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Thread: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

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    Default Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Hello. Anyone knows of any good, comprehensive mandolin chord charts written in standard notation, preferably online?

    I am one of those weirdos that do better with sheet music than tabs, notation which refers to fingerings and strings with no reference to the actual notes drives me a little crazy.

    I have tried to search for material written for the violin as an alternative, but fiddle stuff also uses tab notation, and classical violin stuff seems to have a somewhat different understanding about chords than what is commonly done on the mandolin.

    Hard level material is fine, I am hoping to find more than just the basics.

    Thanks for any hints.

  2. #2
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    I'm not sure about a website with staff notation chord charts ready to go.

    However, there are pdf's of classical mandolin books by Italian and American authors that have chord information using staff notation. That may be a place to begin looking.

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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Thanks for your comment. If online help doesn't exist, books would be acceptable.

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Wow, that's unusual. I'm a pretty good reader but in my experience, chords always look more intimidating on the staff than they do in a fingering chart.
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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Playing chords is about adopting certain sets of left-hand positions that depress multiple strings at once. Those same left-hand positions, applied at different frets, result in different chords of the same basic type (major, minor, seventh, dim, aug, etc.). These chord patterns can easily be divined by examining at conventional chord charts, which illustrate these shapes rather nicely, at a glance. The shapes needed cannot be seen, however, by looking at the individual chord notes stacked up in staff notation. This is the fundamental reason why practically all mandolin instruction books -- including those that emphasize staff notation, and not just those restricted to tablature! -- usually show CHORD DIAGRAMS. Chord diagrams are not the same thing as tablature.

    Anyway, I would suggest that you learn to read and become familiar with standard chord diagrams, even if you prefer to play mandolin melodies from staff notation, rather than tablature. This is a useful skill, and you are guaranteed to come across these over and over again. These diagrams represent the best way, in fact, to learn the left-hand positions used by most mandolin chords.

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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    Playing chords is about adopting certain sets of left-hand positions that depress multiple strings at once. Those same left-hand positions, applied at different frets, result in different chords of the same basic type (major, minor, seventh, dim, aug, etc.). These chord patterns can easily be divined by examining at conventional chord charts, which illustrate these shapes rather nicely, at a glance. The shapes needed cannot be seen, however, by looking at the individual chord notes stacked up in staff notation. This is the fundamental reason why practically all mandolin instruction books -- including those that emphasize staff notation, and not just those restricted to tablature! -- usually show CHORD DIAGRAMS. Chord diagrams are not the same thing as tablature.

    Anyway, I would suggest that you learn to read and become familiar with standard chord diagrams, even if you prefer to play mandolin melodies from staff notation, rather than tablature. This is a useful skill, and you are guaranteed to come across these over and over again. These diagrams represent the best way, in fact, to learn the left-hand positions used by most mandolin chords.
    I'd tend to agree with that, because otherwise it seems like the standard-notation chords would need to be cluttered with fingering instructions and fret numbers - how else would a person know exactly where on the neck that each particular chord was intended to be played? So many possibilities... is that an open "D" string or the 7th fret of the "G" string? All the different inversions and neck positions and barres etc...

    Although, the bored-nerd part of me thinks it might be an interesting technical exercise to try to create such a standard-notation chord chart just to see if it could be done, I could maybe turn a regular chord chart (one would have to provided to me with all the desired chords and chord formations and inversions and neck positions etc) into standard notation but (so far) I don't know the proper way to annotate the fingerings and fret markings (by "proper" I mean however they do it in regular classical music, I have no clue, I'd have to study up on it). Might be more project than I could handle, and it wouldn't be an online thing anyway, it would be another of those nuisance PDF's that require printing on umpteen sheets of paper (paper is so yesterday, I've long since thrown out nearly all of my printed/paper music stuff, got tired of it taking up storage space especially if one was intending to print out *all* the zillions of fancy jazz chords + inversions etc, and paper isn't 'zoomable' to make it easier to read for us old folks). So, probably as sblock said...

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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    JL277z - I don't think it would be very "cost effective" in terms of usefulness vs. labor required, that's just my opinion. The typical chord chart has been the most useful tool for representing chord formations over the years, and that's why they're ubiquitous.

    In my thinking, the two most useful, time-honored methods for learning chord positions on fretted instruments are:

    1. A person showing another person visually how they form chords ... watching what a musician does to get the sound, and imitating this.

    2. Understanding chord theory and finding one's own fingerings based on the fretboard knowledge and chord theory.

    Chord diagrams developed as a way of recording either of those two. For use as a memory tool, or even as a learning tool to substitute for #1.

    Standard notation easily compensates for some of what would be needed from the chord theory part, by indicating which notes are needed for the chord, but ideas on how to finger or form the chords are lacking. Chord charts are popular because they show where finger placements on a specific fret board can go, and often suggest actual fingerings, and all the student need provide is finding the most economical and comfortable, personal hand position.

    The question is why would anyone seek to avoid useful tools, like chord charts? Typically, these are folk who come to a fretted instrument from some non-chordal instrument.

