Learn Mandolin Chords for Popular Songs & Folk Music

Learn how to play mandolin chords

For popular songs & folk music

Version française


Learn mandolin chords

A lot of my students ask me how they can learn to play chords on the mandolin so they can jam or sing-along with their friends. Mandolin is a pretty nice instrument to strum chords with. Its high pitch sound matches perfectly with the guitar. Usually searching the internet or the libraries for chord material will provide you with some answer about mandolin chord strumming. One problem i find coming across these "Mandolin Chord Books" is that they tend to be a very abstract tool. 


A matter of style

The reason why mandolin chord playing seem to be so abstract is that there is no rule for it. You can come up with you own voicing, fingering or chord substitution depending on what style of music you play. An open string voicing obviously sounds different than a 3 notes chord voicing and is not suited for the same style of playing. Knowing all the music theory behind chord structure and substitution can take time to understand.


Start with music

After more than 20 years of playing and music teaching, i came across a lot of music and was able to understand at least one thing: It is easier to learn something in a musical context. You can still learn your chords in a chord book in alphabetical order. But for me, it's a little bit like saying you are going learn french reading the dictionary.


Root, Sub-dominant & Dominant (I-IV-V Progression)

  I-IV-V Mandolin Chord Progression in the Keys of G

I-IV-V Mandolin Chord Progression in the Keys of G


Whether you are starting in music or an aspiring musician, you should know that tonal music is based around a very important basic concept: Root (I), Sub-Dominant (IV) and Dominant (V) chord relation called I-IV-V progression. It is based around 3 major chord triads.


The I-iv-ii-V chord progression for Popular & Folk music


Learning I-IV-V chord progressions will give you only the half of the cake. Popular and Folk music also use minor chord triads as part of their music. The I-vi-ii-V chord progression is a great tool for learning all your your chords.

  • A large percentage of songs are based around I-vi-ii-V progression

  • It sounds good and it makes it easy to learn chords

  • You can learn Major & Minor chords together in context

  • You get countless possibilities by replacing the ii chord by a IV chord


I-vi-ii-V Chord Progression | Aretha Franklin - Baby, Baby, Baby

I-vi-IV-V Chord Progression | Ben E King - Stand by Me


What about the 7th chords?

These chords certainly have their function in music and should be part of your education but 7th chords are not a requirement for popular or folk music. You can always ignore the 7th. (Example: and play a C chord instead a C7 chord)


Learn chords in a musical context

 14 Open Chord Forms in my Free Guide

14 Open Chord Forms in my Free Guide


Learning chords in a musical context is much easier. Loop around these progressions using your favorite strum pattern. Choosing the I-vi-ii-V progression is a good way to start doing music with chords because it sounds good! All the voicing presented here have the purpose to make music easy and fun.

Each exercice make up a song, every time learning 2 new chords. Start by learning easy open forms and then go forward to bar forms. All the material in this 3 page document is organized progressively using I-vi-ii-V and I-vi-IV-V chord progressions using all 12 keys! Have fun jamming around with your favorite strumming pattern and enjoy countless possibilities.


Jonathan Bélanger