double stop finger positions

  1. collingwest
    Hey folks.

    With the all the COVID/Corona stuff going on, I haven't been able to start actual lessons, but I'm trying to work my way through the Dummies book as a way to get myself started.

    And I'm completely lost when it comes to finger positions. As a prior violinist, I get the idea that first finger is for 1/2 frets, second finger for 3/4, etc. But then I go and try to play a basic A or E chord and I just can't get the double stop to work. My hands are smaller than average but they are adult-sized, not child-sized. But my finger just won't go across all four strings, even if I "cheat" and use the pad instead of the fingertip.

    For the A chord (as 2-2-0-0 per the Dummies book, although I've found chord charts suggesting that it actually should be 2-2-4-0), I finally gave in and used my second finger on the second fret of the D string, which is again cheating but meant I could play the silly thing. But now I'm working on the E chord (as 4-2-2-0) and, even if I try to use first finger on the D string, second on the A, and third on the G, the G strings have a "thunk" sound instead of ringing.

    I even had my classical-guitarist husband check my hand position and it's not because I'm in the wrong place on the frets, and as far as he can tell my left wrist is in the right place although it has too much tension in it whenever I put that third finger down. (I should clarify that he is blind, so he's checking by feel instead of by appearance.)

    Any suggestions? How can I make double stops work?
  2. HonketyHank
    This sentence interests me: "But my finger just won't go across all four strings, even if I "cheat" and use the pad instead of the fingertip." Even small adult hands should be able to reach over to the G string and then come down on it and the D string.

    As a violinist, you almost surely have your fingers coming down from above rather than across the fretboard. And this is as it should be for the mandolin. But if you are looking at the fretboard while you try to make these chords or just when fretting, the tendency is to turn the mandolin a bit so the fretboard faces up instead of out. Big problem. This reduces your reach (and also forces you to come across the fretboard instead of down on it).

    This may not solve your problem, but it is my first guess. Try looking at Pete Martin's or Mike Marshall's or Baron Collins-Hill's ( free videos on left hand basics.

    ps: I have seen good mandolinists play that low A-E double stop with two fingers. And I have seen good mandolinists use the flat of their finger instead of the tip when they stop them both with one finger.
  3. MikeZito
    It doesn't seem to matter which fingers I use, because I always end up on the wrong notes . . . .
  4. SOMorris
    I play the A chord as a four finger closed-position chord, fretting the G and D strings not with the very tip but more with the pad of my index finger. I don't see how else one could do it. I play the E chord similarly, except I fret the D and A string with my middle finger. My fingers are not wide enough across the very tip to span all the way across four strings and the space between and get a good tone.
  5. SOMorris
    By the way, I have a book by Dix Bruce that "allows" using two fingers to fret adjacent strings. I wouldn't say it is cheating.
  6. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    SO, it's not easy, either. I have several books where that is the suggested fingering. I can't make it sound like anything but crap.
  7. Chaya
    I've heard a lot about double-stops on the mandolin, but I've never been able to do this with the tip of a single finger, as the Dummies book suggests, though I'll occasionally "fret" two courses of strings by using the whole first joint of a finger. The people I've seen doing double-stops as performed on a violin have large, chunky fingers. I'm working through Marilynn Mair's book, "Complete Mandolinist," as my interest lies in classical mandolin. Where two notes are played together on adjacent courses, she always directs you to use two fingers. (Which in itself is pretty hard).
  8. SOMorris
    I have been working my way through Marilynn Mair's book as well. I prefer more of the classical type mandolin music instead of bluegrass (I know -- I will probably be banned from the Mandolin Cafe for saying that!). I like her book.

    That being said, if you are trying to play chords for singing along, then you have to figure out a way to fret two string courses at the same time. Since I am probably doing it wrong, I did a little research last night on the internet. I ran across someone talking about the subject of fretting two string courses, and they said Sam Bush says to just put your finger down between the strings. The "outside" strings will be muted, but it sounds about the same. I just tried it and it seems to work! This may be the solution for those of us without chunky fingers!
  9. collingwest
    Thank you! I will have to try that soon as my baby comes back from the shop...

