Learning to play the mandolin can be a fun and rewarding experience if you take the right steps to develop your skills. The mandolin is an 8-string instrument commonly played in country, bluegrass, and folk music. When learning to play, you should practice playing single notes and simple chords before moving on to full songs. With the right amount of practice, you'll be strumming beautiful melodies on the mandolin in no time.
Part 1 of 4: Arrange the mandolin
Step 1. Hold the mandolin on your lap
Straighten your back and square your shoulders when playing. Avoid slouching. Place the body of the mandolin on your leg and hold the neck of the instrument with your left hand. The back of the mandolin should be pressed against the stomach.
- You should feel comfortable and the muscles should not feel tense or distended.
- You can keep the mandolin in place when playing using a shoulder strap.
- The neck of the mandolin should be angled slightly upward. This will make fingering easier for you.
Step 2. Tune the mandolin to standard tuning
The notes of each string in standard tuning, from bottom to top, should be E, E, A, A, D, D, and G, G. Turn on the electronic tuner and strum the bottom string. Turn the tuning peg at the top of the mandolin's neck until the bottom string plays the E note. Keep doing this with all the strings until the mandolin is in tune.
- The strings of a mandolin are tuned in pairs. As you play, you will hold down both strings in each pair.
- Tune the mandolin using a standard mandolin tuner. If you don't have immediate access to a mandolin tuner, a violin tuner will work as well, as violin and mandolins are tuned to the same notes.
- The tuner should have a needle showing the note you are playing or a light that comes on when the strings are in tune.
- The lower strings of the mandolin, or the E strings, are known as the "upper" strings, as they play the highest octave.
Step 3. Set the strings to low action
A high action means that the strings are farther from the fingerboard, which can make pressing the strings down and creating a good sound difficult for beginners. Place a coin between the strings and the neck at the 12th fret and then adjust the pegs on the bridge until there is a distance the width of the coin between the strings and the neck.
- The bridge is the part of the mandolin where the strings join the body of the instrument.
- You will need to make adjustments to the action for the top and bottom four strings.
Step 4. Buy a heavy pick
A heavy pick is thick, while a light pick is thin and bends when played. Playing with a lightweight pick will make it more difficult for you to create clear-sounding notes and chords on the mandolin, and should be avoided.
- The lightweight tines are between 0.45 and 0.7mm thick.
- The heavy tines are between 0.85 and 1.2mm thick.
Part 2 of 4: Play Notes
Step 1. Strum the mandolin without holding down the strings
Hold the pick in your right hand between your thumb and index finger. Move your wrist so that the tip of the pick contacts the strings between the bridge and the neck of the mandolin. Strum the first set of strings and then move down to the second. Practice strumming on different strings until you feel confident strumming.
Holding the pick too tightly will create a more metallic sound
Step 2. Hold down the strings and strum
The thumb should be on the top or back of the mandolin's neck while the other four fingers are resting on the strings. Press down hard on a fret with your fingertips, then strum with your other hand. Keep doing this until you can produce a clear note that does not hum or resonate.
- The fingertips should push the two strings of the pair down.
- Point your fingers so that they are pressing down closer to the edge of the fret, which produces a clearer sound than if you were holding down the center of the fret.
Step 3. Press and hold different frets with different fingers
Hold down the top string at the second fret with your index finger and strum. Then release the string and hold down the fourth fret with your middle finger. Practice moving from one note to another until you feel comfortable.
This will help you transition between notes and develop speed when playing with your left hand
Part 3 of 4: Strum Basic Chords
Step 1. Play G major
G major is one of the three most popular chords played on the mandolin. Hold down both A strings at the second fret with your index finger. Next, hold down the E strings on the third fret with your ring finger. Strum all 8 strings to play a G major chord.
When the strings are not pressed, they are in the "open" position. The top four strings should be in the open position
Step 2. Move your fingers up one string to play a C chord
The C chord is played in the same chord shape as the G major. Move your fingers up one string so that the index finger is on the second fret of the D strings and the ring finger is on the third fret of the A strings. If you strum this shape with the upper and lower strings open, you will play a C chord.
Step 3. Place your fingers on the second fret of the E and G strings to play a D chord
Unlike the C and G chords, the D chord has a completely different shape. Place your index finger on the second fret of the G strings and your middle finger on the second fret of the E strings to play a D chord.
Step 4. Practice making transitions between different chords
After you've mastered chord shapes and are able to create a good sound, practice going from a C chord to a G chord and vice versa. It is easier to transitions between these chords since they have the same shape. Strum the C chord four times, then transition to the G chord and strum four more times. Then when you feel comfortable, you can start incorporating the D chord into the progression.
For example, you can hold down each note for a while and play do-do-do-do, sol-sol-sol-sol, do-do-do-do, re-re-re-re, do-do-do -do, sun-sun-sun-sun
Part 4 of 4: Learn different songs
Step 1. Get simple tablatures
Search online mandolin tabs and find simple songs that you can play. Songs that are easy to learn at first include nursery rhymes and lullabies. Find tabs that use only a different pair of chords and notes. Master these simple songs before moving on to more complex pieces.
Some simple mandolin songs are "Cotton-Eyed Joe", "Waltz Across Texas" and "Hush Little Baby"
Step 2. Play along with the music
In the tablatures, the fingering of the songs is shown but without indicating the rhythm or the amount of time for which you should hold each chord or note. Therefore, it will be easier for you to learn different songs after listening to them. Buy the music for the song you are going to play and listen to it while you practice.
With enough practice, you will eventually be able to play songs into your ear
Step 3. Learn to play different scales
Learning the different scales will help you practice your mandolin fingering, as well as teach you a little basic music theory. For example, the G major scale is G, A, B, C, D, E, and F sharp. You can find examples of other major and minor scales online or in a mandolin music class book.
Step 4. Look for more advanced tutorials online after you are confident in your playing abilities
After you can play a couple of songs from tabs, you'll want to move on to more complex content. Learn to read sheet music and search online for more complex solo tutorials. Find different and more difficult chords and scales to play and keep practicing until you can play songs without making a mistake.