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Thread: Does mandolin make other instruments seem hard?

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    OK, here's a little fodder for debate: have you found that playing mando makes other instruments seem more difficult? I'm sort of spring-boarding off of another thread where someone commented about the weird tuning of the guitar (what with the exception and all that), and it got me thinking about my own musical endeavors...

    I started on acoustic guitar, and learned some chords, and some blues scales, but never really got very far. Then I started playing mandolin, and found that despite my crummy ear, I could actually pick out a few tunes. The notes just all seemed to be within easy reach. That is, they are exactly where you would expect them to be. I obtained a tenor guitar as well, tuned it GDAE, and have had the same relative success (I'm really no great shakes, and I still have trouble learning things, but I continue making some incremental progress). So anyway, I decided a few months back that I wanted to try a second instrument. You know, get a bit of the whole multi instrumentalist thing going. I figured I'm never going to play anything that well, so I might as well play a lot of instruments poorly, but be able to get a huge variety of sounds. So I bought a lap steel. I figured after I'd learned how to play it a little I'd get a dobro (excuse me, resophonic guitar), and that most of the technique would transfer. I've always liked the sound of both instruments--great sustain and all that, and the two for the price (or rather practice time) of one thing, seemed appealing. But for the life of me, I can't figure the derned thing out. Something about the tuning doesn't compute. Being that the mandolin family/tenor family will remain my primary focus, I only want to expend so much energy on anything else. I guess I am just a little frustrated that it doesn't come easier. I know that's sort of silly, and I know that I should be willing to put more time and effort in, if I really want to play them. But somehow the simplicity of the all fifths tuning has spoiled me. Everything else seems unnecessarily complicated. Which of course it isn't. I mean, lap steel and dobro are tuned the way they are because with only a slide it would be impossible to form chords otherwise. But still...I just can't figure out a melody with any ease, and I find that very, very anoying. I still haven't adjusted to the intonation issue either, much less the finger picking instead of flat picking, but I've made progress on both of those. I can do one kind of roll, and I can hide the intonation with gobs of vibrato. But the tuning remains as obscure as the first day I picked it up.

    Has anyone else had any simmilar experiences when trying to branch out. If so, care to share?

    Oh, and sorry for the long anecdote/rant.
    James

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    Registered User Steve Weeks's Avatar
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    No, but Johnny Staats makes playing mandolin look easy. :-(
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    I feel your dobro pain. #My brother is an (incredible) aspiring professional dobro player. #I, unfortunately, make slides break out into hives!

    However, I like what you're saying about the non-intuitiveness of other instruments. #I came to mandolin for a 2nd/3rd instrument, but somehow the logic of our wonderful instrument has made chords and scales (all that theory stuff) which I only half-understood on other instruments spring to life. #I do find it easier now to re-translate back to guitar, etc..., but it is just harder to play it in the way that I can on the mandolin. #I have to force myself to continue to work on music on other instruments and not just pick up my mandolin and play it quicker and easier. #That is not to say that any one instrument is more difficult, just that my mind seems to speak mandolenglish easiest, not guitar-ese or dobro-ssian.

    My brother tells me to think of the notes on slide instruments as being on one long string, and you just choose where on the string to play them by knowing the fretboard. #I'm sure that is great advice for somebody out there, but it is like teaching me calculus as I struggle with my multiplication tables.

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    Registered User Jim MacDaniel's Avatar
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    Well, violin-family tunings make sense to me, but I agree that it's sometimes hard for me to switch back to guitar without thinking hard. I too have been considering branching out into slide and lap steel, but currently I am investing time into learning music theory. I think that aside from the more obvious benefits of being well versed in theory, that it may also help me to get out of my current thinking mode that tries to translate other instruments' tuning to my current fifths-based mind-set, and instead to focus on how to use any given instrument's tuning to play the notes I want to play, period. (I hope that make sense -- it does to me, but I may not have expained what I am thinking well.)



