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Thread: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

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    Registered User Froglips's Avatar
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    Default Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    OK... So I am a beginner to the mando with the strings experience of a person who has messed around with the guitar for 25 plus years or so back in the day.

    So... As I am practicing the difficult bluegrass chop chords of the closed G pattern, and the closed C patterns up and down the neck.

    Duhhhhhhhhhhhh! Oooooooooo! Ahhhhhhhhhh! Ohhhhhhhhhh Yeahhhhhhh...

    I am sorry, folks... In the background I am watching, Chris Henry, in a video speed picking something.... Holy Supercalifragalistic, Batman! That guy can pick a freakin Mando, folks!

    Anyway... I am finding that if you use your pinky to mute the strings for the open chords, the chops n chucks sound so much better IMHO.

    Say it ain't so that I am the only one that hears things this way. Please!?

    Will people still let you play in a bluegrass band if you do this?

    Thank you for your time, Folks!

    Frog...
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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    Learn the chop chords, they are not hard except for the stretch which will develop with practice. Trying to "cheat" to make it easier really cheats no one but you and eventually you will have to unlearn the wrong and learn the right.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    Learn both. The BG chop chords are only hard until they aren’t. And lots of players use the pinky mute on open chords as a big part of their playing too.
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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    Not a bluegrasser here, I play Celtic and old time. So I revel in open chords! But alas, that will not give you the chop sound you want in bluegrass. Only 4 finger chords will do that.

    I had folks tell me they’ve gone to mandolin workshops FOR BEGINNERS and been told by the teacher something like “Here’s how you play a G chop chord. You have to learn this before you can play anything else.” I brought this up before here and branded it poor teaching. Is it not good teaching practice to let students work up from simple to more complex. Oh, but no, the Bluegrass police here just stomped all over me. The teacher was right, they cried. That chord is so basic to bluegrass mandolin that you just HAVE to learn that first. Then you can go to a jam and chunk along unobtrusively in the background until you feel comfortable doing other things. Well, I still disagree. I say learn to play tunes first, fiddle tunes are good, starting with simple and working your way up. Then learn some folky easier two finger and three finger chords. When you’re ready for it, go for the 4 finger chords. It’s a process. And as far as having to “unlearn” the “wrong” way in order to play the “right” way, what is up with that? Different chord voicing aren’t “wrong” or “right”, just different. Why not learn them all so you have a repertoire of chords under your belt, ready for any situation?

    Incidentally, I’ve been enjoying my latest acquisition, a Martin Style A. It has a 13 inch scale, as opposed the 14 inch scale that is more the mandolin world norm these days. And you know what? 4 finger chords are WAY easier with a 13 inch scale! But sadly, the Martin flattop sound is not what you want for bluegrass. Why doesn’t somebody make a carved top F hole or even F style mandolin voiced for bluegrass with a 13 inch scale? Everyone who complains about the G chop chord being too much of a stretch would suddenly find it much easier!

    One other thing about the G chop chord being so important: what is it with you bluegrassers and the key of G anyways? Maybe that chord wouldn’t be quite as indispensable if you learned to play in some other keys. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, my folk band has dulcimers, and the rest of us get a little tired of playing in the key of D all the time! This topic makes me remember a bluegrass band I saw a long time ago. You know, most audiences don’t know a key from a hole in the ground, but musicians can tell when the band changes keys. This band played in a number of different keys, which was impressive. But their guitar player, I swear, played everything in G and just moved his capo up and down the neck. At one point in the performance, he held up his capo to show the audience and said “See this little gizmo? This thing saves a fortune in music lessons.”
    Don

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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    Not a bluegrasser here, I play Celtic and old time.

    One other thing about the G chop chord being so important: what is it with you bluegrassers and the key of G anyways? Maybe that chord wouldn’t be quite as indispensable if you learned to play in some other keys.
    Hi Don. I'm taking it for granted that your question is meant to be funny rather than antagonistic. I'll try not to be antagonistic as well.

    Since you begin by stating that you're not a 'bluegrasser', I'll give you a small tidbit of info. Bill Monroe's music is a pretty big part of Bluegrass music. Many of us Bluegrassers are labeled as such because we like, and play Bill's music. Playing in the key of G is a pretty small fraction of Bill's library of songs.

    I think the 'necessity' of learning the G chop chord is not so much because all of the songs are in the key of G. It's simply that once you have that one down, all of the other 'chop' chords progressively higher up the neck are that much easier to reach.

    Clark
    "I play BG so that's what I can talk intelligently about." A line I loved and pirated from Mandoplumb

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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    Hey there Clark. You took my comments exactly right. But it’s hard to convey a tongue firmly in cheek online.

