How to Play Mandolin (Step-By-Step)

Although Mandolin has emerged from Italy and Germany in the 18th century, it has become popular all over the world. It’s not just the look but the sound and music mandolin play that can entice you. 

It all depends on your skill and ability to actuate the mandolin to sound like you please. And if you still don’t know how to play mandolin, then HAKUNA MATATA. We are here to help direct you. Because, it’s better late than never!

Here, we have covered all the steps and made sure you find them easy enough to follow. So, let’s dive into it. 

A small detail about Playing Mandolin:

Mandolin mainly belongs to the lute family coming with 8 strings paired in quadruple unison courses. Just like violin, you tune this instrument to the same pitch in a G-D-A-E format. 

Now the steps:

Step 1: Hold the mandolin 

While you hold it in your lap, you need to square your shoulders and straighten your back at first. Make sure you don’t change the posture. 

Hold the mandolin’s neck with your hand while placing the body on top of your leg. Tilt the neck slightly upwards so you can play mandolin easily. 

Make sure its back is pressed against your midriff.  

Step 2: Standard-tune it

Have the mandolin tuned to standard tuning using a tuner. For each string, the notes of the mandolin from bottom to top are-

E, E, A, A, D, D, & G, G.

Now, turn the electronic tuner on. Make sure the tuner has the light or needle to show the note that you are playing. After that, have the bottom string strummed. 

At the top of the neck, turn the tuning knob until the bottom-string resonates an E. The E-strings usually play the highest octave for which they are called top strings. 

Carry on doing the process with all the strings until the instrument is in tune. Basically, you tune its strings in pairs. 

Step 3: Adjust the strings

Make sure the top 4 and the bottom 4 strings are adjusted to a low action. If you adjust them to high action, then it can be tough for you to create a good sound. The reason is that such tuning makes the strings higher off the fret-board. So, this can result in pushing down the strings making the playing harder. 

However, in between the strings, place a nickel. After that, place the neck on the 12th fret. 

Now, adjust the knobs on the bridge. Continue doing it until the distance between the neck and the strings equals the width of the nickel. 

Step 4: Use a heavy pick

Such pick is thick and should be between 0.85mm-1.20mm. 

Step 5: Strum the mandolin

Make sure you don’t hold down the strings while strumming the mandolin. Hold the pick enough tight in between the index finger and thumb. It will help in creating a metallic sound. After that, flick your wrist. This will make the tip of pick hit the strings between mandolin’s neck and bridge. 

Start with strumming the 1st set of strings. Then move to the 2nd set. Continue rehearsing it with different strings. 

Step 6: Press down on the strings

Place your thumb on the back of top of the neck. Your other 4 fingers should rest on the strings. 

Now use the fingertips to press down hard on a fret’s edge. It will help in producing a clear sound. Make sure the fingertips push down on the strings in pair. Next, strum with the other hand. 

Keep doing it until you hear a clear note. It should not hum or buzz. 

Step 7: Hold different frets down

Use different fingers to hold different frets down. You should use your pointer finger to hold the 2nd fret on the top-string and then strum.

Next, use your middle finger to lift the string off and hold the 4th fret down. 

Also Read: How Long Does It Take To Learn The Ukulele

Step 8: Play a G-major

When it comes to the mandolin, there are 3 most known chords that are played on. And G-major is one of them. However, use your pointer finger to hold the 2nd fret on both of A-strings. Next, use the ring finger to hold the 3rd fret of E-strings. 

Play a G-major chord after strumming all the 8 strings. 

Step 9: Play a C-chord

Play a C-chord by moving your fingers up one string. Make sure you place the ring finger on the A-strings’ 3rd fret and pointer finger on the D-strings’ 2nd fret.  

A C-chord uses the same shape of chord as G-major chord to play. Strumming such shape would create a C-chord while the bottom and top strings are open.

Step 10: Play a D-chord

Now for D-chord, you will need to place your fingers on the 2nd fret of E-strings and G-strings. You will find the D-chord having a way different shape from C-chord and G-chord.  

Keep your middle finger on the E-strings’ 2nd fret and pointer finger on the G-strings 2nd fret to play D-chord. 

Also Read: Where To Get Free Ukulele Lessons

Step 11: Practice with different chords

After getting the shapes of chords down and creating a good sound, transition between a C-chord and G-chord and practice. 

Both the chords are very easy to transition since they both possess the same shape. 

On the C-chord, strum 4 times. Next, move to G-chord and do the same. 

After that, start combining in the D-chord when you progress. This way, you will find yourself getting more comfortable with the mandolin. 

For instance- for one beat, you can hold each note and play- 

C-C-C-C, G-G-G-G, C-C-C-C, D-D-D-D, C-C-C-C, G-G-G-G.


Once you get to know all the basics of on how to play mandolin, it will not take time for you to try out the complex ones. Mandolin is something that you can learn on your own. 

You will just need a direction. So we tried to be like that. Now, hopefully, you will be able to use the mandolin properly and change the mood of the ambient just when you start playing it.

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