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    Playing mandolin makes "trying" to play the violin hard (I gave up trying) but clawhammer banjo seems easy in comparison. Playing fast tempo lead flatpicked guitar is MUCH more difficult than playing fast Monroe style lead on mandolin, at least for me. YMMV

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    Registered User Laurence Firth's Avatar
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    Good topic. I started on the guitar. I played for a few years before getting a Mandolin a little less than 2 years ago. At first i was frustrated at how hard the Mandolin was compared to the guitar. I expected to be able to play the Mandolin with just a little practice since I could play the guitar and understand some theory and can read a bit. Well after much practice I got to a point where I felt the mandolin was a bit more intuitive than the guitar. And I still feel that way. But what I also found was that learning the mandolin helped my guitar playing. It reinforced my theory understanding and helped with my ear-training. Once I "got" that the Mandolin is tuned in 5th i could find any note I needed for a chord or melody (within my ability of course). The fact that the guitar is tuned in 4ths (with one exception being a 3rd) was not a stumbling block. I could switch my mind from Mandolin to Guitar mode with out difficulty. Then I got a Uke and leaned that. Now that was a challenge! But seriously - leaning more than one instrument can help your general understanding of music making and make you a stronger player on your main instrument and the side ones you dabble in!
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    I guess Dobro wasn't as hard for me because I started on banjo, which is also tuned to an open chord (in G tuning, anyway). Noting with a steel bar instead of my fingers had a bit of a learning curve, though.

    The equal tuning in 5ths between pairs of strings on the mandolin has some wonderful side benefits, since you can learn a fairly limited number of chord patterns and move them all over the neck, knowing that the strings always have the same relationships to each other. But, honestly, once you learn the relationships of guitar or banjo strings, it's really no "harder" to get around on those instruments. It's just different.
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    once upon a time, drmole Joel Spaulding's Avatar
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    Below is my instrumental progression from about age 10 to present(40) - please note that Mandolin is the only instrument I designate as a proper noun

    piano/keys/organ --> xylophone/glockenspiel --> orchestral and marching percussion ---> some bass --> some guitar --> Mandolin

    Actually playing Mandolin has improved my guitar playing from lame to not-quite-so lame. I could never bother to use a pick - learned bass first using fingers only and old habits die HARD. My first attempt at Mando actually required the backwards use of a steel fingerpick because I couldn't hold a regular plectrum. I learned that finger-style wouldn't cut it for BG

    My passion and interest for the Mandolin far exceed that for all other instruments so I have put more serious time and energy into practice. This has translated to the guitar by improving my overall dexterity and definitely picking skills. However I play guitar so infrequently now, that the fretboard feels like a 4-lane highway compared to the Mando.

    During my first attempt at recording Black Mt Rag using guitar/bass/Mando - My little Yamaha APX8 decided to cast off its strap from both ends at the same time, bounce off my beater Mando finally striking the hardwood floor, resulting in a significant cracked binding and top edge.
    (I know, strap locks....)

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    It depends on how you measure difficult, but think about this: how many mandolin players can play as fast (cleanly) as someone like Chris Thile or Stuart Duncan? A handful at most. Now how many fiddle players can play that fast? A heck of a lot more. I tend to think of mandolin as a more difficult instrument than most, and my experience playing other instruments (I played fiddle/violin for years before picking up mandolin) backs that up. It's very hard to get a good clean sound playing very fast on mandolin, much harder than on most other stringed instruments, and there are fewer people who do it on mandolin.

    That said, tuning in fifths makes a lot more sense for linear playing, which makes the thinking part easier, but it doesn't make the technique easier.

