Picks - short or long?

Picks - short or long?

When I started to play the tenor mandola* I just picked up the pick and held it in a way that was comfortable to me and off I went. I didn’t give it any thought - until now. What made me think about it was watching other players who use a pick on various instruments** and most of them hold it ‘longer’ than I do. That is, there is much more of the pick visible. I hold it such that there is only a very small protruding bit of the pick to do the work. I guess this feels more comfortable to me because it most closely emulates the hand position from the fingernail technique I am used to from my classical guitar background.

I have tried holding the pick ‘longer’ but it just feels wrong to me. What I’d like to know is whether there is any inherent advantage in using the pick that way - should I persist and try to overcome the awkward feel to it? Or doesn’t it matter either way?

* The shop I bought the instrument from called it an octave mandolin. But I am persuaded that it should be called ‘tenor mandola’ and not ‘octave mandolin’ or ‘octave mandola’ by the discussion of names at http://www.banjolin.co.uk/mandola/ - But now having said that I guess you guys are going to unsettle me again…

** ‘Pick’ in the sense of ‘pick-axe’ could of course be used to great effect on a selection of instruments. Take your..ahem.. pick…

Re: Picks - short or long?

That’s why we call them "plectrums".
("plectra" is going TOO FAR)

Have a look at the CBOM forum on Mandolin Cafe:
http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=50
You can also discuss the name for it there. At great length.

I hold the picktrum/pleck "long" but have often been told it’s better to hold it "short" so perhaps you’re off to a good start. Tone, volume, speed, fluidity, ease of playing good? Then why change?

Posted by .

Re: Picks - short or long?

When I started to play the tenor mandola* I just picked up the prick and held it in a way that was comfortable to me and off I went. I didn’t give it any thought - until now. What made me think about it was watching other players who use a prick on various instruments** and most of them hold it ‘longer’ than I do. That is, there is much more of the prick visible. I hold it such that there is only a very small protruding bit of the prick to do the work. I guess this feels more comfortable to me because it most closely emulates the hand position from the fingernail technique I am used to from my classical guitar background.
I have tried holding the prick ‘longer’ but it just feels wrong to me. What I’d like to know is whether there is any inherent advantage in using the prick that way - should I persist and try to overcome the awkward feel to it? Or doesn’t it matter either way?

Re: Picks - short or long?

Nice one, evolve as a dick

Re: Picks - short or long?

How you hold the pick really depends on the thickness of the pick you are using. Many Mandolin players and flatpicking guitarists will use a thick, or heavy pick, even stone ones are popular. There is a real difference in tone to be gained by the relative resistance of the pick. The thicker the pick, the more bell-like the tone.

If you are using a heavy pick, then holding it "long" ( by rolling your finger and thumb until they are running along the top edge of the pick) will prevent it "catching" strings as you play faster ( I’ll assume you already know not to strike at 90 degrees to the string.).

Holding the pick "long" can take a while to perfect, but it can add to the fluidity of your play and be less fatiguing on your right hand. You could start by strumming chords, rather than picking melody until you stop dropping the pick ( which you will ). Picking melody from the outset will only get in the way of developing the physical skill of controling the pick.

Re: Picks - short or long?

Thanks, stringpicker. I use a medium/heavy gauge pick (0.73mm) and I play mostly melody, throwing in the occasional chord when the it falls under the fingers and fits the sense and flow of the tune. So from what you’re saying I should try to hold the pick longer to improve fluidity (do try and control yourself, evolve as…). Perhaps I could try to make the change gradually - otherwise it might feel like I’m going in reverse with my playing/learning.

Any votes for playng ‘short’?

Re: Picks - short or long?

Looked at your link to the octave mandola v. octave mandolin

If you tune an octave below normal mandolin (gdae tuning), or close variation then I think your instrument is an octave mandolin because that describes an instrument an octave bigger than the little instrument called a mandolin, not an instrument an octave below a mandola (tuned cgda ish).
Does anyone know what a bouzouki really is?

Re: Picks - short or long?

I’ve had previous comments on nomenclature, and these are my opinions;
basically, the ‘tenor’ stuff derives from the tenor banjo, which was originally tuned CGda, like a mandola. So if you tune it CGda it’s a mandola, no argument. The original european mandolas had shorter scales than the modern instruments made for people turning from the tenor banjo. A Tenor Mandola is a nonsense nomenclature, IMNSHO.
The longer scale instruments, tuned GDae, are, CORRECTLY, Octave Mandolins, ‘cause they’re an octave lower than the mandolin. So, if asked, I explain my ‘irish bouzouki’ is a Long-Necked Octave Mandolin, which is actually more understandable, and explains it much more succinctly than calling it a bouzouki, or a bezuki ( I like that spelling myself ).
If you call something an Octave Mandola, that should mean something tuned an octave lower than a mandola, but there already is a name for this, it’s a Mando-Cello. So there.
As to picks; given the opportunity, I use a fairly long length of a light gauge pick to produce the most pleasing sound, to me at least, but if I need more volume I go for a heavier pick. Don’t forget, also, that holding the pick parallel to the strings produces the most volume for effort.

