Tips und Tricks

On this page I am collecting several hints, tips and tricks for mandolin players.


A very usefull exercise for sightreading and playing from the ear is transposing melodies. Whenever I play a melody I do always try to play the same one octave higher or lower or in another key. Very often by this method I discover other possibilities to play the melody and make a better version. Sometimes it is more easy to use chords, sometimes it is even easier to play the melody.

If you play the melody higher it is often necessary to use the higher positions. By this you will get acquainted to the positions and learn to make use of it.

In general it is also very easy to go up or down one string to play the melody a fifth higher or lower.

Just try it out!

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A good and smooth tremolo on the mandolin requires much practice. It is recommended to make use of special exercises to learn th tremolo.

I can recommend two exercises for learning the tremolo.

Exercise for the movement of the right hand

The first exercise should help to find the right movement of the right hand from the wrist. Lay your hand flat onto a table (and if necessary fix the position of the right arm with your left hand). Now move your hand alternating to the left and to the right, as far as possible. Make slow, big movements with your hand exploring the possible movement. Gradually accellerate this movement. The movement will become smaller when you accelerate.

The aim of this exercise is to get a feeling of the right movement of the hand and wrist to exercise the muscles for this unusual movement of the hand.

Later you should transform this movement to the movement with the pick.

Speed and Control

To be able to play a good tremolo you need to practice speed. A good way to gain speed it is to play exercises that combine short speedy passages with passages where you can relax. I used to practice a sequence of  fast semiquavers (sixteenth notes) followed by a slow movement gliding  on G, D and A-Strings with a final big upstroke on the A-string.

I recommend to use a counted tremolo like it was recommended in many of the old methods. You will need different combinations of daown and up strokes depending on the musical situation. To practice this you should play groups of 4, 6 or 8 beats followed by a final down stroke, and also the same with a group of 3 beats at the end - leaving away just the last beat of a group of beats to make a short interception:

4 + 1
8 + 1
6 + 1
4 + 3
8 + 3
6 + 3

For some situations it is also necessary to end a group of beats with an up stroke:

4 + 2
6 + 4


If you have trained the speed you also need to practice for endurance. But if you have practiced the previous exercises you will already have gained some endurance and should be able to improve with real tremolo pieces.

You can find some tremolo exercises on my free sheet music page

More about the tremolo

Marilyn Mair - Revisiting Tremolo 

Positioning the Bridge

The right position of the bridge is very important for a clean intonaton of the mandolin.

Nowadays with the aid of an electronic tuning device it should be not problem to position the bridge. Beginn with tuning the open string exactely. If you stop the string on the 12th fret you get the same note as the open string. Now you have to check this with an electronic tuning device. If the note is sharp, you have to increatse the length of the string by moving the bridge, if the note is flat compared to the open string you have to shorthen the string length.

I recommend to check this with loosened strings, and check again after tuning your mandolin. When strings are tuned it is not recommended to move the bridge because of the strong pressure of the strings.

I have collected information in detail and some links with very detailed and indepth instructions about the intonation on a separate page: intonation and positioning of the bridge and nut

Picking the mandolin - Movement of the Wrist - Down Stroke and Up Stroke

The picking movement should be a movement from the wrist. A simple introductory exercise:


Lay your forearm and hand onto a desk. You can use a book to raise your forarm a little bit, which produces an even more relaxt position of the hand. 

Now move your hand from the wrist to the left and to the right, and watch the hand move to the left and to the right. The forarm keeps straight, if you want you can hold it with your left hand to prevent it from moving.

This movement is a bit unusual at the beginning, so this exercise is a way to practice the movement from the wrist.

You can also make this exercise without a table. Just hold your right forearm with your left hand, and move your right hand from the wrist to the left and right.


This movement will be used to play the mandolin.

First picking exercises

Many of the old mandolin methods start from the beginning with the tremolo or the up- and down movement. I think this is a good way to lear the picking movement. If you just play downstrokes like in the modern German methods the hand has to do an up movement anyway between two down strokes. I think that it is important, that the movement of the hand is done in the right way from the beginning.

