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Thread: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

  1. #26
    Registered User Mike Bunting's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    [QUOTE=Ivan Kelsall;1049919]I listen to LOTS of Bluegrass every day. What i mostly hear in songs,is the Mandolin player 'chopping along' behind the other instruments along with the Guitarist.The Fiddle & Banjo are playing the 'tune' & improvising as they go.At a 'point in the proceedings',the Mandolin player will begin his own 'accompaniment' to the song & the Fiddle/Banjo will step back until the Mandolin player's done his part,then they'll step in again. For me,that's just a way of 'sharing the lead spot' & letting the Mandolin add it's own flavour to the song. Very often (watch lots of YouTube clips),you will see the Mandolin player 'improvising' on the melody (not chopping), during a song,adding another ingredient to the sound of the Fiddle & Banjo.Usually the Mandolin doesn't try to take over any more than the Fiddle or Banjo players would - it's a 'group sound'. For any player to try to 'hog it' & to overplay the 'solo' part is just bad musicianship & bad manners (IMHO). In a well rehearsed group,all this is sorted out during their practice sessions - pulling a 'surprise' on stage can lead to a 'crash & burn' situation - not good !,
    Ivan[/QUOTE
    Monroe used the chop generally when he didn't have strong rhythm players. He often played lines behind vocals. I'm not justifying ####### by any means, as stated above, we play back up most of the time and most of us do not put much thought into playing back up which is probably the the most important thing we do. My point is that good back up does not consist solely of the offbeat chop.
    Your post is confusing on this, on the one hand you say "What i mostly hear in songs,is the Mandolin player 'chopping along' behind the other instruments" and then you say, "Very often (watch lots of YouTube clips),you will see the Mandolin player 'improvising' on the melody (not chopping), during a song."

    By the way, why all the quotation marks? They are used to indicate irony in the context used here. Are you being sarcastic? I can't tell. We use the space bar after a period (.), too. The style used makes the post difficult to read and the meaning ambiguous to say the least.
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Bluegrass has become, imho, a little too chop-heavy over the past few decades. I understand the need to have the backbeat emphasized, particularly in ensemble music that has no drummer. Monroe did seem to use the chop more often in the latter half of his career but you can find examples of him chopping in the Flatt & Scruggs band, a band that certainly had no rhythm problems. But he used it sparingly and quite effectively. If the rhythm is right, a big chop isn't always necessary.

    A lot of the people I play with seem to think the chop always needs to be there and consider that more important than playing backup. At one point during a recent gig I noticed no one was playing backup. I was chopping but so were dobro and fiddle player. There we were, all three of us chopping. Not good. When I listen to the early stuff, 40's/50's stuff mainly, I don't hear a constant chop throughout. Instead I hear some pretty cool, creative things going on that contribute both to the melodic and rhythmic side of the music.

  3. #28
    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Firstly i hear the Mandolin player 'chopping' when i listen to a CD. I see a Mandolin player 'improvising' when watching a YouTube video clip. I was refering to 2 separate things,one purely audible & one visual & audible.
    I use quotation marks purely for 'emphasis'.I could of course use itallics or even bold lettering. It's just the way i do it. I also use bold lettering when i refer to another Cafe member by name,as a way of showing that i 've read their previous posts. It seems to be acceptable.
    Re. 'are you being sarcastic'. When i am being sarcastic,you won't need to ask,
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    Registered User Mike Bunting's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Quote Originally Posted by Ivan Kelsall View Post
    Firstly i hear the Mandolin player 'chopping' when i listen to a CD. I see a Mandolin player 'improvising' when watching a YouTube video clip. I was refering to 2 separate things,one purely audible & one visual & audible.
    I use quotation marks purely for 'emphasis'.I could of course use itallics or even bold lettering. It's just the way i do it. I also use bold lettering when i refer to another Cafe member by name,as a way of showing that i 've read their previous posts. It seems to be acceptable,
    Ivan
    I'm not sure what point you are making here regarding chopping and improvising.

