Mandolin Chords Every Beginner Should Know

Every mandolin beginner should know the major chords, including open, minor, and movable chords.

These are sounds or notes that you can play together as you strum the mandolin. Strumming chords as you listen to your favorite songs is one of the easiest ways of learning how to play this musical instrument.

Here are the mandolin chords that you should learn as you play the mandolin.

Open chords

Like other musical fretted instruments, the mandolin contains open chords and keys that make it easy to play. You first have to tune this musical instrument before you begin playing it.

Open chords are formed on the neck of the musical instrument using open strings and fretted notes. They are called open chords since they have open strings. In open chords, the strings are not fretted. As you focus on open chords, you should understand the minor and major patterns in an open position.

A good way to learn how to play the mandolin is by learning the chords in sections rather than learning all of them. Once you learn this, you can try to incorporate them into simple songs. Note that a song involves a minimum of 3 chords. It is made up of the basic chord progression such as I-IV-V-I.

Since the mandolin is tuned symmetrically, it gives you the freedom to use similar chord shapes across the different strings. You can start playing this musical instrument by focusing on chords such as G, C, and D. These can help you play most folk songs. Most students begin with these chords since you only require 2 or 1 finger to play them.

If, for instance, you want to begin with the open G chord, you should place the second finger on the second string, 2nd fret. Place the middle finger on the first string, 3rd fret. Once you do this, you should begin strumming the mandolin as you listen to the sound that it produces.

You can now proceed with the C-chord.  This follows a similar pattern as the G chord. You only need to move to the next string set. Place your 2nd finger on the instrument’s 3rd string 2nd fret, and then place the middle finger on the mandolin’s 2nd string, third fret. Once you do this, you can now strum each string.

Once you have learned the C chord, you can now proceed to the D chord. This has a different pattern. You should place your 2nd finger on the 4th string second fret, and then place your fourth finger on the instrument’s first string, second fret. Once you do this, you should strum all these four strings and listen to the sound being produced.

Play the chords in this order (G, C, D, and then back to G). The more chords you learn, the easier playing the mandolin will get.

Minor chords

Besides the open chords, you should also understand the minor chords as you learn how to play the mandolin. This is based on the progression II-V-I. You can turn a major chord into a minor chord by moving one note down by a single fret. For instance, if you have already learned how to play G major, you have to lower your index finger one fret for you to play G minor.

For you to play D minor, start by placing your index finger on the first string, first fret and then place your middle finger on the mandolin’s fourth string, second fret. By sliding the first string note down a single fret, you can also get C minor.

Movable chords

One of the things that make a mandolin a great musical instrument to learn is its accessibility. The mandolin comes with a thin neck that can accommodate any hand size and few strings.

You can play this musical instrument in any key by moving the chord shape down or up the neck since the mandolin is tuned symmetrically. Movable chords are therefore closed position voicings that allow you to play the musical instrument in different keys.   Moving a closed chord down or up the neck makes it easy to transpose a song.

Though you cannot move open chord forms, the barre makes them movable. Barre refers to positioning your index finger flat to cover at least two strings on the mandolin. Let’s take an example of playing the G major chord. We mentioned that you have to place your first finger on the second string second fret and place the second finger on the first string third fret.

To make this chord movable, you should place the same chord shape one more time but place the third finger on the 2nd string and the fourth finger on the first string. You should learn to play both the major barre and minor barre chord forms. As you learn barre chords, you should ensure that you pick a single string at a go to avoid muting some of them. Ensure that you produce a clear tone on a string.

Here is a summary of the mandolin chords that you should know   

Open chords This is a chord that includes open strings.

Some of them include the G major, D major and C major.


Minor chords You can easily turn an open chord into a minor chord by simply moving a note down by a fret.
Movable chords


This comprises the major barre chord and the minor barre chord.


When you are new to musical instruments such as a mandolin, chords can seem complicated at first. This can, however, change with practice. Understanding chords in a mandolin is important since it can help you learn how to play songs in any key.


How long will it take to learn how to play the mandolin?

This depends on how much you practice. Most students learn to play these musical instruments within three months.

What style of music can I play on a mandolin?

You can use this musical instrument to play different styles such as Jazz, blues, or rock.

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