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View Full Version : Playing "loose" to play faster? Gold Rush example. Advice?



9lbShellhamer
May-23-2016, 9:28am
OK... so I'm going to throw this out there and hope I don't get assaulted. My band played a gorgeous festival yesterday at the Buy Local Louisville fair. It went really well for the most part, as we showed definite progress. We've been playing about 1 year together. I've been playing about 3 years now. Here's my question:

When I try to play "fast" I HAVE to be loose. When I play "loose" I hit adjacent strings but more importantly, I hit my notes. "It ain't clean but it's right." When I try to play clean, tight, and precise on a "fast" tune, I end up missing notes and get super staccato and choppy, but if I loosen up, I don't miss my notes, but I hit adjacent strings too since I'm "loose".

Is it OK to play looser for now until I develop some more accuracy with speed? It's a little more "Monroe" and less "Thile" I guess you could say, at an INCREDIBLY juvenile level. ;)

I've attached a video below of the gig from yesterday. This was my worst tune of the day that I need to improve on. It is Gold Rush.

My third break was the best I think because I loosened up and stopped worrying about being clean and focused on hitting all my notes even it's loud and dirty. I said Go For It Troy, play loose and nail it. I hit my notes, and I think it sounded "better" but it was definitely dirtier and I hit adjacent strings too.

I hope the video link below works...

The second break is at 1:50 and the third break is at 3:20.

Thanks for the advice.

https://www.facebook.com/barbara.shellhamer/videos/10155062584098306/


I don't think this link works and I can't talk my mother through sending me the file in a different format so nevermind. Hahahahaha Oh well. I suppose this question is kind of pointless anyways... just keep working and progressing.

This is the kind of post that makes me really wish I could delete posts I start. :redface:

Skip Kelley
May-23-2016, 11:48am
Troy, One good exercise to play cleaner and faster is to play slow using a wide sweep of the right hand. Play each note very deliberately, concentrating on the down/up pick strokes being correct. The movement is very exaggerated and will tighten up as you increase your speed. Make sure you use a metronome. This should help.

9lbShellhamer
May-23-2016, 2:49pm
Thanks skip. This is what I was looking for...drills, ergonomic tips, and the like. I've been reading a lot and experimenting with not moving so much from the elbow and trying to get a looser wrist, (in which most movement originates at the wrist as opposed to the elbow.)

pops1
May-23-2016, 8:31pm
Some players, Thile included, hold the pick with a lot of pick sticking out and play with a very loose looking movement. I am not Chris nor will I ever be, but I play with a grip on the pick very close to the picking edge and my pick going between the different strings doesn't move away from the strings more than 1/8" or maybe at times 1/4", but usually I am not as far as either measurement. I mostly use my wrist and have been playing this way for a few decades. A good friend of mine and a very good mandolin player who took lessons from Jethro said while watching me play, "nice wrist". I never thought of it before that, but don't use my arm much, with a close grip of the pick I have plenty of power and no pick movement flapping back and forth. I do like the rounded part of the picks and only on occasion play with the pointy part. Most will say this is wrong, but I can play fast and clean with power or subtlety.

Don Grieser
May-23-2016, 8:58pm
How loose is the pick in your grip? Can you tremolo on a single string and then move it to another string with no pause? Playing fast, at its most basic level, is tremolo with your right hand. In tremolo, you start an up stroke as soon as your pick gets through the string on the down stroke. It's usually not a wide stroke. If you can do that without playing tight, you can play single string runs. Not sounding staccato is a function of giving the note the full value of time with the left hand before moving to the next note and keeping the left hand fingers very close to the strings.

JeffD
May-23-2016, 9:15pm
Playing fast, at its most basic level, is tremolo with your right hand..

Yes. When I finally "got" this, my playing took off.

9lbShellhamer
May-24-2016, 10:08am
How loose is the pick in your grip? Can you tremolo on a single string and then move it to another string with no pause? Playing fast, at its most basic level, is tremolo with your right hand. In tremolo, you start an up stroke as soon as your pick gets through the string on the down stroke. It's usually not a wide stroke. If you can do that without playing tight, you can play single string runs. Not sounding staccato is a function of giving the note the full value of time with the left hand before moving to the next note and keeping the left hand fingers very close to the strings.

Don, thanks. Yes, I can tremolo on multiple strings and on single strings, and do it pretty regularly on songs like Lonesome Moonlight Waltz, Ashokan Farewell, Etc. It's not perfect, but it's getting better every month...

