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Thread: I Hate Playing Chords

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    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default I Hate Playing Chords

    "Hate" is a really strong word, but it describes my state of mind when practicing chords. I rarely have the opportunity to play with others, so, mostly, I play melody from the written music. I know, though, if and when I do play with others, I'll need to play chords. Until a couple of years ago, I was fairly adept at playing 2 finger chords when playing at jams at the local senior center. Now I'm determined to master 3 finger chords. I'll spare you all the details as to how I got here, but I think what I'd like to do now is concentrate on chords in a single key. So, if you were to do that, would you work on A, C, D or G major pieces?

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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    Since they are the 4 keys that are most regularly met (if we are playing traditional music) then proficiency in all four would be a very useful skill, Sherry. Why do you feel the need for 3-finger rather than 2-finger chords? I play regularly with fiddlers and accordion players and generally back them on guitar, but often I am playing mandolin or octave lead and will revert to chorde from melody to give the tunes a bit of variety. I use 3-finger more on the octave as I find that the mandolin's small narrow fretboard is a bit tight for me (even when playing my own build which has a slightly wider fingerboard and longer scale length). I might try chords in G and D first as I find the chords in those two scales are maybe a bit easier to finger with 3 fingers, but others may well differ. Remember too that there are inversions of the chords so fingering will vary, and some groupings are easier than others.
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    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    Interesting, chords are almost all I play. I finger the chord patterns to get to the melody. And yes, I play mostly chord-melody.

    Nice thing is, there's room for all of us. Never be afraid to be different, and never be afraid to be the same. Make it yours.
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    Interesting, chords are almost all I play. I finger the chord patterns to get to the melody. And yes, I play mostly chord-melody.

    Nice thing is, there's room for all of us. Never be afraid to be different, and never be afraid to be the same. Make it yours.
    Im with you!!!
    while I play an lot of leads and fiddle tunes, im with you, chords are where its at for finding the melody, improvisation, and outlining changes.

    but, I agree with sherry, mando chords, nekked, can be, sometimes, depending on the player and instrument a bit shrill brittle sounding, compared to say, a guitar. especially, imho, solo with vocals. I think partially its due to its range.

    I happen to love two finger open chords for some tunes, as my mandos sound very full and have great overtones that they don't when fretted.

    Chords in all keys should be easy Sherry, as once you get a couple keys down, eg. G.

    Once you can play in G, everything is movable. Slide all your G chords up two frets and youre playing in A.


    Ditto key of C shapes, can be slid up 2 frets to D, 2 more to E.

    For example, if you use a three finger G chord, you use the E string, fretted at the third fret (G note) to know that's a G chord. Move it up two frets (fifth fret) , its an A, two more frets (seventh fret), its a B, one more fret upward and its a C (eighth fret). using a C shape, in the first position, the second string is fretted at the third fret (C note). move it up two frets and its a D, etc.

    Learn a three finger G, and C, (C chord shape is the same as D chord shape, but moved up (in pitch) two frets) . Frankly you only have two forms (initially ) to learn and you can play all those keys using only two chord shapes. Learn to use the side markers on the fret board to figure out where you need to slide to or land with your chordal shape.

    Once you learn where to move, say in a I-IV-V progression, ie three finger G, C, D...notice where the I chord is (G), where the IV chord is (C) and where the V (D) chord is.

    Do the same using a C shape. once you remember where to move, you can play in any key. The RELATIVE chord positions stay the same.


    Sherry, chording is muscle memory. And to some extent, finger /hand strength. Get used to the idea that at first it may be a little plinky until you fret with adequate pressure and clearing the frets. Chording is also "target practice". Try your three finger G, and pick each string until it rings clearly. It may take a few days or more to get the strength.

    Then , when you know the chord forms, play along with a simple 2-3 chord song in G, and try to make the changes at tempo, or, sing a song you know and make the changes in time. Start slowly, get the muscle memory, then increase tempo. Do this daily, just ten minutes, and in two weeks, youll be smokin'.
    Last edited by stevedenver; Apr-10-2020 at 1:18pm.

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    Registered User John Soper's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    And if you are jamming with others in bluegrass or swing, or accompanying a vocalist, you'll need to play chords - or at least partial chords - a higher per centage of the time than you'll play single notes. So buckle down and learn those chords during this time of social isolation. I'm practicing a bunch, because nobody can hear my mistakes!