    You know, just because I’m not a bluegrasser doesn’t mean I haven’t dabbled. I was invited to join a bluegrass jam once and that I should buy a book called “The Bluegrass Facebook” because that’s what they used. Well I bought it, and guess what? 90 percent of the tunes were the key of G! I am well aware of the fact that Monroe’s music, and much of the rest of the repertoire is much more sophisticated. But there are plenty of amateur groups out there who use that book and others like it and so they stick to G because they’re comfortable there. Especially the guitarists I’ll bet. I’ll never forget that guitarist who only seemed to know G, C, and D chords and changed keys exclusively via capo. So, that’s probably why these teachers of “Mandolin for Beginners” workshops emphasize the G chop chord. Because they imagine those folks will end up in a jam like that.

    And I am never purposefully antagonistic. But I am a man of strong opinions.
    Don

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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    My 2-cents.

    1. If you're a beginner, begin by watching 'beginner' videos. Learning mandolin by watching speed picking is like trying to learn how to drive by racing the Indy 500. Start slow.

    2. Like MultiDon - I am not a bluegrass guy but I found some of Roland White's videos on YouTube to be very helpful in finding alternate fingerings for chop chords . . . that might be worth checking out if you are finding the standard chords a little difficult right now. You can always go back to them, later.

    3. Most important of all: Play, Learn, Have Fun and keep us posted.

  12. #8

    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    Frog, chops chords are no where near as hard to make now as they used to be there is a new product now Called a Finger Stretcher that you should be able to find online, Maybe elderly stocks them, anyway if you want to go the other route keep your mando handy and when you are sitting around watching TV etc.
    Get the mando and make a G chord don't pick it just make a G and watch your TV slowly but surely your fingers will stretch and G's will come easy.
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  13. #9

    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    I'm afraid this thread may already be too 'in the weeds' for a relative beginner learning basic chord shapes - but I can't resist adding a couple more lines...

    I don't think that the bluegrass 'chop' chords are notable because they play C, F, G etc - it's because they are 'movable' closed chord shapes.

    All the movable chords can be easily played on the top or bottom three string pairs instead of all four, and they frequently are, even by professional musicians.

    And remember that your intuition that the pinky mute can be used to create a short chop-like tone is absolutely correct. Spend a moment looking at Chris Thile and you'll see the many ways that he uses left hand muting in all kinds of contexts.

    Also - 'finger strecher' sounded like a mean prank to me... but the interwebamajig® says it's a real thing! ;-)
    BradKlein
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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    Also watch Sierra Hull along with Chris Thile in videos, as well as a lot of other players. Most use both types of chops, which ever gives the tonal, chunk sound that each tune needs based on their interpretation of the tune. Also physical restrictions such as injury, arthritis etc may require different chord structure than the "standard ?" chop chords. Use whatever works. If it sounds right, it is right.
    Dave
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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    There are a couple of interview videos with Sierra Hull where she talks about literally crying as a little girl because "I'll never be able to make a four-finger G chord!" Of course she finally figured it out, but given how small her hands are I'll bet she used some modifications along the way.

    One thing to note is that Sierra spends a good bit of time playing the octave mandolin, on which the G-chop chord is pretty much impossible for a lot of players. OM players (like me) use pinky mutes, palm mutes, or whatever works for our long scale instruments. Of course open chords sound so nice on the OM that I try not to mute at all most of the time.
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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    Note also that you can play certain 'chop chords' on just three strings. You'll find that a great many bluegrassers play the D chop chord as 745x, (not as 7452), and just hit the lower three strings. But you still need to know how to play the full, 4-finger G chop chord. Just keep practicing it, and it will come -- even if you have smallish hands!

    That said, pinky muting with the left hand, and also palm muting with the right hand, are additional, useful rhythm techniques to master.

    It's all good!

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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    One thing I like about the Mandolin is that there are so many different ways to voice chords depending on musical need.

    Yes, the four finger chop chord is necessary. It think it took about 3 years to get proficient at it. And the 4 finger D. But still working on going back and forth.

    But watch Sam Bush. A lot of the time he will play a two finger G, and mute with ring and pinky for an awesome chop. That one takes some coordination.

    Billy Bright taught me a three finger G chop ( 452x) that I use as often as the four finger one. Easy to get back and forth to C, and makes a fine chop. It also lends itself to Jazz Chords with only minor variations.

    And Nate Lee taught me that a good chop is mostly technique, although it took several lessons to "get" it. Before that I often sounded like a reggae guitar player.

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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    In the grand scheme of things the bluegrass closed G chord is not the most pretty sounding way to make a chord. Of course pretty isn't the goal when chopping out. (Rule of thumb for me: if its not bluegrass, I'm not chopping.)

    The two important things are as mentioned: the portability of the pattern up the neck, and being able to muffle the sustain on all strings involved.

    I am of the firm belief that in many cases I am not responsible for every damn note in the chord. Some guitar or banjo has got my back. Also there is no rule in chopping or chord play in general that I have to hit all four courses.

