Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

New Mando player question

Please help guys…

There’s a lot I understand. I can do more than a beginner on a mandolin… but here is where I struggle…

I’m a bluegrasser… and eventually want to play with others… but when they say “I’m playing in G, or C,…” I’m lost…I mean, I get that from a guitar standpoint… but not from my standpoint as a mandolin player…

  1. What do I need to do to understand/memorize what key each fret is in if I slide down to it? If a guitar player says, we’re playing in C, walk me through what to do?

  2. If I’m playing a scale in A (the 4th fret from the neck?)… and move that scale down a string and play it… does that change the key? If so, how does that work for chop chords?

  3. The majority of my playing will be rhythm/chopping… If I’m playing in a certain key, I just move my chords to that fret, right?




Hey Shaun! Welcome to the board!

I’m not a seasoned mando player either, so take this with a grain of salt.

If your goal is to play mostly chop chords, then I’d think the most important thing to learn are the major chord shapes. I’ve learned to use 3 shapes for major chords that apply to pretty much any song. Think about the G shape that covers all 8 strings. You can comfortably move that shape down to an F or move it up to a B, maybe even a C. Then the 3 finger C chord shape can be modified to up or down about the same number of frets. Finally, there’s a D shape that covers all 8 strings (1st and 4th string sets at the 2nd fret, 2nd string set at the 5th fret, and 3rd string set at the 4th fret) that can be moved around the same way.

So, from your guitar playing, you probably already know your 1,4,5 chords for most keys. C is C, F, and G, for example. Just know those combinations well and how to find them on the neck and you should be able to chop with most songs.

It’ll also help to know the minor and 7th chords, too. Knowing all of your major, minor, and 7th chords will get you playing most songs you’ll encounter at a jam.

As for scales, the beauty of the mando is that it’s tuned in 5ths, so if you’re playing an A scale and shift that scale down 1 string (toward the 1st string) you’ll have the E scale. Something you may want to consider is checking out Ben’s pentatonic scale mando lesson. That scale allows you to play a lead without shifting scales with chord changes.

Hope that answers at least some of your questions. If not, let me know what else I can try to confuse you on. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


Hey Shaun,

Don’t take offense, but I think you’re over complicating things here. Even your questions are somewhat confusing. I’ll give this a shot and hopefully someone with better understanding will chime in and give you some better help.

When someone says “we’re playing in G” (or C or A or whatever), it simply means they are playing in the key of G. So what you need to know are the chords that relate to or are in the family of the key of G. Any given key (A,B,C,D,G,E,F) will have three common chords within that key and is usually the 1,4 and 5 chords, Since you’re starting in G, that’s the 1 chord. A and B would be 2 and 3, so the next relatable chord is C which is your 4 chord and D would be 5. There are always other chords that can be thrown in that work but, let’s keep it simple for now. If you’re in the key of C, then C is your 1 chord. Following up the alpabet, D, E and then F would be your 4 chord, then G being your 5 chord. Just remember that when someone says "we’re playing in _, whatever that is will be your one chord, then follow the alpabet up to 4 and 5 for the basic chords that will be in that given key. What this means, is that you need to learn the chords and their fingerings and shapes and then know which chords are in the key you are playing in.

Sliding up frets (as you mentioned) only changes chords if you’re playing closed position chords (or barre chords). This is very popular in electric guitar rock and roll music but not so much in blugrass guitar. There are however, many mandolin closed position chords (meaning no open strings are played… all strings played are fretted somewhere). Because of the way a mandolin is tuned, you can move up or down a string using the same chord shape to get your 1 and 4 chords and then slide up two frets to get your 5 chord. You have to go two frets, because one fret is only a half step. So to go from C to D, you need to slide that exact same chord shape up two frets (a whole step).

I hope this helps and didn’t furthur confuse you! Maybe someone can add to or explain it better than I did.

Good Luck!


Mark and JW covered things well. The only thing I’ll add is that mandolin rhythm is really fun by itself (moreso than guitar for me). Welcome to mandolin playing!


Thanks guys! After reading my questions- they are poorly written and confusing. You all must be geniuses because you answered what I was trying to ask.

I think I’m overthinking and if I continue, I’ll lose the fun.

I appreciate it.


Don’t do that!.. Yes, the most important thing is having fun with it.

Thanks for your questions and remember there’s very many people willing and wanting to help here at Banjo Ben!