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Thread: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

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    Default Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    I'm just starting out and going through a book that is good so far called "Mandolin Primer" by Bert Casey.

    In this book he starts out right into the 4 finger G chord which I must say is not easy at all.

    But a lot of other books I see show two finger chords. I've ordered Erbsen's book for example and he teaches the two finger chords.

    My question is which do you suggest to start with and why? Could one only play two finger chords and actually play music with others or would that not be considered acceptable?

    I've read that the mandolin 'chop' is some how associated with the harder chords. Is that accurate? Can you not do the mandolin chop just fine with the two finger chords?

    Thanks


    AcousticBuckeye

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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    Imo, a chop is more of a sound than a shape. Yes, the full-fingered 7-5-2-3 shape is often called a chop chord. But you can chop with 2-finger chords just fine. Just gotta do the mute thing (I get that with fingers 3 and 4 of the left hand, or just hitting the 2 strings being fretted).

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    I may be old but I'm ugly billhay4's Avatar
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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    Two finger chords are just fine for playing with others, and are preferred in some forms of music.
    The chop is a four finger method primarily. It consists of striking the strings and quickly taking the pressure off. Produces a percussive sound that is used in playing rhythm backing up others. Very prevalent in bluegrass music.
    I'd start with two finger chords and learn good rhythm and timing. You'll want to move on to more complicated chords naturally when you get that under control.
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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    Acoustic Buckeye: In case this helps you understand the relationship between 2 and four finger chords ... the 2 finger chords can be visualized as just part of a 4 finger chord, in which the nut acts as the fretting fingers for the "open strings." So the traditional 2 finger "c" chord--the D string fretted at the second fret, the A string fretted at the third fret--is actually a chord form in which the fingers form a bar two frets behind that D string finger. You can move that shape up and down the fretboard, which you can't with a two string chord.

    I'm just working this all out now, and struggling with what you're struggling with. I personally find it easier to identify movable patterns than to say, "OK, I'll play C this way here, and that way there, and that other way over there." Too confusing for my too few remaining brain cells.
    belbein

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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    Belbein - I do understand how the open strings represent notes within the chord. Just trying to understand the best approach to learn chords first. Based on the posts so far I think it makes sense to go with the two finger chords and grow into the other chords as needed.

    Acoustic Buckeye

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    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    Two-finger chords are (obviously) easier to learn than four-finger chords. So it makes sense to start there and get some time on the mandolin first, developing rhythm and such, before moving on. But I would strongly recommend learning the four-finger chords as quickly as possible. I've seen several people get complacent using their two-finger chords and develop an unwillingness to move on to the "hard" stuff, since they're making do with easy chords.

    And besides, even though you can simulate a chop with a chord that uses open strings, it still just can't sound the same as a good old-fashioned closed-position chop chord. There is no substitute for the real thing there, where all four fingertips are doing their job.

    Learning the easy chords like C-0230, G-0023, D-2002, A-2200, E-1220, and others, is a good start. A good transition into chop chords, then, would be changing your C from 0230 to 5230. That shape (523X) becomes a movable chord. The easy A chord should transition from 2200 to 2245, which also becomes a movable chord. Once you can play those two A chords easily, then move on to the more difficult 7523 chop-chord shape. I also think a good transition into chop chords is playing F-5301 and F#m-6402. These start to teach your hand to reach out and flex like it needs to do for chop chords.

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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    If you will be playing something other than bluegrass, I recommend going for the 2 finger positions and their respective closed positions first, which in my opinion blend with/mimic guitar chords better for more popular styles of music.
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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    Ultimately you should master the two main four finger major chords. They get easier up the neck. It just takes a bit of practice.

    f-d
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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    And, of course, don't forget the _three_ finger chords!

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    Registered User Greg H.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    It depends entirely on what kind of music you're playing. In bluegrass the chord is only heard for a split second and then muffled....here the to mandolin is providing the snare drum part. In this using either the 4 finger chord or muffling the open notes (as AlanN suggested above). In many other cases, however, the 2 fingers chords work very well (in some of Tim O'Brien's non-bluegrass, more celtic or folk, tunes. for example)
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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    I have to confess to often using my left thumb on the G strings for certain chords ... apparently this is not universally approved practice.

