Progressing to 3 finger chords has been about as much fun as a toothache. In fact, I just can't seem to make myself work on 3 finger chords. Has anyone else in this group experienced these same feelings - and succeeded in the 3 finger chord transition? If so, how did you accomplice it?
  2. HonketyHank
    HonketyHank
    I haven't tried very hard. You know why? Because next come the four finger chords.
  3. Swimbob
    Swimbob
    I'm having trouble keeping my fingers from muting the strings when I do three and four finger chords. If I'm chopping it doesn't matter but trying to cross pick or just play a nice ringing chord is not working well for me.

    I don't have especially fat fingers but I just can't figure it out.
  4. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Swimbob, I have that problem unless I place each finger independently. And, of course, there's no time to do that as you're changing chords. Speaking of changing chords, changing from one 3 finger chord to another is so much harder than changing 2 finger chords. Another serious challenge is strumming only 6 strings, as opposed to all strings. I suppose practice, practice, practice is the ultimate answer. I've tried for about 3 years, but can't stick with it, as discouragement sets in each time. If I work on something else, I'm at least seeing progress.

    What a whiner I am! I don't mean to whine. I'm just at a crossroads. Do I abandon 3 finger chords and accept the fact I'll always look like a beginner player - or can one of you Newbies tell me how you overcame the problems I'm having?
  5. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Sherry, if you can't make yourself work on the three-finger chords, listen to yourself. This might just be something where the effort isn't worth the result, and that is just fine. We're a bunch of people of a certain age learning a new skill FOR FUN. No tests, no future paycheck involved, this is something we choose to do for the pleasure of learning something new.

    If you decide to climb this mountain, here are a couple of things to consider. First, for what Swimbob is talking about one thing that can help is looking at the angle of your fingers. Coming down more on the tip and less on the flat of your finger can help get into those tiny spaces without hitting other strings. Bigger fingers have bigger problems, though. Second would be the peculiarities of your fingerboard. How wide, whether it's flat or with a radius, and the way the nut and bridge are cut to space the strings can all make it harder or easier.

    Do you have Marilynn Mair's book The Complete Mandolinist? If you do, there is are some great exercises in there where you do a three-note glide stroke and then the chord. They are fairly simple chordsóno Db minor triads, thank heavensóbut good for working on both right- and left-hand techniques.

    The bane of my mandolin existence is coming across a fingering that specifies using two fingers to play a fifth. What the heck?
  6. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Louise, thanks so much for your response. I guess other newbies haven't had my problem. Maybe I'll repost in the forum.

    My response to what you've written:

    "Sherry, if you can't make yourself work on the three-finger chords, listen to yourself. This might just be something where the effort isn't worth the result, and that is just fine. We're a bunch of people of a certain age learning a new skill FOR FUN. No tests, no future paycheck involved, this is something we choose to do for the pleasure of learning something new."

    I definitely struggle with whether I should pursue 3 finger chords or not. At this stage they definitely reduce my enjoyment of playing. If I can just cross that threshold, though, I know my enjoyment will be enhanced.

    "If you decide to climb this mountain, here are a couple of things to consider. First, for what Swimbob is talking about one thing that can help is looking at the angle of your fingers. Coming down more on the tip and less on the flat of your finger can help get into those tiny spaces without hitting other strings. Bigger fingers have bigger problems, though. Second would be the peculiarities of your fingerboard. How wide, whether it's flat or with a radius, and the way the nut and bridge are cut to space the strings can all make it harder or easier."

    I think I'm pretty good at using my fingertips. Where I get the muting is mostly on the barre chords. I get one clean note, but not 2. I have no clue as to where my fingerboard fits into the criteria you've mentioned.

    "Do you have Marilynn Mair's book The Complete Mandolinist? If you do, there is are some great exercises in there where you do a three-note glide stroke and then the chord. They are fairly simple chordsóno Db minor triads, thank heavensóbut good for working on both right- and left-hand techniques."

    I do not have that book, but will consider getting it. Thanks for the suggestion.
  7. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    "I think I'm pretty good at using my fingertips. Where I get the muting is mostly on the barre chords. I get one clean note, but not 2."

