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Thread: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

  1. #1

    Default How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    Hello,
    I'm fairly new to mandolin. I am going to be attending an old-time weekend in March and would like to be able to sit in on jams. From what I've read online, it seems that in old-time music, the mandolin would play the melody most of the time? I haven't really been able to find much on playing back up? I would assume that you wouldn't be chopping like you would in bluegrass.

    Can someone please fill me in on how to play back up to old time tunes? Would you normaly use open chords?

    Thanks much,
    -Ryan

  2. #2
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    What I do is play mostly the melody most of the time, or a very tasteful chord and/or double stop back up, maybe flavored with some tremolo as appropriate.

    Because I don't chop at an old timey jam I am not confined to the closed "chop" configurations, but sometimes they are the best alternative around.

    Hope that helps. Where'ya going in March?
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  3. #3

    Default Re: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    Where'ya going in March?
    I'm going to The Nashville Old-Time String Band Association's "Breakin' Up Winter" gathering. My girlfriend is a great Celtic fiddler who would like to get a little more into old time and has always liked Franklin George (who will be there). So I thought I'd tag along and try to figure out this mando a bit so I could actually participate! I'm just having trouble figuring out what chord shapes to use, and what strumming and picking patterns to use!

  4. #4

    Default Re: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    I think I might have just answered my own question! I was trying to learn "Angalina The Baker". After a little searching, I found a lesson on Mel Bay's Mandolin Sessions by Wendy Anthony. The 2nd variation on the tune includes open string chord note voicings which create a fuller sound, and sound more old time to my ears?

  5. #5
    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    Hi Ryan; I'm an intermediate player, and I find that a strike/strum technique using open chords and all down strokes can work quite well for chord accompaniment on many Old-Time songs.

    For example, if I'm playing the G major chord for a measure in a song in 4/4, I'd play:
    0-X-X-X...0-0-2-3...0-X-X-X...0-0-2-3
    and if I'm playing D major:
    2-X-X-X...2-0-0-2...2-X-X-X...2-0-0-2
    and if I'm playing A major:
    6-X-X-X...6-2-0-0...6-X-X-X...6-2-0-0

    This seems to work fairly decently. Also, since I don't know many of the songs, but I'm familiar with guitar chord shapes, I'll strategically position myself so I can see the fretboards of one or more guitars if at all possible.

    For an excellent example of this way of playing chord accompaniment, see the demonstration of style #1 in Don Julin's excellent video tutorial 3 Easy Rhythms For Mandolin in post #7 to this thread...For some reason, the strike/strum seems to sound better when Don does it than when I do it.
    Last edited by Ed Goist; Jan-07-2011 at 9:37am. Reason: added last paragraph
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    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    I've asked a bunch of fine old time mando players this question recently for a project and have gotten a range of responses. Many play open chords but a few don't like the 'jangly' sound of them (I agree with them but only sometimes--depends on how they're played). The chop doesn't work because the offbeat isn't emphasized in old time but it seems to me that the chop shape can still often be used, with a different strum pattern. And many good players do a series of partial--often 2-string--chord shapes for interesting texture.
    Cary Fagan

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    Registered User Don Julin's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    I am no expert on all of the many regional inflections of traditional music but here is a video demonstrating 3 easy rhythms.

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    Mike Parks woodwizard's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    Don pretty much covers it in his post. Great example vid. I play in an OT band and for myself in general I pretty much mix it all up.
    Oh ... and when Don Julin says he is no expert ... that is a big understatement folks!
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    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Julin View Post
    I am no expert on all of the many regional inflections of traditional music but here is a video demonstrating 3 easy rhythms.
    Don, this is just fantastic. Really useful stuff here.
    Thank you very much for posting!
    I think I'll call Rhythm # 2 "The Happy Chucka Chucka".
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    Great stuff Don!!
    As much as I post, I pick a whole lot more. Just sayin'
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    Registered User Brent Hutto's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    I loved the feel of the third method and for that particular song (thinking of the A part mostly) the melody very pleasingly interacts with the drone A. The moments where the melody most closely approaches the drone have, in passing, a cool intensity.

