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Thread: Trouble with Chords

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    Default Trouble with Chords

    Hello! I'm new to mandolin, but I have a lot of musical experience. I'm working on learning my first mandolin chords, & I keep having the same problem no matter which chord I try to play.

    My fingers keep hitting strings they're not meant to! For example, when I play an D major chord, my pointer finger presses down the first E string, but it doesn't quite depress the second E string all the way. When I adjust my grip & successfully depress the second E string, it ends up partially hits the first G string, too.

    I've tried adjusting my hold of the instrument & my hands, but I'm stuck. I've watched several YouTube videos, but I haven't found anything that specifically addresses this issue. Are there any tricks to hitting the right combination of strings with the left hand? Does anyone have suggestions for YouTube videos or books that might help with this?

    Thanks for entertaining a question from a beginner. Any advice would be much appreciated.

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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    It was suggested to me to angle my fretting hand towards the head stock rather than straight on to the fret board. I am also relatively new to this instrument.
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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    If you are trying to play a two finger D chord try using your 2nd and 4th fingers instead of 1ar and 3rd.
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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    I agree with pops1 - use the index and ring for D (2-0-0-2)
    if you need to - start only playing the first 3 strings (2-0-0-x) omit the E string (or vice versa play only the top 3 omitting the G string (x-0-0-2)
    do that until you are comfortable and then add the 2nd fret of the E string.
    classical mandolin teaches to use the index middle and ring finger, and only use the pinky when necessary.
    So I doubt many players follow that to the letter ( I don't)
    There are probably some online demonstration of basic chords and how to form them, maybe Dave Benedict has something out there
    the Mel Bay book - learn to play mandolin has the chords with pictures not sure if that's available anymore.
    Don't press too hard, try to relax both the left and right hand ( easier said than done I know).
    Watch other players if you can, even on youtube or something like that.
    Good Luck, a lot of us have been there, I'll admit I was already used to fretting guitar and 12 string guitar so that part of mandolin was not new to me.
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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by xmarksthespot View Post
    Hello! I'm new to mandolin, but I have a lot of musical experience. I'm working on learning my first mandolin chords, & I keep having the same problem no matter which chord I try to play.

    My fingers keep hitting strings they're not meant to! For example, when I play an D major chord, my pointer finger presses down the first E string, but it doesn't quite depress the second E string all the way. When I adjust my grip & successfully depress the second E string, it ends up partially hits the first G string, too.

    I've tried adjusting my hold of the instrument & my hands, but I'm stuck. I've watched several YouTube videos, but I haven't found anything that specifically addresses this issue. Are there any tricks to hitting the right combination of strings with the left hand? Does anyone have suggestions for YouTube videos or books that might help with this?

    Thanks for entertaining a question from a beginner. Any advice would be much appreciated.
    The trouble may be clear from the words "hold" and "grip". I've had to point this out many times before: you just don't hold the instrument. Secure the instrument in place using a strap and a portion of your forearm, then bring your fretting hand to the neck and start playing.

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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    Indeed, the angle of the instrument is exceptionally important to clean playing. Everybody's body is different so you need to experiment with your playing position. Which you have started. Firstly, always use a strap so the instrument is in the same advantageous position. Some gain this by using a foot stool or block of wood or their case. The angle that works best for me is somewhere around 40' across my chest. And practice using loose hands fingers and wrist. Be careful not to over grip your instrument. Lastly, is it well set up? A poor setup makes it a fight to do anything on a mandolin. R/
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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    Also, to reiterate what colemole said, make sure you're using mandolin technique and not guitar technique when fretting the mandolin. good guitar technique -- fingers perpendicular to the fretboard -- is terrible mandolin technique. You need to hold it more like a fiddle/violin than guitar, with the fingers angled to the fretboard. Easiest way to mimic what you want is to hold the mandolin up to your chin as if it were a fiddle and see the angle your fingers fall into. Then use that angle when you play the mandolin.

    As for specific chord technique, i've been told it just takes practice (once you get the angle right). I don't play chords, so i can't give you any specific hints, but i've also been told that there's nothing wrong with starting with two-fingered chords and advancing from there once you get a clean sound. So don't worry about starting with fewer than four fingers as you learn.
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    Registered User Ken Berner's Avatar
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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    Lately I have been reading chord charts with some I am unfamiliar with such as; A2sus, G2, Bb2. What do the numerals indicate? I have seen them as high as 6, 9.