I constantly remind myself to maintain loose pick grip, but it's a constant "work in progress" so to speak, I catch myself tightening up, and then loosen up and it sounds better. This has been getting a LOT better lately, as the pick always feels like it's right on the verge of falling out, but it doesnt... I also do the same with wrist and forearm tension... constantly remind myself and it sounds better for a few minutes, until I repeat and remind myself to loosen. :)

I see good progress.. I think i was just venting, but this is all great discussion material and I will work on all these suggestions!

9lbShellhamer
May-24-2016, 10:17am
Well...couldn't get Gold Rush up which is a better example, but any advice on this Cherokee Shuffle clip would be awesome. (although this is actually one I'm the happiest with.:) )Maybe tips on ergonomics? Wrist? I dunno. THANKS. *I know we botched the ending, so no tips needed on that..hahahaha some interplay with the dobro. lol) Mando breaks at :35 and 2:28



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0IMzre1ktw

pops1
May-24-2016, 10:39am
In my opinion you are playing up and down from your elbow with very little wrist movement, and I feel that is hard to be accurate. I would say use more wrist and the movement from the elbow should not be up and down as much, but twisting the hand and wrist to the elbow. Much less movement and more accuracy. If you have watched a really good old time fiddler it is very small bow strokes and a lot of loose wrist movement. Your pick can be like that, less movement means more speed and accuracy.

9lbShellhamer
May-24-2016, 10:41am
OK. Thanks. I think I'm going to set up a camera and record myself playing at home to try working on more wrist, less arm.

pops1
May-24-2016, 10:52am
I was just playing and looked at my arm, I use a lot of wrist and subtle movement with very little arm, but I don't twist, tho you could. Most of my playing is from the wrist, and tho I don't hold my pick tight, I don't hold it really loose either, and like I said I hold it close to the playing end, not with the tip sticking out far. I feel it give me more power with less force. Moving from string to string in a lead I don't lift the pick much more than I do while tremoloing a single pair.

9lbShellhamer
May-24-2016, 11:12am
OK.

I just went ahead and recorded a quick version of Gold Rush here at the house. I tried moving my wrist more, elbow less. Thanks again...Wow... Even when I try moving my wrist I'm still all elbow! Something to really work on now!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBi2cYJnX4U

pops1
May-24-2016, 11:23am
I made a video, but don't know how to post it. If you PM me I may be able to send it as an email.

Denny Gies
May-24-2016, 11:46am
For my money, Skip hit the nail on the head. Slow and steady will result in ultimate speed.............eventually.

Johnny60
May-24-2016, 12:25pm
Hi Shellhammer,

Thanks for posting the Gold Rush video. Before offering any thoughts or critique, I'll start by saying that I am NOT an expert (only been playing mando for 4 years, but 40+ years on guitar) and I'm also not a teacher, so please feel free to take anything I say with a pinch of salt. I'll also say that it takes a lot of guts to post a video and ask for feedback, and I've never done it!

One thing that I did notice was not to do with your picking hand but with your fretting hand. To be fair it could be the camera angle, but you do seem to lift your fingers quite a distance off the fretboard after you've picked a note. Not a problem on slow tunes, but if you're trying to build speed, it means that you'll be losing speed by having to bring those fingers back down again.

I was told many years ago that one of the secrets to building speed was to keep your fingers as close to the board as possible (obviously, within reason). This makes sense to me as, on fast tunes, by the time you've lifted by over an inch and brought it back down over another inch, you're already late for your the next note. Also, the higher you lift, the more margin for error there is in potentially hitting the wrong note when you bring it back down.

Please take this in the spirit it's intended - a fellow mando player giving a little hint of something that works for them to another player who's asked for advice.

Hope it helps,

Johnny

9lbShellhamer
May-24-2016, 12:40pm
Thanks Johnny! I noticed the "flying fingers" too! The beauty of recording...hahaha. I'm just excited to find new things to work on!

John Adrihan
May-24-2016, 2:25pm
Thanks Johnny! I noticed the "flying fingers" too! The beauty of recording...hahaha. I'm just excited to find new things to work on!

Economy of motion = speed

Drew Egerton
May-24-2016, 2:53pm
Mike Guggino told me that his instructor once tied his arm to a chair and said now play Rawhide...
It's all in the wrist. Keep it loose like a dishrag is how Ronnie McCoury puts it. I'm trying to get Gold Rush up from our band session last night into Youtube and will link here when it's uploaded. In the meantime it should be Public on our facebook page at www.facebook.com/3rdCreekBluegrass at the top of the page.

bigskygirl
May-24-2016, 2:57pm
If you don't already practice with a metronome or an app like iRealPro which lets you change tempo. I usually set the tempo where I feel rushed and on the verge of crashing then I dial it back to where I'm comfortable and go up from there...it's slow sometimes and at times I feel like I'm getting slower rather than faster but over time I am increasing my speed while keeping tone, groove, dynamics, etc as clean as I can.

