Mandolin on Reels

Mandolin on Reels

I will be the first to admit that I struggle with the speed required for reels when playing mandolin, but I’m getting there. In general, however, I just think the sound of the mandolin is not well-suited to reels. They sound great on jigs. I have a small number of reels very close to full speed, and I feel like the phrasing is right, but they just don’t feel as right as when I play the jigs. Now, I’ve heard mandolin made to sound very good on reels before, a perfect example being Corney is Coming on the first Planxty album, but it just doesn’t seem like the mandolin has the right power for reels, like a banjo does. I don’t think it’s merely the volume issue, but the tone also. I’m going to continue to practice and practice and practice, and surely they will improve, but I’m seriously considering picking up a banjo. I’ve always been a big fan the pipes/banjo combo when it comes to reels, very powerful sound.

I understand it’s a periphery instrument, but I would like other viewpoints regarding reels on the mando.

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I always believed the mandolin was for slow airs, backing songs and Carolan stuff.

Jigs and reels, get a banjo.

Just my opinion.

I do have a mandolin by the way.

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Speed is definitely the most difficult thing about playing mandolin, however I see this a a good thing because it forces you to play at a speed within your abilities. Many times I have ended up playing with fiddlers that like to play much faster than they are able, and they can get away with it (sort of) because fiddles are very easy to play fast.
You have the right idea for how to improve your speed, practice more.
And as far as mandolins not working for reels, I would have to disagree with that statement, its all about how you play, not what you play.

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Speed is relative, and not nearly as important as fluidity and phrasing in my worthless opinion. I’ve heard reels done quite well on the mando, - from dead slow to blazing lickety-split - and if the instrument appeals to you, don’t let other’s perceptions of it put you off. Speed will come eventually no matter what instrument you choose. As the old saying goes - “to go fast, practice slowly…”

Play the instrument you hear in your head, when you are thinking about the tunes. The sound which comes to you in your dreams.

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I have seen a resonator mandolin, I think that might have sufficient volume without the deterrent of sounding quite like a tenor banjo.

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Mandolin not good for playing fast? Not enough power? if this was a bluegrass forum what would people be saying…?

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I thought I was doing ok on reels but my father said I didn’t have it right at all - “faster, faster”…. 🙂
I actually prefer the slower South Sligo style.

[for what it’s worth, a novice]

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Mandolin can play reels, but in a mandolin way.

Playing in noisy pub sessions is not great for mandolin though - it encourages you to bash in an effort to hear yourself

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“The sound which comes to you in your dreams.”
That would be the wife snoring …

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Actually it wouldn’t hurt to take some inspiration from bluegrass mandolin players for reels, particularly the driving style of the founder Bill Monroe and modern disciples , particularity Ronnie McCoury

There are also some great Scottish mandolin players like Kevin MacLeod and Gary Peterson to name but two, who have many CDs and sound samples you can listen to, and Dan Beimborn’s many YouTube clips

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I have always liked the tune “Jerusalem Ridge”

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EnDac: I played with a bluegrass banjo player before and upright bass playing some bluegrass-ish material, and I understand what you’re saying, but the mando just couldn’t compete in the volume department. When I’m talking about power, I’m talking equally about the tone. Tenor banjo has a very aggressive powerful tone that, in my opinion, lends itself well to reels. Like I said before, I love the feel of pipes and banjo combined, for a very in-your-face reel, regardless of the speed.

Plaster: My local session actually does not play at break-neck speed, so I think I’ll be okay there. However, I wouldn’t mind getting my speed up and maybe picking up a banjo in case I ever got a chance to play for dancers. My wife used to compete as a dancer and there is the distinct possibility our children may get involved when they are old enough.

Overall, though, I prefer to play a bit slower because, in my opinion, the tune comes through better and ornamentation is a bit easier.

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flute, banjo . . . sounds like you’re hoping Santa treats you very well Jimmy. ;)

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It’s rarely about speed. I hear my mates say a particular tune is being played very fast. But often, imho, it is just a matter of being familiar with your instrument & with the tune.

