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Thread: Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

  1. #1

    Default Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

    Hello everyone. I am fairly new to mandolin...I started teaching myself about 8 months ago. I play in a friendly, low-key Bluegrass band, but I also play in a lot of fairly serious Bluegrass jams. I have finally got the Bluegrass chop chords down, and I have the chopping on the off beat thing down really well ( I was complimented on that last night by a long-time bluegrass mandolin player just last night).

    Here is my question: What chord shapes do you bluegrass mandolin players use for A minor, D minor, and E minor? I have experimented with a number of shapes and positions that I have found on the Internet or in books, but I haven't found any that (a) are easy to get to quickly when we are driving along through an up-tempo Bluegrass tune, or (b) sound quite right in the key we are playing in. For instance, playing in the key of A, Bb, or B, and reaching back-up to the first position for an Am or Em.

    Also, a little off topic, but I need a good F# chord as well.

    I would be most grateful for any suggestions you have.

  2. #2
    Registered User briankwood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

    Here is my question: What chord shapes do you bluegrass mandolin players use for A minor, D minor, and E minor?
    Also, a little off topic, but I need a good F# chord as well.
    [/QUOTE]

    Am - barre across so the 1st finger covers the 2 low strings 2235. Dm use the same position but shift your fingers to the lower course of strings 235x (don't play the E string).
    Em is 4223 with the 2 middle strings barred with the 1st finger.

    F# played by lowering the bluegrass G position one fret, or raising the E position 2 frets to 6446 (1st finger bar middle strings like Em chord)

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  4. #3
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    Default Re: Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

    Quote Originally Posted by Drum58 View Post
    Hello everyone. I am fairly new to mandolin...I started teaching myself about 8 months ago. I play in a friendly, low-key Bluegrass band, but I also play in a lot of fairly serious Bluegrass jams. I have finally got the Bluegrass chop chords down, and I have the chopping on the off beat thing down really well ( I was complimented on that last night by a long-time bluegrass mandolin player just last night).

    Here is my question: What chord shapes do you bluegrass mandolin players use for A minor, D minor, and E minor? I have experimented with a number of shapes and positions that I have found on the Internet or in books, but I haven't found any that (a) are easy to get to quickly when we are driving along through an up-tempo Bluegrass tune, or (b) sound quite right in the key we are playing in. For instance, playing in the key of A, Bb, or B, and reaching back-up to the first position for an Am or Em.

    Also, a little off topic, but I need a good F# chord as well.

    I would be most grateful for any suggestions you have.
    A couple of things in this post bother me a bit. One is the way you refer to "chopping on the off beat thing", as if it's just one idea or technique. Chopping on the off beat, just for the sake of it, is a bit anti-musical and you see it in bluegrass jams all the time. One (or more) mandolin players pouncing on the off beat relentlessly with no variation to their tone or dynamic or placement or, worst of all, not knowing when to leave it out all together. Constant mandolin chopping all the time does not make for better rhythm.

    The other thing is this a la carte approach to chords - I need a good this, or that - which is really the long way around it. It's best to try to understand what notes are in the chord and why they're there but even if you don't do that, you want to find moveable chord shapes and learn to identify the root notes in them, so you can move these shapes around on your own. At any rate, minor chord shapes have been covered to death on this forum and in countless books and DVD's.

  5. #4

    Default Re: Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

    Quote Originally Posted by mandolirius View Post
    A couple of things in this post bother me a bit. One is the way you refer to "chopping on the off beat thing", as if it's just one idea or technique. Chopping on the off beat, just for the sake of it, is a bit anti-musical and you see it in bluegrass jams all the time. One (or more) mandolin players pouncing on the off beat relentlessly with no variation to their tone or dynamic or placement or, worst of all, not knowing when to leave it out all together. Constant mandolin chopping all the time does not make for better rhythm.

    The other thing is this a la carte approach to chords - I need a good this, or that - which is really the long way around it. It's best to try to understand what notes are in the chord and why they're there but even if you don't do that, you want to find moveable chord shapes and learn to identify the root notes in them, so you can move these shapes around on your own. At any rate, minor chord shapes have been covered to death on this forum and in countless books and DVD's.
    Wow! Excuse me Mandolirious, for asking a question. I am sorry that I am not as an accomplished mandolin player as you so obliviously are. I thought that this site was the place to get FRIENDLY advice. I'll give you one bit of advice, though. If you bring that attitude to a bluegrass jam in the Southern US, you won't be able to find your way back to Canada fast enough.