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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    IMHO any method book that starts at the very beginning with a G chop chord is ridiculous. Not every mandolin player needs it. A lot of players can't do it comfortably including me. I think the G chop chord was invented by people with Jolly Green Giant sized hands. Mine are on the smallish side so I struggle with it. But I don't play bluegrass and get along just fine without it. I will admit that most players who work on it get it eventually. But starting out with it is like trying to teach calculus to someone who hasn't learned their multiplication tables yet. I see this as a fine way to discourage potential mandolinists.
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  19. #13

    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    All - Thanks so much for the replies. It's been very helpful. I now understand why the G chord chop is important and that it takes all four fingers to do the muting that essentially makes that sound possible. So does make sense to get to that eventually. But for now I'll concentrate on two finger chords and possibly follow Tobin's advice to get the fingers stretching well over time.

    Again thanks all for the great posts

    Acoustic Buckeye

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    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    I think the G chop chord was invented by people with Jolly Green Giant sized hands. Mine are on the smallish side so I struggle with it.
    I'm not exaggerating when I say I have tiny hands; I've never met an adult male with smaller hands than me. But I can still play chop chords easily. It's not really about hand size; it's about correct form and getting the fingers arched. Anyone can learn them and play them well, but I think there is a large mental hurdle that many folks have a hard time getting over.

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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    Chop chords are primarily for bluegrass and grass related music. If that is your thing, you need to learn them. If not, the four finger configurations are good to learn at some point, but perhaps not on the top of your list at the moment.
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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    learning the four finger chop chord is not just for bluegrass! Sure, it's widely used (abused) in bluegrass, but those finger positions do relate to the scale and are of value in knowing what you're doing along the fretboard. It just doesn't make sense to rule out the closed form chords, 'cause you don't play bluegrass! I mean where are you going to find a Bm if you focus on two finger chords?

    I never play bluegrass, but use four finger chords often. They're twice as good as two finger chords, eh?

    f-d
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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    Point taken. There is nothing that is not worth learning. Its all good.

    Thing is that, IMO, they are sometimes not the most beautiful sounding chord. The four finger G chop chord, to my year is not anywhere as pleasing and pretty as the two finger open G, or several other Gs.

    The main advantage of the four finger chops chords, if you are not chopping, is that they are portable, like barre chords; they can be moved anywhere up and down the neck. Further if you remove the top or bottom note and make three finger chords, that can be moved across the neck as well. More degrees of freedom.

    And four finger chop chords are a good source of double stops if you remove even more notes.

    So they are worth learning. But if you are not going to chop, there are easier and prettier chords out there IMO.
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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    IMHO any method book that starts at the very beginning with a G chop chord is ridiculous. Not every mandolin player needs it. A lot of players can't do it comfortably including me. I think the G chop chord was invented by people with Jolly Green Giant sized hands. Mine are on the smallish side so I struggle with it. But I don't play bluegrass and get along just fine without it. I will admit that most players who work on it get it eventually. But starting out with it is like trying to teach calculus to someone who hasn't learned their multiplication tables yet. I see this as a fine way to discourage potential mandolinists.
    I've been teaching a long time and I would agree that presenting the G chop chord on it's own would be an odd choice. But there is value in presenting a variety of chords initially. The way I see it, a worthy goal is to understand enough theory to be able to build chords on your own. So looking at several ways of making the same chord right from the outset might not be so great for the hands but it is good for the brain.

    Anyone who learns how to play well eventually winds up being self-taught to some degree. After many years of trying to get better at teaching, I find myself believing that my main task is to help people learn how to think about music, how to de-mystify as much of it as I can and how to help them take ownership of the process. So, while I might advise a beginner to put more time in on the chords they can play without difficulty and work on developing good rhythm, I would also introduce other chord shapes fairly early on as well.

