From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

I have played mainly blues rock guitar for many years and just bought a cheap mandolin as I would like to get in to ITM. I was wondering if anybody made the switch and had any advice as I have a few habits (not necessarily bad) that I learned from playing guitar and wondered if the techniques differed slightly as I think it’s a good to get at least some technique right at the start.

Firstly the plectrum: every banjo, guitar, mandolin etc. players I have ever met all use really thin picks. My guitar teacher (who was exceptional) threw mine away and replaced it with a good solid 1.5mm one! Since then I’ve never looked back as I feel I have better control over the emphasis of particular notes and I don’t feel like I have a floppy stick in my hand! Is this ok or will I be in trouble dealing with triplets and the like.

Secondly and related to above I tend to alternative pick (down-up-down-up) except when I change string. Then if I go down a string say from D to A I down pick and coming back up I up pick. Again would this be ok to proceed with? I have read that you should down stroke on notes that should be emphasised but I feel that when using the thicker pick as mentioned above I can achieve this. At least I feel I can on what I have learned so far.

Thirdly: Finger positioning. My question here is about the use of the pinky!! I tend to use the index finger to the pinky between the 2nd to 5th frets. i.e if I play a d on the g string I will use my baby finger. I have been told that you should use you’re third finger for the 4rd and 5th frets. Again it’s a habit from pentatonic scales in blues guitar that that’s what I do!!

Any advice on the above would be a great help and anything else also. I have read a few similar threads that I don’t think touched on this. If somebody has I apologise.

I am using the mandolin to learn some tunes and have tuned the Guitar to DADGAD and will hopefully work out some accompaniment for them on Guitar as I just picked up a copy of Sarah McQuaid’s book!

P.S. My first post so I hope I did ok!

Re: From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

I inherited a weathered A style mandolin from my Grandfather in the 70’s. I’d always played blues, rock, and R&B on electric with a heavy pick (1.00). I got a Mel Bay mandolin book but mostly learned on my own. If you search youtube for trad. tunes on mandolin there are great instructional videos and for a few $ you can sign up on great web sites and tons of info. Mike Marshall and Banjo Ben spring to mind. You might have to change your fingering on some stuff (4 notes on a string instead of 3), but if you’re a position player like most guitarists you can still use positions for improvising. Plus, the different fingering can improve your guitar playing. I gotta tell ya though- once I learned a few of those beautiful traditional tunes I was hooked. Good luck

Re: From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

I teach D-U-D-U-D-U etc for reels and hornpipes but D-U-D D-U-D for 6/8, 9/8, and 12/8 tunes, they are jigs,slip jigs, and slides. I play mostly guitar and banjo with a .50mm Tortex plectrum when I’m playing Irish music, but switch to about .73 Tortex for mandoline, not to be confused with a .73 nylon, which although the same thickness is not as "dense". When playing bluegrass I use around a 1mm tortex. The reason for the lighter picks in Irish music is that you have picked triplets and the thicker pick offers too much resistance. However a .50mm on mandoline is a bit "soft" given the double strings you’re picking. Here’s how to do it, John McGann(RIP)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8azZ0o1oI8&list=PL0119609CF6CB35F2

Re: From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

To say you ‘should’ use a down-stroke for notes you want to emphasise is misleading. Gravity makes it ‘more natural’ to use the down’stroke; but if you can use an up-pick, so much the better.
You will soon get used to the different scales and finger-positions, and your teacher has done you a great service with the pick.

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Re: From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

I find triplwts easier with a heavy pick,but Id hesitate to impose my preferences on anyone. I think everybody’s hand size and dexterity is different. I also feel that using a pre determined pattern for picking is counter productive, because it doesn’t suit all players, and certainly isn’t the way a lot of top players do it. The best of luck with your mission, and listen to Declan Corey

Re: From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

Who’s the fiddler in that youtube clip?

Re: From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

On guitar, I use a very light pick, for that "skimming across the water" sound when comping Irish trad. It slows me down quite a bit when flatpicking tunes, but I don’t do that much of that, and almost none during sessions.

I used to use a Fender medium pick, because that’s just what I happened to have around when I started playing trad regularly (as a kid I used Fender extra-heavys).

The problem with medium to heavy picks and strumming is that even though it’s faster for single notes, it slows you down for strumming chords and the sound is too clunky. It takes the pick too long to travel across the strings and it does so unevenly.

On a mandolin, though, I like a Fender medium pick or a nylon pick with just a little more heft to it. In Irish music you don’t do that much "strumming" on mando. If you did it would quickly degenerate into bluegrass. So a heavier pick works. Some guys like extremely heavy and very small picks, like the old ‘jazz picks.’ The best mando player I know uses those, and an extremely light standard teardrop-shaped nylon pick for his DADGAD guitar playing.