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    Registered User Dave LaBoone's Avatar
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    Default Re: Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

    Way to go! Getting the Chop down is a key part of fitting in to a bluegrass band or jam...keep up the good work! To make some of the minor chords you mentioned, I often use these:
    Am - 2235 or 223x or even 5200
    Dm - 735x or occasionally 2001
    Em 4220 or 9570 or 957x. Sometimes 4520

    Try 6412 for F#.

    F#m sounds cool as 6402.

    For Bm, I like 445x or 402x.

    Really, for any of these chop chords, the highest strings won't likely be played, as the bass strings of the mando provide the "chuck" more than the high ones.

    Keep exploring different chord shapes; you'll find ones you like better than others, and you'll find that some shapes work better in certain keys/contexts than others.

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    Default Re: Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

    Thanks so much dslaboone! Very helpful. I am going go try these out now. I do appreciate it!

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    Registered User Dave LaBoone's Avatar
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    Default Re: Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

    Gm isn't too common in most bluegrass tunes, but it sounds great and haunting as 0013.

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    Registered User John Gardinsky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

    I find it hard to get a satisfying chop with any chord featuring a barre in it. No doubt someone will come along shortly and correct me...Here are a couple no barre Am shapes. They are a stretch but sound great.
    Am: 9-7-3-5, 9-10-7-5

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    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

    Well, the purists may scoff, but one of the most useful shapes for the relative minors of keys like G, A, Bb, B, (where the root of the chop chord is found on the first string) is the 2 finger (3 string) power chord found on the SAME fret.

    For example, in Bb for the root chop chord, your index finger is on fret 5, 2nd string. So the Gm can be made by actually making the 755x (G5, power chord). I know that there's no third to define the minor, but, in context, the G5 sure sounds appropriately minor to me. (And you CAN add the 3rd on the 1st string if you like. 7556)

    Make the F# and the G# power chords likewise when needed in key of A and B, respectively. They are handy and right across the fingerboard from where you're playing the root chord anyway. And only tie up 2 fingers.
    Icing on the cake is that the same power chords can be used as major chords in other contexts.

    When playing in keys with the root chop chord on the other side of the fingerboard, like C, D, E, F, the relative minor is easily made by just sliding the tip of your index finger (3rd string) over to cover the 4th string (as well as the 3rd) and lift the ring finger to form the shape (e.g. Bm would be 445x for the D chop being played 745x) and similarly for E and F, etc. Economy of motion.

    Anyway, that's what I do.
    Phil

    “Sharps/Flats” “Accidentals”

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  15. #10

    Default Re: Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

    Quote Originally Posted by mandolirius View Post
    It's best to try to understand what notes are in the chord and why they're there but even if you don't do that, you want to find moveable chord shapes and learn to identify the root notes in them, so you can move these shapes around on your own. At any rate, minor chord shapes have been covered to death on this forum and in countless books and DVD's.
    Good advice.

  16. #11
    Gibson F5L Gibson A5L
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    Default Re: Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

    Phil is correct , it isn't 1949, you can imply the minor with a 1st and 5th ie. a1/5, or a power chord as shredders call it, without using a third. And a mandolin being tuned in fifths any two adjoining strings played at the same fret are a 1/5 or the first and fifth of some major / minor chord ... finding a flatted third to complete the chord is not too great a reach usually or a 9th or 7th for that matter. Let your fingers do the walking. DSlaboone is correct also when he allows that the tone of "the bass strings of the mando provide the "chuck" more than the high ones".
    And as MB points out.... understanding what makes a chord makes it possible to find and use them. ....And not just as a rhythum device but a a melodic statement as well.
    Yes four note chop chords have a hallowed place in Bluegrass and have a lovely sound. But they aren't always the best answer as a chordal choice especially for those time where you are dealing with a one or two beat change. Or when you get old and arthritic for that matter......C'est la Vie..... R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

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    Default Re: Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

    Quote Originally Posted by Drum58 View Post
    Wow! Excuse me Mandolirious, for asking a question. I am sorry that I am not as an accomplished mandolin player as you so obliviously are. I thought that this site was the place to get FRIENDLY advice. I'll give you one bit of advice, though. If you bring that attitude to a bluegrass jam in the Southern US, you won't be able to find your way back to Canada fast enough.
    It is friendly advice.

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    Default Re: Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

    Quote Originally Posted by mandolirius View Post
    It is friendly advice.
    If it is offered as friendly advice, then I accept as friendly advice. Thank you, mandolirius.

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  22. #14

    Default Re: Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

    I use 3 finger moveable patterns for minors - if you're new to instruments tuned in fifths, I'd recommend the book Mandolin Chordology, which shows you 3 sets of patterns for nearly any chord you would ever need - a whole lot less memorization.

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    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Minor Chord Shapes in Bluegrass

    I'm a big fan of the power chord. I use them frequently.

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