I have just started learning mandolin and I am working my way through St. Louis Blues. The music that I am using includes the tablature as well as the music.

The tab for one section shows:


but is soon became obvious to me that this could be played as:


It seems to me that the latter is easier to play. Is there a set of guidelines to choose one over the other?

Since I am new to the instrument, I don't want to start bad habits because I fail to anticipate future problems.

(Note: I am using normal GDAE tuning)

2 Answers 2


There isn't too specific a rule, most of the time. I see your point, but my response would be that the all fretted notes means that each note is muted when done, while yours leaves a potentially sour A ringing, unless you mute it.

For some music, and the example that comes to mind is Segovia and classical guitar, switching strings changes the tone of the note, with the unwound first string sounding brighter than the thicker second string. (Or course, as we're talking mandolin.)

In your case, go with whatever is Handy.

  • 1
    Thanks for your answer. I just wanted to let you know that the more I have been playing, it is obvious the benefit of being able to stop the note from ringing when you are done with it and I have come to favor the fretted note vs the open string despite the slight increase in dificulty.
    – DQdlM
    Mar 19, 2013 at 1:45

Violin technique books are helpful in this respect--most exercises have fingerings specified. The fingerings will be identical for mandolin.

I generally prefer the fingerings advocated by Carl Flesch (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Flesch). Granted, some styles of music will have different conventions (e.g. open strings are fair game in old-time and bluegrass mandolin, but generally avoided in jazz).

Generally speaking, if you can do what you need to do without a position change, go with it.

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