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    As a relatively new(ish)Mandolin player,having played Banjo for as long as i have & remembering how hard it was at the start,i have to admit that the way that the Mandolin is tuned has made it easier than i thought to teach myself. I'm NOT saying that i'm a 'natural'or anything like that,but the Mandolin tuning is just more 'logical' if that's the right word. The notes fall under my fingers so easily compared to Banjo or Guitar (especially Guitar !).But as Alex above says,it doesn't make the actual technique of playing easier. It might be easier to find the right notes,but it's what you do with 'em once you've found 'em that matters,
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    Quote Originally Posted by (Alex Fields @ May 23 2008, 01:09)
    That said, tuning in fifths makes a lot more sense for linear playing, which makes the thinking part easier, but it doesn't make the technique easier.
    Well I'm only talking about the theory stuff, as that is an even bigger stumbling block than the technique for a dyslexic like me...

    Thanks everyone for the thoughts. It's funny...I wanted to play something that had more sustain than the mando, and choose dobro over fiddle because i figured it would be easier. Now I'm thinking learning the new scales is more of a challenge for me personally, than picking up the new physical processes.
    James

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    write more songs Bob Wiegers's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (first string @ May 23 2008, 10:37)
    ...I wanted to play something that had more sustain than the mando, and choose dobro over fiddle because i figured it would be easier...
    get an octave! I LOVE the sustain on my TC octave, and I'm fairly certain higher-end instruments would have even more.
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    Having attempted to pretend to play banjo for the last six years, the mandolin is so much easier to play (and I'm still at the banjo, too). I did flatpick a guitar for a few years in there somewhere, too. But, I'd much rather play mando than any other instrument any day. As Steve Kaufman said to me one time, it's addicting isn't it? Yes it is. And it's so much easier to carry around than a banjo or guitar.
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    Quote Originally Posted by (bobwiegers @ May 23 2008, 11:00)
    Quote Originally Posted by (first string @ May 23 2008, 10:37)
    ...I wanted to play something that had more sustain than the mando, and choose dobro over fiddle because i figured it would be easier...
    get an octave! I LOVE the sustain on my TC octave, and I'm fairly certain higher-end instruments would have even more.
    I intend to at some point, but I don't think that will be a big step up (if at all) in terms of sustain from my tenor guitar. I still want one because I love that sound, but it doesn't really ring for anywhere near as long as a dobro, much less the lap steel.

    I think that's one of the things that amazes me every time I listen to Jerry Douglas: He can play things that I would never expect anyone could pull off on a plectrum instrument--things that you would think only a fiddle could produce.
    James

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    Quote Originally Posted by (Alex Fields @ May 23 2008, 01:09)
    how many mandolin players can play as fast (cleanly) as someone like Chris Thile or Stuart Duncan? #A handful at most. #Now how many fiddle players can play that fast? #A heck of a lot more.
    I have found this too. The violin can be played a lot faster than fretted instruments. I am not sure of all the reasons, but perhaps because you don't have to press down as hard to stop the string, versus the mandolin, where you have to "bend" the string over the fret.

    I find that fiddlers can be real speed demons at a jam. And a know a few cross over players who lose patience with the mandolin after learning fiddle because they can play faster.

    But....

    I find the fiddle a much harder instrument to play well. Making pretty sounds on a fiddle is so much harder than making pretty sounds on a mandolin. While the left hand is "the same", good intonation on a fiddle requires much more continuous attention to detail, and good bowing is much harder than great picking, to my experience.

    There are several tunes I do well, equally well, on mandolin and fiddle, yet I find that getting tired affects my fiddle playing a lot faster than it does my mandolin playing.
    As much as I post, I pick a whole lot more. Just sayin'
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    With a fretted, picked instrument the left and right hand have to articulate each note together (with the exception of hammer ons, pull offs, and slides). With a bowed instrument, multiple notes can be played by the left hand while just makeing one stroke of the bow. This is one reason for the fiddles advantage in speed over the mandolin.
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    Man, what a can o' worms...! That is to say, good topic.

    I've been playing guitar since 1967, and since the mid-to-late 70's, either semi-professionally or professionally, for whatever that might be worth. So I guess it's only natural that this instrument makes the most sense to me, as to layout. Actually, the piano makes the most sense to me, but I'm bad about neglecting it.

