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Thread: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

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    Default Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    Im just curious, is mandolin played a lot differently than guitar?

    I realize the tuning is different...but in general is it hard to pick up a mandolin for the first time and start playing, if your used to playing guitar? Or is it not too much of a learning curve?

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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    Mike, I played guitar for 10 years before picking up a mandolin and fiddle. I've been playing for a few years now and I'm a much better mandolin/ fiddle player than I ever was guitar player. The fret board just makes more sense to me than a guitar. The mandolin and fiddle are tuned in fifths, which for me, makes playing melody parts easier. Like guitar the mandolin has movable chord shapes, although for me some of the bluegrass chord shapes are still a bit of a stretch. The finger positions are different than guitar but that didn't take long to get over. All in all, I wish I had started with mandolin but having played guitar helps me follow along with guitar players when playing together. Learning a new instrument can never be a bad thing, unless of course if it's the bag pipes.

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    Registered User norm351's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    Mike I won't say that you will find Mandolin easier than guitar,but I will say that I don't think you will have any problems when you get use to the mandolin, the neck of course is different, and the chords are also,but the chord positions work the same on the mandolin, for example...you learn G slide down two frets, you got A, two more B, and so forth, same with C learn that, then down two,and D,two more E...so you should have no problem...good luck and have fun, I'm 61, and been playing mandolin since I was 10, and guitar since I was 8, and I still love to learn new things..so have fun with it...Norm.

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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    What type of guitar? When you add two string courses and 10-inches and more of scale length, the capacity of the instrumemt becomes considerably more vast.

    Strumming chords, basic "folk" guitar, rudimentary Travis-type picking, blues, etc...one "concept" of guitar. But the instrument is highly versatile and speaks in many languages.

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    Registered User Perry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike7300 View Post
    Im just curious, is mandolin played a lot differently than guitar?

    I realize the tuning is different...but in general is it hard to pick up a mandolin for the first time and start playing, if your used to playing guitar? Or is it not too much of a learning curve?
    No not too much of a learning curve....dig in more with your right hand though so you strike both stings in the pair.

    Just look up some mandolin chords and strum away.

    Learning mandolin (specifically flat picking fiddle tunes) has helped my right hand as well as my timing and this translates back to guitar.

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    Highly Lonesome Marty Henrickson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    My guitar rarely speaks at all. Sometimes I can coax it to sing a bit, but usually only when I'm alone.

    To the OP: beware the MAS!
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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    My perpetual gripe is that too many beginner-level books overlook the experience & mindset of guitarists (probably about 80% of all new mandolin players), suckering them into errors that the author(s) should have foreseen.

    The differences that converting guitarists easily miss:

    1 - One fret per finger on guitar vs. two frets per finger on mandolin. "1st position" on mandolin means that the index finger plays frets 1 & 2, middle finger frets 3 & 4, ring finger frets 5 & 6, pinky fret 7 & up. Yep, it works best that way!

    2 - Angle of hand & wrist: Guitarist tend to reach across the fretboard, while mandolinists tend to extend & retract along the length of the fretboard; hand position is more angled, like a fiddlers. In reality, experienced guitarists and mandolinists change hand/wrist position as needed, but many have struggled needlessly at the beginning stage.

    These would be SO easy for authors to state up front, yet so many newbies (we all were at some time) have struggled needlessly for a while.
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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    Quote Originally Posted by EdHanrahan View Post
    My perpetual gripe is that too many beginner-level books overlook the experience & mindset of guitarists (probably about 80% of all new mandolin players), suckering them into errors that the author(s) should have foreseen.

    The differences that converting guitarists easily miss:

    1 - One fret per finger on guitar vs. two frets per finger on mandolin. "1st position" on mandolin means that the index finger plays frets 1 & 2, middle finger frets 3 & 4, ring finger frets 5 & 6, pinky fret 7 & up. Yep, it works best that way!

    2 - Angle of hand & wrist: Guitarist tend to reach across the fretboard, while mandolinists tend to extend & retract along the length of the fretboard; hand position is more angled, like a fiddlers. In reality, experienced guitarists and mandolinists change hand/wrist position as needed, but many have struggled needlessly at the beginning stage.

    These would be SO easy for authors to state up front, yet so many newbies (we all were at some time) have struggled needlessly for a while.

