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Learn the basics of music theory as it relates to four-string instruments tuned in fifths. Chad’s practical approach will deepen your knowledge of chords, scales, and arpeggios, and help you integrate them into your playing.
Chad Manning is a Bay Area bluegrass, old-time, and swing fiddler who plays with the David Grisman Sextet, the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, and Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands. Over the years he has toured with many bluegrass greats such as J.D. Crowe, Curly Seckler, Alan Munde, and Tony Trischka, to name a few. Chad also finds great joy in teaching and working with all levels of adult fiddle students. He and his wife, Catherine, teach more than a hundred students at their studio in Berkeley, California.
Learn how major chord arpeggios are constructed and how to find them on the mandolin/fiddle fingerboard. With Notation and Tablature
Download a PDF list of all the Theory for Mandolin and Fiddle lessons so you can keep track of your progress.
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BASIC CHORDS AND ARPEGGIOS
THE HARMONIZED MAJOR SCALE
THE MAJOR PENTATONIC SCALE
MORE PENTATONIC SCALES
MAJOR SCALE PATTERNS Learn to play major chord arpeggios over “bluegrass chord progression #1” in the key of G. You’ll also learn a couple of simple quarter-note scale patterns that connect chord tones as well as a more complicated eighth-note pattern.
MODES In this lesson on modes, you’ll learn both how each mode relates to its parent major scale and how each mode is constructed individually. Chad starts by showing you how the modes are derived from the major scale, using the G major scale as an example. He walks you through each mode, naming them and showing you how each one starts on a different step of the major scale. He also shows you how the Dorian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Lydian modes (the modes most often used in bluegrass and old-time music) differ from the major scale.
10-MINUTE PRACTICE ROUTINE Chad helps you create a practice routine for working on theory that includes two-octave major scales, modes, diatonic triads, seventh chords, pentatonic scales, and more. The routine will take you 5–15 minutes depending on your fluency with the material. Chad goes through the routine from beginning to end in the key of A, calling out each scale, mode, etc., as he goes.
SOLOING AND IMPROVISING
Chords Within Chords In this lesson, Chad shows you some of the chords that exist within larger chords. For example, the fifth, seventh, and ninth of a dominant nine chord equal a minor triad built on the fifth of the chord. Chad demonstrates how you can use this on the “Sweet Georgia Brown” circle-of-fifths progression to focus on the higher notes of the chord you’re playing. He also shows you how to use a Dorian scale that starts on the fifth of the chord to achieve a similar effect with a scalar melody rather than just an arpeggio.
Circle of Fifths Review in D Chad reviews all of the concepts he’s been illustrating using the “Sweet Georgia Brown” circle-of-fifths progression, but this time in the key of D. “Sweet Georgia Brown” in F allows you to practice on D7, G7, C7, and F chords, but if you move it to the key of D, you’ll be able to practice on B7, E7, A7, and D chords. Chad reviews the major and dominant nine arpeggios for these chords as well as approach notes, major sixths, and “chords within chords.”
Building Bluegrass Vocabulary in the Key of C In this lesson, Chad helps you build a vocabulary of bluegrass phrases in the key of C, using some call-and-response exercises. Most of these phrases are based on the major pentatonic scale, with the addition of the flatted seventh and flatted third, as well as some chromatic lines.
The Altered Dominant Scale In this lesson, Chad takes a little digression from the path he’s been taking, with a lesson on the altered dominant scale, which is used in modern and mainstream jazz to give a dissonant or exotic sound to dominant chords. You’ll learn to use the altered dominant scale on the D7 chord in a ii–V7–I progression in the key of G.
Improvising in B Modal To improvise and play solos on bluesy bluegrass songs in the key of B, you can use the B minor pentatonic scale, as well as a version of the scale with a D# substituted for D♮. Chad starts by showing you the B minor pentatonic scale and giving you ideas for improvising with the scale. Then he shows you the scale with the D# and how to improvise with that scale, and alternate between the two scales.
How High the Moon “How High the Moon” is a jazz classic that changes tonality every two to four measures. In this lesson, you’ll learn the melody as well as the scales and arpeggios you can use to improvise on the melody.