    And for what it's worth, I'm about halfway between classical and folk myself. Bluegrass is nice, but also a bit eh. Not going to say that too loudly around here though.
  10. Chaya
    When I need to fret two string courses at a time while playing chords, as with bluegrass-type tunes, I do an entire fret - all 4 courses - with my index finger, just like I would on a guitar, and use my other fingers to press down additional courses further up the neck. It ain't easy, though, given there are 8 strings that must be fretted cleanly - and I like clean sound. I guess I'd be more motivated to find a way if I really cared about bluegrass. I like to listen to bluegrass, but it justs isn't what motivates me.
  11. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    The mechanics of the left hand are important, for avoiding injury as well as to be able to extend your reach and to play clean notes. After that, it just requires a lot of practice & play time to stretch things out and to learn the necessary micro-adjustments that you, personally, must make and get ingrained to play the way you want to. This takes time.

    Your mechanics may already be great (and just lacking the necessary practice), or they may need to be addressed. Here are a couple videos that I found helpful:

    Depending on the size of your hands, fingers, etc. and other issues: Some people do use two fingers for noting on adjacent strings, and others use one finger, all that is discussed above by others. The rule is that, as long as your hand position is healthy, you find whatever way works best for you to play the correct notes cleanly while chording.

    In the beginning, it's tough to discern what will be best for you, because often anything you try may be very difficult. Unfortunately, that is the way with learning to play a stringed instrument. So when first starting out, you will be faced with two choices. You either decide that you will not learn to play chords and doublestops, or you decide to persevere.

    If you persevere, then I would recommend working on having a healthy left hand position and then trying the different ways that are recommended by your teachers or fellow players ... and find what works best for you. Practice a lot, playing music that you like.

    A final word ... as you develop these abilities, beware getting stuck in a rut. Sometimes it may be desirable to bar all four strings for a chord and sometimes it may be desirable to use one finger on two courses; sometimes it may be desirable to play all four strings for a chord and sometimes only three or only two strings (doublestop). Sometimes you'll have your hand in the optimum position, while other chords may require more gymnastics of your fretting hand. As you develop the skills, be willing to try new things.
  12. Ellsdemon
    I couldn't agree with Mark anymore. He's touched on a lot of points and their all important. I couldn't do a lot of things with my short sausage fingers either in the beginning, but it'll all work out in the end. That's a hard answer to accept but, believe me when I say that keeping trying, keep playing and your hands will adapt.

    One of the things that helped me a great deal in getting my fingers to "grow" was practicing the FFcP exercise. If you can get proficient on that with the mandolin, I bet you'll start to be able to expand your reach and technique. Link to website, scroll down to find the PDF exercise on this page.

    Mark also touched on that you may have to find your own technique. We all have different styles but also the same way in a sense. If you can't get the A with one finger, and there are many, try with your 1st and 2nd and see if you can get it clean that way.

    As mentioned before, it's what you want to hear when you play. That's how it all started, with Bill playing the way he wanted. Get a clean sound out of the strings and enjoyable and comfortable, then you're doing it right.

    It's a long road, and it's also hard but when it clicks, it's awesome.

    Hope that helps. Hang in there and keep playing
  13. collingwest
    Well guys, I got my mando back from the luthier yesterday (it was new, so I'd taken it in for setup) and that has made ALL THE DIFFERENCE. As part of that, they lowered the action and now I'm able to get my fingertip across two courses at once, which is what I was having trouble doing. So, yay! That said, I'm not sure I'm going to always be doing that as I'm still finding it easier to use two fingers for this kind of double-stop.

    That said, HonketyHank, you were right that I'm also rotating the mandolin in just a bit. It appears my best option is going to be to get a strap as, when I have the mandolin in my lap without rotating it, it has an annoying tendency to try and slide off. (Yes, I'm seated correctly.) So MAS is rearing its ugly head once again, at least with straps.

    Thank you to everyone! [And yes, I'll be arranging for at least a few lessons once social distancing is over.]
  14. SOMorris
    Now the fun starts, collingwest!
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