Downstroke: The hand moves on straight line from a distance above the strings, diving through the plane of the strings in directon of the mandolin table. The pick hits a string and moves on until it is stopped by the next string. The taget of your movement shold be the stopping string, not the string that you actually play. After the picking movement tha hand should rest with its weight on the next string until it moves again for an upstroke or the next downstroke.

Upstroke: The hand moves back on the same straight line, away from the mandolin table. While the hand moves up it will hit the lower string again, caused by the slanted movement only one string of the double strings is hit. The movement continues until it reaches the place for a new downstroke.

In my opinion it is good to make large movements in the beginning. This will make it easier to control the right movement. And it will produce a loud and clear sound. As soon as you play faster the movements will get smaller.

If you try to make small movements you will not be able to produce a loud and clear sound with your mandolin.

The movement for the down- and upstrokes should be similar to what I described above. The movement should come from the wrist. In my opinion this straight movement up and down, along a slanted line, with a downstroke hitting (and resting) on the next string, and a big upstroke is the basic movement on the mandolin.

You can find a detailed description of the movement in the first volume of the mandolin method by Zarh M. Bickford, which is available as a free download at the internet archive. Here are the most important descriptions from the Bickford Method:


The cut on the following page shows the position of the right hand when it is raised, ready for the down stroke. The pick must be held very loosely and in such a manner that its flat surface, very near the tip, strikes squarely against the strings.

In making the stroke, the hand is dropped suddenly from the position as shown in the cut, so that the pick strikes the pair of strings and rests firmly against the next higher string, after having vibrated the required strings.

It is essential that this stroke be made with a quick and energetic movement of the hand and also that the tip of the pick rest against the adjacent string after the hand has dropped. The starting point of the pick when making the down stroke, in the early stages of practice, should be from two to three inches from the string and at a height of at least a half inch from a straight line drawn across and parallel with the strings. One of the objects of this slight angle from which the pick approaches the string is to allow the point of the pick to drop in between the strings so as to rest against the adjacent string. This could not be done if the pick struck the strings and crossed them on a line parallel to their level. On the contrary, with the pick exacly perpendicular to the strings, there would be the continual danger of striking more than one string.

In order to make the down stroke in this manner it is necessary to tilt the hand very slightly away from the body so that the pick points a very little toward the body, instead of being exactly perpendicular.

Another important feature of the stroke is that, while the little finger is raised with the rest of the hand as the stroke starts, it goes down with the hand so that the back of the nail touches the guardplate as the pick rests against the next string. It is also important that both pick and little finger remain at their respective resting places, with the hand and arm entirely relaxed, until the hand is brought back, just in time for the next down stroke.

When the down stroke is made on the first string (E), since there is no higher string for the pick to rest against, the little finger and even the knuckles of the second and third fingers are used to stop the downward swing of the hand.The point of the pick should never touch the guardplate or top of the instrument, it being stopped in mid-air at a point no farther from the E string than this string is from the A string.


As previously explained, the back of the nail, or more properly, the side or outer corner of it, should be allowed to rest against the guardplate or top of the instrument as the hand drops toward the strings for the down stroke, and, during the early stages of practice, this finger should leave the top of the instrument when the hand is brought back to its starting point, ready for another down stroke. As the speed of the strokes increases, however, and the length slightly decreases, this finger does not leave the top, but glides back and forth easily, following the motion of the hand. In this connection, Munier, the great Italian authority, says: "The other fingers of the right hand (aside from the thumb and first finger) should be relaxed; the little finger should glide on the sounding-board and serves as a guide for making the tremolo." Tartaglia another eminent authority, also says: "The little finger should not be stuck fast to the soundingboard, but it must glide easily, following the movement of the hand." Pictrapertosa, the famous authority of Paris, also says: "... the little finger resting on the guardplate, but without force, for this finger, moving along the top, acts as a guide to the hand in the movement of the pick against the strings."

It has been the experience of the author that a very light contact of the little finger with the instrument serves as a guide for the movement of the hand, both in single strokes and in the tremolo. The single exception, when its touching might be a matter of choice, is when playing two or more strings with the tremolo, as in "duo" playing. While on the subject of down and up strokes, it should be added that the wrist joint does not move in the least when making 
the strokes, the entire motion being made by swinging the hand from its pivotal point — the middle of the forearm. This swing causes a rotary motion of the two bones in the forearm, but the wrist itself is held in a perfectly fi.xed, although relaxed condition.