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I agree with you, Jimmy, that jigs are very well suited to the mandolin - there seems to be something about that particular rhythm that works with the right hand very comfortably. And reels are more of a challenge - but that is probably true of playing reels on many instruments. It can be done but you have to REALLY want to do it.
But I never try to play slow airs on the mandolin, I think it is no better than a banjo for that stuff. (Having said that, I don’t really like mandolin at all, but I’m forced to play it because I can’t play the fiddle.)
😉

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I know what you mean, but I can assure you reels can be played Pretty damn fast on the mandolin .. as long as the techniques are right! The things to aim for are looseness and lack of tension in antagonistic muscles. With out this you haven’t a hope, its like driving with the brakes on.

Posture is , as in the fiddle, pretty important. Sit up straight shoulders down.
Of course picking is the tricky bit, but its the same with the banjo guitar etc. There are a number of different approaches. I have tried at least three. From the wrist, from the elbow, and the ‘key turning’ technique which is very different from the other two.

They all have in common certain things, for eg the pick needs to hit the string about a mm of pick, or less. In fast reels I tend to use drone strings and chords, this gives a rest from single string stuff and therefore a greater motion in elbow/wrist; change is as good as a rest.

The key turning technique is very different, not one Ive spent enough time with, I play fiddle now. But It is worth putting time in , The other two mentioned go up down with wrist/arm. this doesnt, but twisting the arm as in turning a key.. difficult to explain, easy to demonstrate. Again aim for 1mm or less pick touching string.
Also if you want to play fast, you need to practice it…. I recomend using a metronome to slowly build up speed aim at top speed to hit 250 BPM [125] this is plenty fast enough IMO. start slow and progressively get faster over a couple weeks on a simple reel , say Devils dream, or Masons Apron, or Devil in the Kitchin. A tune that can really reach mach speeds, not Irish mind, is ‘ up jumped the devil’. Good luck. Enjoy…

Dare I ask

why a metronome?

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Why indeed, it hasn’t helped him

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May be it’s a wind up 🙂

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tee he

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this also depends on the build quality and setup of the mandolin.
i have a cheapish one, laminates etc, the setup is ok, and i play it at home, but it feels a bit of an uphill struggle to play at speed. i havent used it in a session.

a few days ago i borrowed a mandolin in a session, and it felt great, perfect setup, it rang like a bell, it felt quite different to mine, and it made me wish i had one (dont know what type it was).

the fact remains that speed is actually frowned on at many sessions, and banjos are offensively loud to many people.
i own 3.

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very good BD

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Jeez, I owe anus, is there anything you can’t do or advise on? I’m in bloody awe, I truly am. Where’s me effin’ metronome…

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rumpole, I think you hit on something ~ speed is frowned on. But it is actually a relative statement. Which is what I was referring to earlier, about familiarity.

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Very good point from Rumpole also about set up, I always set up my instruments to have as low an action as possible at both ends. The trade off is volume. I had a go on a friends double bass the other day, jeez it was unplayable, like a 1cm action! but it was pretty loud al-right, he must have a fair old grip on him for sure!
My last mandolin I had set up with 12s on the top E, played with a 1mm black dunlop pick. but generally I dont play much anymore especially in many sessions they get drowned out and Im into the fiddle these days.

Sorry

speed, or rather the perception of speed, is relative. If you are playing a tune, which you a quite familiar with; on an instrument you are very familiar with; it may be perceived as being fast ~ by someone who is either not as familiar with the tune or (not completely) familiar with the instrument he or she is playing.
more pendantry, but oh well . . .

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Speed perception

then there is the opposite experience, Random_notes, where the tune sounds quite relaxed and easy going, until you try to jump in and you realize how fast the geezers are actually playing!

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I much prefer playing reels on the banjo to the mandolin. I don’t think it is a speed issue, the banjo just feels better for reels. Whenever I pick up a mandolin I tend to think jigs , hornpipes, slides tec before I think of reels. I don’t have a problem over playing reels on the mandolin, but they are not usually my first choice tunes on that instrument.

