Very Easy Mandolin Songs

By Wayne Erbsen

The Internet is abuzz with people wanting to learn to play the mandolin. My guess is that you are one of them! Of course, you want to learn the easiest songs possible. Who wouldn’t?

The songs that are the easiest to play are the tunes you already know. They’re the ones you’ve had in your head for years. So instead of having me teach you a totally unfamiliar tune on the mandolin, let’s get you to learn how to play the tunes you already know.

I suggest you start making lists of your favorite songs. If you write them down on the computer, you can move them around into various sub-lists by cutting and pasting. As you’re looking over your list of favorites, you’ll want to think how the melodies go. As you sing them in your head, notice that melody notes either go up or down, or stay the same.

I would divide your list into easy songs and not-so-easy songs. The easy songs tend to be the ones you know the best. They’re also short. The shorter the melody, the easier they are to learn. Keep in mind that some melodies are very notey. (Celtic tunes are all that way). These kind of tunes will be more difficult to learn. On the other hand, some tunes use only a few notes, and these notes are repeated several times throughout the tune.

To illustrate an easy tune that you probably already know, think of the tune Skip to My Lou.

Lou, Lou, skip to my lou,
Lou, Lou, skip to my lou,
Lou, Lou, skip to my lou,
Skip to my lou my darling.

There are several reasons why Skip to My Lou is relatively easy to play. 1) It’s extremely well-known; 2) it’s short (just four lines); 3) the melody of lines one and three are identical; 4) the melody of line two has the same rhythm feel as lines one and three; 5) starting with the word “to” on line four, this line is nothing more than a descending scale.

Let’s figure out how to play Skip to My Lou on the mandolin. Start by playing a two-finger G chord. To do that, put your left index finger on the 2nd or B string at the 2nd fret and your middle finger on the 1st or 1st or E string at the 3rd fret. When you have your G chord all set, strum it.

Then try to sing the first line of Skip to My Lou, which is, “Lou, lou, skip to my lou.”

Your goal is to sing it so it sounds good with the G chord. This may take some practice. Hint: The first notes would be B (Lou), G (lou), B (skip to my) D (lou).

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Wayne Erbsen has been teaching banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin since dinosaurs roamed the earth (really, about 50 years). Originally from California, he now makes his home in Asheville, North Carolina. He has written 30 songbooks and instruction books for banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin.

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