Mandolin for GuitaristsIn this age of "cheats" and "hacks," I could have called this "Mandolin Hacks (or Cheats) for Guitarists," but then people would click on the article title thinking there was some magic shortcut to learning a new instrument with a 200-year-old tradition. There isn't really.
But there are some things that helped me adjust to mandolin for those times when a mandolin is handy and there are already too many guitars and banjos playing along.
And mandolin is fun to play. I seldom play it during, say, solo gigs. But during a Folk jam or such when everyone else seems to be playing guitar, it's great to add another layer of bright tone to the mix. And it's a lot easier to take, say, backpacking, than a Dreadnought.
Adjustments You Would Need to Make:
All of those issues considered, I know of many guitarists who added mandolin to their arsenal of skills without too much trouble once they took time to practice. Most folks recommend books and lessons, even if you're already accomplished on other instruments.
A Short Cut to Learning Mandolin Chords- Strings on the mandolin are exactly backwards from the lowest four strings on your guitar.
That means that if you want to play chords, you can figure out some chords just by turning the lowest four strings of your guitar around in your head.
Here are some examples. If it's easier just to memorize the chords, that's fine. And there are better ways to play the chords we show, once you advance to that level. But if you haven't gone there and somebody hands you a mandolin in the middle of a jam session, this trick will get you started.
Let's start with G, a very popular chord in Folk, Country, and Bluegrass. On guitar, you typically fret the lowest two strings. You leave the next two strings open. For this exercise, we'll ignore the highest two strings on the guitar. Picture the guitar's G cord backwards (. Ignoring the highest two strings). That gives you the G chord on your mandolin.
By the way, this is a perfect mandolin chord, because there is a G in the bass and a D (the fifth) above that. Since so many Bluegrass songs are pitched in G, this is a chord you're likely to use forever.
A chord that usually shows up in the key of G is C. Using the same approach, ignore the top two strings on the guitar, turn the lower four strings around in your head. The good part of this C chord is that you can go back and forth between G and C quickly just by moving your fingers a string over. The bad part is that the tonic (C) doesn't show up in the lower octave. So if you are playing a song in the key of C, you won't have the "foundation" you might expect.
That's why we show an alternative fingering for the C chord.
The tonic (D) sits over the fifth (A), and the F# is the highest note, like it is on guitar (only an octave higher).
If you're playing a song in A, however, you should probably consider adding the major third (C#) just to have a fuller sound. That's what the "better" example on the chart does.
For many songs, it will sound better if you don't stress that note too much. If the song is in A, fine. If it's in the key of E (or Em), you might consider choosing another fingering.
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