Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Advice on Chords?

Hello Everyone. A lot of fiddle tunes (e.g. Old Joe Clarke) are in the key of A. What is a new mandolin player to do? Do you recommend a capo or is there any easier version of the chords (especially A and E)? Thanks!


Hi @nschlueter and welcome to the forum!

One way to play the A chord is to use your index finger and bar the second fret on the lowest 2 strings. You can also use two fingers, but I find it harder to switch chords when doing that. So 1st finger on the 2nd fret on the G and D strings- which makes the notes A and E, and then let the A and E strings ring open.

For the E chord, you can do 1st fret on the G string, and 2nd fret on the D and A strings. Hope this helps!


So - I do the “easier” chop chords when I play backup, using 2 or 3 finger versions.

This is how I usually play my partial chords for the key of A: A: 6th fret on g string (middle finger) & 7th fret (ring finger) on d string, (not playing a&e strings at all)

4th fret (index) on d string & 7th fret (ring) on g string , (again not playing a&e strings at all)

E: slide those fingers from the D cord up two frets to 6th fret (index) on d string & 9th fret (middle) on g string. (Still not playing a&e strings)

For an example of how this looks and sounds, please check out this video & post where I’m actually playing them:
(Note I’m not using the D chord in this particular song, as it calls for a B chord instead)

Pretty much every song I’ve posted in which I’m doing backup are modified or partial chop chords. Theres a few draw backs to this though. You cant always get to some percussive sounds, or tones this way. For the tone reason, there are several versions of the partial chords I use depending on what the song calls for. Plus (from what I’ve observed in my encounters) its not always looked upon as a “favorable” way to do chop chords. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but if you can learn and be able to apply the full chords, your playing will probably benefit more. (That’s just my opinion on what I’ve been told.) Having said all that, if partial chords help you to play more & enjoy playing (especially the ability to pick with others, or due to physical limitations) and if this helped in any way, that’s great! Welcome to the partial chord gang :grin::+1:t2:!



This is what I love about this site!

Great question and awesome answers from 2 very talented Ladies (who I am happy to learn from!): @Lucy_L and @Simone!

I also notice that neither of the ladies “threw in the towel” to just suggest the capo. Rather, they gave options and situational ideas!

Great questions + great responses = real-world shared learning for all! :+1::facepunch:

For MY sake too, thanks for posting @nschlueter and keep them there ponderins coming!


Wow, what a great community here! I love it! I’ll give these suggestions a try. Or, to tell the truth: This is really for my nine-year old son who wants to learn mandolin. (I’m a banjo/guitar guy). So the real problem is that his fingers just aren’t coordinated enough yet to do complex chords. I’ll have him try out these two finger chords and see if we can make it work on Old Joe Clarke. Blessings to all of you! Nathan


Good luck, great to hear of such a young mandolin learner😃


Another way to do the chords, if you wanted more of a chop chords sound, is to do:
A- 1st finger on the D string, fret 7 (A note), and 2nd finger on the G string, fret 9 (E note). That’s actually the bottom 2 notes of the REAL chop chord.

D- 1st finger on the D string, fret 4 (F# note), 2nd finger on the A string, fret 5 (D note), 3rd finger on the G string, fret 7 (D note). This is the standard D chop chord. Move that up 2 frets to get the E chord. So, D string, fret 6; A string, fret 7; and G string, fret 9.


After thinking about what I posted earlier about “cheater” 2 finger chop chords, & then later finding out it was pertaining to a very young & new player, (which is awesome), I would have to say that I would either follow @Lucy_L 's last post using 3 fingers, or else just keep working on the full “real” chords. Children learn so much better than adults, and I would not wish to sabotage a new young player’s learning by suggesting to do what I do, which is not the proper form. Sorry for being wishy washy sounding here, (going against my own ‘advice’) but if it were my child, I would strive for him learn it correctly, and as @WillCoop said, I wouldn’t recommend capoing.
Your son will get it down in time, and will be a better player for it!! :blush: