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Thread: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

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    Facing the Storm Duane Graves's Avatar
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    Default Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    Just curious, although, I will probably never do it as the mandolin is enough animal for me but I am told that the fiddle and mandolin are tuned the same. Soooooo, does one have any advantage if he were to have an urge to play the fiddle because he can play the mandolin. I mean, apart from the obvious hurtles of when bow meets strings and controlling all that, etc., but I'm wondering is say 50% (just a figure) of the battle already accomplished because the instruments are tuned the same? --dgg
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    Registered User Brent Hutto's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    More like 5%. Drawing a good tone from the bow is hard. It would be hard if someone else were playing the left hand for you. Whole 'nother order of business from playing a plucked, fretted instrument.
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    I think Brent is being generous at 5%. For me, the tuning is the only thing the two instruments have in common, and that's not much of an advantage. Well, their names both end in 'lin', but that's no help at all.
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    Registurd User pjlama's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim2723 View Post
    I think Brent is being generous at 5%. For me, the tuning is the only thing the two instruments have in common, and that's not much of an advantage. Well, their names both end in 'lin', but that's no help at all.
    Yup, what he said.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    Depends on how much you don't know. What I mean is, by learning the mandolin you are getting a lot of the basics of musicianship that would apply to any musical instrument, learning to play with others, developing an ear, etc.. If you are learning to read notation, that would be applicable directly to the fiddle.

    But in terms of fiddle specific knowledge, 5% or less I would have to agree. And compard to someone just starting out in music, their first instrument being a fiddle, a mandolin player is at a disadvantage, because he knows what the music is supposed to sound like and may not have the patience to deal with how he is going to sound for a year.
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    Registered User catmandu2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    True, true, true

    But given all this...it's generally advantageous going to fiddle from mandolin (and vice-versa)--rather than, say, guitar or other non-5ths instruments. Oud, for example, is fretless, but mandolin generally has more applicability, IME.

    Also, the mandolinist has an advantage in being able to compare directly--fingerings and tonal relationships. This is often a significant help in adjusting intonation--when working out fingerings on fiddle, one can refer to mando. Until you have fiddle fingering and intonation well in grasp, one can determine if it is a maj or minor interval (often, it is in-between when learning fiddle ) with a quick confirmation on the mando.

    Given all the challenges of the fiddle--one of the more difficult instruments--one can use the same fingerings to play a tune. This is a significant advantage over other fretted instruments, in transitioning. In this respect, yes, you know some fiddle fingerings already. As you're already aware, bowing aspects are an entirely other matter..
    Last edited by catmandu2; Mar-18-2011 at 1:54pm.

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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    In my experience, 95% of fiddlers can pick up their first mandolin and stumble their way through a melody. Whereas... 95% of mandolinists that pick up their first fiddle will stumble off the nearest cliff!

    Yup, what they said!
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    Registered User Eliot Greenspan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    man, you guys are tough

    having inherited my granma's 1850's fiddle
    and with about 1 month and one lesson in to it
    I admit that the bow is a beast that will take me years and years to tame
    and posture, left hand and wrist positioning, lack of frets, etc, etc are all foreign to a mandolinist
    (and still not "comfortable" to me)

    Still, I think the 5% guideline a bit misleading to someone contemplating trying this

    I basically don't have to spend any time learning the fingerboard and can easily pick out scales and melodies of all (most) of the tunes in my repetoire. Decent intonation comes pretty quick, I think. (Half-step laiden tunes like Limehouse Blues or Blue Monk offer up some serious intonation challenges)

    don't think I'll be working on vibrato any time soon
    and I'm not that far beyond an 8-year old squeaking out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
    but I'm having fun w/ it

    I also agree, obviously, w/ Ed. It sure is/would be much easier to switch from fiddle to mando...

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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    It didn't help me much. I can't make a good tone with the bow, find my notes, or even bend my left arm around to get my pinky into play. I'll try the bass fiddle next.

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    Registered User catmandu2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    Quote Originally Posted by Duane Graves View Post
    I mean, apart from the obvious hurtles of when bow meets strings and controlling all that, etc...
    Yes, apart from the bow, what you essentially have is a single-course, fretless, quick-decaying mandolin with high action that you hold in an extremely difficult ergonomic position (no playing exacerbates my tennis elbow like the hyper-pronation of the fiddling forearm).

    While it is really a totally different instrument (I usually say the tuning is the only similarity), one can take the strengths-based approach. Those with a background in experimenting with different instruments, styles, techniques, etc. will likely find more commonality than others. Take the David Lindley approach--it's all just one guitar...

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    Yes, apart from the bow, what you essentially have is a single-course, fretless, mandolin that you hold in an extremely difficult ergonomic position.

    While it is really a totally different instrument (I usually say the tuning is the only similarity), one can take the strengths-based approach.
    There are differences that appear minor until you get into them and then they are gigantic huge. Large enough that knowing the fretboard is not much of an advantage.

    Going from mandolin to fiddle, the largest confrontation is that the fiddle makes you the player responsible for starting the note, continuing the note, and stopping the note. Each and every note, start, draw, stop. On the mandolin you start the note, and the instrument does the rest. On the fiddle no such cooperation.

    Then you are confronted with requiring near perfect finger landing because there ain't no frets. So while on the mandolin you get within the lines you are fine, on the fiddle you get it right or you fix it. (And remember it aint regular intervals up the neck it gets tighter.)

