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  1. #1

    Default Chords

    I do not have long fingers and I have problems using 4-string chords. I purchased the Jethro Burns training course once, and he recomended "only" use 3-string chords because the 4th string only is doubling one of the other strings. Therefor I use 3-string mode. What's your point-of-view to this ?

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    Default Re: Chords

    I do it all the time, not necessarily like Jethro, but using three fingered chords can give a great chop. That being said I rarely play chop chords, but instead prefer to play melody using double stops while singing.
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  3. #3
    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chords

    I have smallish hands too...

    My opinion is that different songs, different genres, and parts of songs will require different chord shapes or voicings. Learn a bunch of two, three, and four finger shapes and use them as when you need.
    Last edited by Zach Wilson; Dec-22-2018 at 9:47am. Reason: Misspelling

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  5. #4

    Default Re: Chords

    I bar a lot, so four-string chords usually take three fingers.

    Keep in mind, though, that I really don't know what I'm doing.

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chords

    Jethro of course is right, that applies to chords that are not extended chords, like 7 chords (ex. G7, A7, C7, etc.)

    In other words, all your simple major and minor chords have only three notes, so if you play them using all four strings, you'll be doubling one of the notes, often the root note. As you grow in your music, you might want to keep learning about how chords are formed.

    But for now, my view would be to learn chords that you can play relatively easily, as well as "double stops" that only use two notes of the chord. Find chord shapes and double stops that you can play, and then work on playing them cleanly with good rhythm.

    Also, in my view, over the months or years ahead you should continue trying to play four note chords and as many chords as you can find to fit your music. Playing music is a life long pleasure and learning and growing experience.

    You really can't go wrong by following Jethro Burns, if his method is working for you.
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  9. #6

    Default Re: Chords

    Thanks. Can you advise me a site of good tutorials, too ...

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    Default Re: Chords

    For chords, what I have found is learning to make chord charts on paper showing all possible combinations of notes within any chord...then working out fingerings from that using the chords previous and following while paying close attention to the bass note. In effect learning inversions. You learn an awful lot by making your own charts. I use a lot of three note chords but still have a tendency to get sloppy and hit the open high string when it is there.

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  12. #8

    Default Re: Chords

    Using 3 note chords, you can always drop the root and the straight 5. The 3, major or minor, the 7 and whatever color note would complete the triad, b5, #5, b9, #9.

    Assuming you’re not playing bluegrass. Like Jethro ��
    Play it like you mean it.

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    Default Re: Chords

    I second Mark Gs notion about 2 note chords. You can get a great percussive sound just using two notes. For me, the chop is as much about percussion as it is about chord structure. I use the G and the D strings for two note chords.

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    Default Re: Chords

    Not advice (I’m still a beginner, so not qualified yet to give advice), just encouragement. I also have really small hands. The three-finger chords are all fine. Learn and use them. But I would encourage you not to give up on the big G chop chord. When I started I was convinced there was no way I’d ever be able to stretch my fingers so much to be able to form it. But I worked at it, and quicker than I imagined, I could do it. You can start by practicing it up the neck, like in the A or even B positions, where the frets are closer together. As your fingers get more comfortable falling into the shape, you can back them down the neck to work on the big pinky/ring finger stretch. They WILL stretch out with time and effort. One nice thing about using the G/A/B chop form is that it’s very easy to move down one string to the 3-finger C/D/E form. There’s another important 4-string (but 3-finger barre) chord form worth learning—e.g., 2245 (A chord)—which is much easier to form than the big bluegrass chop form.

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    Default Re: Chords

    I had trouble at first and for quite a while it felt stressed so I didn't do it often. Occasionally I would revisit the "chop" chords and slowly they just became easier until I can now say that they're quite easy to play once your hands stretch and strengthen.

    I use my chord voicings very deliberately depending on the melody or what I'm playing against and these 4-string shapes have their usefulness. So I would recommend giving your biology and ears time to incorporate them into your own playing, but don't ever write them off as redundant or superfluous.
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  18. #12

    Default Re: Chords

    Small hands, big hands, fat fingers, etc. are just excuses. I play scales in all keys, and because I too have small hands, I have to stretch both up and down in the closed position scales. It is much harder. I've been working on the G chop chord for two and a half years. I can do it ok now most of the time. I can't see any upside to ignoring this. Do I use two and three note chords? Sure. A lot. But I devote a significant part of my practice time to the uncomfortable slog of the seemingly impossible.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chords

    My view is that in a jam I am absolutely not responsible for every darn note in the chord. There are guitars, banjos, dulcimers, who knows what, and among them all someone I am sure will be playing the note or notes I am missing in the chord.

    A three note chord or even a two note double stop can be much easier to reach and make the transition in and out of it a bit easier.

    For some chords and chord progressions certain notes are more important than others, so for example if the music calls a minor chord, I will strive at least least to make sure I nail that note in the chord that makes it minor. Or equally as important with a 7th chord.