    Bizarre. Check out the grammar for quotation usage, they tend to emphasize irony i.e. "I find his 'knowledge' of language use to be dubious." ITALICS (note spelling) serves your apparent purpose much better.
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Gentlemen -

    As unconventional as I am, I acknowledge the usefulness of certain conventions, such as punctuation and spelling. The overriding concern is meaning, and clarity affects it. I propose it is best to adhere to these conventions, so as to minimize misunderstanding, and hopefully maximize understanding. Understand?

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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    In the run-of-the-mill, normal bluegrass band you hear on the radio and see at festivals, the mandolinist uses these techniques on a given song:

    Chop
    Lines behind a vocal
    melodic counterpoint and/or harmony to another instrument
    And of course, a solo or 2.

    It's the mandolin canon within the bg style of music, as has come to be defined over the decades. Some do all that well, some not so much.

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    Registered User John Duncan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Quote Originally Posted by mandolirius View Post
    Bluegrass has become, imho, a little too chop-heavy over the past few decades....

    At one point during a recent gig I noticed no one was playing backup. I was chopping but so were dobro and fiddle player. There we were, all three of us chopping. Not good.

    I agree but maybe from a different point of view. In some of the professional groups I have seen the mandolin does a very weird third measure fourth beat slam thing that is absolutely awful (IMHO). A lot of this is confined to a very specific type of bluegrass which I don't like very much anyway.

    When everyone is chopping at a gig, mandolirius, that is not creative or fun to listen to as you say. But, as musicians, everyone has to use their ears. The principal role of the mando is a rhythm instrument, an absolutely key one, in the trio rhythm sound for me.

    But, that is pretty far afield from the original topic of back up at a jam. If everybody is going nuts at a jam and no one is chopping the OP will look pretty awesome for chopping.
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    Registered User mandobassman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Quote Originally Posted by mandolirius View Post
    A lot of the people I play with seem to think the chop always needs to be there and consider that more important than playing backup. At one point during a recent gig I noticed no one was playing backup. I was chopping but so were dobro and fiddle player. There we were, all three of us chopping. Not good.
    I totally agree with that. I have also seen situations where all back up instruments are chopping and, you're right, it isn't very creative. However, you mentioned "during a recent gig" and I'm assuming you are referring to a working band. That shouldn't happen and the band needs to work out backup arrangements so that not everyone is playing rhythm chops at the same time. But this thread is talking about backup at a jam, which is a different situation. In a jam, it is not arranged ahead of time and is most-often improvised on the fly. In that case, everyone chopping and allowing the vocals to be heard is much preferable to several instruments playing backup at the same time, especially if you have one or two instruments trying to play backup throughout a entire song.

    I also agree that Bluegrass has become too chop heavy. On many modern recordings I hear, even if it is just the mandolin chopping, it is done with such a heavy attack. But then, I hear that with most of the instruments. I seems that is the way to play nowadays. Everyone plays as hard as they can. I prefer a nice balance and some dynamics. When everyone plays that hard there is no room for dynamics.
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  9. #34
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    In a jam it's inevitable that there will be at least one person that can't hear themselves the same way they hear themselves when sitting at home playing alone so they bang the tar out of their instrument. This starts a chain reaction that makes the jam LOUD. At that point nice dynamics and delicacy goes out the window. And the banjer player just starts wagging his tail and lets it rip!
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    jbmando RIP HK Jim Broyles's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Regarding the chop: listen to the originals of a couple of Monroe classics, namely, "Can't You Hear Me Callin'?" and "Mighty Dark to Travel" and tell me where the chops are. Chops sound great but there are other things a mandolin can do at a jam. I still would not play "color subs" at a bluegrass jam.
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Broyles View Post
    Regarding the chop: listen to the originals of a couple of Monroe classics, namely, "Can't You Hear Me Callin'?" and "Mighty Dark to Travel" and tell me where the chops are. Chops sound great but there are other things a mandolin can do at a jam. I still would not play "color subs" at a bluegrass jam.
    That sums it up for me. "other things a mandolin can do at a jam", and "I would still not...". After following this thread through, it seems to me there are things that in the opinion of some are ok and some things not ok. With respect to everyone's "IMHO" we can agree that there are list of things that are long standing rules, such as what you find listed in jam training short lists. You won't find anything about color subs in there thoug (unless someone is deriving their own extended values). Then, for the things NOT on those list, what you have is someone deriving their own measurement for things that aren't in the list. Some are all agreeable, some are not. I think if we stick to "do no harm" then we have it licked. Of course the interpretation of that is open. I'm sure that each and everyone one of us, bar none, has done something to irritate someone else in a jam. Even those that are the most seeminglyt strict I feel certain could still irritate someone else, even now, based on the 'victims' opinion. I'm not sure debating those things is fruitful beyond "do no harm" and "use your best judgement".

