Advice on playing reel melodies on octave mandolin

Advice on playing reel melodies on octave mandolin

I’ve been trying to play along with some (comhaltas) recordings on OM. I find I can get up to speed on jigs but struggle to keep pace with the reels. Playing the melody that is, not accompaniment.

Also it’s not obvious that playing melodies that fast plays to the strengths of the OM - resonance etc. It it worth persevering with this or will it never sound good at speed anyway - better to change tactics and work on chord backing?

Re: Advice on playing reel melodies on octave mandolin

The Octave mandolin should be a fine instrument for melody playing. Try Hornpipes for a while, then move on to reels.

Re: Advice on playing reel melodies on octave mandolin

I would get a slow downer computer program and work your way up to full tempo. Start at about 80% of speed and see how that feels. I use the Amazing Slow Downer which is a $50 dollar download for either mac or pc. I really like it a lot. They have a trail version so you can see if it will work for you.

I think this music sounds great on octave mandolins but it’s hard to hear them in a session.
Good luck.

Re: Advice on playing reel melodies on octave mandolin

hi Mike

it depends, how fast do you mean when you say ‘up to speed’?

i have a good OM, which is gathering dust in the corner.
i cant play melody on it all night, and often not at the speed i want.

put it another way, i’m pretty happy with my speed and staying power on the tenor banjo (which as you know is usually tuned the same way) but not the OM. i find the bouzouki nicer to play than the OM (the strings are usually thinner on the BZ) for melody, or indeed anything. but i cant play the bz as fast as i’d like either.

whats slowing you down? RH or LH or what?

make sure you have it set up properly, a low action etc.

try detuning a semitone and using a capo. this will give you an idea if it is string tension and/or nut action that is slowing you down.

also you could try thinner strings.
as you know this will affect tone.

if thinner strings help, you could go one further and octave tune the G and D strings. i’ll probably get shot for saying this ….

as steve l intimates, you *cannot* hear OMs in a session, other than the scratchy percussive string thwack.

you ask if its worth persevering? as the basic playing style is the same as the tenor banjo, i would consider switching to the TB for a while and continue learning your repertoire. if you choose then to go back to the OM, you can still play all the tunes you learn in essentially the same way.

maybe try a few different plectrums. somtimes a really phat one helps with 2 course instruments

good luck 🙂

Re: Advice on playing reel melodies on octave mandolin

For me, getting up to speed on bouzouki and octave mandolin was enabled by choosing to play with particular (right) hand picking patterns. Basically DUDU DUDU for reels, and DUD DUD for jigs, which means that jigs are harder for me to play than reels, because you have the multiple down strokes in a row.

The choice on jigs was a tradeoff of speed/ease of playing and rhythm. It’s much easier for me to get a better timing of the note in-equivalence of jigs if the one beat is always a down stroke.

Anyway, your question was about reels… I didn’t have a teacher, per say, when I was learning, but I did take lessons from people on occasion. And I remember a lesson from a guy, when I was asking him why I was always stumbling over a part of a particular tune. He watched my right hand, and immediately noticed that I was "cheating" when I was moving from one course to another, where the movement was opposite the desired pick direction. (So, for instance, moving from an up stroke on the A course to a down stroke on the D course. I was often picking the note on the D course with an up stroke, since my hand was moving upward).

Soon after having that pointed out to me, and some work on always using the picking pattern, even when it meant "cross picking" (some people have a different definition of that term, so hopefully I’m not confusing you), I was able to make a huge jump forward in my ability to play at speed. Basically, your right hand is dancing to the rhythm of the tune, and you’re not having to do jerky movements, which can throw your timing off. (Triplets and other articulations notwithstanding…)

Even though I learned on bouzouki and OM, and can play tunes at speed on them still, I notice that my right hand gets pretty tired from doing that now, because I am used to the low resistance of tenor banjo strings. However, that’s really due to a difference in right hand technique, and when I play double stringed instruments for long periods of time, my picking technique adjusts and I don’t get as tired. (I try not to do that much, though, because then I end up over-playing the banjo. It would be nice if I could learn to separate the techniques better in my mind… sigh.)

Picking patterns aren’t the answer for everybody, but you might try to see if you’re "cheating", and whether that is holding you back. (For what it’s worth, I know some really great players that don’t use picking patterns… But for me, it was a big help in getting up to speed…)

Re: Advice on playing reel melodies on octave mandolin

Many thanks for the informative responses, it sounds like it is worth persevering, and so i shall!