Definitely use your third finger for notes on the 5th fret in 1st position on mando… UNLESS… you have very small hands and you might want to transition to tenor banjo or bouzouki later. Playing melody on those things might be more difficult for you if you are using your third finger to note strings on the 5th fret, rather than your fourth. However, I hardly ever pick up those instruments (I got enough problems as it is!), so I defer to people who have more experience playing and teaching and solving technique problems on those instruments.

I don’t worry too much about pick direction. I just play the tunes but it’s pretty much alternating DUDUDU on 8th note or 16th note sequences, for the most part and that works ok. If you REALLY want to get down to it, you can look up something called "economy picking," which is simply eliminating all excess movement from the left hand, so it’s as efficient as possible. So you never go directly from an upstroke on the A string to a downstroke on the D string. Instead, you use an upstroke on the D string, so your hand doesn’t have to go all the way over the D string, make a "U-turn" and strike the D string coming down.

Now that I think about it, I do this a fair amount on jigs (I don’t think the DUD - DUD -DUD pattern works well because it slows you down, in theory, but some folks manage it very well. Maybe not something for speed, but to put a natural oomph on the downbeat.)

Your mileage may vary. Concentrate on *timing,* whatever stroke pattern you use, and take it easy on the tempos. All else will come, in time, if you have time. But if you don’t have time, then nothing else will ever come in time.

Re: From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

just alternate with everything(even jigs) even when switching strings.The other technique for jigs becomes natural after a while but i use both anyway.It doesn’t even matter about being down on the 1 beat because if you play a triplet somewhere you cant have that routine.Alternating is a good habit with conventional blues and rock too speaking from experience.

playing two downs or two ups when switching strings is a bad habit.

Play banjo myself not mandolin but .60 or .73 should do

Re: From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

"Then if I go down a string say from D to A I down pick and coming back up I up pick."

That’s fine - works very well in many tunes - try the Donegal Reel, from bar 1 to bar 2, which makes the string crossing much easier. And don’t be afraid to play "up the string" to avoid string crossing.

Re: From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

My jazz guitar teacher,the late great Harry Leahy taught me to alternate pick everything,no matter the rhythm or tempo. After a while this became ingrained, but I later realized that it wasn’t always the best way to pick. I’m glad I can do it but there are always exceptions-So for example if (on mando) I want to play a triplet on the A string followed by a double stop on the A and D strings (I’m thinking about the second measure of Sailor’s Return) I would play the triplet D-U-D and then use a downstroke for the double stop because I think double stops usually sound better that way. I think you have to find a way of picking that allows you to naturally accent the rhythm correctly. What I do is concentrate on the rhythm and let my right hand do what feels right.

Re: From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

I’m a little pleased to see that there are more off us than I thought that don’t do the DUD DUD picking. I’d been picking for too long before of hearing of that to bother rewiring my brain, but it never made much sense to me. It’s not like it is difficult to accent on the up pick, so it seems to me like a solution in need of a problem. The accents are important, but how you get them isn’t.

Pick wise I have gravitated towards a Dava Jazz Grip, it’s much like a Dunlop Jazz III pick except that it has some grippy material on it, which I find helpful as the Dunlops were spinning around on me from trying to retain a light grip while playing fast. Not great for chording, but the less you do off that the better. It really does not sound good with this music. One of the inherent problems of the mandolin is hearing yourself at a session and light picks will just make that worse. But hey, picks are cheap so buy a bunch and keep experimenting till you find what works for you.

Jason wrote - "Definitely use your third finger for notes on the 5th fret in 1st position on mando… UNLESS… you have very small hands and you might want to transition to tenor banjo or bouzouki later. Playing melody on those things might be more difficult for you if you are using your third finger to note strings on the 5th fret, rather than your fourth."

I agree with that, but would also add that instead off tenor or banjo, you might end up wanting to try fiddle instead, and in that case you will want to use your third finger for the 5th ‘fret’. I brought over a strict ‘one finger per fret’ style from my guitar playing. But had to relearn it eventually as it got a little confusing going back and forth when I started learning fiddle. Your pinky will mainly just be reaching out for the b on the e string. the middle finger will be covering the 3rd and 4th frets, which is easier than it sounds and only gets a little tricky in the beginning sorting out c naturals and c sharps on the a strings. Most tunes will use one or the other, but a bunch of very cool tunes will use both. Here I am speaking of playing in the common keys, if anyone feels compelled to challenge me on that.

Re: From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

The thing I like about the DUDDUD picking isn’t so much the accent on the second "big" downbeat is the awesome built in lift you get from having to repeat a downstroke. It’s uneven, but in a really nice way.

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Re: From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

That’s a great observation Matt!

Re: From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

Matt’s comment shows how different instruments will add a different accent to the music. A fiddle will do something different, a flute or whistle, etc…then these all mash together and make the whole session sound.

Re: From blues/rock guitar to trad mandolin…

Great help folks. Thanks a million for taking the time to reply and give insights. Ill keep at it and see how I get on!