Re: Picks - short or long?

As said above, it depends on the pick. A number of flat picking mandolin players (Dave Grisman for 1 I believe) use a really fat pick and achieve the same effect that you talk about by using the short end. It’s effectively "grazing" the strings rather tan actual plucking out of the note.
The tone produced will be greatly influenced by which end you use.
I’m a banjo and mandolin player and pick long and wouldn’t get the tone or "cut" that I’m looking for by short picking.
At the end of the day the most important thing is your own comfort when playing and achieving the tone you like best
I use a Clayton .50mm acetyl polymer pick, it’s very crisp. A good alternative for long picking is the ubiquitous Dunlop .60mm
Then again, my experience with octave instruments is limited…..

Re: Picks - short or long?

Cross-posting, Harry.
A bouzouki is a hybrid instrument originally produced in the early years of the 20thc by the christian turks expelled to Greece, produced by marrying a neck of a turkish saz to the body of an italian mandola. That’s how it all started.
Or, if you mean the irish version, see me above. First flat-backed version built by John Bailey in the early ‘60’s, marrying a greek bouzouki neck to a portugese guittarra body, or something like that, for John Pearse.

Re: Picks - short or long?

I don’t think anyone can give a definitive ‘correct’ answer to what to call the instrument of the mandola/mandolin family that is roughly mandola-sized but tuned (normally) GDAE (actually I tune mine ADAD but that doesn’t change what the instrumet is). I simply prefer to call mine a tenor mandola for the reasons given in the link I gave in my initial post. To summarise, these are:
1. mandolin means small mandola (same as ‘violin’ is a diminutive of ‘viola’.
2. therefore something that is mandola -sized however you tune it is a mandola not a mandolin - so ‘octave mandolin’ is out
3. and ‘octave mandola’ is a nonsense whichever way you look at it
4. normal- tuned mandolas or violas (CGDA) are in the alto range, namely a fifth below the soprano of mandolin or violin
5. Anything tuned an octave below a soprano instrument is in the tenor range (e.g. tenor saxophone)
6. Hence tenor mandola is an approriate name for the instrument I play - the first part of the name referring to its register and the second to the body size.

It all makes perfect sense to me. And it makes more sense to me than just saying ‘it is tuned an octave below a mandolin therefore it’s an octave mandolin’. But I know not everyone will agree.

Re: Picks - short or long?

You people are so "Picky".

Re: Picks - short or long?

Oh, no I’m not, I’m pedantic.
But I do agree, the mandola was first. It’s so annoying how the shrill piercing instrument gets all the credit, and the mellow satisfying one is ignored. But we old people find that happens all the time.

Re: Picks - short or long?

while it’s important to be comfortable in your technique, it’s also important to experiment and adapt to new ideas. Get used to the new stuff too.

Re: Picks - short or long?

But, Mr Griffin, a tenor mandola is what people call something tuned CGda, not something tuned GDae. I say they don’t need to call it a tenor anything, you say an octave anything is wrong, we’ll just have to call the whole thing off.
PS was there ever a soprano banjo ? Just asking .

Re: Picks - short or long?

a friend of mine used to have a Gibson bass mandolin in his shop. Yep, a stand-up bass mandolin…

Re: Picks - short or long?

I’ld like to see a picture of that….

Re: Picks - short or long?

I would also like to see a picture of the Gibson stand-up bass mandolin.

Re: Picks - short or long?

Drink lots of buttermilk to strengthen you fingernails. Let your fingernails grow and pluck away with your own nails. You will get an immediate response and tone. If you must use a pick, try cutting your own out of old credit cards. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Re: Picks - short or long?

Lissagriffin,
This link suggests you are doing it correctly with a very short pick.
http://www.styluspick.com/gpreview.htm
I’ve used one of these to try and speed up. The conical point is very smooth so it picks the strings nicely but it is designed so that if you use too much pick the string slides up over the shoulder of the pick and it doesn’t play. ie it is a training device that makes you use just the pick tip. As such it works well.

Re: Picks - short or long?

2. therefore something that is mandola -sized however you tune it is a mandola not a mandolin - so ‘octave mandolin’ is out

what about an octave fiddle? :-)

Re: Picks - short or long?

I seem to have hijacked my own thread here with my footnote (can I claim a first?)

