The Basic of the Mandolin

How to Tune a Mandolin

The Mandolin as used in Bluegrass and popular music has four double courses (four pairs) tuned in 5ths. This tuning is common on other string instruments such as the violin.

The pictures below should help you understand how to tune each string.

And here’s how it looks on paper.

What strings shall I buy?

There are lots of great makers out there and in a short time you’ll make up your mind on which one is your favorite. If you don’t know what to buy then go for the Martin Bluegrass strings.

Martin: Bluegrass 80/20

This is first set of strings I bought and so far I haven’t felt the need of changing it to something else.

Buy at

Buy at

My Very First Chords

Below you’ll find the very first shapes you need to know to find your way around the instrument. At the bottom of the page you’ll find more chords but these two shapes should get you started.

In the BLANK PAPER page you’ll find blank diagrams, tablature, etc.. for Mandolin. It’s all free.

Recommended books?

Rich Delgrosso: Mandolin Method Book 1

This is a nice, simple and cheap book that will guide you through the very early stages of mandolin playing.

Buy at

Buy at



This is a basic exercise for crosspicking.

It’s in the key of G and uses a few different chord positions. Keep the fingers on the fretting hand nicely arched so they don’t get in the way of the adjacent strings.

The picking hand keeps a constant pattern using alternate picking. Make sure the movement is coming from a very relaxed wrist!

Enjoy it!

Rhythm 1415 in G

This is a very simple rhythm pattern for Bluegrass and Country music.

It’s in the key of G and it’s based on one of the most common chord progressions in this genre: 1415 (I’m using the Nashville Number System here).

To play this rhythm you only need three basic chord positions which makes it quite easy and fun. Use downstrokes only and make sure to play all the chords ‘staccato’ has written in the notation.

Enjoy it!

Lick in A

This is one of the first licks I’ve learned on the mandolin. I came up with this while jamming over an Emmylou Harris song.

It’s in A and works quite nicely at the end of a phrase or a song. It’s build using the A country scale (you may see it as F# Blues) and harmonically it’s very simple. No big secret. It simply sounds nice to me.

Enjoy it!



7th Chords

Major Pentatonic

Minor Pentatonic