    The thing that beginners find interesting about the open two-finger G and the four-finger chop G is that they use the same notes, just in different places on the fretboard. This gets to the point that not all G (or whatever) notes sound the same. Even those in the same octave have a different sound depending on where on the fretboard they are played. The mandolin has a relatively short scale so you want to be able to take advantage of the variety of tonal textures it does offer, so the instrument doesn't wind up sounding one-dimensional.

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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    The thing that beginners find interesting about the open two-finger G and the four-finger chop G is that they use the same notes, just in different places on the fretboard. This gets to the point that not all G (or whatever) notes sound the same. Even those in the same octave have a different sound depending on where on the fretboard they are played. The mandolin has a relatively short scale so you want to be able to take advantage of the variety of tonal textures it does offer, so the instrument doesn't wind up sounding one-dimensional.
    This is it right here. The players I admire get different voicings for the same chord, many times changing the shape throughout a number, but staying on, as example, a G chord. Dempsey Young, David Grisman, Aubrey Haynie, others do/did this.

    At one time, I came up with 11 different ways to finger a G chord. Great fun.

  28. #20

    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    Honestly I spent the first couple weeks sitting in my recliner holding chop chords it hurt like crazy at first but over time it stops completely its something most if not mandolin players have to overcome. Its just like working out at the gym when you run 5 laps at first you'll be out of breath and extremely tired but over time you gain strength in that. To just ignore them as long as possibly would be horrible mistake in my oppinion.

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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    The main advantage of the four finger chops chords, if you are not chopping, is that they are portable, like barre chords; they can be moved anywhere up and down the neck. Further if you remove the top or bottom note and make three finger chords, that can be moved across the neck as well. More degrees of freedom.

    And four finger chop chords are a good source of double stops if you remove even more notes.

    So they are worth learning. But if you are not going to chop, there are easier and prettier chords out there IMO.
    Bingo! And I think that many new players learn the two-finger open chords early on, and like the sound of them, so they stick with them while ignoring the other possibilities. Open, ringing chords can sound great but they are very limited. The three- and four-finger chords are important shapes as the base position for double-stops and arpeggios, and a mandolin player who is trying to widen his range of playability will never discover this if he sticks with two-finger open chords.

    And on top of that, I often do find that three- or four-finger chords sound better than open two-finger chords, depending on the context. Like the C-chord shape I mentioned earlier. An open 0230 (or 0233) C-chord is fine, but the lowest note of the chord is the fifth, not the root. If I'm playing a tune in the key of C and looking to resolve the end of the tune to a nice rich sounding chord, I usually prefer to play the 5230 shape so it has the root as the lowest note. It just sounds better to me. But for a G or A chord, it's hard to beat the two-finger chord shapes since they contain the root as the lowest note of the chord. If it's a full, rich chord sound you're after, that is. I will often play a G-chord at the end of a phrase where I don't want it to be a big open chord because it just isn't called for in that context, so I'll use something like a X523 shape (the G-chop shape without the top string). It has the root as the lowest note, so it sounds pleasant, but it's not a big 'finishing' chord, if that makes any sense.

    Quote Originally Posted by mandolirius
    Anyone who learns how to play well eventually winds up being self-taught to some degree. After many years of trying to get better at teaching, I find myself believing that my main task is to help people learn how to think about music, how to de-mystify as much of it as I can and how to help them take ownership of the process. So, while I might advise a beginner to put more time in on the chords they can play without difficulty and work on developing good rhythm, I would also introduce other chord shapes fairly early on as well.
    Well said. That is exactly how I think of it as well. You can teach people all the chord shapes out there, but they aren't really going to get the full benefit of them unless they take ownership of the process and start experimenting with what they can do with these chords. Like taking parts of them for double-stops in melody playing. It just requires a lot of noodling around and improvising on the part of the student. You really can't teach someone to experiment; they have to go through that discovery process on their own. And once they do enough of it and start to realize the importance of closed-position chord shapes (and scales, for that matter), it opens a whole new world. But they'll never get there if they continue playing only two-finger chord shapes.

