Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Lessons- Lesson Five

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Original articles, lessons plus the "best of the web" on mandolin purchase and set up by mandolin player/teacher Bruce Bernhart

New! Tabs for Popular Fiddle Tunes:

"Sandy River Belle"
"Liza Jane"

Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Websites

Updated May 26, 2013

Chord Triads, Plus Fiddle Tune Tabs

In Minnesota, Bruce Bernhart has been a mandolin enthusiast since the mid-1980's
Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Websites
The Bernhart Mandolin Webpages explore the history of the mandolin, buying and building mandolins, lessons, basic chord structures, the different styles of playing and the various makes and models of mandolins available on the market

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Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Webpages

Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Websites
Beginning Chord Groups

Every bluegrass song has a chord progression.  A chord progession is a sequence of chords that you repeat throughout a song.  For example, some of the songs we have practiced begin with the A chord, then go to the D chord, then go to the E chord, before returning to the A chord.  We call A the "1" chord, because it is the key of the song.  In the key of A, the 1 chord is A because A is first note in the A major scale. 
If the song then went to the D chord, we call that the "4" chord because D is the fourth note in the A major scale. 
The 4 chord is always the chord whose root is the fourth note in the major scale of the key.
As an another example, in the key of C, the 4 chord is F.  Why?  Because F is the fourth note in the C major scale.
Finally, let's say the song then goes to the E chord.  This would be the "5" chord because E is the fifth note in the A major scale.

This 1-4-5 progression is very, very common in bluegrass.  Once you know this sequence, you will be able to play along with countless songs.

Bernhart Student Practice:  Play your G, A, D, E, F chords in a 1-4-5 chord progression.  Then go up the neck and try Bb, B and C (second position).

The 1-4-5 relationships work for ALL keys, and notice their relative positions as you move from key to key around the fingerboard (handout #7). See any similar patterns?

Some tunes play these progessions in different orders.  See the next page.

Try to practice at least 15 minutes per day, and use your metronome!

Important stuff to know about the saddle to make sure your chords and notes are in tune:

A further problem is created for the users of two-piece bridges by the tendency of the saddle (the top bit) to tilt forward under string tension. This will obviously affect intonation (and maybe tone and volume), and needs to be corrected. Lower the string tension until you can tweak the saddle back to the vertical position by applying gentle pressure.
I don't recommend trying to tweak the saddle backwards under full string tension. I have seen professionals do this.  However, for the amateur there is too much risk of the whole bridge slipping and causing damage to the top of the instrument. I've also seen a suggestion that you can tweak the saddle upright under full string tension by gripping it with a pair of pliers.
Pull backwards, but avoid any downward force on to the top of the instrument! The best time to make this adjustment is when you do a complete string change. Detune all the strings, but keep enough tension to hold the bridge in position. Change each string in turn, lightly tensioning them to keep the bridge in place. When you have changed all the strings, tweak the saddle into the upright position, tension the strings a bit further and pull the saddle back again. Keep repeating the process until there is too much string tension for you to be able to move the saddle easily. By this stage the saddle should be retaining its vertical orientation in any case.

Know how to tune the mandolin- E-A-D-G, high string to low string.
  • Tuning is often done with the A strings first especially in sessions. Each of the other courses can be tuned up or down to get them in pitch.
  • Get a reliable 'A' from other instruments and tune the second strings to it. Often necessary to tune to the fixed pitch instruments such as the reeds (accordian, melodeon or concertina)
  • Hold the second strings down on the 7th fret, and they sound an E. Adjust the first strings until they sounds the same.
  • Hold the third strings down on the 7th fret, and they sound an A. Adjust the third strings until they sound the same as the second.
  • Hold the fourth strings down on the 7th fret, and they sound an D. Adjust the fourth strings until they sound the same as the third.
  • It is often easier to tune one string of a course, and then tune the other one to it.

Alternatively, buy an electronic tuner and tune each string using the indicator on the tuner. This is best done in a quiet envionment unless you have a pick-up on the mandolin or a clip on mic which you can plug into the tuner.

  • Deaden the other course and remaining strings as you tune with an electronic tuner since the ringing of the other strings sometimes confuses it.
  • Tune frequently (before you start to play each session).
  • When you tune, if you take the string too sharp, tune flat again and tune up to the note. (Tuning down has a tendency for it to slip flat a little further as you play.)
  • Change the strings regularly, and change them in sets.
Here's an excellent discussion of chord intervals from Wikpedia:

Many chords can be arranged as a series of ascending notes separated by intervals of roughly the same size. For example the C major triad's notes, C, E, and G, can be arranged in the series C-E-G, the first interval (C-E) being a major third and the second (E-G) a minor third.  Any such chord that can be arranged as a series of (major or minor) thirds may be called a tertian chord. Most common chords are tertian.