After having allowed the pick to rest for an instant, with all muscles perfectly relaxed, the hand and pick are brought back with a quick motion to the exact point from which the down stroke was started and following the very same angle or imaginary "groove," but touching the strings on this upward journey, the same as when the hand went down. If the pick is "held very loosely, both strings of the pair will be vibrated when taking the up stroke, since the point of the pick will glide quickly across them, the same as on the down stroke. It is most essential that the directions for using the very point of the pick be carefully followed, especially in taking the up stroke and also that the pick merely rest between the thumb and finger instead of being gripped, otherwise the slight angle at which it is held will cause it to slip under the first string encountered.

This is disastrous, as it not only prevents striking both strings, but causes the pick to get caught under the string so that the stroke cannot be finished without an accident of some sort.


Should the second of the pair of strings occasionally be missed on the up stroke, it need cause no concern, since the two strings are always to be considered as one, and the missing of one of the pair is partly compensated by the fact that if the strings are perfectly in tune, the second will vibrate in s}mpathy with the first, and also by the fact that up strokes are, as a general rule, on unaccented or rhythmically less important notes than the down strokes. Many of the greatest virtuosos, soloists and authorities, both in this country and in Europe openly advocate the striking of but a single string on the up stroke. The author would suggest, however, the above method as being most nearly ideal.

When the tremolo on two or more strings is studied, the pick must necessarily strike both strings of the pair on the up as well as the down stroke, but the slight angle at which the pick is held for work on single strings ceases to be necessary at that time, since it would be inconvenient to always rest the pick against an adjacent string.

In other words - from Paramount Method for Tenor Banjo by WM. Foden copyright 1922 (also available in the internet archive)


The Rest Stroke

A discussion in German about the rest stroke.

Link collection about mandolin picking technique and rest stroke

The German mandolin technique as used by Magda Wilden-Hüsgen and her students is using the rest stroke as the main picking techique from the beginning. By using the rest stroke you can get the best tone. The pick glides over both strings and "rests" at the next string.

The rest stroke is also used on the classical guitar as the most important technique. It is also called "apoyando" which is the spanish word for it.

In den letzten Tagen habe ich einige Mails zum Thema Anschlag geschrieben und möchte diese Diskussion hier zusammenfassen - das dürfte für viele interessant sein:


Werden prinzipiell beide Saiten eines Saitenpaares angeschlagen oder jeweils nur eine. Gerade bei schnellem Wechselschlag klingt es furchtbar, wenn ich beide Saiten eines Saitenpaares anschlage. Viel angenehmer klingt es in meinen Ohren, wenn ich jeweils nur eine Saite schlage. Außer beim Tremolo natürlich, der einzige Grund den ich mir für Doppelsaiten denken kann. Bei Bluegrass-Musikern glaube ich gesehen zu haben, dass sie nur eine Saite anschlagen, außer beim Tremolo und Strumming natürlich. Gibt es feste Regeln? Für klassische Musik sicher, aber wie sieht es bei den anderen Richtungen aus?


Danke für ihre Anfrage über meine Homepage MandoIsland. Ich versuche ihre Frage kurz zu beantworten:

Die Doppelsaiten der Mandoline werden in der Regel auch beide angeschlagen, es gibt aber verschiedene Varianten.

Normalerweise erfolgt der Anschlag etwas schräg zur Decke bzw. Saitenebene. Dabei trifft der Abschlag beide Saiten, der Aufschlag nur die obere der beiden Saiten (oben ist räumlich gesehen aber unten, dort wo die höheren Saiten sind). Bei diesem Anschlag muss die Hand keine Kurven machen, sondern kann sich auf einer geraden Linie hin und her bewegen. Das Plektrum muss so locker gehalten werden, dass es beim Anschlag nachgibt (ansonsten würde es die Bewegung abstoppen). Der Abschlag sollte im übrigen immer an die nächste Saite geführt werden, also nicht selbst bremsen, sondern die Bewegung an der nächsten Saite abstoppen lassen.

