Mandolin Bar Chord Workshop - HFTH 2009

Mandolin "bar chord" for key of A:
mandolin bar chord (A)

It is worth learning how to make the mandolin "bar chords". During jams, they can make a swing-like "sock rhythm" sound.  They are simple to remember. Chord progressions are alike for tunes in different keys.  You don't have to be an advanced player to learn them.  You don't even need a particularly strong left hand.

Neck diagram for mandolin:
Diagram of mandolin neck
  • Dots and circles mark the chord starting positions.
  • The open low string is G.
  • Notes tend to be two frets apart. One-fret exceptions are B-C and E-F. Flats/sharps are in between.


The 2 Major Chords

Lower (A):
Upper (D):
  • Lay the left forefinger flat across the neck. It presses 2 strings.
  • Do not move the left forefinger when changing between the 2 chords.
  • Keep wrist straight.
  • Press thumb against the neck.
  • Keep hand relaxed except during the strum.
  • Relax your shoulders. Breathe!


The 2 Minor Chords

Lower (Am):
Upper (Dm):
The pinky presses 2 strings. Keep its knuckle at the edge of the fingerboard.


The Right Hand

  • Keep right hand well above strings.
  • Touch nothing except strings with the pick.
  • Strum parallel to the mandolin face.
  • Never strike wood with the pick.
  • Strum near the neck, away from the bridge.
  • Strums are mainly backbeats.
  • Strum gently while melody plays.  Strum more strongly at the end of a melodic phrase. Your strums are the punctuation, not the sentence.
  Right hand position before strum


Lower 1-4-5 Progression

Lower (A) - "1" chord:
A chord, lower pattern
Upper (D) - "4" chord:
D chord, upper pattern
Upper (E) - "5" chord:
E chord, upper pattern

You can move the starting chord around the neck to make an Ab, Bb, B, C, Db, or D chord. Move the entire pattern to play the progression starting in the different keys.

Upper 1-4-5 Progression

Upper (G) - "1" chord:
G chord, upper pattern
Lower (C) - "4" chord:
C chord, lower pattern
Lower (D) - "5" chord:
D chord, lower pattern
You can move the G chord down the neck to make an Gb/F#, F or E chord. Move the entire pattern to play the progression starting in the different keys.


7th Chords

Lower (A7):

A7 chord, lower position
Upper (D7):

D7 chord, upper position

Move the patterns around on the neck to make 7th chords in all the other keys.


Special G for A-modal tunes

Special "closed" swing G chord:

If chording for a fiddle tune such as "June Apple", you'll need a no-open-strings way of making G to keep a consistent sound. This is the one I use.
It is the only chord that does not comply with one of the two basic patterns.


Swing Tunes

Swing tunes often include a 2 chord. The inserted 2 chord may be either major or minor, depending on preference.  Try out 1-4-2-5 starting from lower or upper position.