To many different levels to compare. As was stated earlier, the chance to play classical mandolin professionally is rather slim, while playing bluegrass is much greater. I think the violin and mandolin are different beasts, and I'm a nut about classical training on violin for fiddlers. That bar is set way high now, and most of the fiddlers from the 30's through the 70's wouldn't stand a chance anymore. Mandolin is different for all but a few, so no, I don't think classical training is necessary. That said, any training in classical or jazz will make you a better player, so if one is motivated to be the best they can be, you pretty much have to go for it.
And as far as what Greg said about competition, as much as we'd like to pretend it shouldn't be a part of music, if you're a pro, trying to get gigs, it is. In jazz, the phrase always thrown about was "Stan gets all the gigs" referring to Stan Getz. And, if you're trying to put food on the table, you want all the gigs. And that means you have to be better, which by nature, is the essence of competition. Sucks, but that's the way it goes. So, to completely refute what I said earlier, if classical training helps technique to the point it makes you that much better, and you get the gigs, well, dust off the Bach and get cracking.
You can never learn too much. A serious player learns everything s/he can to ensure the absolute best playing. As for formal training, it never hurt anyone who was really serious about it. Though you might take a while to find the right teacher, the search is worth it.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with playing just for fun. And ocassionally, playing for fun teaches you far more about the instrument than exercises...
Last edited by David Lewis; Jul-23-2012 at 5:23pm.
Several thoughts in no order of coherence...
Mando.player, I have looked at that 3-note chord book with the same thoughts as you. Then I consider the difference in tuning between guitar and mandolin, and wonder how well it would translate. It seems like it will be more useful to apply his reasoning, than his voicings. I will be interested to hear what your experience is.
I also notice in jazz guitar that few people say that you need good classical training. They may say you need to sight read, but not that you need to learn classical technique. I suppose that has to do with the nylon stringed instrument being so different from the typical jazz box.
It seems that vtechniquehnique is more uniform across genres, or perhaps that classical training teaches you to get any sound you might want.
I hear some of the "do-it-all" mandolinists playing classical music on their F styles, and they sound great, but often quite different than strictly classical players. All musicians are going to sound different, of course, but Butch Baldisari playing classical sounds quite different from MarilynMarilynn Mair playing classical. Not just because of their instruments, but because of their picking style.
So, I don't know if learning "classical technique" would improve the non-classical players who play classical.
I agree with a lot of everything said here. For the record, I'm a lifelong learner and a teacher but not a music teacher. I taught children's gymnastics tumbling, cheerleading building and Aikido. All of these are potentially dangerous pursuits when done correctly and guaranteed dangerous when done incorrectly. The one of the keys to safely learning these things is proper technique.
Many times I saw kids struggle so hard to get their techniques down when performing back hand springs and higher intermediate skills. What did I do? I took them aside and asked them to show me a cartwheel. Then I corrected their technique and re-enforced it through repitition and when they had the correction down I took them back to back handsprings, back flips, lay outs, whatever. But it all connected to basic technique learned on day 1. Attention to detail is crucial. The kids usually showed immediate improvement and gradually became more fluid and advanced.
Then some kid who was self taught would come in and flip all over the place with natural ability but no technique. These "backyard" tumblers were dangerous but you had to admire their spirit. When we taught them proper technique they shot to the head of the class. They came in already able but proper training made them better.
I see music as a physical/mental skill set just like those others except the mental areas used are manipulating the fingers and relating it to the ears and brain. And, yes, I know it's competitive. I get caught in that trap less and less but it still happens. People pick the best picker for gigs. Hell, even when another mando player sits down I wonder what he's got.
But, happy to say, it usually goes away as soon as we start jamming. I love jamming with another mando that speaks my language. But when they're competitive it plain sucks. Miserable experience with no call and response.
Everything has its place, I guess.
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I hesitate jumping into the mix...because I am 'one of those' players that can read anything you put in front of me, but hesitates when improvising. It's certainly not because I don't have an ear, or don't know how to improvise...I chalk it up to over thirty years of reading music with an emphasis on perfection and being scared to death to make a mistake when I get off the page. Does that mean I (and other classically trained musicians) don't have an ear? Trust me...we have highly refined ears, it's just we've learned a different way.
