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.
how to tune the mandolin-
E-A-D-G, high string to low string.
- Tuning is often done with the A
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
and tune the second strings to it. Often necessary to tune to the
pitch instruments such as the reeds (accordian, melodeon or
- 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
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
Here's an excellent discussion of chord intervals from Wikpedia:
the other course and remaining strings as you tune with an
tuner since the ringing of the other strings sometimes confuses it.
- Tune frequently
(before you start to play each session).
you tune, if you take the string too sharp, tune flat again and tune
to the note. (Tuning down has a tendency for it to slip flat a
further as you play.)
- Change the
strings regularly, and change them in sets.
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
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
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.
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
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