View Full Version : Need help
I'm searching for some help with my mandolin playing. I'll try to keep it pretty simple for you, so I don't "lead" your advice in any direction.
Basically, I'm pretty happy with my playing progress, to a degree. However, I'm sort of at the top of one mountain and trying to figure out how to get at the next.
I've lost count of how many fiddle tunes I know and can play most of them with reasonable proficiency. That is, I can play them with my regular group, or at a jam, or just whenever, and I'm pretty happy with the results.
I feel that I've "figured out" the art of learning a fiddle tune melody by ear (just learned "Old Dangerfield" performed by Thile on the "Stealing Home" CD), practicing it a bunch to get it clean and to increase speed, and I have some direction when it comes to improv, on fiddle tunes.
That's all good stuff. I'd give myself a 7 or 8 out of 10 in that catagory. I probably wouldn't win many contests if I competed and played fiddle tunes to win, but I'd be able to hang in past the first round, and would probably lose immediately in the next!
When I take breaks on singing songs, I'm more like a 5 out of ten, in my opinion. I have a good way I like to start most breaks (s standard three or four note walk-up to the first note of the melody), and I have some good tags at the end, probably because of the fiddle tunes I've learned. However, I get all clumsy and stumpy in the middle.
So much for being simple! Here's what I'd like to learn:
1. Playing consciously from chord to chord. I can play scales and usually hit the roots notes of whatever chord, but am barely hanging on.
Any tips on how to practice playing breaks over chords and not over scales? I've tried paying closer attention to the fiddle tunes I'm playing, but it just isn't sticking that way. I have an instinctive feel for what I'm doing, but don't KNOW what I'm doing. It works in most settings, but when I get in a challenging song, fallback licks don't always work.
Although I havent come close to mastering anything at all, I'll tell you what I feel is gaining me the most progress in this area.....arpeggios mixed with pentatonic scales. Im usually thinking pentatonic with the root and then try to make phrases that run out of that into the arpeggios in the changing tones. If you already know the tune well its a huge plus because you can turn a fumble into a crafty timing manipulation thingy...I think. When I first started playing with this, 2 months ago, I used GCD slowly to practice and have since delved into other 1-4-5 progressions. Im hoping to soon be able to play in this way within some trickier settings but for now its woodshedding. I DO feel like Im gaining a "voice" with this method. Keep in mind that Im a beginner in many ways so use caution in taking my suggestions.:D
If any of that is confusing, let me know and I'll try to clarify if you want me to.
Thanks, man. Great name you have there!
Can you suggest some good resources that you are using?
Yeah, arpeggios. Form each chord as it comes up and play the notes individually. Bill Monroe had a kind of "typical" IV chord arpeggio which sounds cool if you play around with it. You can hear it in the mando break on the version of "Bluegrass Breakdown" which kicks off with the banjo. It's also in "Whitehouse Blues" and many others. As long as you are fingering notes that make up the chord, you don't have to necessarily do scales over them.
I would think you can't go wrong staying close to the tune itself. Move off it as you feel comfortable or that you have something neat to add. The rif you take should always, IMHO, keep the tune in mind. Generic riffs that just follow the chord progression are boring. And folks that improvise the same way regardless of the tune in which they are taking a break get boring pretty quick too IMO.
I think of the tune as home, and excursions from home are fine as long as you can hear where home is. Isn't that really the trick, to get as far from home as you can and still be recognizably from home and not somewhere in free space.
And free form musical rants that sound pretty and say nothing and go nowhere strike me as self indulgent impositions on listeners.
Just my $0.02
I took lessons for a while and my instructor, who REALLY knows what he's doing, just kept pounding the arpeggios and how important they are. At the same time, I was learning the pentatonic patterns on my own and just recently started trying to fit them together to play over tunes. I didnt have a resource for the pentatonics and actually didnt know what it was until somebody told me what I was doing. Its a pattern that repeats itself up the neck that holds all of the "safe" notes for whatever key the tune is in. Arpeggios are chord tones so they seem to work well, most of the time, during chord changes. In the key of G, I can play the G pentatonic scale the whole way through and it will be safe and sound decent, although it can get sort of hum-drum. If I know the chord changes, then while playing the pentatonic scale I can shift to an arpeggio run of the chord that is being played at that moment and always have the "safe" notes to fall back on. Also, knowing the melody and incorporating it in somehow, gives another dynamic. If you google mandolin pentatonic scales and arpeggios Im sure you can find a lot of info. Again, this may be bad advice that creates trappings so dont take it seriously. I find this method to give me the most of what Im trying to do, but Im not so sure my instructor thinks its the right path....hopefully somebody else here can give thier imput.
