Tips on learning a second instrument

Tips on learning a second instrument

I know many of you can play more than one instrument, have you any advice based on your experience of when you started learning the second or subsequent instrument? Things you found worked really well, and things with hindsight you wished you’d done differently?

Background - I am a fingerstyle guitarist with about 2 dozen arrangements of session tunes under my belt so far. I have recently started dabbling with mandolin though, and wondering if the best strategy is to (a) concentrate first on working out how to play the tunes I know having arranged them for guitar (b) learn a bunch of completely new tunes (c) focus on learning the basics (scales and arpeggios, fingerings and technique) on mandolin first (d) something completely different!

Thanks

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

You have a leg up by knowing some tunes, and have the mental aural image of what they are supposed to sound like. Your brain currently works on string intervals tuned in fourths, and will now have to transpose into fifths, which means many new fingerings. Go ahead - try them on mandolin anyways. Great fun, accompanied by lots of expletives, and a de-calcifying of your neural paths awaits.

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Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

My first instrument was whistle, my second D/G melodeon. No problem, they’re not the same family of instruments.

Then I got a B/C melodeon. Trying to learn to play this while still playing D/G was chaos. I eventually gave up the B/C and carried on with the D/G.

Maybe taking on two instruments of the same basic family but with different tunings is asking for trouble, but some do succeed in this. There are people who can play a variety of stringed instruments or melodeons or mouth-organs, and (I believe) bagpipers who can play Highland, Uilleann and Northumbrian pipes, but they’ll have to have put a lot of work into it.

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

Totally, go after the tunes you already know. Cross training with the same tunes between the two will get you comfortable with the mando quickly.

I like to play a tune on the fiddle, then try it on the whistle, and then flat pick it on guitar. Then, my head explodes. BOOM!

No, but seriously, great fun, and good for yer noggin. Much better than Sudoku.

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

I’ve played guitar for many years. When I first tried the bouzouki I thought that learning the new tuning would be hard and confusing,
but it was not too much trouble. After a year or so of playing GDAd switched to GDAe, again without trouble. Problem is, now that I’ve tried GDAe, soon or later the fiddle will come.

I suppose that your first job is getting used to flat picking, as you’re a fingerstyle guitarist.

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

wait until you’ve got more sets sorted on guitar. Jack of all trades…..

I speak from bitter experience

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Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

I switched from guitar to bouzouki and banjo, and found it helpful to already know some tunes. The first tunes I learned in the new tuning were ones that I already knew. But my goal was to switch to the new instruments and tunings, not to be able to play both, necessarily.

My suggestion is that if you want to become a multi-instrumentalist (or a "multi-tunings" person), that you separate your repertoire, at least for a while. Learn different tunes in the different tunings until you are more comfortable with the new tuning, at least. This is advice that I got from a friend who plays professionally in about 7-8 different tunings (on some very different instruments - bazuk, oud, saz, bouzouki, banjo, etc). Keeping the repertoire separate would seem to be almost necessary in that kind of situation.

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

I’m with the Rev on this one - learn new tunes on your new instrument. You’ll not get that same degree of confusion between the two instruments as your brain will associate the new tunes with the different tuning.

Once you’ve got really used to the mandolin then it will be fairly easy to transfer your guitar tunes across.

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

I play a few stringed instruments [mainly banjo and mandolin but an ounce of accompaniment on guitar and mandola.] As well as that, I’ve been playing flute for the last 2 years which is unrelated really to the others.

I can’t really offer any solid advice yet because I’m not fully competent on everything I play but, I would recommend only moving to another instrument if you have time to dedicate to it and, if you are very comfortable with your first instrument. I had a fair nack on the banjo before I decided to try the flute. I put in a lot of practice recently which I’m grateful for because exams soon will put a stop to that for a while.

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

Call me crazy ("Yer crazy!") but wouldn’t it be easier to learn how to play a tune you already got in your head and ears, than one you don’t, regardless of the situation?

Just a thought.

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

I would say that it’s originally easier to try to play tunes you already know on the new instrument, but that eventually you find that you have different repertoires for each of them, depending on how different each instrument is from the next.
I started on guitar, but on transferring to ‘zouk I built up a whole new repertoire of tunes. Third instrument is english concertina - not too much repertoire crossover there.
It’s supposed to be good for your brains, like learning a second language.

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

if you want to improve your ear playing,play the tunes you already know on the guitar ,on the mandolin.
perhaps try one or two new tunes as well.Dick Miles

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Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

Thanks for the tips so far, as always there are some thought-provoking variations in advice. I anticipate my repertoire will eventually be larger on mandolin than guitar, as I’d only have the melody to work out and there is limited scope for varying fingerings (on guitar I have to find basslines too, and often several choices of frets/strings for fingering - I play mostly in DADGAD but that’s true of standard tuning too).