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    Default Re: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by melodiousthunk View Post
    Hello,
    I'm fairly new to mandolin. I am going to be attending an old-time weekend in March and would like to be able to sit in on jams. From what I've read online, it seems that in old-time music, the mandolin would play the melody most of the time? I haven't really been able to find much on playing back up? I would assume that you wouldn't be chopping like you would in bluegrass.

    Can someone please fill me in on how to play back up to old time tunes? Would you normaly use open chords?

    Thanks much,
    -Ryan
    Hi Ryan (love the handle, btw. Big Monk fan).

    You can always play the melody, if you happen to know it. The potential problem is a lot of old-time tunes tend to be similar or have very similar passeges and it's easy to step on the subtlties of the melody if you don't know it exactly. That's not true in every case, of course. Some melodies, even if you haven't learned them previously, are easy to get on to after a couple of times around.

    But in a lot of old-time jams I'm in, I don't know most of the tunes and so I take a different approach. Here's a tale I recently told of a New Year's Day jam:

    "On New Year's Day, I went to an old-time jam and not a single banjo player was able to make it!

    Guitar, bass, four fiddlers and me. So now I had the perfect chance to see if I'd managed to accomplish any of the things I've been trying to do with the mandolin in old-time music.

    I can report some success. What I did was utilize a few different techniques that most of us are familiar with. I played a lot of double stops and tried to get that "bum-ditty" rhythm characteristic of clawhammer banjo. Horse-gallop is another way I've heard it described. That works better on the low strings.

    Other times I would hear harmony lines or just counter-meolodies that didn't seem to step on the melody the fiddlers were playing, so I'd do that. Again, I stayed mostly in the lower registers so as not to interfere with the melody.

    Occasionally I would chord, usually lightly and with mostly open-chord shapes. That often depended on what the guitar player was doing. Sometimes he'd be playing almost all runs, so a little light chording fit right in with the rhythm. I sometimes stuck with one technique for an entire tune, other times I mixed them up. I didn't have any real strategy, just went on what felt right.

    Mostly what I did was keep my ears wide open. I listened and listened hard. I looked for what I wasn't hearing and tried to provide it. I wish at least one banjo player had been there but to be perfectly honest, this was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.

    Another way to go in an old-time context is, of course, to learn the melodies. I'm working up repetoire for an old-time recording I'm planning on doing this spring and I'm learning a lot of melodies. But I recognize that, in some cases, I'm being forced to lose some of what's cool about certain melodies by having to choose one note or another. Fretted instruments simply can't do some of the things fretless instruments can. If I have the time to work on a melody, I like to play it with the fiddles. But I'm not playing enough old-time to develop the kind of repetoire a true old-timem fiddler would. So in jams, I don't like to just "plat at" the melody. If I don't know it really well, I prefer to contribute to the rhythm and drive of the tune."

  13. #13

    Default Re: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    Wow! Thanks for all the info!

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    Certified! Bernie Daniel's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    One of the best strings on technique we had in a while (IMO) -- thanks to Don for that very logical dissection!
    Bernie
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    Registered User Brent Hutto's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by mandolirius View Post
    I can report some success. What I did was utilize a few different techniques that most of us are familiar with. I played a lot of double stops and tried to get that "bum-ditty" rhythm characteristic of clawhammer banjo. Horse-gallop is another way I've heard it described. That works better on the low strings.
    A signal example that comes to mind is the second of the "Ireland's Green Shore" tracks, the instrumental one, on Tim O'Brien's The Crossing album. That guy has more control control over his right-hand attack than ought to be allowed...

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to play back up for Old-Time tunes?

    Quote Originally Posted by mandolirius View Post
    Mostly what I did was keep my ears wide open. I listened and listened hard.
    That is 80% of it right there.
    As much as I post, I pick a whole lot more. Just sayin'
    We cannot put off living until we are ready. -- Jose Ortega Y Gasset

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