View Full Version : Faster but really, really quiet!
Last night I was just determined to see what it would take to play a certain song faster. I am a beginner and am experimenting both with music styles and picks. I found that I could really increase my speed with a very light right-hand touch, not so much attack. Problem is the playing was also very, very quiet. Is this how the speed masters play? Do they use a really light touch with the right hand and count on mic or pickup to provide the volume?
I'll reply to my own post by saying that now I discovered the tip in another thread for playing softly at first to help pick up speed, then gradually increase volume. As always, a little slow in reading.
Still open to thoughts if there are any.
A lot of the pros who play very cleanly at high speed don't play particularly loudly. One of my favorite mandolin players who exhibits a silky-smooth tone at any tempo is Ron Inscore, and he will tend to get covered up in a typical jam, but comes through a mic like gangbusters. Of course there are a few who play blazing passages and really whomp on it too, such as Sam Bush, Ronnie McCoury, and to a lesser extent Alan Bibey. Then you've got Thile on the other extreme, playing so soft you can't hardly hear him across a room, but again big as a barn through a mic.
My take on it is that volume is over-rated. It's nice to be able to cut through a big jam and be heard, but at some point you will be giving up something else (like clear tone, speed, finesse) just to be loud.
FWIW, I practice loud, but slow. The speed comes with practice. Clean is more important than speed. Playing soft as suggested in the other thread can help, but I think you have to practice mostly like you are going to play, with the proviso that clean and accurate comes before speed.
Woodwiz is on to something here. I need to start following his advice. In a jam session it feels like I'm trying to "pull the strings off" just to be heard. Part of the problem is what's being discussed, and the other part is too many thrashers and bangers who only know one volume level-LOUD.
One of the toughtest lessons to learn is that playing harder does not necessarily equate to being louder. Certainly there is a range where a harder attack will result in more audible volume, but there reaches a point of diminishing returns, and the trick is to find the sweet spot where you are audible enough for the conditions and playing gently enough to maintain a relaxed mastery of what you are trying to do.
It's an ongoing struggle to find that balance, and there's nothing like a riotous jam session or noisy bar gig to undo hours of careful practice. Still worth striving for. One big breakthrough for me occured when I realized that if I played lighter and turned the monitors down, I could actually hear everything--including myself--better. YMMV.
One of the toughtest lessons to learn is that playing harder does not necessarily equate to being louder.
Very true. I recently changed my right hand technique completely, and I can get a good tone along with a lot of voume, and still have a very relaxed hand and fingers, where I used to have a hard time holding on to the pick when I tried to play loud.
I can play pretty easily at performance speed, but slow, clean, (loud) practice it what makes it possible for me to do so. Quiet practice helps me to reduce movement, but so does relatively slow practice.
If you are talking about people who play very fast while being very clean, I would say yes. A couple reasons, one the harder your pick stroke the more you tend to tense up, two if you have a really loose grip and wrist then you tend to pick with a lighter touch, and thirdly the pros that exhibit this also usually have fairly low action which decreases voume a little bit.
One very good example is Anthony Hannigan of The Hickory Project, there is many times you can hardly hear him, but he is playing faster than the speed of light! And thats even on their recordings in which they are using mics.
Well as a admirer of classic bluegrass mandolin I feel that getting that volume out of the mando is really part of the challenge of playing classic bluegrass on the mando.All the players I think the most of in this regard like Bill Monroe,Frank Wakefield,Ronnie McCoury,Sam Bush dont need mikes or electronics to be heard in an acustic setting and they play fast and clean with great tone.To ME relying on mikes or other electronics is..... well its just not REAL.Yes I do understand that in some venues electronics are required and used, Sam Bush has done a bit of that, but again not in classic bluegrass.I make a point in my own playing to get the volume as well as the tone and notes,to me its part of the challenge.I relly dont like listening to guys I can see are gently touching the strings and constanly fooling with the mikes,pre amps,amps and all the other junk they seem to need to get the music out.I grin when I see electric guitar players simply touching the strings and getting all that noise out.... and the crowd goes wild ...big deal.But this is all just my fellings on the subject and I'm nobody.Its just one of my pet peeves.
To my ears, Doyle Lawson is a good example of 'He who can play clean, fast, slow, soft, loud, in between, etc.' He knows pick attack, dynamics, touch, and uses them at will.
If you want to get into what the masters have to say about this check out the Comando guest artist of the week--on the mandozine web site---many perspectives on this...
If I am trying to figure out how to play a song I'm usually playing very quietly if someone else is in the room. As I learn the song I and build confidence I automatically pick up speed and volume. I just think I'm looser. Lots of times I play along with CD's with a headset so that I don't disturb my wife while she's on the phone or watching TV. It's usually not a problem but if I'm playing a song that I'm really "getting into" I see her raising the TV volume with the remote or motioning for me to cut down on my volume. I'm not consciously doing anything different but if I'm loose and confident the volume just happens. I often use golf analogies. A golfer with a tight grip and tense muscles who tries to kill the ball is less likely to strike the ball properly than a golfer with loose grip and good timing, who is more likely to generate better clubhead speed and hit the ball staighter and farther. I think this applies to the mandolin, at least for me.