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Thread: How to play chords to sing along to?

  1. #1
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    Default How to play chords to sing along to?

    Coming from a violin playing background, I can pick tunes on my mandolin, but I donít know where to start when it comes to strumming chords and maybe singing along.
    It may sound ridiculous to most mandolin and guitar players, but when I look at written music, whilst I can read the tune, and I can see the chords written above the bars, I really donít understand how you know what to strum, and how that fits with the tune!
    Can you recommend a resource that would help me find these things out, and start to learn: Iíve got some time at the moment, with the UK ďstay at homeĒ policy in force.

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    Registered User Mike Buesseler's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play chords to sing along to?


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    Default Re: How to play chords to sing along to?

    I know there are much more knowleadgeable folks here than I am. I have trouble knowing when to switch chords, but I use the (I think this is the right name) Nashville 1-4-5 method. You go up the scale from the key the song is in. In other words, if you are playing a song in G, then the G would be 1, the C would be 4 and the D 5. Most songs would start in G, then go to C, then back to G, then to D, then back to G, then C, etc. I know this part, but when actually playing, I don't know when to switch chords. I have to have it written in above the music.

  6. #4

    Default Re: How to play chords to sing along to?

    The default strum, at least in bluegrass music, is the chop. That strum will serve for accompaniment in most genres for starting out till till you learn more. In it you strum on the 2 and the 4 counts of each measure. You let up pressure at the end of the strum to damp the chord from ringing out and give a percussion effect. In 3/4 time you strum on the last two beats of the measure. In bluegrass and a lot of other forms of music the bass will cover the one and three counts. For things like swing and jazz it emphasizes the backbeats as those genres prefer. Even singing alone the brain fills in the blanks. The mandolin in accompaniment is acting as a rhythm machine and by far the most important thing is to keep time. Even if you damp the strings and just make chunk chunk noises it can be effective accompaniment as long as you keep the time.

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  8. #5
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    Default Re: How to play chords to sing along to?

    Thanks for helpful comments and pointers. It’ll get me started. So much to find out about. Fortunately, there’s some time available. Just very sad and concerning as to why we’re all stuck at home at the moment. Hope everyone can keep safe and keep well.

  9. #6
    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: How to play chords to sing along to?

    Not rediculous! Many of us have been or still are there. I started where you are. I played in a mandolin orchestra with many accomplished players that never strummed chords. B. B. King was quoted as saying, "don't ask me about no chords, never played any".
    In some ways like learning to play over. Many people would have difficult singing along with me. I start a new tune by learning the basic melody. Then I build on it with double stops, chords, tremelo, e.t.c. Still heavily influenced by melody This is probably because I do not sing. My wife does a nice job of singing along with me as she is practiced at my style of play and do sometimes on ocasion find singers that sing well with me. Timing has to be precise for it to work for me and the singer.
    Learning to play pure rythm can be like learning to play a new instrument Some good advice was given by Mike for the YouTube video.. It will come with time. My ability to play pure rythm gets better as I continue to work at improving my skill.
    Not a fan here of chop chords (playing or hearing) but do admit that they have their place in certain genras and a whole new deal for a classical trained player.
    Good luck with strumming and happy pick'n.
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  10. #7
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play chords to sing along to?

    Technique, theory and fun, fun, fun. I love playing, studying and sharing MUSIC.
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  11. #8
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play chords to sing along to?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pittsburgh Bill View Post
    Not a fan here of chop chords (playing or hearing) but do admit that they have their place in certain genras and a whole new deal for a classical trained player.
    Good luck with strumming and happy pick'n.
    Many, many posts answering questions in the cafe seem to be based on the assumption that bluegrass is the topic. I'd imagine that's because the mandolin is the instrument that the Father of bluegrass played, and that's understood. Like Pittsburgh Bill, I don't come from a bluegrass background (though I've come to love bluegrass).

    Chopping is a special rhythmic style and doesn't have to be introduced to a newbie wanting to learn to play chords to accompany singing - unless he or she specifically wants to play in a bluegrass ensemble or jam. Chopping is just one very specific technique that comes under the larger heading of "muting" when it comes to rhythm and harmony (chord) accompaniment.

    So far jso (OP) has not indicated what type of music they want to play, or what, specifically, is giving them problems. So:

    1. Do you actually know chord "shapes", i.e. how to finger chords on the mandolin? There is a mandolin chord finder here at the cafe under the "Learn/Listen" link in the header area. Also, you can buy chord books for reference to help you get started. When you see the chord names above a piece of music or lyric sheet, you are expected to either already know, or be able to find, ways to finger the particular chord on the mandolin.