    So I use three finger chords, the same Big Bill chords, with either the top or bottom courses open. I just chop without hitting the open courses. The chords are easy to find, easy to make, easy to transition into and out of, can be chopped effectively by the same fingers making the chord, portable up and down the neck (and also across the neck, yee haaa!). And they sound great.

    I have never been criticized about it, in fact I am convinced nobody notices.
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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    I vividly remember my excitement getting a new mandolin. Finally an instrument where my small hands would not be a hindrance. Googled a YouTube beginner mandolin video, and the first thing that was taught was the G chop chord. The horror, the horror. A mere three years later, I can sort of do it.

    You can chop on three strings as long as you don't hit the open string, but eventually you will want to do four. And even if it's harder, use the pinky whenever you can. And don't wander from the sweet spot with your picking. Keep it right up by the fretboard. And stay up on the tips of your fingers with your fretting hand. See, there's really not too much to learn.

    Although it took about two years to click why it was a good thing to do, play scale exercises and arpeggios with a metronome.

    The importance of the G chop is the power you get with it in a group context. Sometimes I think Gibsons were designed totally with the G chop in mind.
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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    Sometimes I think Gibsons were designed totally with the G chop in mind.
    I think the designers - all of them - had classical music, parlor music, soloists and mandolin ensembles and such in mind when inventing the archtop American mandolin. BG music had not been invented yet!

    Otherwise they would not have put Florida on the map.

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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    We are getting way to technical for a newbie. The Monroe chop chords are essential to bluegrass and should be learned. Those in the "I can't" crowd are right they can't because they won't. As someone said we need to learn as many chord shapes as possible and I use many but I've played for 50+years. The first shape someone needs to learn if he wants to play BG is the chop chords. Yes some mute with their little finger as I do from time to time but basics first. A newbie will not be able to use everything in Thilie toolbox, start with the basics. My pet peeve with the little finger mute is you lose the chord tone which seems to be a fad right now. A proper chop sounds like a short sharp chord not like a snare drum. If all you want is the snare weave a piece od paper through your srtings and lay a finger across them and "chop" away.

  25. #18
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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post

    I had folks tell me they’ve gone to mandolin workshops FOR BEGINNERS and been told by the teacher something like “Here’s how you play a G chop chord. You have to learn this before you can play anything else.” I brought this up before here and branded it poor teaching. Is it not good teaching practice to let students work up from simple to more complex. Oh, but no, the Bluegrass police here just stomped all over me. The teacher was right, they cried. That chord is so basic to bluegrass mandolin that you just HAVE to learn that first. Then you can go to a jam and chunk along unobtrusively in the background until you feel comfortable doing other things. Well, I still disagree. I say learn to play tunes first, fiddle tunes are good, starting with simple and working your way up. Then learn some folky easier two finger and three finger chords. When you’re ready for it, go for the 4 finger chords. It’s a process. And as far as having to “unlearn” the “wrong” way in order to play the “right” way, what is up with that? Different chord voicing aren’t “wrong” or “right”, just different. Why not learn them all so you have a repertoire of chords under your belt, ready for any situation?

    Incidentally, I’ve been enjoying my latest acquisition, a Martin Style A. It has a 13 inch scale, as opposed the 14 inch scale that is more the mandolin world norm these days. And you know what? 4 finger chords are WAY easier with a 13 inch scale! But sadly, the Martin flattop sound is not what you want for bluegrass. Why doesn’t somebody make a carved top F hole or even F style mandolin voiced for bluegrass with a 13 inch scale? Everyone who complains about the G chop chord being too much of a stretch would suddenly find it much easier!

    One other thing about the G chop chord being so important: what is it with you bluegrassers and the key of G anyways? Maybe that chord wouldn’t be quite as indispensable if you learned to play in some other keys. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, my folk band has dulcimers, and the rest of us get a little tired of playing in the key of D all the time! This topic makes me remember a bluegrass band I saw a long time ago. You know, most audiences don’t know a key from a hole in the ground, but musicians can tell when the band changes keys. This band played in a number of different keys, which was impressive. But their guitar player, I swear, played everything in G and just moved his capo up and down the neck. At one point in the performance, he held up his capo to show the audience and said “See this little gizmo? This thing saves a fortune in music lessons.”
    Last paragraph. A BG mandolinist is expected to master any major key from Bb (two flats) to B (five sharps). The reason why, e.g., the key of Eb is not used so much (but check One Way Train with Doyle Lawson) could be that guitarists will want to go one halfstep higher, for the fat sound of the low E chord. F# may be used occasionally for blues (Monroe recorded one gospel song in F#, also Pretty Fair Maid - not very successfully).

