View Full Version : The role of Mandolin

Jan-28-2018, 6:18pm
Hello. I'm new to this forum. I was wondering. What is the mandolin roll in bluegrass?

George R. Lane
Jan-28-2018, 6:23pm
To kill the banjo. :))

Kevin Stueve
Jan-28-2018, 6:36pm
mandolin rolls? is that like cinnamon rolls or like 3 finger banjo rolls? :D (sorry the grammar nazi has to be let out every now and then).

Jan-28-2018, 6:56pm
Think of the music of the time when Bill Monroe got his start. His small combo was pretty much like the big bands of the day only smaller with different instruments. The mandolin as played by Monroe is pretty much the snare drum and the clarinet. OK, all of you that can't picture this can all pile on now. :cool:

Rodney Riley
Jan-28-2018, 7:05pm
Welcome to the cafe Kellie. Aside from some good natured fooling around at times. You’ve came to the right place to ask for information. Now can we have some clarification. Do you mean, “mandolin’s role” or “Mandolin roll”?
A Mandolin’s role in Bluegrass is kind of a percussive beat or “chop” with arpeggios/melodious fills/riffs or runs.(guess you could call them rolls :)) )

In time, more musically inclined people will give better more precise meaning to your questions.

Jan-28-2018, 7:09pm
Damn. I misspelled. My bad. Lol. Yes I do mean role. Not roll.

Rodney Riley
Jan-28-2018, 7:18pm
kind of a percussive beat or “chop” - think as MikeEdgarton said, a snare drum.

with arpeggios/melodious fills/riffs or runs. -again as per Mike, a clarinet.
Hope this helps :)

Jan-28-2018, 8:30pm
So how do you come up with riffs or licks?

Kevin Stueve
Jan-28-2018, 8:44pm
start with the melody. Then consider the key, and current chord. Pentatonic scales. ....

Jan-28-2018, 9:05pm
Okay thanks Kevin!

Jan-28-2018, 9:11pm
Brad Lairds videos helped me out a lot when first starting.. this one has a good answer to your question:


Rodney Riley
Jan-28-2018, 10:32pm
So how do you come up with riffs or licks?

I DONíT KNOW!?!? Only way I can do it is play what others have written down :)) And most I still canít do :crying:

Bertram Henze
Jan-29-2018, 3:50am
:D (sorry the grammar nazi has to be let out every now and then).

It's spelling or syntax, not grammar. (sorry, the semantics nazi has to be let out every now and then) :grin:

Ivan Kelsall
Jan-29-2018, 4:42am
Hi Kellie - It's often helpful in getting a 'sane' reply to a question if we know a bit about the person asking ie. do you already play any other instrument ?. That way,sometime we can transpose what you already know on 'one instrument' to the other.

Right now,i'll consider you as simply a 'new mandolin player' (forget any other instruments). The role of the mandolin in Bluegrass is pretty much what Bill Monroe laid down in the begining. It's used to play a back up rhythm,mostly on the 'off beat' & in playing a solo during a song/instrumental or a whole instrumental if it's a 'dedicated' mandolin instrumental,where the other bluegrass instruments will take their own solo (break).

There's a massive number of Bluegrass videos on YouTube,so i'd suggest that to get the sound of Bluegrass as a 'whole music form' in your head,& the role of the mandolin in particular,watch as many as you need to - it shouldn't take you long.

As for coming up with 'riffs or licks' - you can either copy what others have already done to get you started (as most of us have done),then,after you've gained in experience & you're really familiar with the mandolin fingerboard & you've got your own ideas in place - play your own stuff !,
Here's a 'classic' tune to be getting on with :-


William Smith
Jan-29-2018, 5:27am
What Ivan said! Listen,Watch and learn. Practice,Practice and Practice, Learn what your into even if its not bluegrass, mandolin can be used in any kind of music pry even the devils music if that's what ya would call it "rap-hip hop etc..". Then with practice the tune can be made yours-make it your own-I've been playing on and off since I was 13 now 39, I don't play the same song the same way each time I play it, Its just how I'm wired I guess. I remember I was playing a mandolin tune with a famous picker and he looked at me and said that's not how Bill Monroe played that tune, I said well I'm not Bill Monroe I'm me! Got a grin.

Jan-29-2018, 9:16am
Hello. I'm new to this forum. I was wondering. What is the mandolin roll in bluegrass?

Isn't that what crosspicking was for, to make a mandolin able to play banjo-like rolls and such?

Jan-29-2018, 10:14am
Hello Kellie-san!