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    Registered User Kagey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    At our local Jam sessions and when I "sit in" with groups I normally am "expected" to Chop, I have apparently some sort of "Power Chopper" Mandolin. Got a call about an hour ago from a local group wanting me to go with them to a gig Saturday night because their regular mandolin player is out, said " I know you haven't practiced with us but all we need you to do is play the chops!!! I must really suck playing breaks!!!!
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Quote Originally Posted by Kagey View Post
    At our local Jam sessions and when I "sit in" with groups I normally am "expected" to Chop, I have apparently some sort of "Power Chopper" Mandolin. Got a call about an hour ago from a local group wanting me to go with them to a gig Saturday night because their regular mandolin player is out, said " I know you haven't practiced with us but all we need you to do is play the chops!!! I must really suck playing breaks!!!!
    Naw, seriously doubt it. I could guess at a few reasons for them to say that and they probably have nothing to do with you my friend. If it were me, I couldn't have any fun doing that. I would not simply decline, I'd negotiate, put it to them to decide. I'd say "hey, I'd be happy to help, I'd need a break on most songs and I'll do my best to follow the melody". Give it a try, chances are in your favor in my experience. Don't be shy in telling them what would make it enjoyable for you too, like is far too short!

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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    I agree. You should be able to have some fun too, and part of that is getting to strut your stuff. I think I get their viewpoint - there isn't time to get together and practice on short notice, and someone filling in at a lower expectation level is better than possibly screwing up at a higher expectation level or just nothing - but I'll go out on a limb and say you can do more than just that. See if you can get a song list including keys and work on leads for the ones you know, let them know which ones those are, and go for it! Audience members will want to hear leads from every instrument, and not giving them that would be unsatisfying for them, above and beyond how you will feel. The other guys should understand this. Besides, that might just have been their way of saying there was no pressure on you, and didn't think you might actually want to step up to the plate.
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Adam Steffey says if the rhythm is good, "he'd never have to take a break again".



    If it were me, I'd take the gig bc I relish the opportunity to focus on the group timing, and my rhythm playing. But, I also like to make others look good in whatever groups I am in.
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    How ironic that a guy known for tasteful and awesome solos says he'd never take another break if the rhythm is good. I think he's being modest and trying to emphasis a point since he plays in bands were the rhythm is "good" and he still takes monster breaks.
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Bouldin View Post
    I'm sure that each and everyone one of us, bar none, has done something to irritate someone else in a jam.
    Yea, I brought a bowlback to a bluegrass jam.


    I'm not sure debating those things is fruitful beyond "do no harm" and "use your best judgement".


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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Watch and listen to Adam at 1:30 to 1:40 on the film clip, when he talks about playing rhythm, that he would rather "chop" and then gives an example.
    THAT chop is something special and not just what many players consider chopping or what they are able to do. A person can "chop" and add so much to the overall sound. It's something to work at.

    To Kagey- a band asked for your help?
    I think you should take that as a compliment!
    They recognize your impeccable timing, rhythm and chopping ability.
    That's the backbone of the band.