    Then there are a bunch of things done on the mandolin, like string crossings back and forth, and triplets between strings, that are just much much harder on the fiddle.

    Then there is the fact that a fiddle player will eventually need to learn vibrato, for which knowing tremolo is of absolutely know help.

    So except for all the differences, yea they are almost identical.


    But the fiddle is a darn sublime instrument, capable of much that the madolin cannot do. (This is true the other way too of course.) So I would encourage anyone with a fiddle itch to by all means go for it.

    At the very least you will appreciate the mandolin that much more.
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    Registered User catmandu2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    On the mandolin you start the note, and the instrument does the rest.
    Don't tell journeybear that!


    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    So except for all the differences, yea they are almost identical.
    Well, yes, we are almost chimps..

    Take two chimps (of equal ability)--one plays guitar and one plays mandolin (albeit, poorly): see which one ekes out a recognizable tune with fewer mistakes on the fiddle soonest.

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    Registered User Chris Willingham's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    I agree with Eliot. 5% is a little low, but I wouldn't put it any higher than 10 or 15. I've been attempting fiddle playing for about a year and a half and am just starting to make sounds like don't evacuate my household. I've found the two things that are very necessary to learning are a good mute and a patient spouse. A few lessons have helped a lot also, especially correcting grip problems.

    It's hard, but a lot of fun. Angeline the Baker was the first tune I learned. The doublestops and droning make it sound like you're doing a whole lot more than you actually are.

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    Destroyer of Mandolins
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    I think I could accidentally type all of Shakespeare's sonnets before I could learn to fiddle any better than I do.
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    Mediocre but OK with that Paul Busman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    Personally, I found it to be a big help (not that I'm any great shakes on the fiddle). Knowing my way around the fingerboard was a huge asset. Yes, there's that pesky bowing to worry about, but not having to worry (as much) about the fingering is terrific.
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    Registered User catmandu2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Willingham View Post
    ...two things that are very necessary to learning are a good mute and a patient spouse.
    Be kind to your spouse and eschew steel bluegrass fiddle strings for the first year or two--opt instead for a mellower composite violin string.

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    Registered User catmandu2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim2723 View Post
    I think I could accidentally type all of Shakespeare's sonnets before I could learn to fiddle any better than I do.
    And, having existing typing skills on a standard alphanumeric keyboard will give you a 5% advantage too! (some say more).

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    Talentless Hack Rick Cadger's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    My experience has been different to that of some of my learned friends above, and closer to Paul's.

    I found experience of mando tuning, scale length, scale shapes. double stops and arpeggios to be of HUGE assistance when I took up fiddle. That is all time saved through stuff already known.

    Sure, the actual technique is monstrously different and it is a difficult instrument to get good at, but thanks to mandolin experience one is sometimes able to concentrate more on the mechanics and technique. Once one has a handle on those to a reasonable degree, then experience with mando provides a certain amount of ready made repertoire, basis for improvisation and more.
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    Registered User EarlG's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    Mandolin gives you a little head start, but fiddle is very hard. For a very long time.

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    Mike Parks woodwizard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    One has frets and one don't ... extremly different animals. I think knowing and playing the fiddle would help you more to adapt to the mandolin than the other way. IMHO
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    Quote Originally Posted by woodwizard View Post
    One has frets and one don't ... extremly different animals. I think knowing and playing the fiddle would help you more to adapt to the mandolin than the other way. IMHO
    I know that learning the fiddle has really helped my mandolin playing.
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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    Having played viola for just a year in Junior High school when I was a kid, and with my Significant Other now a dedicated Irish fiddler, I have lots of opportunity to see "fiddle learner's angst" from the other side. I lean towards the 5% advantage school of thought. You're now playing with a "pick" that's three feet long, and works in a completely different way.

    One thing that's missing from this discussion, is what kind of fiddle playing are we talking about here?

    Yes, there's a learning curve of a few years to get the bow mechanics down. But after that, the learning curves diverge widely, according to genre you're aiming for. I know many folks here in my area who picked up fiddle later in life, and can manage to fit into the local OldTime jams. At the risk of offending OldTime fiddlers here, that's a fairly easy entry point. After that, if you want to learn Western Swing, or Jazz, or Bluegrass, or Irish trad, that's another big bump in the learning curve. I think it's a bigger bump in the learning curve than mandolin, just because the range of expression and the way it's expressed in different musical genres, is so much wider.

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    Registered User catmandu2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    One thing that's missing from this discussion, is what kind of fiddle playing are we talking about here?
    Yes, that's correct. I hesitate to offer "percentage" estimates, but if one is talking merely about playing a simple melody that they can play on the mandolin--with no particular expectations for bowing competence, and permitting "flexible" intonation--then the percentage is probably more like 80%-100%.

    With aspiration for greater fiddle accomplishment, the "percentage" number begins to decline.

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    Destroyer of Mandolins
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    That's a good point. If you want to play like me you can be up and running in a week.
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    Default Re: Does playing Mandolin Help in learning to play the fiddle?

    I've been wrestling with a fiddle for 3 years, then 3 months ago I bought a $200 mandolin and now I'm obsessed. I practice 98% mando and 2% fiddle. The mando is my piano. I can copy things I hear, write them in fiddle/mandolin tab and refer back at my leisure. My mandolin has been a great help, it has a wonderful sound, easier on my friends ears, easy to play stuff off youtube and sat radio...then I found Mando Cafe...all kindsa stuff going on, tips, lessons, how to's...and the fiddle just sits........poooor fiddle. Paul F.

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