Mark Wilson
May-24-2016, 3:50pm
Just as a side note... to be on stage, playing at 230bpm, at the 3 year mark is pretty admirable imo. thanks for sharing the video.

JeffD
May-24-2016, 4:10pm
Don, thanks. Yes, I can tremolo on multiple strings and on single strings, and do it pretty regularly on songs like Lonesome Moonlight Waltz, Ashokan Farewell, Etc. It's not perfect, but it's getting better every month...
!

I think what Don means is that the motion you do for the tremolo, and the speed you can obtain, is what you want to be doing for the real fast runs when playing melody. Playing a smooth accurate tremolo and being able to change strings smoothly are proof that your right hand already knows how to play fast.

Because when I have to do some superfast run, my right hand just goes into a tremolo mode. It has to be a run that my left hand knows well, but there are a few. Pick something like a four note run up the scale, or anything that your left hand can do real fast - and then pick it like tremolo while you do the run.

Then its a matter, I think, of getting more and more things that your left hand can do fast - through economy of motion as mentioned, or tricks up the neck where the pattern is easier, or tons of practice.

The deal is that if you can tremolo well the stuff to work on is in the fretting hand and in synchronization between the two.

Its an approach anyway.

JeffD
May-24-2016, 4:15pm
Relax though, you sound great.

And also, there is a dirty little secret:

Most people, including most of the greats, can't play everything fast. They can play this, or that, fast. What ever it is they have worked out to play fast and practiced the potatoes out of. Sure they pass it off as if they just got the idea to play it fast. Nobody admits out loud: "hey this is the tune, one of a handful, that I can play fast."

Soon enough you will have a couple of tunes or riffs you can do at lightning speed. And you are going to smile to yourself and think: "These jamokes think I can really play fast. They don't know I can only play this real fast."

:)

Don Grieser
May-24-2016, 6:08pm
I think what Don means is that the motion you do for the tremolo, and the speed you can obtain, is what you want to be doing for the real fast runs when playing melody. Playing a smooth accurate tremolo and being able to change strings smoothly are proof that your right hand already knows how to play fast.

Thanks for making that clearer than I did, Jeff. ~o)

Doc Watson played from the elbow. Sam Bush does too. For me, it's a combination of arm and wrist. The arm shakes the wrist. Unless you're an anatomical freak, you can't move your wrist without using muscles that run all the way up and down your arm.

According to Alexander technique teachers, you play the mandolin with your whole body. So tensing the neck, jaw, back, biceps, etc., can change how you use your wrist and fingers.

sgarrity
May-24-2016, 6:39pm
Somebody above mentioned tying your arm to a chair, I used to practice in a doorway with my right arm pressed up against the door jam. That makes you focus on moving from your wrist. I notice in your Goldrush video that the neck of your mandolin is pointing up. I play with the neck parallel to the ground which puts my right arm in a 90 degree angle right on top of the strings. I find that helps me keep my arm muscles looser and positions your hand right where it needs to be.

pops1
May-24-2016, 6:47pm
you can't move your wrist without using muscles that run all the way up and down your arm.

You are right Don, but moving your arm a lot and your elbow a little is not as accurate as moving your arm a little and your elbow a lot. At least for me it works. I also play with my mandolin pointing up most of the time and it doesn't hamper the wrist, it's just an elbow change to play pointing up rather than parallel.

Josh Levine
May-24-2016, 10:01pm
Sounding good Troy! I am so envious that you have a band and are playing gigs. I've been playing about the same amount of time and am hoping to put something together like that soon.

I was looking at the video below, which is of world class musicians, of course, but some of the big things I notice are that Joe leaves space. When you are pushing your speed boundaries I think it helps to leave notes out that aren't totally essential, as opposed to trying to fill the space totally up with notes. You'd be better off being real clean with the notes you are playing and hitting the essential melody notes that make up the song than trying to play a bunch of variations and not doing it cleanly. Sometimes leaving a few notes out can be just as exciting as playing a bunch of notes. It gives everyone a chance to digest what they are hearing and it gives you some time to plan your next move.