    Ed is spot on IMHO. Simon Mayer's mandolin tutor deals with these things right off the bat.
    Steve

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    Registered User Adam Sweet's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    No it's definitely not hard! For example, you use all 4 fingers of your left hand for scales, instead of skipping fingers like you do on the guitar. That makes playing scales pretty easy IMHO. Also, because your fingers are closer together, it's easier to play melodies, to improvise, etc
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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    Welcome to the Cafe Mike.
    Given the popularity of the guitar most of us were familiar with them before playing our first mandolin. My suggestion is to either get an instructor/training CD, etc. to help you get started right from the beginning. The biggest thing for me was that with guitars one tends to hold the left hand perpendicular to the neck often with the thumb behind the neck. Playing a mandolin like this is not only more difficult it often causes cramping in your fretting hand. The correct way keeps the fingers moving in a more diagonal direction with the fleshy area between the thumb and forefinger supporting the neck. This is the only difference that can cause physical hand damage and related problems later. Everything else is just a matter of how you want to sound and the style and technique required to produce it.

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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    I found my guitar playing technique caused me problems while using proper right hand technique on the mandolin, meaning keeping a loose wrist, and holding the pick properly. I have had many pro players ask me if I played guitar, because they could see it in the way I played my mandolin, the advice is always loosen that wrist, It feels like trying to learn something all over again because of my years of playing on that guitar.
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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    Playing lead lines on guitar, I've always had a heavy right hand vibrato. On mandolin that results in my notes sounding pinched and weak. I have to concentrate on stopping notes plainly with my left hand, and turning over the "expression role" to my right hand tremolo.

    Playing rhythm guitar, I work to emphasize the ROOT on the ONE. On mandolin, I try to play more extended harmonies, through-lines, fills, "color".

    I've always found the one-finger-per-fret rule of guitar playing to be a limitation, but then I have a long reach.

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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    This is a good question and I am currently dealing with this changeover. I flatpick guitar, for about 15 years now, and my right hand does mostly downstrokes, with some upstrokes depending on the lick/song. And that is with alot of energy, driven from my elbow. When I took up mando about 5 monthes ago now, my right hand technique HAD to be altered to do a constant down/up motion without stopping. As mentioned by others, try to strengthen your wrist muscles, and try to use the wrist joint instead of the elbow. I still use both, but for chopping, I use my wrist now, especially if I am doing a syncopated chop, like a chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga kind of backup rhythm. When I take a slow lead break, with tremolo, I try to use my wrist...it is a very conscious effort for me right now...if I see my elbow moving too much, I try to "download" that motion to my wrist, but I don't have the muscle control in my wrist yet for faster tunes and my elbow takes over. I have watched Sam Bush and he seems to be mostly elbow on fast tunes so I know it can be done both ways. It just seems better to use the wrist more though. Playing guitar helped my left hand manueverings for chords, fretting etc. And the mando work has altered my guitar playing. When I play guitar I play rhythm thru my wrist and lead breaks are now all screwed up because my right hand wants to keep going down/up when on guitar it was hammer-ons, slides, downstrokes. I'm not yet re-working my guitar breaks, but mando has changed everything in my world!

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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    I played guitar for about 40 years before I took up the mandolin. I've made more progress in 5 years on mandolin than in 40 years on guitar. It's just a more intutive instrument for me. I was worried about the small neck but now a guitar FB seems gigantic.

    If the Beatles had played mandolins I would have started much earlier
    Chronic MAS

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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Ostrander View Post
    I played guitar for about 40 years before I took up the mandolin. I've made more progress in 5 years on mandolin than in 40 years on guitar. It's just a more intutive instrument for me. I was worried about the small neck but now a guitar FB seems gigantic.

    If the Beatles had played mandolins I would have started much earlier
    +1 on what Steve says. You can hang on a note with a tremolo, which is not usually done on guitar. With guitar you've got to keep on moving to a different note or string, unlike mando where you can just stay on that string and do the down/up. Mando is much more intuitive for me also, I can hear a melody line in my head and play it on the mando alot easier than on the guitar.

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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    Most important: After you have the mechanical stuff down, violin type finger angle to the fretboard, thumb off the center of the neck, two frets per finger, different chords, etc., there is a psychological orientation that is important.

    It is very easy to go from guitar to playing mandolin in a guitar like fashion. I call it, playing guitar on a mandolin. Someone who played guitar as predominantly first position chords for rhythmic accompaniment to singing will find that it is very easy to fall into the same style on the mandolin. But, to my ears, it does not sound very mandolinny. The guitar sounds great (in many cases amazing, as in an all mahogany Martin ooo-15), when played this way, the mandolin sounds like a small dog yapping (IMO) played that way.

    As soon as possible, go for all those things that a mandolin excells at - melody, tremolo, double stop harmony, counter melody, chop chords, slides, parallel passages, etc, all that mandolinny stuff.
    As much as I post, I pick a whole lot more. Just sayin'

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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    Going along with what JeffD just mentioned, here is a link to a recent thread with some suggestions for playing more like a mandolinist than simply a guitarist messing around with a mandolin.
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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    I've been playing guitar for about 20 years and have just recently taken up the mandolin. I'm becoming completely obsessed with it, so this thread is timely for me. I've always loved the tone of a mandolin but have just never gotten serious about sitting down and trying to learn to play one.