    In fact, tremolo on that important note is often a cool accompaniment. Equally cool sometimes, is to know in the chord progression what notes are changing, and to tremolo on the ones that aren't.

    But regarding religiously making sure I hit every note of the chord, not me. That is above my pay grade.
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    Some Ability - No Talent MikeZito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chords

    Personally, I just don't like the sound of 4-finger chords. Somewhere on the internet there is a video or two of Roland White demonstrating 3-finger chop chords for bluegrass - and to my ears, they sound MUCH better than their traditional 4-finger counterparts.

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    Default Re: Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    ... religiously making sure I hit every note of the chord, not me. That is above my pay grade.
    Absolutely agree, and the OP (plus probably the rest of us!) should keep in mind these "not-real-important-but-certainly-informative" points:

    - Many tunes, but especially the roots-influenced ones that attract mandolinists, outline their tonality in the melody itself. Generally, notes that fall on strong beats (1 especially, but also 2,3, etc.) are the notes of the accompanying chord, while passing, off-chord tones fall on the "ands" or other spaces between those strong beats. So the tonality is pretty much established in the listener's head, leaving the accompanist free to add whatever (hopefully!) tasteful sparseness YOU might think is appropriate.

    - I've been surprised in the past year or so by piano arrangements of standard and classical pieces (where the underlying chord is often NOT given, but is expressed by the notes written, usually, on the bass clef and played by the left hand), and seeing just how sparse the accompaniment can be. Very often, notes of the underlying chord are not played in unison, or are totally omitted.

    - And since many of us are guitarists, as well: While rock & folk guitarists love playing five or six-string chords, classical & jazz players tend to NOT do that at all, instead picking out only the notes that express the intended tonality. They rarely use barre chords and generally avoid playing octaves of the same note. That makes those 7 or 8-string jazz guitars more comprehensible to me; if they're only playing 3 or 4 strings on a 6-string guitar, then playing only 3 or 4 on a 7-string guitar sounds almost reasonable!

    Thus, playing only 2 or 3 strings out of a possible 4 would seem to fit right in with the approach of many established professionals.
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  24. #16

    Default Re: Chords

    4 or 3 finger chords are just tools, the more tools you have in the tool chest, the easier it is to do a variety of jobs. If your job is to provide a percussive chop on the back beat, 4 finger chords are the standard, mainly for their ability to move up and down the neck with one shape. And for chop, the argument can be made that you really only need two strings to get that percussive chop. Mike Marshall teaches this, for a G, you just need the D and G on the G and D strings (75xx), muting the A and E strings to make sure they don't ring. He does advocate to go for the 4 finger chop chords, as it is the best tool for the job. Mainly because it is easy to lift those fingers and stop the ringing, and you don't have to worry about not striking the A and E strings.

    I also thought I could never hit the G bluegrass chop chord, but it came with practice. With all this said, I rarely use the 4 finger bluegrass chop chords, unless I am in a jam setting where I can sit back and chop and listen to everyone taking their break. I am not that into bluegrass, I came to the realization that I really don't like it that much (gasp!). Still, it is fun to strum along with others, whether it is choro, jazz or bluegrass. Just use the right tool for the job and most of all, enjoy yourself.
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  25. #17
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chords

    My favorite chop chords for the key of A, as example, are:

    2200
    200x
    4220

    Two of those, the A and the E, have four safe strings but you only need to brush the two or three low strings, really doesn't matter, and of course you have to mute with free fingers. But I'm sure no one cares what my favorite chop chords are, why should they?

    I'm in agreement with the folk here who are encouraging OP not to simply write off learning four finger chords. To the contrary, make up your mind to learn as many chord voicings as you can over your lifetime. Great comments about playing chords with omitted notes, too. Hopefully all this is helpful and understandable to the OP.

    Bottom line is that it is not necessary to play more strings than you need to get your harmony across. I think Jethro's point about "doubling a note" of the chord when playing all four strings refers to playing simple triad chords, though. Didn't want to muddy the water too much with extended chords with omitted notes, etc. etc., but of course all these comments about that are right on.

    As to OP's question (post #6) -- ige, probably the reason you've not gotten an answer is because there are so many resources out there. I use Homespun www.homespun.com lessons by Mike Marshall, Sam Bush, David Grisman, Norman Blake, Chris Thile, Ronnie McCoury, Butch Baldassari and Caterina Lichtenberg. In my opinion, you can't go wrong with Homespun series Mike Marshall's Mandolin Fundamentals For All Players (1 & 2) because he teaches some scales and chord building in there.

    I also use quite a bit of material from Bradley Laird, who offers quite a few free mandolin videos as well as paid lesson videos at only $8 apiece, the videos on this page that have asterisks are free videos: http://www.bradleylaird.com/playthemandolin/videos.html and included among all videos (not all free) are ones like Chop Chords For Small Hands (three-finger chords there), and Chord Triangulation (1 & 2) (sort of a must-have, I think).

