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Thread: Upstroke Technique

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    Registered User Mike Rodbell's Avatar
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    Default Upstroke Technique

    Hi,

    I may have gotten myself in a spot where I'm trying to take direction from too many sources (or misinterpreting).

    I just took Dan Miller & Tim May's workshop on technique, where they spent a good bit of time on rest strokes, alternating strokes, positioning & other items. That was great. I came away confirming that I have a lot of work to do, particularly with regard to developing strong alternating pick habits. There was a fair amount of emphasis placed on right hand technique.

    I also picked up a copy of Marilynn Mair's "The Complete Mandolinist." In it, she advocates for the upstroke having the pick strike only the bottom string of the pair. That's the first I've run across this, although if using alternating strokes, I think it makes sense. By limiting the attack on the upstroke, I would imagine that it helps in de-emphasizing the off-beat. She's also clearly focused on more classical music and less so on bluegrass.

    My question is: does hitting only one string on the upstroke apply universally, or only in some cases?

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    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Rodbell View Post
    Hi,......
    My question is: does hitting only one string on the upstroke apply universally, or only in some cases?
    Don't even think about it for now. Unless you're doing classical music and your teacher says do it that way, don't even try or care about hitting only one string.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    I hit 'em both on the way down, on the way up, and on the way down again.
    As much as I post, I pick a whole lot more. Just sayin'
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    Registered User Mike Bunting's Avatar
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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I hit 'em both on the way down, on the way up, and on the way down again.
    and then on the way up again.
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    Registered User Pete Summers's Avatar
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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    I figure there are two strings for a reason on mandolins, like there are two or three strings per most notes on a piano for a reason --the reason being volume mostly. Therefore, I try to hit both strings on every pick stroke.

    I agree with the others: only in the event of some classical music where the player wanted a particularly soft sound with the other string vibrating only in sympathy (sort of like the effect of soft pedal on a grand piano), would not hitting both unisons strings be in order IMO.

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    Registered User mandobassman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    There have been discussions about this before, including a fairly lengthy, and somewhat entertaining, thread on the Mando Hangout. I'm not even sure why this is argued. In 35 years of playing mandolin, I have never found a logical reason to strike only one string. They are in pairs for a reason. It's part of what gives the mandolin a unique tone. Without the pairs, it would sound much like a steel string ukulele (with about half of the normal volume). And also, who really has the ability to single out one string of a pair when playing at normal speed?
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    Registered User Cheryl Watson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    I find that, typically, when playing notes (not tremolo which is more of a brushing motion) on the downstroke, the pick strikes the first string of the pair and (very) quickly goes through the 2nd string of the pair, all in one quick, solid motion; on the upstroke, the pick hits the 2nd string of the pair and goes through the first string. You definitely do not strike just one string on purpose. Also, the pick has to go through both strings quickly or you will hear two quick notes instead of one strong, unison note. Anyway, that is how I explain it. Actually seeing it is another matter.

    Here is the best I could find on You Tube. Don Julin is a great teacher; he is actually explaining pickstrokes and timing but you can see quite clearly how he strikes the pairs of strings:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khFdGSuz8N4
    Last edited by Cheryl Watson; May-05-2012 at 7:36pm.

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    Registered User John Gardinsky's Avatar
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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    I would consider it a mistake if I only hit one string out of the pair on an up or down stroke.

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    Carpe Mandolinium
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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    Almost universally, hit both strings. Think of each pair as a very, very wide string that somehow got split in half and the halves separated, so you need to hit the "whole" string to make it sound right. That said, hitting single strings is legitimate in some cases, but to my way of thinking it's kind of a special effect: hitting one string in the middle of the sounding length (which might mean that you're picking over the 15th fret) yields a bell-like sound.

    But that's just may untrained take on it.


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    Registered User Mike Rodbell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    Thanks everyone for the comments/feedback. I'd run across that comment and found it to be somewhat out of the blue. I can see how striking one string could result in a softer sound. The second string is going to sound regardless, just not as loud.

    All that said, it may be a bit over-ambitious for me to assume that I have that much control at any considerable speed. I'll likely not worry all that much about it.

    I would think that this can be written off as just another technique that some people find useful. Not for everyone, but I suppose could be useful.

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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by mandobassman View Post
    There have been discussions about this before, including a fairly lengthy, and somewhat entertaining, thread on the Mando Hangout. I'm not even sure why this is argued. In 35 years of playing mandolin, I have never found a logical reason to strike only one string. They are in pairs for a reason. It's part of what gives the mandolin a unique tone. Without the pairs, it would sound much like a steel string ukulele (with about half of the normal volume). And also, who really has the ability to single out one string of a pair when playing at normal speed?
    Actually, the discussion on the Hangout was about the one string down, one string up idea. It had two strong proponents. One gave numersous YouTube examples in support of his thesis, and, typically, some of them adressed some other issue, and quite a number stated and demonstrated the opposite thesis. Very comical. The other was what I call a teacher teacher, the kind who invents various artifical skills to keep themselves and their students busy. The really good teachers are usually gigging and touring musicians.

