Playing in E on the mandolin

Playing in E on the mandolin

I’m struggling a bit with playing tunes in E on the mandolin, mainly the frequent jumps from E to B. I’ve noticed violinists tend to double stop with the index finger, but on the Mandolin (I guess) you need more pressure and it’s harder to get the B to sound crisp. How do other mandolinists approach these tricky jumps?

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

By double stop do you mean holding down two strings with one finger? That is how I do it. It is a bit awkward though, so if anyone has a better way then let us know!

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

you might wanna tweak the set up on your mando
try different gauge of strings
but, yeah holding 2 pairs of strings is the answear here.

Posted by .

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

I use my 1st finger across the D and A strings (courses). I think I have moderately fat/blunt fingertips (despite having small hands), so it has never presented much of a problem. If you have more slender fingers, you might find that your fingertip does not naturally cover both courses, or that it wants to disappear between the strings. The best approach, I think, is to position your fingertip as if you are holding down both strings, but only actually exert pressure on the string you are playing, then roll the finger across, shifting the pressure to the other string. This way, you can get from one note to the other without having to change the position of your finger, yet you are not wasting any effort holding down a string you are not playing. I would tend to roll my finger in this way when playing larger instruments, such as tenor banjo or octave mandolin.

If you have *really* small fingers, you might be able to fit two fingers on the fingerboard side-by-side (often done on larger mandolin-family instruments) - but this has the disadvantage of leaving you with one finger fewer with which to play the other notes. Another possible solution would be to change the set-up on your mandolin, having the strings closer together - this would be a faily simple job for a luthier.

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

…I have a mandolin pupil who was experiencing the same difficulty and whose natural inclination was to jump across from the D to the A string, which would never work at speed and would certainly not make for a fluid style of playing. I encouraged him to use the ‘rolling’ approach, and it seems to have done the trick.

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

I use the rolling fingertip technique on fiddle, too. Not just for E to B, but G to d, d to a, etc.

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

G to d in Nora Crionna annoyed me badly. I roll back off the G onto the d without lifting. Lifting off and back on makes it sound disjointed and I find it really difficult to barre in the middle of a tune.

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

You could cheat: get a banjo capo (they work on mandolins), capo second fret and learn the tune in D! Admittedly not much good in a set where there’s a key change.

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

highdesertbob: Have you not seen ‘zouk and DADGAD botherers zooming a capodastra up and down between tunes in sets! I certainly have.

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

learn to play out of the first position and learn to play without using any open strings then it becomes quite easy to play in any key.

Dave H

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

"You could cheat: get a banjo capo (they work on mandolins), capo second fret and learn the tune in D!"

It is not clear from the subject line whether wheresrhys is talking about tunes in E major or tunes in any E-mode (including aeolian/dorian) - but the particular difficulty being addressed would apply equally to the major and minor modes. Tunes in Emajor/mixolydian are rare, but tunes in E aeolian/dorian make up a large proportion of the Irish traditional repertoire, so it would be a great handicap to have to resort to the use of a capo for all those tunes.

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

"learn to play out of the first position and learn to play without using any open strings then it becomes quite easy to play in any key."

It’s certainly useful to learn to play in closed postions, but don’t forget how to use open strings in the process.

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

Ah ok, I think I got your problem. If your first finger is not strong enough for to barre both pairs of strings; EB then support it by pressing the second finger on top of the first. A technique I use on bar chords all the time.
But I think your problem might be left hand positioning.if you make a circle between thumb and forefinger, 2nd finger etc , this is the hand structure you want supporting your playing hand. No breaks or twists, a nice , a natural curved position.
Also to strengthen your left hand hold a sheet of newspaper and ‘crunch’ it up. repeat.

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

"If your first finger is not strong enough for to barre both pairs of strings; EB then support it by pressing the second finger on top of the first."

That might, as you say, work for playing barre chords, but doesn’t strike me as being very practical for playing melody, since you want all your fingers available for fingering other notes.