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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    It’s the notes of the scale, or more technically, the “scale degrees”.

    For example, G9 (or G2) would be a G chord withe the 9th or second note in the G scale added to the chord.

    You Get the 9, 11 and 13 by using a two-octave scale.

    1 G
    2 A
    3 B
    4 C
    5 D
    6 E
    7 F#
    8 G (1st octave)
    9 A
    10 B
    11 C
    12 D
    13 E
    14 F#
    15 G (2nd octave)

    As you can see from the above, the 2 and the 9 are the same note, the A note, etc.

    The G major chord is built from the 1, 3 & 5 of the scale (root, third, fifth) as are all major chords. You extend the chord by adding the 7 (or the b7), the 9, the 11 and the 13 at will … these can be added to the major triad, which in G is G, B, D (1,3,5) the G major chord.

    A sus chord is different though. Sus means the third is suspended in the major triad, and either the 2nd or the 4th replaces it. So a sus chord is an altered chord, not an extended chord.

    Gsus2 is G, A, D (1,2,5)
    Gsus4 is G, C, D (1,4,5)
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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    A couple of hours with a teacher will sort out a lots of handling problems.
    As Ralph has said, the mandolin is held by the straps and picking forearm pressure. It should be firmly in place like that from ‘grip’ on the other side of the mandolin that you’d expect, the picking side.
    Get someone to pull down gently on the headstock, and get them to push horizontally on the headstock to turn the mando counter-clockwise when looking down from the ceiling), it shouldn’t move because your picking forearm will push the mando clockwise (No fret hand at all).
    No thumb touching the neck, just downward pressure from the finger tips on fretboard.
    Good luck, it’s a great journey!

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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    A Chord I have trouble with is the Em, it's a little too wide for one finger, but a little tight for two fingers side by side, I need the middle two string sets, but I either hit the G or E.....

    One song I would like to do, needs that stupid chord.....

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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by PaulS View Post
    A Chord I have trouble with is the Em, it's a little too wide for one finger, but a little tight for two fingers side by side, I need the middle two string sets, but I either hit the G or E.....

    One song I would like to do, needs that stupid chord.....
    Assuming you are talking about 0220, try using 0223 (index finger barring across the 2nd fret) or 4520.

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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    Or 4-2-2-0, the E5 can work for Em as well. So if your index touches the G string while barring the two middle strings, just fret the G string at 4th fret and you have it. By the same token, if your index finger touches the E string while barring the two middle strings, catch the E string at third fret with your middle finger to get the true Em chord. If you have large fingers, you’ll learn to compensate for “dead” strings by fretting above where the dead note is.
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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    IOW if your index is too small to fret both strings, tilt it a little and catch the E string third fret with your middle finger. And any chord that feels a little awkward at first will come naturally if you practice it enough.
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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Berner View Post
    Lately I have been reading chord charts with some I am unfamiliar with such as; A2sus, G2, Bb2. What do the numerals indicate? I have seen them as high as 6, 9.
    Mark Guntner gave you the correct info, but in practical terms those additional numbers generally add an extra richness to the chords and don't change their essential nature. You can get away with playing a G chord whenever it says G7 or G9 and you'll mostly be leaving out some color rather than ruining the song. In many cases these chord charts you see online are written for guitar. In a practical sense, if you play the slightly simpler chords, especially in a setting with multiple people playing, you'll be fine because the guitar player will take up that role and it will sound perfectly good-- especially if you're doing a percussive chop. There are times that the uncertainty of the fancy jazzy chords is necessary to get the gist of what's going on, but if you're just working on getting up to speed, try playing without the extensions and see if it sounds good to your ear. Most of the time it will.

