How to Play Mandolin Chords: Unlock the Secrets to Creating Beautiful Music

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If you’re looking to learn how to play mandolin chords, then you’ve come to the right place! I’m here to unlock the secrets to playing beautiful mandolin music and help you become a mandolin master. With a few simple tips and tricks, you’ll be playing mandolin chords like a pro in no time!

Basic Mandolin Anatomy

Basic Mandolin Anatomy
The mandolin consists of a body with a flat back, two f-holes on either side and a fretted neck. The body of the mandolin is typically made of spruce, maple, mahogany, or rosewood, and the neck is usually made of maple. The fingerboard is usually ebony and the bridge is usually rosewood. At the head of the mandolin, you’ll find the tuning pegs, which are used to tune the strings. The strings are typically steel and are stretched from the bridge to the tuning pegs. The strings are tuned in pairs, with the pairs tuned in fifths (G-D-A-E). The mandolin also has a nut, which holds the strings in place at the headstock. The strings are then fretted by pressing down on the fingerboard with your left hand and plucking the strings with your right hand.

Tuning Your Mandolin

Tuning Your Mandolin

When playing mandolin chords, it is essential to properly tune the instrument. Tuning is best done with an electronic tuner as it is the most accurate form of tuning.

String Pitch
1st (G) 196 Hz
2nd (D) 293 Hz
3rd (A) 440 Hz
4th (E) 587 Hz

To tune your mandolin, begin by tuning the G (first string) to 196 Hz. From there, tune the D (second string) to 293 Hz, A (third string) to 440 Hz and finally the E (fourth string) to 587 Hz. If you are having difficulty tuning the strings, it is best to check the tuning of each string with an electronic tuner to ensure accuracy.

Once you have tuned your mandolin correctly, you can begin to play mandolin chords.

Chord Families

Chord Families
Mandolin chords can be categorised into 7 different families based on their root note. The families are A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, and can be memorised by the mnemonic “All Bad Cats Eat Dogs Eventually”. Each chord family contains major, minor, and seventh chords.

Chord Family Major Chord Minor Chord Seventh Chord
A A, A#, A7, Am, Am7 A-, A#-, A7-, Am-, Am7- A9, A13, Am9, Am13
B B, Bb, B7, Bm, Bm7 B-, Bb-, B7-, Bm-, Bm7- B9, B13, Bm9, Bm13
C C, C#, C7, Cm, Cm7 C-, C#-, C7-, Cm-, Cm7- C9, C13, Cm9, Cm13
D D, D#, D7, Dm, Dm7 D-, D#-, D7-, Dm-, Dm7- D9, D13, Dm9, Dm13
E E, Eb, E7, Em, Em7 E-, Eb-, E7-, Em-, Em7- E9, E13, Em9, Em13
F F, F#, F7, Fm, Fm7 F-, F#-, F7-, Fm-, Fm7- F9, F13, Fm9, Fm13
G G, G#, G7, Gm, Gm7 G-, G#-, G7-, Gm-, Gm7- G9, G13, Gm9, Gm13

Major Chords

Major Chords

  • The major chord is one of the most common chords used in mandolin playing. It is composed of three notes, the root, 3rd, and 5th of the major scale.
  • To play a major chord, play the root note on the 5th fret of the 4th string, the 3rd note on the 5th fret of the 3rd string and the 5th note on the 5th fret of the 2nd string.
  • These notes can also be played in an open position, meaning the root note is played on the open 4th string, the 3rd note is played on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string and the 5th note is played on the 2nd fret of the 2nd string.
  • The major chord can be used in a variety of musical styles and is the foundation of many popular songs.

Minor Chords

Minor Chords

Minor chords are the second most common chords used in mandolin playing. They are created by playing the root note, followed by a minor third interval, and then a perfect fifth interval. The minor third interval is one and a half steps lower than the root note, and the perfect fifth interval is two and a half steps higher than the root note.

Note Interval
Root Tonic
Minor 3rd 1 ½ Steps Lower
Perfect 5th 2 ½ Steps Higher

For example, if the root note is C, the minor third interval would be E flat, and the perfect fifth interval would be G. When all the notes are played together, it creates a C minor chord. Minor chords can be played in any key and can be used to create a range of musical textures.

Seventh Chords

Seventh Chords
Seventh chords are an important part of playing the mandolin. They are chords that contain four notes and are formed by adding a minor or major seventh above the root note. The most common seventh chords are major seventh, minor seventh, dominant seventh, and half-diminished seventh chords. To play a seventh chord on the mandolin, you should start with the root note and add the next three notes in the chord, usually the third, the fifth, and the seventh. When playing seventh chords, you should be aware of the voicing and the inversion of the chord. Voicing refers to the order in which the notes are played, and inversion refers to the starting note of the chord. For example, if you start a chord with the third instead of the root, it is said to be in the first inversion. When playing seventh chords, it is also important to be aware of the rhythm and the feel. Seventh chords can be strummed or picked, depending on the style of music. With practice and knowledge of the different chords and voicings, you can learn to play seventh chords on the mandolin.