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

It will work fine if you need it, unless its a minor reel with C nat! and its only for a particular barre , the EB 1st finger. But yes, just build up a bit of finger strength and ‘good form’

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

Thanks for all the advice. For the time being I’m going to go for the covering both courses with one finger (though as my fingers are fairly slim I end up covering one string from each course properly and muting the other) and gradually I’ll work on finger strength and perfecting some kind of roll/barre hybrid. I’m a bit suspicious of barring though as it means a significant momentary shift in the shape and tension of my hand* which doesn’t feel like it’ll ever become fluid, though maybe that comes with practice and strength

*My joints, despite years of playing guitar, aren’t very flexible and don’t bend backwards to place my forefinger flat against the fretboard without a lot of physical effort

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

Um, if by barre anyone means laying the finger down and not using the tip, I disagree with that approach.

What works best for most people is to imagine another string running between the A course and the D course. Aim the center of your index finger there and you’ll end up landing on both A and D courses in a way that best covers all four strings.

It also helps to pivot your hand slightly so the index finger is facing more down the neck—think of the fingernail facing the body of the mandolin rather than facing up at you. This lets the width of the fingertip cover both courses.

I’ve seen nine year old kids on full size mandolins hold the EB pair cleanly, so chances are there’s no such thing as "too small a finger" for this way of doing it. Hope this helps.

Posted .

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

"It also helps to pivot your hand slightly so the index finger is facing more down the neck—think of the fingernail facing the body of the mandolin rather than facing up at you."

Yes. I never barre perpendicular to the strings on mandolin. I was reluctant to mention this, as I know my technique on mandolin is not exemplary. ("Why are you teaching, then?", I hear you ask. Because I was asked to.)

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

What about Bm? or a four note Em or A major ? etc etc how do you play those without a barre? or at least with the fingers pointing the right direction?

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

"What about Bm? or a four note Em or A major ? etc etc how do you play those without a barre? or at least with the fingers pointing the right direction?"

Admittedly, piobagusfidil, my last comment was meant in relation to playing melody (which seems to be what the original post was concerned with) rather than chords. But, since you ask, I use pretty much the same approach to playing chords as I do to playing individual notes - I just cover two strings, where necessary, with my fingertip. Of course, the actual angle that my finger points at is immaterial - it might be close to 90 degrees in some instances - but I very rarely find it necessary to barre across more than two strings at once.

Since, when I started out on mandolin, I just played melody, I never really learned chord ‘shapes’ as such - I just think of chords as groups of notes played together. I’m no master, but it seems to work for me.

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

I can’t think of a chord on mandolin where I would lay the finger down for a barre. I stay on the fingertips—the closeness of the courses and tuning in 5ths allows this, and it’s more efficient.

For Irish music, I stick to melody on mandolin, but I also play other styles (bluegrass in particular) and chord a lot for those. No barres, unless I switch to guitar.

Posted .

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

Thanks Will. I’m glad it’s not just me.

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

More efficient? thats a matter of opinion. IMO turning your fingers round like will suggest is a poor idea but maybe it suits his fingers and mandolin? I use barres and half barres a lot. I certainly recommend them to anyone . To play Am for example sometimes I barre the 2nd fret, the little finger goes for the high A the 2nd F for the C or the 3rd if its C# in A major.
CMO I dont know if its ;’necessary’ but it works and IMO is a usefull technique . Try it? why not broaden your approach?

Re: Playing in E on the mandolin

"it works and IMO is a usefull technique"

That’s what matters. You can never have too many techniques up your sleeve, so long as you know when and when not to use them. I have tried using a full barre before but, when I play chords on mandolin, they are usually interspersed with melody phrases, so I find it more useful to have my fingers ready for playing notes. I would play the A and Am chords you describe the same way as you, except that my 1st finger only holds down the G and D strings (for the low A and E).