Mandolin For Dummies
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In order to translate written musical instructions and symbols into music that you can play on your mandolin, a basic understanding of chord diagrams, tablature (or ‘tab’), and the fingering for a few common scales makes your life a lot easier. This Cheat Sheet explains these helpful tools while supplying the most common chords and scales that you’re likely to run into when playing mandolin.

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Reading Chord Diagrams for the Mandolin

The grid here represents the six frets of the mandolin as if it’s standing upright. The five essential parts of a chord diagram (that is, the frets, open strings, chord symbol, ‘put fingers here’ marks, and left-hand fingering) are labelled.


Playing Some Essential Mandolin Chords

Strumming chords is a great way to begin playing on the mandolin. Chords are groups of notes that are played together by strumming all the mandolin strings while holding down certain strings with your left-hand fingers. This figure shows 12 essential mandolin chords.


Meeting Mandolin Tablature

Tablature, or tab, is a form of musical notation based on fingering rather than musical pitches. The four horizontal lines in this figure represent the four pairs of strings on the mandolin, with the first string (e) being the top line and the fourth string (g) being the bottom line. The numbers indicate which fret to play.


Getting Melodic with the Essential Mandolin Scales

The mandolin is a beautiful melody instrument, and many melodies are derived from scales. So if you know how to play a few scales, you’re able to learn tunes faster by ear or by tab. No theory is needed; just memorise a few easy shapes! In each of the four essential mandolin scales in this figure (G, C, D, and A), the root note (the name of the scale) is highlighted.


About This Article

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About the book author:

Don Julin has a reputation for being one of the most eclectic mandolin players/instructors on the scene. Don has released over 20 albums and played on countless others. Don operates the online mandolin school Mandolins Heal The World ( He also teaches mandolin at music camps. Don enjoys connecting with musicians and believes that music should be a conversation, not a contest.

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