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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Yossi, Yes I was and am occaisionally asked to "Fill in" Had a good session last night, Played a lot of rythym and spent most of the night on chop chords at the request of the lead guitar player. He complimented my timing. I knew I wasn't going to be capable of doing a lot of breaks due to the fact I knew very little of the groups material, although I did do a Kickoff or 2 on tunes I knew. Considering I had never practiced with this group ,although I had played with the Lead guitar player on a few songs and Jam sessions I thought it went well and they seemed happy with how it went . Even asked me to try and come practice with them when I could. I just might
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Thank you for the replies. So, since I can play chop chords but that's all I have done at the jam, what should I shoot for next? I am a 25+ year lead guitar player (metal/thrash) so I am used to playing fast guitar leads but not melodic bluegrass leads. My theory knowledge is solid. I don't know where to go as a next step on mandolin. I seem to be able to play breaks to the radio but a spontaneous mandolin break at a jam.makes me more than a bit nervous.
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    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    One of the best basic approaches - and you are looking for a place to start - is to play the melody, as close to it as possible. Not the whole way through, but if you break up the verse pattern (usually what you'll be playing) into quarters, stick close for the first two bars, improvise for the next four, then bring it back to the melody for the last two to lead back to the vocal. If it's going to the bridge or chorus, lead it there by not resolving to the I. You don't have to follow this exactly, but keep it in mind, and things will (hopefully) flow that way. Listen to some recordings - this is exactly what even a lot of top players do. They just do it very well.

    This may sound obvious, but I think it's often overlooked. So many pickers, especially ones trying to prove something, just jump right in with flashy stuff. That's showboating, and people who have been around a while know it right off. But if you keep in the groove, work it a bit, then bring it back, you will show you are more in tune with the rest of the group and are a team player, which is always appreciated by the other players. Even as you gain confidence and expand your skills, this approach is something you can always return to, and will be a real help if you find yourself playing a tune you don't know that well.
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Yeah, if you're trying to get yourself over the hump to be confident in taking a break at a jam, the melody is a pretty solid place to start. For me the melody is my "safe" place. It's what sounds good to my ears in bluegrass. You can get plenty of mileage out of just staying close to the melody, especially if you don't take a lot of breaks.

    If you're inspired to leave the melody, it doesn't have to be a radical departure . . . a little idea often works out better than a big complicated one. Just probe a little at a time, and try not to worry too much about crashing and burning because that happens to everybody.
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Quote Originally Posted by yoshka View Post
    Watch and listen to Adam at 1:30 to 1:40 on the film clip, when he talks about playing rhythm, that he would rather "chop" and then gives an example.
    THAT chop is something special and not just what many players consider chopping or what they are able to do. A person can "chop" and add so much to the overall sound. It's something to work at.

    To Kagey- a band asked for your help?
    I think you should take that as a compliment!
    They recognize your impeccable timing, rhythm and chopping ability.
    That's the backbone of the band.

    Yossi
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    Registered User mingusb1's Avatar
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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    Some very good advice here already.

    After the chop learning melodies is the place to go next, as others have said. One thing I'd say is start by learning the chorus vocal melody (on mandolin). I think it is safe to say that developing this skill will offer a lifetime of challenges for me! When you've got your chorus melody worked-up another useful thing is to take only the first and last lines and put them together. This is effectively half as long as the entire chorus and is commonly used as an intro to a song, and what we call a "turn around" break (or solo), at least in classic bluegrass. Pretty common in Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and Stanley's music, for example. Once you hear these turn around breaks a few times you may find yourself preferring them to full-length breaks. I know I do. Those or "split breaks" with another instrument.

    Good luck!

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    Default Re: Backup at a Bluegrass Jam

    The fundamental chop is the basic statement the backbeat drive that the mandolin specializes in. It's not the only way, you have to listen to the music and see what it needs. Try listening to more modern bluegrass bands in headphones (which I find makes it easier to separate out the individual parts). You will hear quite a bit of rhythmic invention right on top of the backbeat pulse. Just like you release the pressure on the strings to get that chop sound you can pulse in and out so you get tone on the chop and snare like sound in between. Don't forget a soc rhythm for songs that want to swing.

    A jam is not a performance, it's a mutual experience. I don't recommend walking on the other players but I don't see anything wrong with working your way through the tune - quietly. (unlike fiddles which seem to have no volume control)

    Speaking of fiddles, listen to them too. How they fill between vocal phrases and how they lay in a note underlaying the words. If there is no fiddler, a mandolin can do that type of thing. You'll have to absorb the song structure and you'll need a good tremelo. This is an excellent trick to have up your sleeve in a mando heavy, fiddle shy jam.

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