    Sherry, I find this challenging as well. It's just hard to evenly hold down all those strings with one finger. I was thinking maybe my fingers just aren't tough enough yet. Or I haven't figured out exactly where to place them. In any case, I'm trying to focus on the fun aspect. If it starts feeling frustrating, I do something else.
  8. NDO
    NDO
    I’m still working on this transition myself. One thing I think is helping is to gradually add a few songs with chords that simply can’t be done without three or four fingers. Transitioning to F#m still kicks my butt occasionally in Remember When and He Went to Paris, but I can reliably hit Bm, E, D7, B, etc in fun songs like Amie and Tequila Sunrise. They’re fun enough to want to play and sing them every day so it helps keep the motivation up for me.

    I’m still having a hard time making myself use closed chords for G, C, and D though. And a lot of the three finger chords I’m using are open chords as well. But hey, I’m brand new at this so I figure it’s okay to just enjoy myself and not make this too much like work . And I’m definitely finding that my third and fourth fingers are getting better at finding their positions without me glaring at them to tell them what to do.
  9. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Part of the thing is here, and maybe this will help a bit, the reason for wanting to play a "three finger chord" should be examined. 1 finger, two finger, three- or four- ... these chords wouldn't be (or shouldn't be IMO) chosen because of the number of fingers you use, but rather because of the sound you want to make. I've now learned many voicings of mandolin chords (and have many more to learn), but my favorite G chord uses two fingers. I use other shapes for G (like 4-5-5-x or 4-5-5-7) but only if they fit better somewhere for some mechanical or musical reason.

    When learning to play three finger forms, I would suggest starting with one shape. My preference would be the C chord at 5-2-3-0 (or simply 5-2-3-x, no real need to double the E note). That is actually a C5 chord, because it only contains root and 5th (C-E-C-E). But it is a very, very useful chord, I use the shape to move up and down the neck (E string muted) to play everything from Bmaj to Emaj depending on other factors. And definitely gets a lot of use for C, Db and D!

    So if I were to pick that shape, I'd practice it like this: Make the shape, hold it. Play each pair of strings individually, looking for a clear tone on each. If any are muted, contort to make micro adjustments until you can hold it and play each string clearly. Now that is a difficult exercise, and you can't do a lot of it. Don't strain yourself too much holding the chord and making your microadjustments, just try for a bit. Then, keep trying in each practice session but only for very short while. With practice, your brain will make the adjustments over time and you will play the chord much more cleanly than at first.

    There is much more to be said on this subject, but I can't write a book here. In short, playing these chords and getting them to sound good will take effort, time and practice, just like everything else you've tackled up to this point. So if you really want to do it, chip away at it over time. If you don't want to do it, there is no shame in that.

    Any other challenging chord may be tackled in the same manner. This may have been what Marilyn Mair was aiming at with students as well, judging from Louise NM's description above.
  10. Kevin Stueve
    Kevin Stueve
    No future paychecks involved Louise? I don't know. I am pretty sure that my kids have considered paying me to stop playing :D
  11. SOMorris
    SOMorris
    If it is any comfort, I struggle also, Sherry. I know it just takes practice and practice and practice.

    The only thing I feel like I can add is to second Louise's recommendation of Marilynn Mair's book. It is, I think, a good one. Also, just for everyone's information, Ms. Mair has a follow up book. Based on what I found on Amazon, it is not available yet in print form, but can be purchased now for the Kindle.
  12. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    All comments are appreciated. Mark, I'm going to try, as part of my practice over the next few days, to follow the approach you suggested. I presume when you speak of practicing a shape, you mean not for just one chord, but for several using that shape.

    Someone in the forum suggested picking a few songs with just 3 keys, playing those tunes over and over. He suggested starting with D major, but that barre A chord and I are not on good terms, so I'll go with C or G.
  13. NDO
    NDO
    Sherry, when you decide it’s time to make friends with the A chord again... what works for me the best is that if I’m switching between a lot of two finger chords I’ll fret 2-2-0-0 with two fingers, but if I’m using three and four finger chords or if I want to change from 2-2-0-0 to 2-2-4-5 midway through a long A I’ll use just the index finger to press the upper G and lower D string and not worry if either or both of the outer strings gets muted.

