View Full Version : playing the break of a song
I have been playing mandolin for 11 months. I started with reading tab and playing scales and then started listening to cds. Since then I've learned how to find what key the song is in and what chords are used. I feel I am ready to learn to play the breaks now, but I just can't seem to fiqure out how to start. I've listened to the break in a slow song and tried to find the starting note to the break, but I can't find it. Finding the key and the chords used is easy compared to this. What can I do to learn it?
Any advice would be appreciated!!
Michael H Geimer
Well, since you can already find the key and the chords to the song, locating the starting note of a melody or break shouldn't be too difficult. The first note of the melody is probably one of the notes found in the root chord - the one with the same name as the key of the song.
A song in the key of C is likely to start off with a C chord. Its melody (and any breaks too) will probably start off using one of the notes inside that chord ... C, G or E.
Once you find the first note, look around the various C scales (major, and pentatonics) for the rest of the notes. When the song moves on to the next chord, look at the notes inside that chord and try to find the next note ... it's probably in there. So on ...
Tricks like that don't work 100% of the time, but it happens enough to be usefull and to teach something about how things sound when you play inside the chord tones as opposed to playing around the chords.
Learing by ear is a skill that can take a long time to acquire, so soak up all the advice about it you can ... but just keep trying it and doing it and don't give up too easily, as the effort itself will make you improve over time.
I've found praticising arpeggios to be more helpful than scales when it comes to learning breaks. Since most breaks will start, end and pause on the notes within the chord's arpeggio, getting your fingers used to hitting these notes is very useful.
Check out Tim O'Brien's arpeggio exercises (http://www.mandozine.com/index.php/techniques/techinfo/tim_obriens_arpeggios/) which run through the arpeggios of chord groups you would find in most bluegrass songs (i.e. I, IV, V chord progressions). I've found these very beneficial. Good luck!
I went the Tim O'briens site and made a copy of the arpeggio exercises. could someone explain how i do theses exercises? Also what does arpeggios mean? I ve never heard of that
Here's another tip for you, outside of arpeggios. Remember, a lead-in to a break is just a way to start the thing. Listening to fiddlers and Bill Monroe really helped me in this respect.
When listening to Vassar Clements on one of the Old and in the Way CDs, I noticed he began almosty every break with a walk up. He usually walked up to the first note in the melody of the song. If you have these CDs, listen to the first two or three seconds of each song, and you'll get a good idea of how to use this approach. Clements also "kicked off" most of the songs they played using the same approach. I think he used it so much in that setting because he was basically just jamming with the group, since they didn't have much time to practice or anything. It's a standard lead-in to any break.
If you listen to Bill Monroe, you'll notice he begins breaks in a similar way a lot of times. He uses a lot of double-stops to begin his breaks. Here's a link to double-stops:
The best thing for you to do is to pick a mandolin player you really like, or you can always default to Bill Monroe. Then, listen to how he starts breaks on every song on all the CDs you own of that player. You'll soon find out that the first three or four notes are not that varied, or that he may have a few different "stock" intros.
Sam Bush too...!
An arpeggio is a broken chord, that is, you play each note of the chord separetly (think of singing do-mi-so-do, you can't sing them all at once!).
I've found the major pentatonic scale is useful when improvising a lead where I don't really know the melody. You just play the major scale without the Fa or Te (4th and 7th). It's a simple pattern:
|r| |2| |3|*|
|5| |6| |*|o|
r is the root, o is the octave. * represents the missing 4 and 7 notes. I used numbers instead of roman to preserve the fret spacing. The 3 and octave together give you the position for the major chord.
For many songs, this works for the entire song, without needing to transpose it for the 4 and 5 chords or other changes.
Of course it's simplistic. Of course you want to move on and learn more. But this keeps you playing in a pinch. You can often play the 4 when the song goes to the 4 or 5 chord, and you'll need the 4 and 7 to play melody.
If your trying to learn a solo but can't find the note on your mando, try to sing or whistle the note, then find it. Do this with a small section of the solo, then the next small section.
The idea is, if you can't mentally hear it you can't play it.
