Popular for their versatility, sound and simplicity, mandolins are small, double-stringed instruments that have been the choice of accompaniment since the 15th century. During the early years of the 20th century, playing in a mandolin orchestra became fashionable, due to the sales tactics of guitar companies that manufactured so many inexpensive mandolins that they are still abundant today. Mandolins have become staples in bluegrass, folk and country music. Combined with the distinctive mandolin picking style, chord playing can be simple to learn.
The first thing to understand for a beginning-mandolin player is a little bit about music theory. Chords are typically made up of three notes that combine the root of the chord and two other notes that make the root sound more complex. The chords that are more commonly found in music are G, D and A minor.
Eight strings on a mandolin create four tones. The two thickest strings are tuned to the note G. Next to those are two strings tuned to D. The second-thinnest strings are tuned to A and the two thinnest are tuned to an E. Each of the spaces of the fretboard moves a halftone up the scale -- if you were to depress the G strings at the first fret, you would play a G sharp, which is denoted as G#. If you were to move your finger to the second fret and strike it, the A note would sound.
The notes for the G chord are G, which is the root, B-the third, and D-the fifth. Place your index finger on the A strings at the second fret to get the B note. Place your middle finger on the third fret on the E strings. Stretch your ring finger to the fifth fret of the D strings for the G note and your little finger all the way across the fretboard to the seventh fret of the G strings to get the D note.
The notes of the D chord are D, F# and A. Place your index finger on the high E strings at the second fret to get the F# note. Place your middle finger on the fourth fret on the D strings for another F#. Set your ring finger down on the fifth fret of the A strings for the D note and your little finger all the way across the fretboard to the seventh fret of the G string to get the D note. Even though you can play open strings, the technique for mandolin playing usually doesn't allow a note to ring, but mutes it right after playing. Since you haven't gotten any of the A note in this configuration, you can play the open A strings if you can immediately lay your middle across the strings to mute them after striking them.
The notes for A minor are A, C and E. Place your index finger on the second fret of the low G strings for the A. Place your middle finger beside it on the second fret of the D strings for the E note. Your ring finger can go on the third fret of the A strings for the C. You can either pluck and mute the open E strings or not play them at all.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images