    Then, there are all the free lessons at Mandolessons www.mandolessons.com - I've used that material by Baron extensively, especially when I first started and wanted to learn some fiddle tunes with his helpful videos and sheet music. He has some videos on chords there.

    I also have used and am thankful for the lessons Pete Martin has put out www.petimarpress.com

    Then there is Banjo Ben Clark, and Artistworks, and Mandolins Heal the World, and so many others that there are surely many I can't think of right now, but others may mention them. I have not used any subscription services, personally, but they have great teachers and I know they're good services.

    And after all that, you can do searches at YouTube on the subject. Then search Google and read about the music theory behind it.

    If all the above sounds a bit much, maybe even a bit confusing, it just illustrates why you haven't gotten much response on your last question. There is an ocean of content on the internet about anything you want to learn regarding mandolin playing.
    Last edited by Mark Gunter; Dec-22-2018 at 7:50pm. Reason: fixed the E chord
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    Default Re: Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by EdHanrahan View Post
    - Many tunes, but especially the roots-influenced ones that attract mandolinists, outline their tonality in the melody itself. Generally, notes that fall on strong beats (1 especially, but also 2,3, etc.) are the notes of the accompanying chord, while passing, off-chord tones fall on the "ands" or other spaces between those strong beats. So the tonality is pretty much established in the listener's head, leaving the accompanist free to add whatever (hopefully!) tasteful sparseness YOU might think is appropriate.
    That is so well-said, Ed. I usually put it something like, "In context over a melody, the listener's brain will supply missing harmony notes of partial chords." That's why sparse chording works even when not in a jam or playing with an ensemble. It works with solo mandolin/vocal tunes as well!

    Still no reason not to be able to play many different voicings using all the strings when you want to, though, so I wouldn't discourage anyone from learning as much as they desire, or can stand, throughout a musical lifetime.

    I like your explanation quoted here!
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    Default Re: Chords

    Everthing posted is true. Three finger chords will work even for chop chords if used properly but anyone that doesn't have a physical problem can learn four finger chops. Fingers too short, hands too small, etc is just excuses and excuses never helped anyone accomplish anything. Or as my father used to say " I can't " never did nothing. When I was learning guitar I thought it impossible to get that long A that most bluegrass players use. Bar bottom 4 strings at 2nd fret note 1st string at 5th fret with pinkie. After playing a while I could note that 1st string with my second finger. Did I ever need to? No but it streched my fingers and I could do more with it. No knowledge or ability is useless. Work on the 4finger "chop" chords, you'll never regret it.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chords

    If its a choice between two three finger configurations, one that leaves the top string open and one that leaves the bottom open, I usually chose the one that leaves the high string open if I am in bluegrass situation, so that I get a nice bassey chop, and in a light fiddle tune would try for the configuration that leaves the bottom open so as to give some lift and high scintillation to the tune.
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  30. #21
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    If its a choice between two three finger configurations, one that leaves the top string open and one that leaves the bottom open, I usually chose the one that leaves the high string open if I am in bluegrass situation, so that I get a nice bassey chop, and in a light fiddle tune would try for the configuration that leaves the bottom open so as to give some lift and high scintillation to the tune.
    I love the sound of G at 0023 even with a chop sometimes, and especially in non-bluegrass stuff. I might use 0023, 4557, 7557, 0523 using two or three of those voices within the same song sometimes, but I agree the 0023 is favorite when it works because of that low bass and second octave G, great stuff.
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    Default Re: Chords

    There is a principle in finger picking country blues on a guitar, that says it is preferable to note a full chord if possible even when you are not picking all the strings ... it's good because (1) you may brush a string accidentally that is not well muted, and (2) even though you are not playing all the strings, you get the proper sympathetic vibrations from those noted strings.

    I think the same applies to lesser degree on mandolin, and so when possible I do cover all four strings, even if I'm not using them all directly. This is not always possible, but IMO a good principle.
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  32. #23
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    Default Re: Chords

    When chopping you have to damp strings immediately after the pick. This requires that you skip open strings when chopping a three finger chord.
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  34. #24
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chords

    Actually Jeff, you can dampen the strings immediately after the pick with your free fingers on open strings. You can watch Sierra Hull, Chris Thile, Sam Bush and others doing this all day long on the Tube if you like, notably in the key of A it's very popular with some artists. So on that we'll have to disagree; I do it and work at doing it better all the time. Fortunately, a fellow I study with is about as good at it as Sierra, so I have a living breathing example to work with as well.

    The principle behind chopping with a ring finger/pinkie mute can be see here, watch for the percussive backbeats on the A chord and pay attention to the free fingers. The 4 and 5 chords are the four finger variety, but the A chord is played by one finger, 2200.

    There is more going on here than just a chop, but the same principle is used to chop an open string or strings. This is a baby Chris Thile, you can surf YouTube for other examples. Not a Bill Monroe four finger chop, but a chop nonetheless.

    Last edited by Mark Gunter; Dec-22-2018 at 9:22pm.
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    Default Re: Chords

    If Jethro said it... go with that

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