I agree with all - you have to have an ear to find the key and chords, you need to be familiar with scales and arpeggios, but being able to repeat the melody (break) is the key. If you can take short sections or phrases at a time, listen to them (slowed down by software, if necessary), and then sing, hum or whistle them, NOW you can pick out that tune on the mando. Listen for subtle differences of a note that is fretted on a 7th fret vs. played on the next open string (a slide up to it or a pull off to it, etc.). As 250sc said, getting the tune in your head is the key.
Thanks to all who replied. i going to get the jethro burns mandolin methed book.
Ive heard it is good Anybody have music theroy for modern mandolin by Tom Ohmsen is it any good?
Not familiar with that particular book, but theory is good no matter what instrument one plays. Learning music theory will help improve all facets of your playing.
Another way to explain arpeggio is that it is the notes that make the chord played separately. For major chords (please correct me if I use the wrong terminology) 1st, 3rd, and 5th make the major chord.
C chord - play notes C, E, and G
G chord - play notes G, B, and D
Learning to hum or sing the break really really helps. I usually listen to a break or a tune 20-30 times until I can sing it before I even pick up the mandolin. Then I go from singing to mandolin without the recording, then when I think I have a section I go back to the recording to check. If I was wrong, I listen and learn to sing again, then repeat the process. It really works for me.
Your mileage may vary.
I have the same approach as Rob. I use The Amazing Slowdowner to slow down and loop the solo I want to learn and then go clean the house while listening to it over and over. By the time the house is clean and I'm ready to play it is in my head.
CAS, have you looked at Niles Hokkanen's book "Bluegrass Up the Neck"? Great info, not easily found anyplace else, on playing out of the movable chop and major/minor closed positions we all use. Knowing the chop and closed positions, and how the pentatonic (and other) scales relate, can speed up your learning curve. Niles is a great teacher.
Brad Laird's "Mandolin Master Class" is the other book that I found most helpful in organizing my playing. He will show you how players quickly find the I-IV-V chords in any key, and (haven't found this in any other book) how the IIm and VIm chords can most readily be played out of the key centers. That nugget was worth the price of the book. He also has some very good technique hints and tips.
If you have already got the ear to find the chord changes to a song, knowing the commonly used shapes to play out of will make figuring out that break that much easier. Someone else already mentioned "slow down" software like Transkriber (much better audio quality than a stand alone machine like the Guitar Trainer.) Slowing down and learning breaks from my favorite CD's has done more than anything else to improve my playing more quickly. Sure it's hard work, but the results are worth it.
If you don't have a teacher, some good DVD's (I especially like Ronnie McCoury's) to show you how a pro gets around the neck are a BIG help.
You might also get the "Masters of the Mandolin" book of mandolin solos (available from the home page of the Cafe ... click on "Peter's Foundation".)
Ohmsen's book on music theory for mandolin is great! I bought Jethro's book about a year ago and spent some time with it, but found it was not my cup of tea ... not the mandolin style I want to play.
I have been playing the mandolin and fiddle since i was twelve(i'm now 15) and I've reached the point a year or two ago I'm to the point where I can learn a song's solo (depending on legnth) in a few minutes. I hear a melody and i pretty much have the general idea. The only idea I have to give is learn simple, simple exercises off a cd without looking at the music or tabs, then check yourself if your not sure. Mostly what you need is time. Knowing the chord tones of all the chords in the break is a big plus. Playing in a band is good too because you begin to improvise/arrange your own solos. I don't know, but some how this helps.
The "Teach Yourself Bluegrass Mandolin" book and CDs, by Andy Statman, are a pretty good teaching reference. What was helpful on these CDs is that he begins with simply soloing to a song melody, then showing how to use repeated notes, then gradually adding embellishments. What is also helpful is that he shows/plays examples of intros and solos begin on each different note of a chord triad - for eg, an intro and solo starting on the root, another on the 3rd, another on the 5th.
What I thought is good about his approach is that it doesn't teach memorization of a specific solo/break, but rather basing your break on the melody and learning tricks to embellish.
My own recommendation is to listen to and play along with slow recordings you like that are in easy keys (G, D, A) and have easy chord progressions, working on playing the straight melody, and weaving in some variations.