Cool. Two people posted while I was writing. Good luck Kevin! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif
<Any tips on how to practice playing breaks over chords and not over scales? I've tried paying closer attention to the fiddle tunes I'm playing, but it just isn't sticking that way. I have an instinctive feel for what I'm doing, but don't KNOW what I'm doing. It works in most settings, but when I get in a challenging song, fallback licks don't always work.>
Hello Kevin. Here are two patterns you can use which should help you get away from scales. They're in "A", but they're meant to be played in closed position, so they're totally moveable from one key to another. Here they are:
#1 # Frets 2-4-6 (G string)
# # Frets 2-4-7 (D string)
#2 # Frets 7 (D string)
# # Frets 4-5-*6-7 (A string)
# # Frets 5 (A string)
* this note is optional but using it gives the patterns an equal number of notes
Once you learn these two basic shapes (#1 is like a scale minus the 4th & 7th notes and #2 is like the top part of a chop chord) you can move them around in different keys and then start using them to improvise by basically following the chord changes. You'll also find you can adapt the two patterns in the root chord, in other words the key you're in, and by using double stops for the other chords, essentially stay in the root chord position. It's a bit hard to explain without demonstrating but if you start working with these two basic shapes, you'll probably see what I mean.
That sounds great so far. Keep it coming, folks.
"mastering" anything on the mandolin is nowhere on the horizon at the moment but one valuable thing i learned here at the cafe - a real break through ... when and if i remind myself to use them - was the closed finger positions. they forced me into coordinating my little finger with the rest, instead of sliding my index/middle/ring finger combination around, trying to cover all the notes.
... sort of climbing up and down the scale logically instead of leaping about from one note to the next ... stealing bases. #bringing the "pinkie" finger into the act is slow going at first and requires an intimate awareness of some previously unknown muscles in (my) left hand ... but it works.
hope that helps.
mandolirius - thanks for those transitional patterns ... got'em!
jeffD - couldn't agree with you more.
licks are very useful to use in your breaks
listening to me is one of the most important things to do
see how your favorite pickers do it, everyone has a different approach, play what you feel, dont practice just play.
When practising pentatonic scales, I try to extend them up and down the fretboard to cover as many octaves as I can. What I listen for in my head is the opening instrumental lines from the old Smokey Robinson tune, "My Girl."
<mandolirius - thanks for those transitional patterns ... got'em!>
Ok. Once you've got them really memorized (the shapes of the patterns, I'm talking about) so that you can plop your first finger down on any fret and execute pattern #1 and the same with pattern #2 (except with #2 you use your third finger to start) then you can start moving them around and seeing what they look like in various keys.
For example, if you start on the G string, second fret, and play pattern #1, you'll be able to stack pattern #2 on top of it. Now move up to the fifth fret, G string, so you're in the key of C. But instead of starting with pattern #1, start with pattern #2, which will leave you on the third fret, A string. Then you can stack pattern #2 on top of #1, which will leave you on the eighth fret, E string.
Finally, if you start pattern #1 on the D string, say the second fret so you're in the key of E, you'll find you can't execute all of pattern #2, but you can play most of it, both above and below pattern #1. As you move the patterns around to different keys, take note of these "pieces" of the patterns, as they are valuable too.
If any of this makes sense, there's a couple of more things I can add, about variations to the two patterns.
<listening to me is one of the most important things to do>
Ok. Where can we hear you?
listening to me is one of the most important things to do #
Where can we hear you? My list of most important things you can do is:
*Practice your scales 3 oct. starting from different areas up the neck.
*Think ahead to the next chord while improvizing.
*Use chromatisism (secondary dominant leading tones etc.)
*Think of sequences to reproduce during your breaks. Ex. Play a 4 note lick and play the same lick up one octave.
*Use barrowed subdivision (3 on 4 is a good example).
Question about utilizing arpeggios? An arpeggio consists of only 3 notes correct? so if you are on the G chord, the G arpeggio consists of G, B and D. if you focused primarily on playing arpeggios, wouldn't that severely limit what notes you could play? When the chord moves to a C, the arpeggio would be C E and G. So... are arpeggio's supposed to be reference points, like a home base, when breaking over a specific chord?
When listening to great pickers, I hear them playing more than only 3 notes over a chord. So, are they using the arpeggios as a focal point, while playing outside that chord's arpeggio???
I find myself typically playing the song's pentatonic scale when it is my turn to break. When the chord moves to the 4 I'll throw in the 4th note of the scale. when it moves to the 5th chord I'll try to hit the 5th note in the scale and the 2nd note (since that is the 5th of the 5th)
is this what mixing arpeggios and scales is all about? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif
<Question about utilizing arpeggios? An arpeggio consists of only 3 notes correct? so if you are on the G chord, the G arpeggio consists of G, B and D. if you focused primarily on playing arpeggios, wouldn't that severely limit what notes you could play?>
No, because an arpeggio does not necessarily consist of only three notes. It can be as few as three, as in your example, but there are as many arpeggios as there are chords, so you can have more complex ones. Arpegios can also be played over a greater span than one octave.
There's a lot more that can be said about them, but I'll stop there. The only other thing I'd add is that improvising involves utilizing all the tools you have. So you might focus primarily on arpeggios in practice or learning mode, but not in playing mode. There you combine them with scale fragments, double stops and whatever else you have in your musical arsenal.