I guess it all depends on what learning 'classical' means. And this has been touched upon in this thread already.
1. Learning 'classical mandolin' is more than just playing classical music on mandolin. It's an entirely different style of playing and technique. Do I think it's necessary to study classical mandolin to become a 'well-rounded' mandolinist? Not really (dodging bullets).
2. Learning through 'classical technique' is different. Generically it means a solid foundation on posture and technique...then applying those concepts to your playing. It's learning to walk before you run. It's similar to Greg's post about gymnastics. I've seen many students that could play pieces a couple levels above them, but they were a sloppy mess...their technique wasn't to that level yet...teach the technique first, so you don't have to go back and relearn everything you did wrong. This doesn't have to be boring...it all depends on the teacher.
3. Playing classical music. It certainly helps if you can read musical notation. Can you play classical music without proper technique? Absolutely...unless you plan on getting a bunch of classical gigs. Classical music repertoire has a lot to offer you musically (as all styles do) and it's good to get a few pieces under your belt and in your ear.
Well said, KristinEliza.
Greg_tsam, "cheerleading building" does sound dangerous. Something about power tools and short skirts just doesn't mix.
Kristin, do you know of any self-taught classical players with great "classical technique"? What do classical players think of classical renditions by the "super pickers" from outside of the classical tradition?
Imagine: How Creativity Works has an interesting section on musical improvisation. Researchers did MRIs on the brains of musicians in the act of improvising and found that when they started to improvise, they shut down the part of the brain that inhibits.
(There is a good critique of the book here on some problems with Jonah Leherer's argumentation on this matter.)
As for the 'super pickers', I can only voice MY opinion as a classical player. I certainly appreciate anyone's performance of classical music...but I enjoy those who have taken the time to learn the MUSIC, not just the NOTES. There are a lot of considerations that go into learning / playing classical music that aren't on the page. Music from different time periods (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, etc.) have different stylistic considerations.
And it also depends on my expectations as a listener. I went to a PB concert a year ago and Thile played a Bach Partita as an encore. Would I have had different expectations as a listener if he had performed it in a 'Classical' setting...probably...but did I enjoy/appreciate it any less in the setting in which I heard it...no.
On the MM and CL duet CD...the first few times I heard the C Major Sonata I was put off by the strange phrasing choices. But the more I listened to it, the more I enjoyed it and 'got' it based one MM's addition on the the bass line which changed it all up.
I guess...with ANY style of music...I am more impressed with a performance that is musical. Although I do occasionally enjoy some flashy, mind-blowing technique, just playing something fast doesn't make it spectacular.
Should a serious mandolin palyer learn classical? Only if your serious about and want to play classical.
How do you define "serious"? I mean, I'm a serious hobbyist, but I'm only ever going to be a hobbyist. I took this up in my thirties. I have a job and a life outside playing mandolin. I like playing (or trying to play) bluegrass, so that's what I do. I think over-obsessing about how to learn can take away from enjoying playing, as well as hinder learning itself. Especially for folks who take up an instrument as a hobby later in life, one of the first things they should do is adjust their expectations. Odds are highly likely you will NEVER be as good as Thile or Marshall, so just accept it. Even for someone who takes it up young, the odds are you are not going to be a professional mandolin player because the job market for professional mandolin players is really, really, really, really small. Then again, if you're independently wealthy. Like Duff said, there's hundreds of dollars to be made in the bluegrass business.
I guess if you're starting a kid off really young, then maybe teach him some classical, but if he wants to play something else, let him do that instead. What happens if you force a kid to play something on an instrument that he doesn't like? Usually it means he loses interest in the instrument.
Jazz guitar and classical are quite different. I don't know why you'd want to learn classical guitar if what you really wanted to do was play jazz. If you want to learn to play jazz, then just play jazz.
I suppose the people who are counseling my son are saying something like--if you want a shot at going professional in any genre, develop good classical technique and reading skills.