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    Registered User Drew Egerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    I think one thing to consider would be what type of music and what other instruments you will be playing with. Based on that, you might need to focus on more open sounding ringing chords, or ones that are better suited to a chop.
    The great thing about the mandolin is once you learn a few shapes you can move them around to make other chords if they don't use open strings.

    If you're playing bluegrass, go for the chop chords. That does NOT mean you need the 4 fingers Bill Monroe G shape. The bottom two (bass) strings will give you all the chop you need and you can use about 3 different shapes to play any chord necessary. Other styles will dictate different approaches.
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    I think starting with G Major would be good move. There are a lot of songs played in that key.

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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    Don't beat yourself up about two finger chords. They're not wrong. They're just voiced differently than three or four finger chords. Just go to Jazzmando.com look into Four Finger Closed Position chords. Simply for the patterns at first. Tuned in 5ths, mandolins and fiddles are a wonder of sensible patterns for me.
    It took awhile for me as well. Must be a left brain, right brain thing? To play a melody for one round, then the chords for the next, then back. Or learn a tune with words, then, do your own melodic break, then sing another verse, etc. By gum, it ain't easy, at first. Makes y'all appreciate them what can.

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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    I love playing chords, so did this guy
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Jethro and the G chord.jpg 
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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    I have been there, but the way out of Melody Metropolis leads through the Domain of Doublestops. Eventually, Chord Country looms on the horizon. Today, I play it all mingled together.
    the world is better off without bad ideas, good ideas are better off without the world

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

    It gets better with time and practice, Sherry. Some things take days, some things take years; frustration only takes a moment. Don’t give up, have fun, and work on the things you want to do. You’re doing well.

    I really like the sound of Key of G on the mandolin using 2 finger G with three finger C and D. That might be a good place to start.
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    Registered User gortnamona's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    I never play chords, i don't know any, its all melody for me, closest I get is a open string above or below a fretted note .

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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    I have to ask why you hate playing chords? If you are having a hard time doing it, it may be a setup issue on your mandolin. You may also have some issues with your left hand technique. As for keys, G and D are probably the most common but after you are playing three and four note chords it doesn't matter as they are movable.

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    "Hate" is a really strong word, but it describes my state of mind when practicing chords. I rarely have the opportunity to play with others, so, mostly, I play melody from the written music. I know, though, if and when I do play with others, I'll need to play chords.
    Not necessarily.

    There are genres like Irish and Scottish traditional music, where the primary role of the mandolin is to play the melody, not chords. Harmonic backup is considered less essential and a somewhat recent development in this music, compared to other Western or Americana styles of music.

    You might throw in some double-stops here and there when playing Irish trad, or even partial chords occasionally within the melody line. But the main focus is unison melody along with all the other instruments like fiddles, flutes, whistles, and concertinas.

    OldTime music has a similar focus on unison melody, although in that genre it's a little more common to see mandolin filling either role of melody or chord backup.

    This isn't to say that you should completely ignore getting familiar with at least the basic chords and some harmonic theory, just to be a well-rounded musician. It's a path you might consider though, if you want to eventually play with others and focus on just the melody line.

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    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by John Kelly View Post
    Why do you feel the need for 3-finger rather than 2-finger chords?
    Because, John, I feel after 5 years of playing, I should have advanced beyond 2 finger chords. In my area I would say 3 finger vs 2 finger chords separate the men from the boys, so to speak.

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    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by stevedenver View Post
    Once you can play in G, everything is movable. Slide all your G chords up two frets and youre playingin A.
    Steve, I do understand moveable chords. In fact, a teacher in my area has had me playing a barre A chord, along with D and E with the same shape. I detest that barre A. I get no D string sound at all and can't figure out what to do with my thumb. Nothing is comfortable.

    Sorry to sound like such a crybaby!

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    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by SOMorris View Post
    I think starting with G Major would be good move. There are a lot of songs played in that key.
    This is what I've decided to do.

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    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    I really like the sound of Key of G on the mandolin using 2 finger G with three finger C and D. That might be a good place to start.
    So, Mark, is the D you use the same shape as C? I've been trying to figure out the best D shape to use.