    I agree about the mandolin tuning just making more sense than the guitar. It seems overly obvious, but the size difference is the biggest difficulty for me. I'm finding that my left hand needs to become (a lot) more accurate, but my right hand isn't working quite as hard since I'm covering a smaller area.

    I'm already plotting the sale of at least one guitar so I can get a better mandolin. Exciting times!

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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    I find the techniques very different, especially when it comes to fretting hand positioning, and strumming hand 'attack'.

    I also wholeheartedly agree that tuning in fifths is much more intuitive, and makes it much easier to unlock the music one has inside.

    However, I've recently gone back to guitar primarily, but this time on the smaller, four-string, GDAE tuned tenor guitar. I love it. I find the combination of the familiar, much-loved, feel, range, and tone of the guitar combined with the GDAE (octave mandolin) tuning in fifths to be a wonderful combination for me.

    Now that I've gone back to the guitar (and go back-and-forth between tenor guitar and mandolin) I am more aware of how different the techniques are.

    Finally, I think Jeff's point about psychological orientation is a good one. One should avoid 'playing the guitar on the mandolin' (and vice versa). When it comes right down to it, I believe to a great extent this is what I've been trying to do over the past couple years since I took up the mandolin, and it has caused me considerable frustration.

    Much better to play the guitar like a guitar and the mandolin like a mandolin.
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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Goist View Post
    Much better to play the guitar like a guitar and the mandolin like a mandolin.
    Yes yes yes yes and yes.

    And that vice versa is important. If I pick up a guitar and played a single note melody with tremolo on the long notes, it may sound nice, but nobody would call me a guitar player.

    When I hear a long series of loud first position strum through chords on a mandolin, coming from a well known guitarista, I get irked when the artist is thereby called a multi-instrumentalist. It might sound good, it might fit perfectly and be very exciting, might even be great music, but its not mandolin playing.


    There is a parallel set of issues when a fiddler picks up a mandolin, and proceeds to "play fiddle on the mandolin" I get just as irked.
    As much as I post, I pick a whole lot more. Just sayin'

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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    My picking buddy plays an Irish Zouk [long neck Octave mandolin]
    as accompaniment for his singing, as many use a guitar for.. chords.
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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    Quote Originally Posted by mandroid View Post
    My picking buddy plays an Irish Zouk [long neck Octave mandolin]
    as accompaniment for his singing, as many use a guitar for.. chords.
    As scale length grows--as well as fingerboard width for that matter--"mandolin" technique can start merging more with "guitar"... although my cittern/bouzouki playing technique much more resembles tenor banjo than it does guitar--except for harmonic concept: I use more extended harmony with TB and guitar, and more mandolin concept on larger "mandolins"/CBOMs -- different repertoire

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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    The OP doesn't give any info (playing level, genres, electric or acoustic) regarding either instrument, so the question is devoid of context.

    What I can agree with amongst the comments about mandolin is use of diatonic (fiddle/violin) fingering (one finger per scale note) and the way the left hand holds the neck fiddle-like.

    The ...."play the guitar like a guitar and the mandolin like a mandolin" viewpont is hogwash (imho).

    Do you think any of these players were really "playing mandolin like a mandolin" ? (If so.... why didn't they sound like all the other "mandolin" players of the time? Hmm?)

    Johnny Young
    Yank Rachell
    John Paul Jones
    Martin Carthy
    Ian Anderson*
    Richard Thompson
    Johnny Gimble
    Andy Irvine
    Steve Earle
    Ry Cooder

    *The classical flute crowd are usally very disdainful about IA, even to this day. On that early Tull stuff, he was playing electric blues guitar riffs and blues harmonic stuff, as best he could on flute, cause that's what he already knew. But they hate that sound. Personally I can only take that prissy classical tone for 15 minutes at a time at most.

    You could even ask the same regarding Bill Monroe too.....keeping in mind of what the "normal" mandolin playing was at the time. So was Bill playing a mandolin like a "mandolin"?

    NH

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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    The OP doesn't give any info (playing level, genres, electric or acoustic) regarding either instrument, so the question is devoid of context.
    I was thinking the OP is a fingerstyle player (where the guitar really shines)

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    Highly Lonesome Marty Henrickson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar vs Mandolin technique?

    Just because a musician employs characteristic elements of playing an instrument, doesn't mean one cannot innovate, or has to sound like everyone else that plays that instrument. It is my humble opinion (which is worth exactly nothing, but it's mine) that a beginner at any instrument should at least make an effort to learn some of the techniques that past experts on that instrument have utilized. I think that is in line with the OP's question.
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