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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    E minor is simple as 457, add open e string or not.
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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    When I play My Name Ain’t In The Hall Of Fame ​in F (like Robert Earl Keen) I use that 4-5-7-x for Em and I prefer to use 7-5-5-x (7-5-5-7) rather than 4-5-5-x (4-5-5-7) for F so that there is plenty of contrast between the F chord voice and Em voice. There are many ways to voice a chord, best to learn as much as you can about different voicings as you have more options musically depending on context.
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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by xmarksthespot View Post
    My fingers keep hitting strings they're not meant to! For example, when I play an D major chord, my pointer finger presses down the first E string, but it doesn't quite depress the second E string all the way. When I adjust my grip & successfully depress the second E string, it ends up partially hits the first G string, too.
    If I understand you correctly, your fingers often touch (and therefore deaden / mute) strings that they aren't fretting. So playing a G chord (7523) your first ring finger on the 5th fret of the D string touches the A string which deadens / mutes the note played on that string. If that's accurate, it's a relatively easy fix - well, it may take some time, but it's not the hardest thing.

    First, figure out what fingers are touching what string. In my example of a G Chop chord (7523), likely that'd be your pinky on the 7th fret of the G touching the D string or your ring finger on the 5th fret of the D touching the A string. Then fret JUST that note and string - adjust your finger until you can hear the fretted note and the open string after clean. Then add the note below. So for example, fret the 7th fret on the G string with your pinky and make sure you can hear that and the open D clear. Once you can, then add your ring finger on the 5th fret of the D string and play the fretted G and D strings with the open A. Once you can hear all 3 notes clear, then add your first finger on the 2nd fret of the A string - play the G D and A fretted notes and the open E string. Once you can hear all notes, add the middle finger to the 3rd fret of the E string.

    If you have about 10 - 15 minutes, we can hop on a Zoom and I can show you what I mean. If I'm not getting the issue, LMK.
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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    Quote Originally Posted by xmarksthespot View Post
    My fingers keep hitting strings they're not meant to! For example, when I play an D major chord, my pointer finger presses down the first E string, but it doesn't quite depress the second E string all the way. When I adjust my grip & successfully depress the second E string, it ends up partially hits the first G string, too.
    If the D chord you're attempting is 2-0-0-2 it sounds like you need to switch your fingering. Let your index/pointer finger fret the G strings 2nd fret then let your middle finger fret the E-strings second fret.

  24. #20
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    There have been 3 questions posted here so far, post #1, post #8 and post #11 …

    For posts numbers 1 and 11 the most honest answer is to stick with it until you get it, and you can get it if you believe you can and you stick with it. All the suggestions are helpful and whatever adjustments you need to make - grip, fingering, etc. can help. Having someone coach you can help. But as more or less beginners, you need to know that EVERYONE who learns a stringed instrument experiences the same issues. Making chords is not easy in the beginning. Your hands and fingers have to make adjustments they’re not used to. So it requires some patience and practice.

    when I was 10 or 11 I decided I wanted to learn to play a guitar. My dad gave me his guitar and a guitar method and sat me down for one lesson. He showed me three chords. He told me to finger a chord, then play each string individually. When encountering a dead note, I was to readjust the problem finger. Keep doing this until I were able to hold the chord and make all six strings ring.

    I found it to be very difficult at first, and a bit painful. But I kept at it. Getting chords to sound clean is step one, and a chore in itself, which requires patience and practice. After that comes the hurdle of strumming them in time, and changing from one to another smoothly and in time. None of it is easy and most of it does not come naturally.

    Throughout your musical journey, you’ll want to add more chords and more voicings. Any time you encounter one that is difficult you’ll want to go back to square one and arpeggiate the chord and make the adjustments necessary to get it clean.

    The good news is that with practice, what begins as “difficult” and “painful” becomes second nature. You’ll play it easily without giving it a thought. You’ll look back and remember how tough it was and marvel at how quickly you were able to overcome the difficulty.
    Last edited by Mark Gunter; Yesterday at 8:51am.
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  25. #21
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Trouble with Chords

    Getting a chord “under your fingers”

    There are only two steps for an experienced player to getting a new chord under your fingers, that is, into your repertoire so you can use it easily without thinking about it.

    Step one: Practice the chord shape! Arpeggiate it and make whatever micro adjustments are necessary to get it to sound cleanly. Do this as often as you can, and as long as it takes to get it clean.

    Step two: Use it! Practice a tune and use the chord. Switching to a chord you’re not familiar with is not easy at first, and you probably won’t be able to catch it cleanly at first. The only way you ever will is by practicing these two steps until you can. Don’t be lazy, or fearful. Practice using it until it becomes second nature.
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