Also I notice that the band makes kind of a swell of strings that you have to compete with. That means you have to work harder and play louder. Marshall says you can't have speed, volume, and tone or something starts to give. So if you are really having to work hard with the volume you are going to be giving up tone and speed. In the video below there is about the same number of instruments but they are just building a silent groove and the soloist taking the break is really in the forefront.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyVblqiSiks

ampyjoe
May-24-2016, 10:16pm
Perhaps playing from the wrist is the ideal - I'm not so sure. It seems like it may give more control. But lots of great players play very much with the entire arm and seem to play accurately and with good tone. I've found myself that if I try to play fast, my wrist feels like it can't keep up and I have to use more arm. Or at least that's how it feels. I just now tried doing a video at 240bpm and was surprised that my arm doesn't appear to be moving much. Nevertheless, I felt I was playing from the arm in a way I wouldn't if it were a bit slower. I guess all I'm really saying is find what works for you.
Finally, I think for playing fast it's important to play your version of the tune, rather than learning it note for note either from tab or notation. That way you'll be playing it in a style that comes naturally to you and you'll be smoother at speed.

Kenny


https://youtu.be/JmaiHsrfyJU

Johnny60
May-25-2016, 3:31am
Hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides are another way of increasing speed whilst conserving some energy by not having to play every single note with a up/down pick stroke.

I find that with something like Cherokee Shuffle or Red Haired Boy I can play it "note for note" (that is every note properly fretted and with an appropriate up or down pick stroke) up to around 210 bpm when warmed up.

However, once it gets past 220 some slides, hammer-ons or pull-offs start coming into the equation. By the time we get to 240 it becomes totally impossible (for me) without using those techniques.

JeffD
May-25-2016, 9:59am
Wrist or arm - I think its a combination. And perhaps the percentage of arm to wrist is different when playing chords than when playing melody.

I also find, in my chopping, there is this little rotational flick of the wrist I use just at the end, just as my arm has put my hand in position, that adds a "punch" to pick stroke.


This whole thing reminds me of the way to screw up a tennis player - ask him if he breathes in or out just before the serve. The point being that concentrating on details, while important, can detract from concentrating on getting the whole thing achieved. Its not the pile of individual details but the incorporation of them into a continuous whole motion, that is the goal I think.

pops1
May-25-2016, 10:51am
I would not worry about hammerons and pulloffs unless you want that effect. If you can do a tremolo you can play fast. The biggest thing is timing your left and right hands. My metronome only goes to 250, but I can easily play Cherokee Shuffle at that tempo and with a good bunch of dancers in a square it would be faster by a fair amount. Smaller movements=precision and speed, power is something like training and technique and will develop. Left and right hand movements should not be any more than they need to be. Sometimes if I don't need to move a finger off the string because another finger is doing the melody I leave it there so it's ready when I come back to it and need it. It all comes with practice and time, enjoy the time practicing, it will come.

JeffD
May-25-2016, 6:59pm
It also depends on what you practice. In addition to scale runs I tend to practice a lot of arpeggios, because, to be honest, they are fun. It also means that tunes like Pays De Haut and Reel De Montreal come easy to me and I can play them wayyy too fast. Other tunes, especially those involving octave reaches or jumping over strings, and single finger double stops, I struggle with, because I don't practice that stuff enough.

Markus
May-25-2016, 8:37pm
Economy of motion. Next time you see a great like McCoury or Compton next, watch how when playing single strings they really don't move their right hand that much .... It's like they are rubbing the top of the string without extending their stroke beyond the very edge of the string.

Maybe I am wrong and need to see them again, but I have noticed that many of the greats have refined their movements so that nothig is wasted - fingers hover just above fretboard without flying, pick seems to barely move past the string, yet everything seems loose and fully relaxed.

Nice playing. Took me a long while to get to where you are, only recently after years of work have a few songs really turned smooth so that now I am the one in my band playing it cleanest and fastest. If you work with a metronome and focus on technique, one day you will realize you are there.

mtucker
May-26-2016, 10:38am
Economy of motion is correct. Check out Nathan's playing on Gold Rush in this youtube with Paul Duff.

JeffD
May-26-2016, 2:35pm
Something you are doing right is keeping fingers down on the strings as you go up. I used to put a finger down, play the note, pick up the finger, put another finger down, play the note pick up that finger and so on. You are keeping them on the strings once down, which is a best practice.

lenf12
May-26-2016, 4:57pm
Let's face it, your "style" is as much defined by your limitations as it is by your strengths.

Len B.
Clearwater, FL