Learning Chords

Learning Chords

Mandolin chords consist of the notes of the scale that are played simultaneously in order to create a chord. Learning the chords of the mandolin is essential for playing mandolin music correctly.

Chord Finger Position
Major Chord 1st finger on the 2nd string, 2nd finger on the 4th string and 3rd finger on the 3rd string
Minor Chord 1st finger on the 2nd string, 2nd finger on the 3rd string and 3rd finger on the 4th string
Seventh Chord 1st finger on the 2nd string, 2nd finger on the 4th string, 3rd finger on the 3rd string, and 4th finger on the first string
Major Seventh Chord 1st finger on the 2nd string, 2nd finger on the 4th string, 3rd finger on the 3rd string, and 4th finger on the first string
Minor Seventh Chord 1st finger on the 2nd string, 2nd finger on the 3rd string, 3rd finger on the 4th string, and 4th finger on the 1st string

These are the most common chords used on the mandolin. When learning new chords, it is important to remember to keep the fingers close together and in a curved position. This will help to ensure that the notes are played evenly and correctly. Once the chords have been mastered, they can be used to create various melodies and accompaniments.

Strumming Patterns

Mandolin chords are usually strummed using an alternating up and down pattern. Start by strumming down on the strings from the bottom to the top. Then strum up the strings from the bottom to the top. When you reach the top string, start back down again. This pattern can be modified in different ways to create a variety of sounds. For example, you can start the pattern on the upstroke and end it on the downstroke. You can also add accents by hitting certain strings harder than others. Experiment with different strumming patterns to develop your own unique sound.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Basics of Playing Mandolin Chords?

Mandolin chords are typically made up of two or more notes and are played at the same time. A chord is created when the notes are played together and the resulting sound is harmonic. To play mandolin chords, the player must first learn the notes of the chord and then strum the strings with the right hand while holding the chord shape with the left hand. It is important to practice forming the chords correctly and to be aware of the notes that are being played. Additionally, it is important to develop the skill of changing between chords quickly and accurately.

What tips can help a beginner learn how to play mandolin chords?

Start by learning the basic chords: A, C, D, E, G, and the minor chords. Practice strumming these chords to build up muscle memory and accuracy. Learn the fundamentals of reading chord diagrams and practice transitioning between chords. Utilize online resources such as chord libraries and instructional videos to further your knowledge. Exercise your ear by listening to music and trying to pick out the chords. Experiment with different strumming techniques and practice playing with a metronome to keep a steady rhythm. Lastly, get creative and find ways to make the chords your own.

How can I start to read mandolin chords?

To start reading mandolin chords, first get familiar with the fretboard layout and the various chords available. Learn to identify the root note, the intervals within the chords and how to play the chord. Start by getting to know the basic open chords such as major, minor, and seventh chords. Once comfortable with these chords, move on to more advanced chords such as ninths, elevenths and thirteenths. Learn how to play these chords in different inversions and how to play them in different keys. As you become more comfortable with the chords, begin to consider the different scales and arpeggios and how they relate to the chords. Practice playing the chords along with scales and arpeggios to develop a better understanding of the music.

What are some common mandolin chords I should learn?

The most common chords on the mandolin are G, C, D, A, E, F, and Am. These chords make up the majority of songs and can be used in a variety of different styles. Additionally, many of these chords can be moved up and down the fretboard to create different shapes, allowing for a variety of sounds. It is important to learn these common chord shapes and how to move them up and down the fretboard. Once these are mastered, more complex chords can be added to the repertoire.

What are some easy mandolin chords for beginners to start with?

Starting out with mandolin chords can be daunting, but there are some easy chords to begin with. The C major chord is one of the easiest chords to learn, as it doesn’t require any barre chords or fretting multiple strings. It is also a great starting point to learn scales. The A major chord is also an easy chord to learn and is often used in popular music. Other easy chords to start with include G major, D major and E minor. With a bit of practice, these chords can be mastered relatively quickly.


Mandolin chords are a great way to create beautiful music. They are relatively easy to learn, and once you have mastered the basics, you can build on these skills to create even more complex sounds. With practice, you can unlock the secrets to playing great mandolin music. So, don’t be afraid to get started and get creative with your mandolin playing!


About the author

Country Music Singer, Tayo Reed, grow up listening to Country Music as a child in sweet home, "Alabama". "I am authentically a true country girl at heart. I have only desired to sing one style of music. I have never wavered, in spite of disappointments, delays, rejections, and detours."

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