So far tonight on mandolin I’ve spent a couple of minutes on D and G scales to get my bearings, about 40 minutes on a couple of tunes I don’t know, and 20 minutes on a couple of tunes I do already know thanks to the guitar arrangements. Wish me luck!

I’m switching back to guitar for the rest of the evening now. I’m having fun anyway!

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

3 things I play - whistle flute and D/G box - I have near enough different repertoires for each one. I regard whistle and flute pretty different as they have (to me) different breath control issues.
But anyway the different repertoires arise, specifically flute vis a vis box, because they are as different from each other as sh*tting and p*ssing.

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

Thinking about this some more, there is no crossover between my DADGAD tunes and my non-DADGAD tunes, as there never seemed much point in coming up with new arrangements in different tuning. though this would also explain why I don’t have very many non-DADGAD tunes.

Mr Lad - we have to whistle at the same time as sh*tting and p*ssing in our house, on account of there being no lock on the toilet door.

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

As long as you don’t leave a box in the lav. I can’t even *talk* while playing that never mind other bodily functions….can’t say I’ve tried though….

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

I’ve begun learning how to play tenor banjo for the second time now (the last being about 7-8 years ago, when my fiddle playing was still pretty rough), and I’m finding that this time around is quite a bit easier than the last, perhaps because I’m more at ease with the fiddle.
Also, my approach tends to resemble more of a hobby than an obsession, which is rather refreshing.
Besides, it isn’t much of a strech to get my brain to work one fifth lower (CGDA) or higher (capo in second fret DAEB) from the fiddle, staying in a "fifths" overall logic, however I am getting a better glimpse at harmony through use of the pick and mechanics involved in playing a fretboard rather than through the occasional double stopping on the open fingerboard of the fiddle.
Some of the postings here have been of great value insofar as getting pointers for posture and overall playing. Thanks!

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

Re: Box in the Lav

Sounds dangerous, lads. All it takes is for you to forget and leave it behind just once, add a drunken eejit roommate and BAM! Crap in the box.

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It’s the sudden change from dry to wet tuning that worries me…..

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I came from classical cello to fiddle a few years ago. The instruments have sufficient in common to ease the transition somewhat - basic left hand technique, bow control, and appreciation of pitch, intonation, rhythm and dynamics. But what it took me some time to realise was that there is a lot of fine detail in violin playing which doesn’t transfer from the cello - and I think it is the same in the other direction as well. The consequence of this is a number of little problems, some of which are particular to the individual student and others common to most students, that need a good personal teacher to identify and provide the solutions to. If this route isn’t taken and the problems resolved then they will remain sticking points which can only delay the student’s progress.

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Fanning, why not just tune the tenor banjo GDAE like the rest of us?

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

I played classical clarinet before the fiddle - and as you can
guess, there’s absolutely no crossover. Oh - except for ear training
and theory, intonation, keeping time and playing in a group.
Actually a lot of crossover come to think of it. The second
instrument is far easier than first, aside from the technical details
which are huge on the fiddle.

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

The saying "Jack of all trades, master of none" is partly true, I think, but not entirely. I’m sure that learning a second instrument must enhance your innate musicality, and somehow enhance your first-instrument-playing. And I’m not at all sure that I agree with its sentiment, either. It suggests that of course you’d rather be a master of one trade only than a "Jack" of them all. But I think that actually I’d rather be relatively proficient on loads of instruments than really good on just one. Maybe this warrants a separate discussion. Of course, ideally I’d be a Master of them all!

About repertoire: I’ve noticed that, too. I play fiddle and whistle, and nearly all of my common session tunes I only ever play on the fiddle. On the whistle, I usually only play (at home) quirky Flook tunes and the like. Of course there’s a bit of crossover, but that’s how it mostly is.

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Joe, I agree. I’ve often said that if you play several instruments, nobody notices that you don’t play any one of them really well. ๐Ÿ™‚
I play guitar, mandolin, tenor banjo, and octave mandolin, but I don’t play any one of them really well.:(

I played guitar for years and when I took up mandolin, I think it acutally made me a better guitar player.

As for the tune crossover, I think you should learn every tune you know on every instrument you can play. Then either learn more tunes or get more instruments.

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KML: Sudden reed tuning changes

Cheese and bananas. Block ya up like the New Jersey Turnpike.

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Not really ITM related, but CSS has a good point.

I play a few wind instruments—-bassoon, tuba, and sax. I know as soon as I started playing tuba, my sound quality and intonation on the other two improved from the newfound amounts of air I was pushing through the tuba. Likewise, the bassoon made me more aware of all the fingers and their movement on tuba and sax.

Ugh, all my posts on here are about non-ITm things. When will my pipes be here?

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Went to that Patrick Street gig Mehitabel mentioned the other night- thanks Mehi, it was brilliant by the way, in case you missed it)…
Anyway, John Carty played fiddle, flute and banjo, so I guess there’s a lot to be learned from watching and listening to people like him.