    Of these standard keys at least G, A, Bb, and B use the G chop form. Indeed, one should go from the simple to the more complex, e.g, from three NOTE chords to four note ones. E.g., the 7-9-10-* G chord is easy to fret and of the same compass as the G four note chop chord. But open strings don't really make anything easier (open strings are hard to control) and progressing form two or three FINGER chords (inclding open strings) to closed four note chords is a harder step than progressing from three NOTE to four note chords. And frankly, we don't really need them.

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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    I have small hands, so the 4-note G chop chord was a challenge when I first started playing mandolin. Even though I can play it easily enough now, I rarely use it. For rhythm, I mainly use movable 3-note chords (even for chopping) and double-stops and can move around quickly and have lots of harmonic choices.
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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    The best "chop chord" to use always depend on how many other people are playing and how you want to impact the music (mainly melodically or rhythmically)

    For me, very generally speaking:

    If it's just me playing, I typically use the chop chord for vocals and keep the pattern simple. During solos, I like a chord melody style solo when there's just one person - which require more complex chords than a chop.

    If it's a duo setting or if someone is soloing, I usually use the partial chop to focus more on the rhythmic feeling. For example, in G - I might play the 7th fret of the G and the 5th fret of the D only (giving me the D and G notes respectively), for C just the 5th fret for G and D (giving me the C and G notes), and D just the 2nd fret of the G and 4th of the D (A and F#). The specifics of which notes I choose would depend on the song and the other instrument - but the goal in this setting is rhythm over melody.

    If it's a trio and up, over the vocals I'll do the BG chops to fill the sound - but keep the volume relatively low. Enough to be heard through the mix, but staying in my lane as the mandolin rhythm (similar to how a drummer would use a high-hat). Over solos, I'll often look to play fewer notes and be more rhythmic (similar to what I'd do for a duo setting).

    IMO - anyone starting out should be 95% focused on just making the mandolin sound like they would like. Often that means 2 note chords. There's absolutely nothing wrong starting like that - but it does get limiting eventually, so learning more complex and different inversions of the same chords is a longer term requirement generally.

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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    Mbruno you are right about chording to fit the situation. I am a diehard BG'er but I don't play only chop chords rhythm for one thing as Mr Burns said it would bore me to death.I do disagree with your statement that anyone starting out should be 95% focused on making the mandolin sound like they would like. Someone starting out on anything needs to learn the tried and true way things are done ( in the case of BG rhythm on mandolin that is chop chords) as he learns more about it he can and should venture out to his own way but he needs the fundamentals first. Not trying to be arrogant or negitive but some one just starting doesn't know how they want the mandolin to sound.

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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    Incidentally, I’ve been enjoying my latest acquisition, a Martin Style A. It has a 13 inch scale, as opposed the 14 inch scale that is more the mandolin world norm these days. And you know what? 4 finger chords are WAY easier with a 13 inch scale!
    Scale length and neck width are so important! In Celtic music, where the mandolin is mostly a melody instrument, it's fairly common to find mandolins with a longer or wider neck to suit converted guitarists or players with big fingers. Four-finger chop chords are very difficult on those. Not all mandolins are equal, and a "bluegrass" mandolin will be better for chop chords.

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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    For the record I did not say I can't hold the G chop chord pattern. I can actually hold it, and get to it from the C pattern chords (3325) kinda good after a few weeks of practice. I do like these chop chords, but I just think the open chords sound so much nicer.

    Of course I will learn how to chop with both. Right now just trying to get some songs in my brain, practice scales, chords up and down the neck, chop patterns to sound like a train.

    Thanks for all of your support!

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    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    Quote Originally Posted by Iron View Post
    Frog, chops chords are no where near as hard to make now as they used to be there is a new product now Called a Finger Stretcher that you should be able to find online, Maybe elderly stocks them, anyway if you want to go the other route keep your mando handy and when you are sitting around watching TV etc.
    Get the mando and make a G chord don't pick it just make a G and watch your TV slowly but surely your fingers will stretch and G's will come easy.
    Where does one find one of these Finger Stretcher thingamajigs?

  32. #25

    Default Re: Open chords vs closed chords for chops n chucks

    I think you should learn all kinds of chord shapes and use them as you see fit - the only person who gets to decide what sounds good is....you. I alternate between open, 2 and 3 finger chords and inversions hardly ever using the big G chop chord shape...even at BG jams. Many times I just move along the G and D strings with double stops. I can't imagine anyone would say something to you about it but you can always tell them that if they don't like the chord shapes you are using that's their problem.

    Don't screw yourself into the ground over it - how long did it take you to get comfortable with barre chords on the guitar? Do you only use one chord shape while playing guitar...maybe you do - but just in case you don't then apply the same logic to the mando.

    Some here will disagree with me but when I'm at a jam and 8 mandos are chopping the big beautiful BG chop chord while the guitar is taking the break it sounds terrible.
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