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    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by Nevin View Post
    I have to ask why you hate playing chords? If you are having a hard time doing it, it may be a setup issue on your mandolin. You may also have some issues with your left hand technique. As for keys, G and D are probably the most common but after you are playing three and four note chords it doesn't matter as they are movable.
    Oh, Nevin, let me count the ways. I've been told by several my setup is fine. Playing chords hurts my fingertips - much more than playing melody, which doesn't hurt at all. I never quite know what to do with my thumb. It's usually very curved and that's painful. So, yes, I do have left hand issues. The teacher I mentioned, as well as a friend who plays, don't seem to know how to help. I keep trying different approaches, trying to find a comfortable position.

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    Registered User Drew Egerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    Sherry, you might try out an online teacher that can see what you're struggling with and help out.
    I'd highly recommend ArtistWorks with Mike Marshall but there are lots of others out there. Lots of pros willing to give lessons right now while their gigs are cancelled.
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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    So, Mark, is the D you use the same shape as C? I've been trying to figure out the best D shape to use.
    Yes. I get a lot of mileage out of ~

    G: 0023
    C: 5230
    D: 745x
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    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    Yes. I get a lot of mileage out of ~

    G: 0023
    C: 5230
    D: 745x
    I thought so. And D7?

  32. #23
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    D7: 545x (or 5455)
    C7: 323x (or 3233)

    I use those a lot, they are "rootless" - both of those forms lower the root note on the G string to the flat 7, based on the two chords I showed for C and D in the last post.
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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    I've been told by several my setup is fine. Playing chords hurts my fingertips -
    I visited Sherry a few years ago and checked the action on her mandolin, it was set up well at that time; also, a good mandolin teacher checked it IIRC.

    Sherry, if you're not doing it already, I think you should try light gauge strings for awhile and see if that helps. I can tell you that playing causes pain in my fingers sometimes, but that's mostly due to my age and some arthritis as well as some neuralgia. Some years ago I decided to push through the discomfort and keep playing (I was a lifelong guitarist, this was before I picked up the mandolin). I found that I was able to play on and build up my strength bit by bit. The pain never goes away, but playing benefits my condition, especially when it comes to range of motion and strength.

    I wouldn't advocate hurting oneself, but realistically for me and many others there can be some discomfort involved in playing and in training for new skills. Be wise about such things. I have overdone it at times on my way to increasing stamina and strength. Back then, when I first made the determination to push through, I remember one time I had to rest and heal for a few days. But if you persevere, and you don't overdo it but continue to stretch yourself, over time you can build strength and stamina - in addition to hopefully gaining some more musicality.
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    Default Re: I Hate Playing Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    Steve, I do understand moveable chords. In fact, a teacher in my area has had me playing a barre A chord, along with D and E with the same shape. I detest that barre A. I get no D string sound at all and can't figure out what to do with my thumb. Nothing is comfortable.

    Sorry to sound like such a crybaby!
    I used to think that A barre chord was really difficult, and same with the thumb - I was never sure if it should be around the back of the neck like a classical guitarist (it shouldn't) or if I could keep the same basic hand position as playing any other chord (I can now, and I believe that's the better thing to do).

    I assume you're talking about the 2 2 4 5 A chord. A couple things that helped me. You can finger this chord with your first three fingers, or with your first finger, ring finger, and pinky finger. I use the ring finger and pinky finger to get the 4th and 5th fret notes. But try it the other way too. Maybe one way works better for you.

    The other thing is that I aim my first finger, the one that is barring the second fret of the G and D strings in between the string courses. I don't worry about fretting all four strings perfectly. I know I'll get at least one of the G strings and one of the D strings and the ones I don't get will be muted. This is also a great trick for the Em chord that's fretted 4 2 2 3. You'd use the same technique to fret the middle string courses.

    Another great chord shape, that I think is one of the easiest closed position shapes to play, is the D chord fretted 2 4 5 x (basically the same shape as the A barre chord but you're moving the whole shape one string lower (lower meaning lower in pitch) and you're dropping the top string (top meaning highest in pitch - the E string)). It's also a great shape to know because it easily becomes a minor chord my moving one finger 2 3 5 x.

    Hope this helps! Keep doing it. It becomes easier with time.

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