- chris

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Exactly Chris. I’m not saying that the mandolin doesn’t belong on reels, there are plenty of recordings that would prove that notion wrong. I’m just saying that when I think reels, for picked instruments anyway, I just kind of automatically think banjo, and for jigs, either does well. Reels are rousing tunes. Not that jigs aren’t, but to a lesser degree. Banjos lend a meaty, mid-frequency tone, along with an almost percussive quality that I think really gives reels some punch. Because of the volume, however, I can see where are terrible banjo player could really mangle a good reel.

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Where “a” terrible banjo player could really mangle a good reel. Wow.

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I play mandolin as my main instrument, and I play everything on it - jigs, reels etc., airs, song accompaniments… Admittedly, I find some of the faster sessions a struggle to keep up with - but probably less so on mandolin than on the banjo. I could perhaps, as Ionannas says, get faster with practice. But I also believe that different people have different physiological ceilings - some people walk, talk, think, eat, digest, breathe faster than others. Furthermore, there is not merely the factor of how fast you can move your pick, but also how fast you can move the fingers of your left hand - and how well you can co-ordinate your fingering with your picking at speed.

I think one of the main issues with the mandolin in sessions is audibility (to the player as much as to the listener). It comes into its own playing with just one or two other instruments, or accompanying, say a guitar and a voice. But even the volume issue, I think, can be overcome with technique (This is something I have been trying to develop over the last few years - but I’m a slow learner as well as a slow player). As with speed, the Bluegrassers seem to have it sussed, as the mandolin frequently takes the lead role in that genre.

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Yeah, I agree with those who use bluegrass as an example of the lowly mandolin strutting its stuff-it takes or shares the lead in almost every song I hear on the bluegrass radio shows. I think the mandolin has yet to take its rightful place in Irish music. Style and ornamentation is more important that speed. I think some tunes are more suited to powerhouse treatment on the banjo, but, hey, if you can come up with a unique expression of any tune you love, let’s hear it-on your instrument of choice.

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I rather like instrument loyalty. trying to find greater speed or volume tends to defeat the purpose of making music.

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For a noisy environment I think you need a good bluegrass mandolin (with f-holes). They’re designed to hold their own with fiddles and banjos. They cut through, whereas oval-holed instruments have more sustain but less attack, and get lost in an acoustically challenging situation, especially in the treble.

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I will second Richard’s comment. I took my f-hole mandolin to a slow session the first time, and there was a player with a oval-holed Kentucky. Very nice sounding mando, but when I played with him on the two jigs that I knew (I know three now!) my f-hole definately cut through more, which made me feel bad because he is a more experienced player. Part of it could have been the new strings lending some more attack but I’m sure the design was a bigger factor. That was during the slow session though, and there were only three of us, mando, mando, and fiddle. Once the whistlers and banjo player showed up it was a different story.

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“For a noisy environment I think you need a good bluegrass mandolin (with f-holes).”

Ideally, noisy environments should be avoided. But it can sometimes be hard to find *anywhere* to play, so you have to take what you get.

I play a round-holed flat-top mandolin I built myself, which, I think, compares favourably for volume with most archtops, albeit different in tone. Although I have not yet manged to build another one as good (this was my first one), it demonstrates that it is possible for a flat-top to be loud too.

If you like f-hole archtop mandolins, then play one, by all means. But in choosing an instrument, you should be led by what sounds and feels right to you, not what logic dictates to be the most practical option.

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I also have a cedar topped Hathway, round-holed, and that’s really nice too, and loud. I’ve been interested for some time in the difference between that sort of mandolin and the bluegrass type, and now I’ve got hold of one I can compare them. It all depends on what you want - they both have good qualities.

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Mandolin and banjo are equally my primary instruments, and I find I can play the banjo faster, contrary to some others’ experience. Although you have to cover more ground on the banjo, the much lighter string tension, and single rather than double strings, overcomes the advantage of scale, for me.

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I started with an A-style mando and then got an F-9. I wouldn’t record with the F, but it’s super at sessions-- it really cuts through the sonic clutter of a pub.

As for slow airs, you can feather your playing and lower your volume on the mando, and it works fine-- but plunking away defintiely doesn’t work too well. or you can go get another pint…

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mandolin is my main instrument & i actually find it easier to play reels than jigs on it. however i’m still a novice so spped is not really there yet. i’ve a rather cheap instrument too. i’d imagine a higher quality instrument would help too.