So trying to go pro, or develop pro level skills, is serious.
I don't care for the expression "over-obsessing" in this context. (Is there a correct amount of obsessing?) "Over-obsessing" and "over-thinking" tend to get slapped on any discussion that does not particularly interest the person applying them. I doubt anyone here is seriously at risk of thinking too much. If someone is obsessing so much about how to learn that they cannot learn, they will likely give up the instrument and not participate in these discussions.
Over-TV-watching, on the other hand...
<<I like the skin on that cat just fine (not so sure about the tongue). >>
Tongue? (Maine Coon)
I think that the partnership of (Cat)erina Lichtenberg and Mike Marshall is a potent one.......making each of them better musicians, as they each push their personal envelopes in new directions.
Obsession with funny internet cat pictures has been the downfall of many a serious musician.
Jon, you're likely aware of Mark O'c's site--this came up today on another thread...seems like it could be relevant to you
I haven't read through it yet, but caught this item--maybe Mark elaborates more and you might find it useful
I believe that the “technique-oriented” (left-brain) musical training so prevalent in recent string methods is responsible in large part for the paucity of string playing composers, arrangers, improvisers and band/ensemble leaders in the United States
"By contrast, the classical instructor I had for a while claims that a lot of the famous players today, including some big names that have been mentioned in this thread, do not follow classical pedagogy. Keep in mind this guy started as a hard-core classical player with a classically trained instructor and he has over 50 years experience in the genre. According to him, things like posture, pick choice, the holding of the instrument, the position of the hands and the attack of the pick on the strings, that these celebs are teaching today are major departures from classical pedagogy, going well beyond mere "personal preference." So I asked the obvious question, "Then, how did they get to be so good?"
He said, "That's not the question. The question is how much better could they have been if they had been doing it right all these years!?""
The problem with this observation by Mr. Flynn's instructor -- whom, if I am guessing the identity correctly, is a fine player and well known teacher -- is that there is nothing whatsoever like a standard orthodoxy for "classical mandolin". Someone who follows the modern Italian approach to the instrument -- a student of Carlo Aonzo's say -- will hold the mandolin and pick very differently from someone who is a student of modern German methods (Marga Wilden-Husgen, to be specific). Someone who is a student of Alex Timmerman's in the Netherlands (or Ralf Laneen's in Belgium) will strongly prefer the use of the very long pick advocated nearly a century ago by Silvio Ranieri. Then there are the modern Israeli players, such as Avi Avital, whose left and right hand technique bears very little resemblance to any of the above. Which of these is "right"? Each style has advocates who play at exceptional levels. If I had to make an argument, I would probably favor, on empirical grounds, the Germans, because they have produced a steady stream of extremely strong players (of whom those that are know in the US, such as Caterina, are the tip of a very large iceberg) but German educational methods are quite successful at replication no matter what is being taught, so that is not an especially persuasive argument.
I suppose one could argue that the "famous players" alluded to above would be "better" if they followed any of the above approaches to classical mandolin, but I myself do not find the counterfactual at all persuasive. Classical mandolin methods are mostly designed to teach people to play the literature of the classical mandolin. This is not something that, say, Chris Thile, is interested in doing -- that said, I am confident that if he wanted to play, say, the Calace Preludes, he could do it easily (as Mike Marshall can, and has). In terms of overall musical abilities and impact very broadly defined, I would personally say that Thile is superior to all of the above, and I say this as someone who plays strictly classical mandolin. In other words, I don't think he would be any better at what he does if he began at age 5 by studying "classical mandolin" instead of how he actually began and, God forbid, he might never have developed his other skills if he did.
With regard to the original question, I would say that standards have risen in American mandolin circles that make a strong musical background -- reading, theory, ensemble skills, etc. -- extremely valuable if not essential, but this has nothing per se to do with classical mandolin methods. I would say, as I have at other times on the 'cafe, that American mandolin circles have a narrow view of right hand technique (basically, DUDUDU ....) and the much more expansive right hand skills taught, say, by the Germans (or Italians or the Dutch) would be a valuable addition to anyone's skillset, even if they never play Vilvaldi or Calace.