    I am in the (very slow) process right now of compiling a book of chords, and for each chord it has a diagram, a photo of a suggested hand position/fingering, the standard notation, the musical intervals required for the chord, and more. That I am doing that should reveal that I believe in the value of using all the tools available to us. And then in the end, any person's actual, exact hand position and fingering will be a little different. It's one of those "as you like it" sort of things.
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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    The shapes needed cannot be seen, however, by looking at the individual chord notes stacked up in staff notation. This is the fundamental reason why practically all mandolin instruction books -- including those that emphasize staff notation, and not just those restricted to tablature! -- usually show CHORD DIAGRAMS. Chord diagrams are not the same thing as tablature.
    I find chord diagrams helpful in teaching myself guitar chords, mainly because the guitar is not tuned in fifths. I have a violin background, so I can certainly see shapes in standard music notation, unless the chord is super funky, in which case I have to stop and look at it more closely.

    This instant recognition of what is on the page is the main reason why I prefer standard music notation, though having both standard notation and chord diagrams on the same page would be ideal. Given the choice of only one, standard notation is better.

    Quote Originally Posted by JL277z View Post
    I'd tend to agree with that, because otherwise it seems like the standard-notation chords would need to be cluttered with fingering instructions and fret numbers - how else would a person know exactly where on the neck that each particular chord was intended to be played? So many possibilities... is that an open "D" string or the 7th fret of the "G" string? All the different inversions and neck positions and barres etc...
    Having both chord charts and standard notation would be great, though for my needs, fret information isn't needed, string info isn't always required since there are only 4 strings tuned in 5ths, even fingering isn't always required if the chord is not terribly unusual or uncomfortable.

    My violin background allows me to not need quite as much hand holding I suppose.

    I only need a more clear sense of how the mandolin is different, and for that I find sheet music to be much faster than tabs.

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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Quote Originally Posted by mrmando View Post
    Wow, that's unusual. I'm a pretty good reader but in my experience, chords always look more intimidating on the staff than they do in a fingering chart.
    Quote Originally Posted by JL277z View Post
    I'd tend to agree with that, because otherwise it seems like the standard-notation chords would need to be cluttered
    This is a good point, even this basic example of simple C, G and D7 first position chords looks much more difficult in staff notation than it is to play:

    from the 1920 Bickford book

    Click image for larger version. 

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    So Don Dv, you want stuff that looks like this?


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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Francis and Day's mandoline tutor has exactly what you are looking for; all the chords in notation and with fingering diagrams. I will try to scan them for you on Monday.

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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Here they are - hope they are helpfulClick image for larger version. 

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    - - - Updated - - -

    And here are the rest.Click image for larger version. 

Name:	chords 2.pdf 
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ID:	172365

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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Quote Originally Posted by maudlin mandolin View Post
    Here they are - hope they are helpful
    ...
    And here are the rest.
    Note that even this antiquated book shows the chord diagrams,in addition to the staff notation. It is a useful mandolin skill to be able to read and follow chord diagrams. Not to just play some stacked notes found in staff notation. The important point about learning chords has little-or-nothing to do with the actual notes themselves, which of course change from chord to chord. It's all about learning to recognize and make certain left-hand shapes. That is, you need to get used to making the "shape" of a major or minor chord form, for example, or a major or minor seventh, a diminished, an augmented, a flat-five, and so on. And knowing where on the fingerboard to place that shape to get the note of the chord desired. This information is absolutely vital if you ever play with other people in any back-up capacity, whether it's folk, classical, choro, jazz, bluegrass, or whatever.

    This is not some skill that's best learned by reading staff notation. And that is why even notation-centric mandolin methods, even older ones dating from the last two centuries (Francis & Day's mandoline tutor is from the 1930's), nearly all contain chord diagrams. Those are the shapes​ you need to learn.

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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Quote Originally Posted by JL277z View Post
    I'd tend to agree with that, because otherwise it seems like the standard-notation chords would need to be cluttered with fingering instructions and fret numbers - how else would a person know exactly where on the neck that each particular chord was intended to be played? So many possibilities... is that an open "D" string or the 7th fret of the "G" string? All the different inversions and neck positions and barres etc...
    It really depends on what you are looking for. If you are looking for where to put your fingers, a fingering chart is likely a more direct resource.

    But if you are looking for how the chords are made, standard notation is wonderful. And I have found in my efforts to pursue classical music that optimizing finger placement to achieve the notes indicated in standard notation is what I spend most of my study time doing.


    This gets to the core of what standard notation is about, IMO, YMMV, etc., etc. It is not a one for one finger placement guide as much as a picture of the tune or chord, a picture of what is intended musically.

    I don't disagree with chord charts, or with chord fingering patterns. Quite the opposite. What ever gets you going. Chord charts are important. Movable closed patterns are important. And so is standard notation.
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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Quote Originally Posted by mrmando View Post
    Wow, that's unusual. I'm a pretty good reader but in my experience, chords always look more intimidating on the staff than they do in a fingering chart.
    That's interesting. My brain is wired exactly the opposite from yours. Takes me forever to decipher fingering charts or chord diagrams. Not intuitive to me at all. But put it on a staff, and it becomes instantly clear.