    Mandolin is an interesting instrument for me. The whole 'four note per string' scale thing felt incredibly foreign to me initially, and even after I got a handle on it, I didn't gravitate towards it. I love the way this instrument facilitates drones and open strings, and I usually go for textures more than anything else with mando.

    Banjo is an instrument I've been gigging for about a year, and I've recently become confident enough with it to offer it as an option at sessions. The tuning and right hand thing actually fell into place surprisingly quickly.

    Lap steel is an instrument that I've been gigging for a few months, and I've cut two sessions on it. Now THIS is my new main squeeze. I totally dig this instrument, and so do live audiences. I'm currently playing a Supro in open D for bluesy stuff, but I'm looking for an eight string for G stuff.

    Harmonica is an odd bird for me as well. As the old saying goes about stringed instruments, "you can't make any money past the fifth fret", I get most of my stuff on the low holes, and if it ain't 'cross-harp', I'm out of my element, at least to this point.

    The gauge for me as to whether I'm really getting on with an instrument is how well I can simultaneously play and sing with it. I thought banjo would be difficult what with the rolls and all, but it really wasn't at all. Lap steel is so far a bit of a monkey wrench in the gears in this respect, but I'm working on it. Mandolin and guitar fall fairly naturally. By far, the most difficult instrument for me to play properly and sing over is the bass. Bass is foundational groove, thus it allows for no fudge. No big deal for root-five and boom chick, but when music gets syncopated, the bass/vocal thing is the rabbit test.

    In any event, I play different instruments, tunings, and circuits because I'm a song and arrangement freak. I guess there was a point where I was concerned with being a virtuoso, but not so much anymore. I dig songs and arrangements, and that's how I go about making my instrument and tuning choices.

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    Registered User groveland's Avatar
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    My $0.02: The consistency and symmetry of the fifths tuning makes it easy to get up and running on mandolin very quickly. My strong opinion is it has big advantages over standard guitar tuning for theory and it's way easier for sightreading. So from that standpoint, it's easier -

    But the devil's in the details. After that first dramatic and steep rise in the learning curve, when you're thinking you're some kind of genius, the lessons quickly begin to get more subtle, and the tasks more delicate, and you realize that 'the bar' is way higher than you could possibly have known.

    I have played electric guitar for decades, and was 'raised' on Allan Holdsworth since 1974 - And if you know anything about his technique, it's always been "four notes per string" on guitar standard tuning. Because of that training, when I first picked up a mandolin, I immediately knew how it worked and was soloing within an hour - I felt pretty good about myself until I started investigating what it takes to be an outstanding mandolin player - The technique, the tone, the timing and precision. What I found out was, despite its advantages, a mandolin can make a good guitar player look like a real clod.

    Just my experience.

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    mandolin's Lord Voldemort mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by
    With a fretted, picked instrument the left and right hand have to articulate each note together (with the exception of hammer ons, pull offs, and slides). With a bowed instrument, multiple notes can be played by the left hand while just makeing one stroke of the bow. This is one reason for the fiddles advantage in speed over the mandolin.
    It's also one of the things that make fiddle (and all wind instruments) so much more expressive. You can play the mandolin using a lot of slurring articulation (as many electric guitarists do), but the mando-conventional "every-note-with-the-pick" approach is dominant. (Personally, if you are going to do that, you may as well just play the tenor banjo...at least you'll be a lot louder.)

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    Long , Strange Trip Jim's Avatar
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    Great thread! I played guitar since 67 and started mando in 94. I don't know if mando makes guitar seem hard but guitar certainly made mando easier. Of course already having callouses helps as well as the minor motor training. But on the other side Mandolin has made me a better melody player on guitar. The melodies seem to fall under you fingers better on a mandolin but after a while it's easy to find them on guitar too.
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    ...but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Yes, mandolin makes other instruments seem hard to me, or else I would not play it.
    Guitar I never honestly tried (too many strings), but I started with the violin. Coming from there, the mandolin looks like a user-friendly violin.
    On the other hand, I have heard fiddle players say the exact opposite, so I guess this is a typical mandolin player's view...