Robert A. Margo
I feel like since there's so many classical pieces (especially music writtem for solo violin, Bach's partitas come to mind) that many consider to be some of the most beautiful pieces writtem in hundreds of years, regardless of which genre you're particular to.
Since that is the case studying classical music should come from the want to study it, as opposed to the fear that its necessary.
Only have your son study classical if he's emotionally invested in learning it because, I don't mean to sound sappy but thats where real music comes from.
That being said it can be INCREDIBLY rewarding to be able to play your favorite classical piece/pieces. It just makes you feel... cultured.
If your son is a young mandolinist (much like myself) then he probably likes Chris Thile, and Thile does some awesome renditions of some of Bach's pieces for solo violin. Have him youtube those and it might spur his love for classical mandolin!
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"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."
As just one example, I've encountered too many fiddlers from a classical background who just couldn't wrap their heads around Irish traditional music. There are great fiddlers who do have a classical background and play terrific Irish trad, but there are also scads of fiddlers like the one in this video clip below, who think they're playing "Irish" because they're playing the notes, and ignoring the heart of rhythm and ornamentation in the music:
Twenty years of further classical instruction won't fix the problems that poor lady is having. A steady diet of listening to great Irish fiddlers, and maybe some instruction from actual Irish trad players, might help. The same would apply to many other folk genres like Gypsy jazz, Blues, you name it. A classical background is great for classical music, and some people can transcend it and play in other genres. But I've seen many classicaly-educated players who just can't make that leap.
Contrast that clip with this one, of three kids from this summer's Willy Clancy Week playing a couple of reels:
Now, they may have classical teachers (also), for all I know, but there's a feel in that playing that you won't learn from a classical teacher who isn't familiar with the tradition. I've met young kids with an equivalent feel for OldTime fiddling, and they didn't get it from a classical violin teacher.
And the same would apply to mandolin, I think. To avoid too much classical straight-jacketing (assuming that's not the only focus one has), then I think it's a good idea to encourage kids to learn by ear as much as possible, along with whatever other classical-based instruction they're getting. Learning music by ear is the gateway to these other styles of music (including improv!), and its a skill that many purely classical-trained players simply never learn.
I don't think anyone is saying to learn other genres by learning only classical violin, just that it is a very important foundation. In the violin world it seems to be "do classical and...", among teachers in most styles. There are plenty of exceptions, of course.
My son is just one person, but what I have seen is that he listens to and plays a lot of Celtic, Scandanavian Traditional, and jazz, but has definitely come to appreciate the control that he has gained from classical training, and would not consider quiting it, though the repertoire is not his favorite. This has become more pronounced as he has matured, and better connects long-term goals with short-term sacrifices.
Now, about the Marc O'Connor Method...
I think he sets up a false dichotomy of "European" vs. "American". Seriously, are students going to benefit from leaving out Bach? I get the benefits of the American musical tradition, but it's not either/or. He is a good marketer though, as this dichotomy sets his materials apart.
String teachers will continue to pull from this and that.
Isn't that really the essence of a performer. To hide how hard you have worked on things and how much you have depended on instructors and to look like you just play. To look and sound like music just comes out of you. So much so that your fans try to get as good as you by emulation, and hoping that the music will "just come out" of them too.
I remember an interview with one of the greatest scat singers, Mel Torme. Someone from the audience asked him how one prepares oneself to be a scat singer. And his reply rocked my world. He said first learn to sing all the scales, in every key, and then learn to sing accurately all the intervals between every note and every other note, so that you can reproduce the interval on demand. Combine that with a good grounding in music theory and composition.
All that work to sound spontaneous!
I wish I had said that.
You bring up an important distinction. In terms of our present discussion, I think its important to distinguish between learning classical technique and learning classical music. They overlap sure, but they are not the same. A mandolinner with serious bluegrass aspirations can surely benefit from learning some classical technique, but not so much, perhaps, from learning classical music.