Knowing a couple of common barre chord shapes will make a big difference to your mandolin playing.  Here are a couple of good reasons:

You’ll be able to play all the less common chords (things like C sharp minor, G flat, D sharp for example).  Which is great for playing more complicated songs and also giving you a larger selection of chords to choose from when writing your own music.

You’ll have alternatives at your disposal to the usual open chords.

Open chords sound great (i.e. chords that involve open strings).  But the benefit with barre chords is you have more control in terms of damping.  Damping is what you do when you strum a chord and then loosen the pressure with the left hand fingers, thereby stopping the strings ringing out. If you did that with an open chord, the open strings would continue ringing out.  With a barre chord the sound stops, which makes it possible to play choppy, funky rhythms.

The most common shapes used as barre chords are D, Dm, G and Gm.  Remember that, when it comes to chords, D is short for D major, G is short for G major.  Major chords are so common that they are normally just referred to by the shortened name.

Starting with the familiar D major chord (left hand fingers shown as 1 – index; 2 – middle; 3 – ring; 4 – little finger or pinkie):

Four notes:

  • 2nd fret on G string
  • Open D and A strings, and
  • 2nd fret on E string

If we move each of those notes up one fret, it’ll look like this:

Four notes again:

  • 3rd fret on G string
  • 1st fret barred on D and A strings, and
  • 3rd fret on E string

This chord is E flat major (or E flat for short)

Slide the shape up another fret and you get E major, another fret and you get F major.

Depending on which fret the first finger makes a barre, you’ll get a different chord each time.

The chart below shows you all possibilities for this chord shape…

Column one shows where the first finger will be based; column 2 shows the resulting chord

…up to the 12th fret (where it admittedly gets too cramped for most people over the age of 7).

A quick note here about sharps and flats.  D sharp (D#) is the same note as E flat (Eb); F# is the same as Gb etc.  There is no sharp or flat note between the notes E and F, nor between B and C.

Similar rules apply to Dm (D minor):

If we move each of these notes up one fret, it’ll look like this:

And is now E flat minor

Depending on which fret the first finger makes a barre, you’ll get a different chord each time.

The chart below shows you all possibilities for this chord shape…

Column one shows where the first finger will be based; column 2 shows the resulting chord

See my post on G and Gm Barre Chords for Mandolin

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