    I did find that for me the radius fretboard on the Eastman is way easier to fret barre chords than the flat fretboard on my Rogue.
  14. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    NDO, I found your last statement interesting. My fretboard is flat for sure. Do you find the radius easier to play in general, or is it more a matter of overall quality difference that might make the Eastman easier to play?
  15. NDO
    NDO
    Honestly I don’t know. I think the radius is easier for me (I think it’s a matter of personal preference and you need to try a variety to decide) but you’re correct in assuming my Eastman is set up better than my Rogue (although I did adjust the Rogue after getting Rob’s e-book).
  16. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    NDO, I just did a Google search on flat vs. radius. This subject seems to have come up many times in the Forum. It appears to get down to personal preference between the two.
  17. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    I've got one of each (flat, radius). At this point in my picking career (<1 yr), both are equally tough (and both are equally and professionally well set up). One's narrower than the other, too. So I'm going to go with it's me and I need more practice

    Maybe I'll have a preference later. YMMV
  18. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Sherry: "Someone in the forum suggested picking a few songs with just 3 keys, playing those tunes over and over. He suggested starting with D major, but that barre A chord and I are not on good terms, so I'll go with C or G."

    Sherry, soon after I started learning fiddle tunes from mandolessons, one of the first songs I tried to figure out was Mr. Bojangles in key of C. It was during a practice time (waiting in parking lot while my son attended a meeting) that I found the F chord on mandolin to fit that song: 2-3-3-x through trial and error.

    For practicing a three chord song in key of C I would most often use 5-2-3-0 for C, 2-3-3-x or 2-3-3-5 for F, and 0-0-2-3 for G.

    In the key of G I would most often us 0-0-2-3 for G, 5-2-3-0 for C and 7-4-5-x for D
  19. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    So, Mark, what shapes would you use for D and A? Thanks for the other keys, BTW. I hope to join a jam on Friday night and figure I need to brush up my chording skills in these keys.
  20. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    Sherry, I typically use 2-4-5-x for D and occasionally 7-4-5-x.

    For A, I usually use 2-2-4 or 2-2-4-5. But you could also use x-7-4-5 as well.
  21. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Thanks, Southern Man. I'm wondering about the combination shapes: DGA and ADE.
  22. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    So, for playing in D (DGA), you could use 7-4-5-x for D. Then if you to to an A, you just drop that down one string and play x-7-4-5. You just go from not playing the bottom string to not playing the top string. Then for the G shape, you just use 0-5-2-3. This is basically just moving the 5-2-3 C shape around the fretboard.

    For playing in A, you could play A and D the same way, and add the E at 9-6-7-X. Same shape. I do not play these this way, but if you just wanted to stick to one shape, you could.

    Playing this way is a great way to get used to the idea of moveable chord shapes and is really a pretty good version of Monroe chords, just leaving the pinky to work on. I've been meaning to workshop a version of this, but it just hasn't risen to the top of my list. I've got a number of different chord shapes I tend to utilize, so I would play A-D-E with the 2-2-4-5 A, the 2-4-5-x D and the 4-6-7 E. This would also be one shape three fingered chord moved around as well. I tend to use 1-2-2-4 for the E chord, though.
  23. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Thanks, Southern Man! I've been working on the shapes you and Mark provided. I love the 7 chords, so am thinking about those shapes. Would you - or Mark - use these:

    D7: 5-4-5-X
    G7: 0-0-2-1 or X-3-2-3
    A7: 2-2-4-3
    E7: 7-6-7-X
  24. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    Sherry, the only 7 chords i play with any regularity in my repertoire are A7 and B7, which i play with the 2-2-4-3 for A7 and then slide that up to 4-4-6-5 for B7. I occasionally play the G7, but always in a 0-0-2-1. Any thing else, I would have to look up when I came across it. Looks like you've got one moveable pattern there for your D7 and E7, though.
  25. NDO
    NDO
    Sherry, I’m the most beginnerest of the bunch here so my input is probably not as valuable as most... but most of the songs where I play a lot of D7 I also am playing D, so I have always used 2-0-3-2 for D7 since it’s so easy to drop a finger onto a 2-0-0-2 D. It works really well on a couple of NGDB songs I play (Ripplin’ Waters and Dance Little Jean for example).
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