Bestimmte Abschläge erfordern, dass die Bewegung an der nächsten Saite vorbei geführt wird, in diesem Fall macht die Hand eine bogenförmige Bewegung zur Decke hin und wieder weg und trifft die Saite beim Abschlag in einer Bewegung etwa parallel zur Decke, auch dabei werden beide Saiten getroffen (zumindest soll es so sein).

Beim tremolo kann man die oben beschriebene schräge Bewegung machn (Abschlag zwei Saiten, Aufschlag eine Saite) oder aber parallel zur Decke anschlagen, sodass sowohl Ab- wie Aufschlag beide Saiten treffen. In diesem Fall können sowohl Abschlag als auch Aufschlag an die jeweilige Nachbarsaite anschlagen. Diese parallele Anschlagsbewegung ist vor allem natürlich erforderlich beim Tremolo über zwei oder mehr Saiten.

Wenn es nicht gut klingt, dann liegt das am ehesten daran, dass die beiden Saiten nicht ganz genau übereinstimmen. Das Stimmen der Doppelsaiten erfordert deshalb etwas Übung. Wichtig ist beim Stimmen, dass man immer zuerst tiefer stimmt und die Saite dann langsam hoch stimmt, bis der richtige Ton erreicht ist. Die Saite sollte dabei ohne Widerstand über Steg und Sattel gleiten, sonst baut sich eine Überspannung auf, die sich dann beim Spielen wieder löst und damit die Saite wieder verstimmt.

Wichtig ist auch, dass man immer beide Saiten bei den Doppelsaiten gleichzeitig wechselt und zwei identische Saiten verwendet, sonst ist es unmöglich beide Saiten gleich zu stimmen.

Die Anschlagbewegungen sind sehr gut in der Schule von Bickford beschrieben (auf englisch), gibt es als ebook (Link irgendwo auf meiner Homepage).

Lieber Herr Reichenbach!

Vielen Dank für Ihre sehr hilfreichen Erläuterungen.
Jetzt weiß ich zumindest, dass die beiden Saiten ihre Funktion haben und diese auch genutzt wird. Ab und Aufschlag sind dann aber doch irgendwie ungleichgewichtig. Einmal beide Saiten dann nur eine. Auf einem Video (amerikanischer Musiker), dass ich mir bestellt hatte, wurde jedoch immer nur eine Saite angeschlagen, in einem amerikanischen Buch jedoch, wurde wiederum immer von beidsaitigem Auf- und Abschlag gesprochen, es scheint da zumindest im amerikanischen Raum keine einheitliche zu geben.
Vielleicht nimmt sich ja doch irgendwann einmal ein Profi dieses Problemes an. Ein Buch über die verschiedenen Techniken, wann und warum und wie sie angewendet werden scheint es nicht zu geben? Ich wäre sicher einer der ersten Kunden, die dieses Buch kaufen würden. Vielleicht ist es ja für Sie auch eine Anregung, zumindest für einen Artikel, der die Gilde der Mandolinenspieler mit Sicherheit sehr interessieren würde.
Wenn Sie im Internet ( )
anklicken, haben Sie die Möglichkeit in ein paar Videos hineinzuschauen ... und dann verstehen Sie vielleicht auch meine Verunsicherung, denn hier scheinen die Musiker meist nur eine Saite anzuschlagen.

Welche Videos haben sie den, bei welchem meinen sie, dass nur eine Saite angeschlagen wird?

Ich habe Sam Bush und Chris Thile angesehen, dabei kann ich aber nicht nachvollziehen bzw. erkennen, dass nur eine Saite angeschlagen wird, ich denke eher, dass diese beiden den Anschlag bogenförmig und im Bereich der Saite parallel zur Decke spielen, sodass beide Saiten angeschlagen werden. Das Video von Chris Thile habe ich selbst und werde es mir bei Gelegenheit noch einmal ansehen, ich bin aber 100% sicher, das Chris Thile immer beide Saiten Anschlägt, es sei denn er will es anders.

Prinzipiell gibt es - wie bei der Gitarre - einen freien Anschlag (an der nächsten Saite vorbei) und einen angelegten Anschlag (an die nächste Saite ran) - beides ist richtig, beides sollte man beherrschen. Je vielseitiger man ist, umso besser.