A chord such as C-D-E, though, is a series of seconds, containing a major second (C-D) and a minor second (D-E). Such chords are called secundal. The chord C-F-B, which consists of a perfect fourth (C-F) and an augmented fourth (tritone) F-B is called quartal.

However all these terms can become ambiguous when dealing with non-diatonic scales such as the pentatonic or chromatic scales. The use of accidentals can also complicate the terminology. For example the chord B-E-A appears to be a series of diminished fourths (B-E) and (E-A) but is enharmonically equivalent  to (and sonically indistinguishable from) the chord C-E-G, which is a series of major thirds (C-E) and (E-G).

How to make a  7th chord:

Seventh chords are constructed by adding a fourth note to a triad, at the interval of a third above the fifth of the chord. This creates the interval of a seventh above the root of the chord, the next natural step in composing tertian chords. The seventh chord on the fifth step of the scale (the dominant seventh) is the only one available in the major scale: it contains all three notes of the diminished triad of the seventh and is frequently used as a stronger substitute for it.

Although some songs can be played using only notes 1 through 8, most songs go above or below the scale at some point. This would be a good time to say again that note 8 is really note 1 starting over. We say it's note 1 moved up an octave. Also, note 1 can be thought of as note 8 for the notes coming in from the left. So, even though we say 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8... or do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do... we understand that it really goes... 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and so on.

A note about the blues:

Blues is all based on a pentatonic scale, that means unlike the octal scale it's a base 5. 12 bar blues, the most common, is always going to be based around 4 chords. The tonic, sub-dominant, dominant, and relative minor. The tonic is the I chord, sub-dominant the IV chord, and dominant the V chord. The relative minor is going to be one and a half steps down from the tonic, and minored. So, lets examine blues in E (very common scale).

I IV V Relative Minor
E F G C#min

A note about triads:

The most basic type of chord is called a triad. This term is easy to remember because of the “tri” prefix. It is literally a chord with three notes. Chords are formed off of scale degrees. When a chord is formed off a ‘C,’ for example, it is called a “1 chord.” A ‘D’ chord would be called a “2 chord,” and so on. To form a triad on a note, you just skip every other note.

Creating augmented dimished and minors:

When a major interval is raised by a half step, it becomes augmented.
When a major interval is lowered by a half step, it becomes minor.
When a major interval is lowered by two half steps, it becomes diminished.

When a minor interval is raised by a half step, it becomes major.
When a minor interval is raised by two half steps, it becomes augmented.
When a minor interval is lowered by a half step, it becomes diminished.

When a perfect interval is raised by a half step, it becomes augmented.
When a perfect interval is lowered by a half step, it becomes diminished.

More coming!

Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Websites

Thank you for visiting the Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Websites!

Be sure to visit the other Bruce Bernhart Webpages:

Bruce Bernhart mandolin rock tabs

Bruce Bernhart mandolin lessons- common scales

Bruce Bernhart on buying and setting up your new mandolin

Bruce Bernhart mandolin lessons- tuning

Bruce Bernhart mandolin lessons- chord patterns

Bruce Bernhart on mandolin history and basic chord structures

Bruce Bernhart on string and saddle adjustment

Bruce Bernhart more tuning tips and whole/half steps

Bruce Bernhart on more chord patterns

Bruce Bernhart on the mandolin family

Bruce Bernhart on mandolin bluegrass chords and patterns

Bruce Bernhart on temperature considerations

Bruce Bernhart lessson on mandolin flats and sharps

Bruce Bernhart lesson on scales, circle of 5ths and meter

Bruce Bernhart on triads, gears

Bruce Bernhart mandolin chord diagrams

Bruce Bernhart on modern emergence of the mandolin

Bruce Bernhart on simple chords

Bruce Bernhart on whole and half-note steps on the mandolin

Bruce Bernhart mandolin practice excercises

Bruce Bernhart on playing waltzes

Bruce Bernhart on majors, minors and sevenths

Bruce Bernhart Mandolin Websites
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Solar power for your RV

The care and feeding of your RV battery

The sport of "geocaching" and RV refrigeration basics

The basics of RV power inversion

RV travel tips and tire care

Advanced discussion on power inversion

Tips on buying a house battery and cold weather maintenance

RV Insurance basics

Buying the right generator for your RV and portable power

RV television reception options

Care and maintenance of the RV air conditioner

Top RV destinations

RV long-term supplies and weight considerations

RV Insurance- Road protection and bodily injury coverage

RV battery types and winter charging considerations

Deep cycle battery basics

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