Mandolin Technique: Guide Fingers

Changing chords can be difficult at first but there’s a few tricks that you can learn to make it a lot easier. In this mandolin technique, we’ll focus on how to use Guide Fingers to speed chord changes to help your playing.

What is a guide finger

A guide finger is a finger that either doesn’t move at all or doesn’t move much when changing between two chords – generally just 1/2 step (or one fret) or full step (2 frets) up or down the neck.

For example, when going from the G Chop chord to a D Major chord, the note on the D string in both chords is 1/2 step, or one fret, away from each other. In addition, the note on the D string will be fretted by the 3rd or ring finger in each chord. So in this case your 3rd or ring finger would be the “guide finger”

Start by fretting the G Chop chord. Release the press on your ring finger but keep it in contact with the D string and slide it back 1/2 step (or one fret). Then form the D major chord around that. Then do the same thing, but in reverse – start with the D Major and move to the G Chop. Note: you could use the 3 finger G Chop here (omitting the D note on 7th fret of the G) and this still works.

Admittedly the below chart may be hard to read – but I wanted to try to show case this a little more. Below shows the G Major chop (green notes with blue outlines) and the D Major chord (yellow notes with purple outlines). The D note is a common note in both chords – but the specific D note used is not common. So the D in green with blue outline is part of the G chord and the D in yellow with purple background is part of the D chord. The numbers above each note are your fingers.

MattCBruno - Mandolin Technique - Overlapping G and D chords

Looking at the D string the notes G (root of G chord) and F# (3rd of D chord) are 1 fret away from each other and both use the 3rd finger. So when changing between these two chords, you can just slide your 3rd finger up or down one fret depending on which chord your changing to.

The below video should help as well.

Gifs to the rescue!

Diagrams are nice, but I think the below gifs are a bit more helpful. You should be able to use these ideas to find the guide fingers for most chord changes.

Mandolin technique - guide fingers - G to D gif
G to D – Guide Finger is 3rd finger moving from 5th fret on the D (G note) for the G chord to 4th fret on the D (F# note) for the D chord.
Mandolin technique - guide fingers - A to D gif
A to D – Guide Finger is the first finger. This does not move and covers the 2nd fret of G and D strings on both chords. Simply move the ring and pinky up / down a string each.
Mandolin technique - guide fingers - A to E gif
A to E – Guide Fingers are first and pinky. Both move up / down 1/2 step (one fret) depending on which chord
Mandolin technique - guide fingers - A to E 2 gif
A to E 2 – Guide Finger is the first finger which moves up or down 2 frets on the G string. The 3rd and 4th fingers both simply move from the A and E strings to the D and A strings.
Mandolin technique - guide fingers - G7 to D7 gif
G7 to D7 – Guide Finger is the 3rd or ring finger which stays put on the 5th fret of the A string. The first and second fingers also just move up / down one fret each too (so they could be “guide fingers” too)

Wrap Up

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4 Comments

  1. Excellent as always Matt. The use of gifs is brilliant!
    PS: we’re getting settled in here in Cypress, TX, so if you’re ever in the Houston area, you’ve got a place to stay. Been playing with a Wednesday evening group in West Houston with some excellent pickers, two pros. Lots of great bluegrass and not-so-bluegrass.

    1. Thanks Gene! I’m not in TX too often but when I am, it’s usually near Houston – so not too far! I’ll certainly let you know when I am heading there next! You’re always welcome up in sunny Seattle too 😉

  2. Bravo, Bruno! This is immensely helpful to a fledgling novice like me. The GIFs are WWAAYY better since I can watch it over and over until I finally piece it all together. Thanks for these, cheers!!

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