Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Movable Major Chord Shapes

With guitar there are several movable closed position major chord shapes. You can play a barre and move around an E shape or an A shape or a D shape or a C shape, etc, etc. The only limit is your imagination and finger flexibility. The same appears true for the mandolin. However, the number of commonly played shapes seems less.

So far, in my limited experience, most movable major shapes take the form of the open position G chord (0023) or the similarly shaped, but upwardly shifted C chord (0230). Is it generally true that mandolin major barre chords are typically constructed from one of these shapes or their variants? I know there is an E shape (1224), but I haven’t seen that mentioned much up the neck. The chord library at Mandolin Cafe doesn’t even mention this first position version of E. Instead it defaults to a C shaped chord at (10 6 7 4). Why no love for the E shape?

Another question regarding the common movable G shape (and its chop chord variant)… Let’s move that shape up to an A. The most commonly used chop chord for A that I see is (9745). The same chord could also be fingered (2245). Is (9745) preferred or is that just my perception? While (9745) seems more popular, (2245) seems like a stronger major chord by putting the tonic on the lowest struck string. (9745) makes that lowest string a 5th. Or is (9745) more popular not for tonal qualities but because it is easier to finger and chop by not having to cover two courses of strings with one finger. If that is the case, I get it. Cleanly holding down four strings with one finger is a bear.

Thanks for any chord insight.

In the chop position you already have your fingers in a ready place to play lead…not quite as much with barre shapes.

Really the only consideration is how you want to sound.

Most pro players that I see are pretty heavy on percussive and do a lot of fills and the chop shape is good for that. You see players that are more on the formal side using a lot more interesting chords. And you can see a lot of examples of Ben using variation in chords to give a particular feel to some tune

As someone who does not play many fills and started with guitar I use the 2245 A and 2455 D and the minor and 7 variant shapes a lot. It is a comfortable shape with no stretching and makes the sound fuller than a chop.

Thanks for the responses @fiddle_wood and @C-Stewart. I want to learn the important chord shapes and not be lazy by relying on the G shape or C shape 90% of the time. I tend to think that chords and rhythm playing are the framework that everything else gets built on.


I think the reason that E shape isn’t used as much (I do use it for E and F, but not much beyond that) is because it has the major 3rd tone in the bass and so much of grass is bluesy sounding. I’m soon going to teach a course on two-finger chop chords!