    2. If you already understand the above, and your problem is learning to strum rhythmically, you learn that from listening and trying to imitate what you hear ... or from having a teacher or fellow musician show you (in which case you'll have to watch, listen, and still try to imitate what you hear). Then you practice, practice, practice. No one ever grows out of the need to keep learning and keep practicing.

    You can get more specific help from the forum if you tell us more about where your problem starts ... and what type of music you're trying to play chords to.

    Kudos to you for playing and learning during these crazy times. Great use of your time!
    Technique, theory and fun, fun, fun. I love playing, studying and sharing MUSIC.
    "Life is short. Play hard." - AlanN
    ------------------------
    HEY! The Cafe has Social Groups, check 'em out. I'm in these groups:
    Newbies Social Group | The Song-A-Week Social
    The Woodshed Study Group | Collings Mandolins | MandoCymru
    - Advice For Mandolin Beginners
    - YouTube Stuff

  12. #9
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    Default Re: How to play chords to sing along to?

    If you are new to chords, an easier to place to start than chop chords are simple 2-finger chords (especially if you are singing along). I would guess that we all use these in various aspects of playing - I used them a lot:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/archives/two.html

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  13. #10

    Default Re: How to play chords to sing along to?

    The point I wanted to make about chopping is that it is one place to start. The full four finger chords can be difficult for a beginner but it can be done with three finger chords. I get the impression the poster is more than a beginner though just starting with chord accompaniment.

    I believe it is a good idea to get one or two at the most basic accompaniment strums to start. It does not have to be chopping but it is a good idea to pick one to start. Trying to do four or six and adding crosspicking and ornaments right away will get poor technique ingrained that has to be fixed later.

    Chops can be very effective vocal accompaniment. A mandolinist who used to accompany me while I was on guitar would get right in my ear with a hard chop whenever my rhythm would start to get loose. It really helped me tighten up.

    I have worked with guitarists who had a lot of difficulty with more complicated Tony Rice style strums and back brushes to the point of being ready to give up playing all together. When we went back to the basic boom-chick, simple strum and got technique straightened out they were happy with the result and learned to do what they wished.

  14. #11
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    Default Re: How to play chords to sing along to?

    Quote Originally Posted by RobP View Post
    If you are new to chords, an easier to place to start than chop chords are simple 2-finger chords (especially if you are singing along). I would guess that we all use these in various aspects of playing - I used them a lot:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/archives/two.html

    Cheers!
    Beat me to it! The chord diagrams show you where to put your fingers for each chord. Find some simple songs that you already know (Happy Birthday, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Wagon Wheel--insert head slap emoji) and start there. You'll progress beyond the two finger chords, but I still use a lot of them when I want an open, ringing sound (ie, in some praise and worship songs like Thrive by Casting Crowns, for example). The chord library located under the "Learn/Listen" tab at the top right of the page is a great resource as well.
    Chuck

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    Default Re: How to play chords to sing along to?

    Quote Originally Posted by CarlM View Post
    The default strum, at least in bluegrass music, is the chop. That strum will serve for accompaniment in most genres for starting out till till you learn more. In it you strum on the 2 and the 4 counts of each measure. You let up pressure at the end of the strum to damp the chord from ringing out and give a percussion effect. In 3/4 time you strum on the last two beats of the measure. In bluegrass and a lot of other forms of music the bass will cover the one and three counts. For things like swing and jazz it emphasizes the backbeats as those genres prefer. Even singing alone the brain fills in the blanks. The mandolin in accompaniment is acting as a rhythm machine and by far the most important thing is to keep time. Even if you damp the strings and just make chunk chunk noises it can be effective accompaniment as long as you keep the time.
    As always there's the question of context. A lot of people like to think of the mandolin as a snare drum, and obviously you don't use a lone snare drum the same way as one of 8 components of a drum set. In a five-piece BG band the mando comes on top of everything else, with the bass and guitar establishing the basic groove. In such a group I would play various rhythmic patterns accenting the off-beat (note that most BG is in 2/2 rather than 4/4), perhaps ending long periods with a looser kind of strum, tremolo, or streams of repeated eighth notes. In other types of music, just listen and find out where you fit in. You can get inspiration from records.

    On your own, just your voice and mando, a simple off-beat chop would sound a bit empty. Perhaps you could alternate chords with figures in varying combinations. Again, listen to records. I don't do this kind of thing myself (the lowest note on the mandolin is in the middle of my vocal range). There are records and YouTube videos of Ry Cooder, e.g., Going to Brownsville, that may offer some inspiration.

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