Jan-29-2018, 11:36am
Once again, Ivan went right to the root of it! Start with “Goldrush” and just spend as much time with pickers as you can. Watch, listen, get the tune IN your head and then tell fingers where they should go.
It’s getting around the right friends that will really help.
Keep it FUN, it’s called playing music for a reason!
Welcome and be prepared to be the butt of a joke now and then, I’ve been here for some time and I get it all the time! I also suggest you go look through the thread started by Datanick, in the video sub category, there is an incredible amount of lessons to be learned from Mr. Bill himself right there.

So thanks for joining in and a “Great Big Howdy”

Jan-30-2018, 9:06am
Well .... in any small grouping of instruments the roles are always the same. Sometimes you play rhythm while supporting the other players and sometimes you play lead while they support you. Insofar as licks and improvisations; that requires practice of the building blocks until you aren't really thinking about playing what has been drummed into your fingers and brain. And that requires study and repetition. Books, CD's, lessons with teachers both "live" and recorded and playing with others are in the recipe. Be willing to crash and burn and keep in mind that everyone that travels this path has done so in their turn. Enjoy the process. R/

Willie Poole
Jan-30-2018, 2:29pm
The mandolin can also be used as a back up lead when a person is singing. much like a lead guitar in country, I am not musically inclined so please tell me what the word "arpeggios" means....I have never studied any kind of music except the basic 'EGBDF or FACE" when reading from sheet music which I gave up on many, many years ago...


Rodney Riley
Jan-30-2018, 6:06pm
Better than me explaining ~:>

Ivan Kelsall
Jan-31-2018, 3:08am
For me,in my own playing - the role of the mandolin has changed. I played 'lead' banjo for 40 years or more & then decided that learning instrumental after instrumental 'ad infinitum' was boring !!. I decide to make playing 'back up' banjo,working on the little 'in fills' that go on in the background was more to my liking,& who better to copy than Mr Scruggs ??.

Earl Scruggs back up work was an art form in itself,& i've never heard anybody as good,let alone better. I decided to do the same in my mandolin playing. Playing instrumentals is a small part of the whole. When you think about it,the vast majority of a mandolin player's playing time,is spent chopping along or playing back up 'in fills' - so why not try to become excellent at it - or at least try ?.

Listen to Earl's banjo in this one - ''Why Don't You Tell Me So'' & you'll understand what i mean - it's almost ''lead back up''. It's no wonder that every one of the many top banjo players that i've met here or in the US,have said ''listen to Earl Scruggs'',


Jan-31-2018, 6:25am
Excellent example of the variable nature of the music!
I would agree that Earl was a fabulous backup picker but, I still think that JD Crowe is the indisputed “Emperor of tasteful fills”. I also am very fond of Wendy Miller and Roland White in the same vein. The little flourishes that are so subtle make a songs impact much more interesting.

Jan-31-2018, 10:17pm
All of your answers, or most of them anyway, come with listening. A lot. Full immersion. All the time. Have the bluegrass station on satellite running in your car, on your cell phone, in the background. Let bluegrass be the theme song of your life for a while, like we did as kids.

Let the sounds and subtleties of bluegrass seep into you unconsciously, as well as consciously. I think it is important to develop a list of things you like and want to emulate but can't really say why or how. In the end the mechanical techniques to learn need that context.

As a relative outsider to bluegrass myself, I think it is much easier for a bluegrass fan to learn to play bluegrass mandolin, than for a "generic" mandolin player, like myself.

Mark Wilson
Jan-31-2018, 10:35pm
As a relative outsider to bluegrass myself, I think it is much easier for a bluegrass fan to learn to play bluegrass mandolin, than for a "generic" mandolin player, like myself.It's the main thing I play but I'm a total outsider. It's so accessible to learn fiddle tunes and that leads to playing with other pickers who know the same songs. But I'm not steeped in it, and sometime I feel like I'm playing mandolin more like the rock and blues guitar heros I grew up listening to. You're right tho - takes a bit of listening to get it

Ivan Kelsall
Feb-01-2018, 3:04am
From JeffD - "...come with listening. A lot. Full immersion." I'm 54 years into it & still going strong.

I think that in all genres of music,even Classical music,there's an 'atmosphere' that the music / performer conjures up & that has to be worked on. We've all seen / heard bands that 'play the notes' but just don't come over as a band playing with any enthusiasm. On the other hand,i've seen newcomers at Bluegrass festivals watching & listening for the first time,almost jumping out of their skins with excitement. Music of ALL genres needs to be 'communicated' = you can't simply play the notes & expect it to be exciting - that comes from the performer's own excitement,& it usually shows,one way or the other.

I've mentioned on here before,my trip to the Birchmere to watch The Seldom Scene back in 1992. John Duffy mentioned that they'd been playing there for 13 years,& it showed !. They were about as lack lustre as i've ever seen - their musicianship was superb,but they didn't come over as enjoying it. If Tony Rice hadn't been the guest artist,it would have been a pretty dull show. Too long in the same place IMHO,