Improvising on “How High the Moon” Chad gives you advice on improvising on “How High the Moon” using the scales and arpeggios you learned in the previous lesson. He shows you how to make musical phrases out of the scales and arpeggios by playing with dynamics and expression, and how to create melodies out of the notes of the arpeggios. Chad also shows how to play a chorus of Ella Fitzgerald’s classic recording of “How High the Moon” on the fiddle or mandolin, and how her notes correspond to the arpeggios and scales you’ve been using to improvise on the tune.
All of Me Chad shows you the melody to the jazz standard “All of Me” and explains how the melody relates to the chords. He also talks about some of the expressive techniques, like vibrato, slides, etc., that he uses to shape the notes of a melody. For fiddlers, Chad talks about how long to sustain the notes, whether to clip them, let them sustain with an abrupt end, or fade out, etc., as well as the attack and “tail” of the note and what kind of vibrato to use: wide or tight.
DOUBLE-STOPS AND DOUBLE-STOP SCALES
Double-Stop Vocabulary in the Key of A In this lesson, Chad shows you some typical bluegrass double-stop licks in the key of A. He shows you licks on all the string sets, how to combine them to make longer licks, and how to phrase them in different ways.
Double-Stop Scale in the Key of F Learn the double-stop scale in the key of F, both with a low harmony and high harmony. After showing you the F major scale, Chad walks you the F major scale with a low harmony, which has four double stops on the G and D string pair, and four double stops on the D and A string pair. Then he shows you the F major scale with a high harmony, which has four double stops on the D and A string pair, and four double stops on the A and E string pair. Chad also shows you which major and minor chords can be used with each double stop.
Double-Stops Up the Neck For this lesson, Chad enlists his son Jasper Manning to show you how to think about using double-stops up the neck in your solos. Jasper walks you through the three main double-stops on the top two strings for G, A, D, E, B, C, Bb, and F chords and shows you how to find the same double-stop shapes on the other two sets of strings. He ends by playing a solo on the bluegrass fiddle tune “Big Sandy River” using double-stops and licks based on double-stop positions.
BUILDING BLUEGRASS VOCABULARY IN MULTIPLE KEYS
Bluegrass Lick #1 in All the Bluegrass Keys Chad gives you an exercise using a typical bluegrass lick (which he calls “Bluegrass Lick #1”) in a I–IV–V–I progression in all the bluegrass keys (B, E, A, D, G, C, F, and Bb). It’s a great quick way to learn some bluegrass vocabulary and get used to the circle of fifths in a lot of keys.
Bluesy Pentatonic Lick in All Bluegrass Keys This lesson continues on from the previous lesson, which featured a bluegrass lick played in all the bluegrass keys (B, E, A, D, G, C, F, and Bb). In this lesson Chad expands on the lick using the pentatonic scale, and shows you the lick over a I–IV–V–I progression in all those keys. This will help you build your bluegrass vocabulary in all the keys you’re likely to play in and make it easier for you to improvise on bluegrass songs.
Kickoffs in All Bluegrass Keys In this lesson, Chad shows you kickoffs in all the bluegrass keys (B, E, A, D, G, C, F, and Bb). He gives you an exercise that includes kickoffs to the root of the key, to the third, and to the fifth, as well as an ending lick. In some keys you’ll learn the exercise in two octaves.
Connecting Chords with Ninths Chad shows you how to connect chords using sevenths and ninths. He gives you a nice “yodel” lick in each of the bluegrass keys that you can use to walk from each key to the next key in the circle of fifths: B–E–A–D–G–C–F–Bb–Eb.
Boogie-Woogie Lick in all Bluegrass Keys In this lesson, you’ll learn a boogie-woogie lick in all the bluegrass keys: B–E–A–D–G–C–F–Bb. Chad walks you through the lick, key by key, showing you different octave options, and how to play the lick with double stops.
SCALE AND ARPEGGIO REVIEW
Scale and Arpeggio Review Chad gives you an exercise in which you practice a variety of scales (major, Mixolydian, Dorian, melodic minor) and their corresponding chord arpeggios (major seven, dominant seven, minor seven, minor [major seven]) in the keys of B, E, A, D, and G.
Scale and Arpeggio Review, Part 2 Chad picks up where he left off in the last lesson, reviewing a variety of scales (major, Mixolydian, Dorian, melodic minor) and their corresponding chord arpeggios (major seven, dominant seven, minor seven, minor [major seven]). He starts with G, adding a nine to the dominant seven and minor seven arpeggios this time, and then does the same in the keys of C, F, and Bb.