Mandolin left hand techniques are essential for students learning to play mandolin! Although mandolin is an excellent instrument for beginners, it is common for a beginner to wonder how to hold this new instrument right and to be full of questions.

Taking even a few lessons from a competent teacher is the best way to progress quickly, but even if you can’t, some good players do not mind taking you aside and showing you a few things…passing down the knowledge, under the right circumstances!

Till you do that, you can start with the information provided below, but remember, go slowly and take things easy to ensure you don’t hurt your finger muscles. It may appear difficult at first, but you will gain finger strength and coordination over time.

Mandolin Left Hand Beginner Questions

These are the most common questions beginners ask:

  • Which note I am playing for GDAE tuning?
  • What is the “one finger-two frets” rule?
  • What is the “flying fingers” syndrome?
  • What is the correct (left hand) thumb position?
  • What is the correct angle of left hand and fingers?
  • How can I improve my left hand technique?

Notes on the fretboard

As apparent from the tuning of the mandolin, the open strings are: G (4th string pair), D (3rd string par), A (2nd string pair), E (1st string pair). But what are the note on each fret? The image below helps identify the notes, for C Major.

Notes on mandolin fretboard


The “one finger-two frets” rule

The first thing to understand regarding mandolin left hand positioning on the fretboard, is that each finger is “responsible” for two frets. So, when you play in the first position (frets 1-8):

  • the index finger covers frets one & two
  • the second finger covers frets three and four
  • the third finger covers frets five and six
  • finally the fourth (little) finger covers frets seven and eight

The image below explains the above (click to enlarge).

mandolin left hand fingers positioning

Of course you may wonder why use the little finger when the seventh fret of a string is the same note as the adjacent string played open e.g. when the 7-th fret of fourth (g) string is the same with open third (d) string?

The answer is that a fretted note sounds different than an open one.

The “flying fingers” Syndrome

You must try to keep your fingers close to the fingerboard and minimize movement of fingers. If you pay attention you will see that the fingers of the great players seem to hardly move.

Flying fingers may look impressive to beginners, but if you keep them close to the fingerboard, your tone and speed will definitely improve.

Positioning the thumb and fingers

Maybe the best advise to improve your mandolin left hand technique is to watch a known player carefully and copy his style.

In a few words, when holding the mandolin with your left hand, only the pad of the thumb and the side of the first finger, somewhere between the first and second oints should contact with the mandolin neck.

Practicing and Learning at the same time

One of the best advises for beginners is to start saying the notes loud as you move down the fret board.

This has a very good effect, as you learn the notes and concurrently your mind and fingers associate them with the correct position on the fretboard.

You can try the below exercise and see how it feels (click to enlarge):

left hand mandolin exercise

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