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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    The important point about learning chords has little-or-nothing to do with the actual notes themselves, which of course change from chord to chord. It's all about learning to recognize and make certain left-hand shapes. That is, you need to get used to making the "shape" of a major or minor chord form, for example, or a major or minor seventh, a diminished, an augmented, a flat-five, and so on.
    It is hard for my brain to conceive of this. I am not conscious of hand shapes at all while playing, it seems. In fact, for years, I've been seeing people refer to the term "chord shape", and had little idea, if any, of what they meant by that. Your description is about the best one I've seen of it, so thank you for that. It still doesn't make it any easier to imagine grasping it fully. It probably explains why I've never been able to learn touch typing, either. Still have no idea where the letters on the keyboard are without looking. LOL

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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Having started with chord charts, I then progressed to just building them with the required notes on the fly with only reference to the known locations of the notes depending on my location on the fret board. It was so much easier than trying to learn all the permutations in all the keys. After just having the chord name I find notation on the staff the freeest representation, especially when moving between instruments. They certainly appear in many plucked string orchestral scores as the default along with many solo mandolin pieces such as those by Calace for mandolin and liuto. It allows me to read the mandolin and mandola parts then interpret them for the mandoloncello if there’s only an octave treble part available. The thing I like is I can strip down the six note guitar chords knowing straight away where any doubling of notes is happenning, but still preserve the composers intention in terms of the inversion required.
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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    However, there are pdf's of classical mandolin books by Italian and American authors that have chord information using staff notation.
    Yes - there are plenty of older books that use standard notation to teach chords. The old popular magazines (such as Crescendo) were full of mandolin music (also banjo and guitar music) using chords in standard notation -- in a time when reading music was something most school children learned, it wasn't such a big deal.

    Reading standard notation on mandolin is a matter of visualizing relationships between notes -- whether it's one note at a time, or double stops, triple stops, or even more. Seeing a stack of notes and translating that visually into fingerings is not that difficult, but it does require a thought process that is best developed a bit at a time. If you already read standard notation and want to build toward the skill of reading chords, there are some good violin books like this one to help.

    My book Exploring Classical Mandolin has a chord vocabulary section in standard notation. When writing it, I considered whether chord charts would be a good idea, to help people to visualize chord shapes -- but decided it was better to let folks use this as a chance to practice associating vertical intervals with fingerings.

    There are a lot of teachers who believe that retention is best when you have to reason through it, rather than being shown the answers.

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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Quote Originally Posted by August Watters View Post
    My book Exploring Classical Mandolin has a chord vocabulary section in standard notation. When writing it, I considered whether chord charts would be a good idea, to help people to visualize chord shapes -- but decided it was better to let folks use this as a chance to practice associating vertical intervals with fingerings.
    I should have mentioned your book - I use it regularly for practice and inspiration. Sorry to have not listed it at the time.

    BTW, I highly recommend Mr. Watters' book to any that have an interest beyond the usual Americana and desire to learn more about how to play mandolin.

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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    The important point about learning chords has little-or-nothing to do with the actual notes themselves, which of course change from chord to chord. It's all about learning to recognize and make certain left-hand shapes.
    Maybe the question is, what is the best way to learn those shapes? I learned them first on guitar, using fingering charts from the Mickey Baker jazz guitar book. That book was great because it got me up and running on jazz tunes quickly, but over time I wanted to dig in deeper to understand what notes I was playing within the shapes. Later on I studied William G. Leavitt's "A Modern Method for Guitar." Working through the Leavitt book (which uses primarily SN) was great because it helped to understand the function of notes within each chord, and how to read the intervals instead of just the notes. It also helped with the process of learning to mentally “hear” the notation.

    Mandolin is way easier than guitar for building chords, because each string is the same interval from one to the next — so shapes are even easier to move around the neck. That makes reading SN easier, too, for chords as well as single notes. Now I use all these tools — standard notation, video, chord charts, and sometimes tablature, depending on the situation — but I rarely need anything beyond SN, other than as a teaching tool.

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    Default Re: Mandolin chords chart in standard notation

    The key phrase in the OP seems to be "what is commonly done".

    What does that mean, what is the context? Classical, BG, jazz, rock, string band music, solo
    or group, lead or backup? Full chord forms with intricate voice leading, rootless chords, etc. etc. etc.?

    I think the best way to learn mandolin chords is to work them out for yourself and find the forms that connect well, sound good in the given context, and create reasonable variety. Personally I never used chord charts. When starting out on the mando over 50 years ago, I was into Bluegrass and after a few months of playing, realizing the need for chords in backup, I just started figuring, from my basic knowledge of the fretboard and chord construction. I still remember that the first chord I discovered was the G chop chord, the second may have been the 3-note D7.

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