    I touched on this topic in an earlier thread and I repeat my question, how can you possibly tell, especially in fast tempos, whether you're striking one string or both?
    And what about 12-string, triple-course mandolins? They certainly sound a lot different from ordinary eight string mandolins.

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    Registered User mandobassman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    The other was what I call a teacher teacher, the kind who invents various artifical skills to keep themselves and their students busy. The really good teachers are usually gigging and touring musicians.
    I know the guy you are referring to. He has supplied some of the worst teaching advise I have ever heard of. I bailed out of that thread because it getting ridiculous.
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    Registered User Mike Rodbell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    wow! I can see how this can get fairly silly. I'd think that, in the end, all of this is simply a function of what dynamics and tone best fit the music one wants to create.

    The thought of a teacher pushing peculiar skills that don't add to the music is surprising. I'd think that, at some point, the main concern is getting past the technical challenges & getting to worrying about the music itself. I don't see that I'm quite there yet!

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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    "You definitely do not strike just one string on purpose".

    Actually, you do, and contrary to the majority of the comments above, it is not a mistake.

    The "single string on the upstroke" dates back to 18th century mandolin methods (Gabriele Leone, in particular, in 1768) and is a mainstay of modern German classical mandolin technique. It is used, for instance, in situations where a "strong-weak" accent pattern is desired, or at the end of a musical phrase whenever a lighter texture is musically appropriate. The technique is discussed extensively in Marga Wilda-Husgen's mandolin method (also in Getrud Weyhofen's "Music on Eight Strings") and also, if my memory is correct (I am at work) in Caterina Lichtenberg's excellent new Homespun video on classical mandolin technique. There is a special notation symbol to use if the composer wishes although in most cases it can be left to the discretion of the performer. In his workshop at the Classical Mandolin Society meetings last fall in Baltimore Chris Aquavella covered the technique. Nowadays, it is a very basic skill in classical mandolin, at least for those coming from the German side of things.
    Robert A. Margo

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    Registered User Mark Robertson-Tessi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post

    I touched on this topic in an earlier thread and I repeat my question, how can you possibly tell, especially in fast tempos, whether you're striking one string or both?
    As AlanN noted in another thread, you can detune one string of each pair. If you hear both strings on the stroke, then you are stroking two.

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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    I have never heard of intentionally only playing one string on the upstroke, but two teachers I really respect as players who I've taken instruction from, one bluegrass and one classical, have said they believe that no matter what is intended, if one is playing at speed with a proper wrist motion, most people will not sound both strings fully on the upstroke. In fact, going out of your way to "intend" to fully sound both strings on the upstroke may result turning the wrist into an improper wrist motion.

    It would be interesting to do some scientific study on this, like with a stop-motion camera attached to a mandolin and some acoustic analysis, using some of the top players. Personally, and this is just me, I think there are bigger things to worry about with right hand technique, like just getting it smoother and more accurate, with better timing, keeping my wrist and grip relaxed and in the right position, etc. Those things seem to my ear to make my tone better.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by margora View Post
    "You definitely do not strike just one string on purpose".

    Actually, you do, and contrary to the majority of the comments above, it is not a mistake.

    The "single string on the upstroke" dates back to 18th century mandolin methods (Gabriele Leone, in particular, in 1768) and is a mainstay of modern German classical mandolin technique. It is used, for instance, in situations where a "strong-weak" accent pattern is desired, or at the end of a musical phrase whenever a lighter texture is musically appropriate. The technique is discussed extensively in Marga Wilda-Husgen's mandolin method (also in Getrud Weyhofen's "Music on Eight Strings") and also, if my memory is correct (I am at work) in Caterina Lichtenberg's excellent new Homespun video on classical mandolin technique. There is a special notation symbol to use if the composer wishes although in most cases it can be left to the discretion of the performer. In his workshop at the Classical Mandolin Society meetings last fall in Baltimore Chris Aquavella covered the technique. Nowadays, it is a very basic skill in classical mandolin, at least for those coming from the German side of things.
    I knew something of this, actually, but I have never been able to do it. I made the assumption that it was an advanced technique, or at least it was going to be an advanced technique for me.
    As much as I post, I pick a whole lot more. Just sayin'
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  18. #18
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    Default Re: Upstroke Technique

    "I made the assumption that it was an advanced technique, or at least it was going to be an advanced technique for me."

    That something is basic does not make it easy. The various right hand patterns in Leone as updated by modern German mandolinists are basic, but require a lot of diligent work to master.
    Robert A. Margo

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