"a tenor mandola is what people call something tuned CGda"
—that’s just standard mandola tuning, to add ‘tenor’ to the name is both redundant and misleading (because it’s actually in the alto range). I know some people do call it a ‘tenor mandola’ but it just adds to the confusion and is not an argument based on objective reasoning. (The various tunings of tenor banjo also add to the confusion.)

"I tune mine ADAD but that doesn’t change what the instrumet is" — I said that myself and now I’m going to disagree with myself (sort of) - can I claim another first? Just thinking that an octave mandolin/mandola is a bad name for the instrument tuned as I have it because only two of its courses are tuned an octave below a mandolin the others are a minor 7th and major ninth below. Given the variety of tunings possible, and in practice used, ‘octave’ is an unhelpful qualifier for any member of this family of instruments. And it can be ambiguous. When I first got the instrument and was still calling it an octave mandolin, more than once people thought I meant it was an ordinary mandolin with one or more of its courses tuned in octaves.

I guess it’s too much to hope that the naming muddle can ever be resolved.

Leendah: I don’t intend to start playing the instrument (look, now I daren’t give it any name!) with my nails. I need them to play classical guitar, which I still do just as much as ITM. The metal strings would tear them to shreds if I played with any gusto, and I wouldn’t get anywhere near the volume of sound I get with a pick. I hadn’t heard the buttermilk tip - jelly (jello to Americans, I think) is meant to be good and I eat some ‘raw’ every day because I wasn’t born with superhard finger furniture. I have also rubbed olive oil into my nails and hands every day for years. I rarely break nails but I wouldn’t risk clawing away at my tenor mandola (oops).

Re: Picks - short or long?

thanks fishmonger. the one my friend had had a more classic A-Style looking finish to the top.
fauxcelt- I thought that might grab your attention

Re: Picks - short or long?

Yes, pipewatcher, you did "grab" my attention. But that is what I get for making the mistake of mentioning that I play bass with a mandolin and guitar group.

Re: Picks - short or long?

If a mandola is in the alto range, why is the identically tuned banjo (when strung CGDA - standard jazz tuning) called a tenor banjo? I have suggested, as apparently a few other do, calling the banjo strung GDAE the baritone banjo. Are there clearly established boundaries or ranges for soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass?

Re: Picks - short or long?

Will, Irish-tuned banjos strung GDAE are also sometimes called tenor banjos. It’s all pretty confusing.

Re: Picks - short or long?

I have a Fylde Touchstone mandola, tuned CGDA, and am having real problems trying to find a new case for it as different manufacturers use the names madola, tenor mandola, octave mandolin, etc, to mean different things, if you get my meaning.
As for picks I usually recommend holding the pick fairly short for better tone and more precision. I see an awful lot of players using ultra thin picks, holding them long, getting a pretty weedy flappy tone and missing notes all over the shop.

Re: Picks - short or long?

I use a very thick pick (1.14) as I play a 12-string guitar and feel that I need a thick pick to be able to pluck the strings both down and up. I hold the pick very short to play melody and a little longer to strum chords.

The thick pick enables me to have the octave strings ring out when I am picking in the up direction. I don’t think there is a "right" was to hold the pic. It’s more important for it to be comfortable for the person doing the playing.

At least for the 12 string, a thinner pick did not work at all as far as getting the octave strings to ring; picking down all the time did not give me the speed I needed to play melody.

I have a friend who plays the octave mandolin, he plays every third note of the melody, and while it sounds good, it seems more like backing to me than playing the melody. When he starts a tune, eveybody leans in to listen and figure out what he is playing,

Re: Picks - short or long?

"octave fiddle"

I tried playing octave viola for a while, but I couldn’t figure out how to keep the metal rod in the bottom from jabbing into my neck.

Re: Picks - short or long?

The metal rod IS retractable, reenactor….

Re: Picks - short or long?

Oh, man. I feel foolish, now. Thanks for the help Pete

Re: Picks - short or long?

I have seen and had a go of a bass mandolin made in the old GDR near bought one in the 70’s. Round backed and had a prop so you could play standing up.
I have only seen pictures of bass and soprano banjo’s used in Victorian banjo orchestras Be afraid if they make a come back

Re: Picks - short or long?

I’d go for comfort, myself, in holding the pick provided it’s not so short you’re muting your strings. I hold my medium pick about a quarter of an inch free for straight melody and shorten it and change my grip to play tremolo on waltzes. there’s an entire science to the grip if discussing the pick palls…

Re: Picks - short or long?

sorry. forgot to mention i play mandolin, not the bigger instrument.

Re: Picks - short or long?

havn’t read all that above but best by far are tortoiseshell plecks but not available now but i now cut credit cards up to shape and use them _ not brilliant but still …