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    Quote Originally Posted by (groveland @ May 25 2008, 09:17)
    My $0.02: The consistency and symmetry of the fifths tuning makes it easy to get up and running on mandolin very quickly. My strong opinion is it has big advantages over standard guitar tuning for theory and it's way easier for sightreading. So from that standpoint, it's easier -

    But the devil's in the details. After that first dramatic and steep rise in the learning curve, when you're thinking you're some kind of genius, the lessons quickly begin to get more subtle, and the tasks more delicate, and you realize that 'the bar' is way higher than you could possibly have known.

    I have played electric guitar for decades, and was 'raised' on Allan Holdsworth since 1974 - And if you know anything about his technique, it's always been "four notes per string" on guitar standard tuning. #Because of that training, when I first picked up a mandolin, I immediately knew how it worked and was soloing within an hour - I felt pretty good about myself until I started investigating what it takes to be an outstanding mandolin player - The technique, the tone, the timing and precision. #What I found out was, despite its advantages, a mandolin can make a good guitar player look like a real clod.

    Just my experience.
    Man, that's some great raisin'! Holdsworth, that is. I had the pleasure of meeting Allan after a show in Los Angeles in 1985. Very kind and humble cat, and I couldn't believe how self-deprecating he was about his own playing (and apparently still is). Man I wish I could suck that good.

    Anyway, I've been a freak since the Bruford days and even before that when he was in Tempest. The guy represents whatever it is that's about as close as guitar gets to John Coltrane. And as I'm sure you're aware, Allan is also an accomplished violinist.

    As for me, I managed to grok some of the harmonic concepts through some transcribing. I hate to make excuses about small hands and all, but after screwing with it for quite some time, that 'four-note-per-string' approach - with the fluid legato technique at those tempos - ultimately proved to be beyond my reach, so to speak. The Steve Morse 'three-note-per-string' method was more than plenty for me to struggle with.

    It's funny how we come to terms with our strengths and weaknesses as to techniques over time. To this day, I still can't tremolo pick worth a rat's behind - on guitar or mando... I get the sound by rapidly flicking my middle finger back and forth, which looks severely retarded.

    I practice sight reading on mandolin with some of my guitar students, and toss out clams right and left on some of the trickier pieces. I know that standard-tuned guitar is the red headed stepchild of sight reading amongst fretted instruments... what can I say, I'm intimate with the quirks...




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    I think that every instrument requires a particular set of skills, and any particular combination might suite any particular player - or not.

    I have been playing guitar for years and never got anywhere. Then I discovered the mandolin and finally it all made sense.

    I was literally forced to learn a non- stringed instrument last year and chose the flute. While I will meet the requirement for my exam (I hope:p ), the flute doesn´t come easy to me at all. Something about the embrochure that is not natural to me. Last weekend, a friend showed me the fundamentals of harmonica playing, and I was playing a semitone bend (in pitch) within minutes. While the flute is arguably much harder to learn that the harmonica, I could relate instantly to the harmonica. I think I might as well go for it...

    I could never play the fiddle cause I would just stand there all day and go nuts about my intonation....

    It has also something to do with the natural habitat of an instrument: If sight reading comes easy to you, wind instruments or piano are definately easier to play. If you are a do it yourself guy, the banjo or harmonica might just be your ticket.

    And we didn´t even talk about stylistic preferences yet.....
    Who am I and if yes, how many?

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    ...but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (Klaus Wutscher @ May 27 2008, 13:45)
    Something about the embrochure that is not natural to me.
    It's called embouchure, but everything else is perfectly understandable

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    Quote Originally Posted by (bertramH @ May 25 2008, 11:49)
    Guitar I never honestly tried (too many strings), but I started with the violin.
    Four fingers, six strings, you are out gunned from the start
    As much as I post, I pick a whole lot more. Just sayin'
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