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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    Ok guys point taken about chop chords. Not just for bluegrass. Versitile. Movable up and down the fret board. Different chord voicings. Yadda yadda. All true. But I think my point was missed somewhat. We are talking about a beginners book that STARTS with the g chop chord! Seriously? I too have a long teaching career. Not mandolin but violin and other orchestral strings. Now just imagine if I told my 6th grade beginning violinists that yes the book says to play in first position but thats no good because we dont want to play any open strings because you cant do vibrato that way so we are going to play everything in second third fourth and fifth positions so we can start off doing every note with vibrato because you have to be able to do all of that if you ever hope to play anything worthwhile. Now kids I know you just started playing today and you cant do all that yet but just keep practicing it over and over and you will eventually get it.

    Now if you know anything about violin that sounds ridiculous. But it more or less the same arguement being given for starting a beginning mandolin player with a g chop chord. I heard a story from a fellow musician who attended a "beginning" mandolin clinic at a festival. The instructor started with the g chop chord first thing out of the box. He said everyone left the workshop feeling like they would never be able to play. I had a friend who had a similar experience with "beginning" guitar workshop. No these are your strings these are the notes they play heres how you tune them or any of that nonsense. It was heres how you play g chord c chord and d chord now lets play some bluegrass. My friend said everyone in attendance was lost from the get go.

    Folks who write "beginning" method books and teach " beginning" clinics and workshops need to try and remember what it was like to be a beginner themselves and that what is second nature to them is most decidedly not for those they teach. Crawl before walking and walk before running. Baby steps.

    I mean no disrespect to the experienced mandolin instructors here. All teachers have a different approach. I just think teachers soukd be encouraging and I simply point out that throwing out chop chords first thing could be extremely discouraging to a beginner. One such as the OP who honestly stated he was struggling with it.
    Don

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    Registered User Samuel David Britton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    Two finger chords limit the keys you can play in, so closed chords are a must. I also like to to change up the chords that I play according to the song. I think my favorite change is from F(5335) to Gm(0013).
    Sam

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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    Ok guys point taken about chop chords. Not just for bluegrass. Versitile. Movable up and down the fret board. Different chord voicings. Yadda yadda. All true. But I think my point was missed somewhat. We are talking about a beginners book that STARTS with the g chop chord! Seriously?
    Just out of curiosity, I Googled the book he's talking about. They sell it on Amazon, and you can preview parts of the book and read the reviews.

    First off, even though the title doesn't say it, the description of the book says that it is intended for bluegrass. From what I can see, it has excellent reviews from a lot of beginners. It has sections on all the mandolin basics like holding the instrument, picking, etc. It goes through a bunch of scales and melodies, and only gets to chords at the end of the book. They offer several chord variations in their chord charts (albeit most of them are indeed chop chords or closed-position chords, and not two-finger open chords). The open G-chord is in their chart. But again, this is primarily a book for bluegrass, not a general mandolin playing, so I wouldn't necessarily expect them to teach chords that aren't bluegrass staples. They have obviously had to choose to condense the material and select only what's needed for bluegrass.

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    Default Re: Two Finger vs Closed Chords

    I was of the same opinion as the OP when I started playing mandolin after years of guitar. My guitar experience had not led me into the land of playing the same chord many different ways. It didn't take long before somehow I discovered that the four fingered G was not a requirement, at least not in the beginning.

    I've seen the Del McCoury Band (trad. BG) many times, mostly at festivals where I was a long way from the stage, so did not pay much attention to Ronnie's left hand. A few years ago I saw them in a small club, and Ronnie used a three finger G chord all night (I'm pretty sure it was 452X- I assume it was a muted E string, since he was chopping). I never once saw him use the four finger shape.

    The only problem with this shape is that, for a beginner, it is a somewhat big hand movement to go to the most commonly used three finger C and D shapes.

    I just play for my own amazement, but when I want to chop in G, I use all three finger chords as follows:

    G - X523, muting the G string with my thumb. This shape moves easily "up" to the three fingered
    C - 523X, muting the E string with the meat of my index finger, and/or to the three fingered
    D - 745X, muting the E string the same way.

    These three finger shapes sound good in general, not chopped, and without muting (except I think you need to mute the E string for the D chord).

    Would someone with more experience please chime in and let me know if this makes sense?
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