Der angelegte Anschlag wird vor allem in Deutschland stark vertreten, hier gibt es die Schule von Marga Wilden-Hüsgen (Professorin für Mandoline in Köln/Aachen) - schauen sie mal bei ebay, dort wird sie ab und zu angeboten. Ich finde die Auswahl der Stücke und anderes nicht sehr gut, aber die Beschreibung der Anschlagstechnik ist sicher ausgezeichnet. Mit dem angelegten Abschlag über zwei Saiten erreicht man einen vollen, lauten und runden Ton wie er in Deutschalnd gewünscht ist, besonders für langsame Stellen.

Mit dem freien Anschlag (+ andere Saiten + dünneres Plektrum + + + ) erreicht man einen helleren, obertonreicheren Ton. Für bestimmte Akkordzerlegungen ist der freie Anschlag ideal.

Ein anderer amerikanische Spieler, Jesse McReynolds hat eine ganz andere Technik, bei ihm könnte ich mir eher vorstellen, dass er jeweils nur eine Saite anschlägt - aber an dieser Technik würde ich mich nicht orientieren, obwohl ich die Stücke von Jesse McReynolds und sein crosspicking mag - ich mache es aber ganz anders als er.

Sie sehen, es gibt nicht die einzige Wahrheit - wie alle Dinge gibt es hunderte von Möglichkeiten.

Vielen Dank Herr Reichenbach!

Bei Steve James glaubte ich dies gesehen zu haben. Ist wohl auch egal, denn wie Sie schon
sagten, es gibt auch hier nicht die eine Wahrheit. Auf jeden Fall wird auf all den Videos
die ich mir angeschaut habe der freie Anschlag gespielt. 

Mandolin Setup - String Action

Your mandolin should have been setup in the best way to make it easy to play. This is valid for all kinds of mandolins - American A-models or F-models, Neapolitan bowlback mandolins or Brazilian bandolims.

It is very important that the string action is setup properly. 

What's the recommended String-Action richtig?

I have compiled some websites about recommended string action in the following link collection:

The string action is measured at the 12th fret. The g-string need a higher string action as the e-string. The following actions are recommended:

high action medium action low action
g string 2.4 mm 2.0 mm 1.6 mm
e string 2.0 mm 1.6 mm 1.2 mm

You can check this simply with some coins. I have compiled the thicknesses of Euro and Dollar Coins. 

Euro Coins

1, 2 and 5 Cent 1.67 mm
10 Cent 1.93 mm
20 Cent 2.14 mm
50 Cent 2.38 mm
1 Euro 2.33 mm
2 Euro 2.20 mm

Dollar Coins

1 Cent 1.55 mm
5 Cent 1.95 mm
10 Cent 1.35 mm
25 Cent 1.75 mm
50 Cent 2.15 mm
1 $ 2.00 mm

This makes it easy to check your string action. Just take a 1 Dollar coin or 10 Euro Cent to check the distance of the G-string at the 12th fret. Take a 1 Cent or 1 Euro Cent coin to check the distance of the e string at the 12th fret.

I have used a 1 Euro Coin and a 1 Euro Cent coin to measure the string action of some of my mandolins. You can see the pictures here:

Bilder mit Euro Münzen

string action pictures with Euro coins

Straight Neck?

You can easily check the straightness of the neck when you press down the string at the highest fret. The neck relief should be very small.

Chords and Chord Charts for the Mandolin

The mandolin is very good for playing chords and to accompany your singing.

For the easy chords you can use the open strings, this is mainly used in folk and Celtic music. You can play many chords with just 2 fingers. I recommend to start playing chords from the beginning - the big movement of the hand leeds to a relaxed movement of the hand and makes it loose. The basic chords like G-major, C-major and D-major should be known by every mandolin player.

In bluegrass music chords are typically played without open strings, for the bluegrass chop the fingers are loosened shortly after playing the chord to damp the sound. The mandolin tales the role of the drummer in a bluegrass band. Chords without open strings can be moved around - one chord pattern can thus be used for many differnent chords.

I have collected the best links about mandolin chord charts in my link collection:

Link collection about mandolin chords

Some tips about buying instruments (German)

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