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

I play flute, pipes and concertina. All three are quite different instruments, so I don’t have problems switching between them. Most tunes that I play on flute also work on pipes without much practise, again that’s probably because both instruments play totally different and I know the technique on both. The concertina is a bit weird for me, but I’m slowly getting the hang of it (not so much different from the piano).
But what really twists my brain is what I’m doing for the last weeks: learning to play flute and whistle left-handed (I play right-handed). I’m doing this mostly for fun, but it actually helps my ornamentaion alot - since every finger has to do different things when playing right- or left-handed, all of them get a lot more flexible.

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Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

"Fanning, why not just tune the tenor banjo GDAE like the rest of us?"
- Well, Reverend, I’ve got a set of strings that came with the banjo (leant to me by a friend) and I’m just doing what I can with what I’ve got: the guy at the local music store in my neck of the woods didn’t even know there was such a thing as a tenor banjo, and only had strings for a five-stringer… and I don’t want to try putting the wrong strings on the wrong banjo and risk the destruction of either. It’s really no biggie though.

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

Hey Fanning, I’m sure the Reverend will have further information for you, but this looks like a good place to start.

https://thesession.org/discussions/11977

Whatcha need are some of them there nice thick Irish tenor banjo strings so you can go GDAE an octave below the fiddle and mandolin.

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

My experience has been that when I start a new instrument, I want to spend all my time on my new instrument and ignore my older ones for weeks on end. As a result, I developed a fair amount of rust on the older instrument. So I’ve tried to make sure I spread the wealth around a bit on different instruments to keep from losing some touch.

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

Fanning, it won’t hurt the banjo to bring the lighter strings down to GDAE, but you’ll probably find them to be rather floppy, and not sound as good. (Which is why Irish players generally use heavier strings) And the banjo is probably not set up for GDAE, so there’s a possibility of fret buzz, and such. But you could try it without hurting anything. It is somewhat unnerving to try stuff on a borrowed banjo, I understand…

Some other threads that might be of interest:

https://thesession.org/discussions/10970
https://thesession.org/discussions/17419

Re: Tips on learning a second instrument

>>> John Carty played fiddle, flute and banjo, so I guess there’s a lot to be learned from watching and listening to people like him.

The thing to be learned there is that it’s important to grow up in a musical household, and have all sorts of instruments lying around when you’re a kid that you can pick up and learn to play when you’re bored ๐Ÿ˜‰

Not too many people in this world have the same kind of cross-instrument skill and talent as Mr. Carty. Hell, not too many people in this world have the *single* instrument talent that he has!

I have attempted to learn some other instruments (whistle & button accordion), and it’s certainly possible, but after a short while, I realize how monumental the task can be, and think about how much work I still need on my main instruments. So I eventually go back to concentrating on the strings.

I do play 4 different stringed instruments, but they’re all basically tuned the same way (most of the time). And I still have to actively work on separating my picking techniques between the different instruments.

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Oh, Good! Thanks SWFL and Reverend, those threads are oodles of help. I’ve just re-tuned the banjo to GDAE and giving it a try now, but I think I’ll have to get strings of a higher gauge. The ones I’ve got on there are indeed very "floppy", and I’m not sure if the tuning is good beyond the fourth, but it does make the whole fretboard a bit more familiar. I’m going back to the banjo now… It’s beginning to get addictive.

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heh, careful, Fanning, it’s a slippery slope… In the last 6 years, I have bought (and mostly sold) about 15 banjos. I have a stack of different kinds of heads of differing sizes, about 50 different bridges, and my most recent banjo purchase cost me more than $4000 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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Reverend, all I can say to that is OUCH! My car didn’t cost me a sixth of that. I will certainly heed the advice though. I can feel the need to seek out websites with banjos on sale, but I shall be strong and resist the urge!

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I’m in the same boat as Mike. I’ve worked the hammered dulcimer for over 12 years, recently giving the mandolin a try. I’ve had it for five months now. It’s hard but for me I’ve got to do what I did with the dulcimer, concentrate on ONE tune (or a set) until it’s clean. I then will use something from that song to transfer to another tune. My first clean tune on HD was Road to Listoonvarna. My next five or six tunes were minor chord tunes. I’m looking at a medley of Maid behind the bar, Hungry as a bear and The Gale as a starter. That should be enough of a base for the rest. I’ll let you know how it works out. One thing though is I can really see the difference between a mandolin and a dulcimer who’s sustain lasts forever.

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I have ended up spending so much money on instruments that I can’t play in public. It ended up that I now have a fiddle, couple of whistles, guitar, flute, yadda, yadda, yadda, and a string bass. The only two of those I can play well enough to perform with are fiddle and bass, and even then…

I’m a string bass major, but I barely passed my university audition because I was so unfocused!