What are 1st, 2nd, and 3rd position on a Mandolin? "Position" means what? position of fingers? or position of frets?

This is what I have understood:

1st position means the index finger covers frets 1 & 2, middle finger frets 3 & 4, ring finger frets 5 & 6, pinky frets 7 & 8. How do I use this?? Without all this, I can still play scales on my Mandolin.

  • I am flagging this as too broad. Try to limit your post to one question. Apr 12, 2017 at 14:24
  • I've pared down the question a bit. I think the answers are still valid.
    – user28
    Apr 13, 2017 at 18:15
  • I hope that my answer is still valid. I was puzzled by the number 4 in my own answer. Were the questions originally numbered? I may edit away that 4 as it looks rather odd now.
    – badjohn
    Jun 13, 2017 at 9:33

2 Answers 2


The positions work the same way as on a violin, although there are some fingering choices that will be different due to the difference between bowing and picking some phrases.

Position is shifted to reach notes higher than available in first position, and to make some fingering passages easier / different to play.

Shifting is accomplished by keeping the hand relaxed with no gripping of the neck and sliding up until the first finger is in the relative position. Generally you are aiming the first finger to the position even if you are playing a different fingered note.

Fingers have two frets each in the basic form, but this can change depending on the scale or phrasing of the music.

Here is a picture of C major scale in 1st 2nd and 3rd positions: enter image description here

  • This reminds me of FFcP ( Four Finger closed Position). When the tonic of a scale starts on an Index finger it follows a certain pattern, Middle finger will have a different pattern, so will ring finger and pinkie. Each finger is associated with a fixed pattern. This pattern can be applied to any given scale. Positions are just making things confusing, or may be I've not understood it .
    – Indie Rock
    Apr 15, 2017 at 5:10
  • It is similar to FFcP, except that this doesn't rely on memorizing a scale pattern. In the case of playing in position you want to be familiar with the chromatic scale, and know what notes are used in the scale you are playing and where they are in relation to each other. The fingering choices are then determined by the phrases you are playing in that scale. Maybe think of it this way: the notes don't move, the fingers you play them with do. Apr 15, 2017 at 7:10

I cannot answer on the positions. I am more familiar with those terms being used on fretless stringed instruments such as the violin.

  1. Playing a scale will require some knowledge of scales, in particular the sequence of tones and semitones. You will also know how the instrument is tuned. I believe that the mandolin is tuned as a violin. So the strings are a fifth apart rather than the fourths of a guitar; if you are familiar with scales on the guitar then you will need to do some relearning. The lowest string is G below middle C and the next is D just above. So, middle C must be played somewhere on the G string. Count up the notes: first fret G#, second A, . . ., fifth fret C. So start with the fifth fret on the G string. The next note is D so you can use the open second string. Now E so count up, first fret D#, second E. Now F, just a semitone up so third fret. Now G, a whole tone up hence fifth fret. Now A and you can switch to the third open string. Now B, a tone up hence second fret. Finally C, a semitone up so third fret and you have completed an octave. You can do a second octave but you will go quite high on the fourth string. Similar logic should allow you to play any scale major or minor.

I have been talking as if it has four strings like a violin. Treat the pairs as one string.

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