View Full Version : OT Fiddle Rhythm & Backup

Jul-15-2005, 12:54pm
I go to an OT Fiddle Jam every couple of weeks and try to play mostly rhythm & backup because I find it hard to keep up or be heard among a bunch of fiddles. We do have a few guitars and my daughter is now playing bass(she also plays fiddle).

I've tried chop chords but find it doen't seem to go to well with OT. I'm still in the learning stage here. I usually reserve this for the slow jam session which begins an hour before the regular jam session.

I understand most of what the mandolin does in a bluegrass jam (chops for percussion, lead or tasty fills) but what is the role of the mandolin in an OT setting?


Glenn Nelson
Las Vegas, NV

Fred Keller
Jul-15-2005, 2:47pm
I've played off and on in a regular old-time jam for much of the last 3 years. In the group I attend, the melody is everything. Backup gets cluttered beyond a single guitar and maybe a mandolin and/or bass. I believe that you'll get a lot of mileage out of the "less is more" encomium.

I firmly believe that the role of the mandolin in old time is right out front--playing the lead and playing some harmony lines. The great thing about many old time jams is that it's a great place to learn tunes by ear because they're frequently played for a long time ("ad nauseum" say the hard core grassers I know http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif ).

I'm not saying don't play rhythm, but it's a very different animal compared to bluegrass where you're expected to be the snare drum. You definitely don't want it to be up front. I have found old time to be more melodically focused--ala Irish music--than bluegrass, which is not bluegrass unless it has that drive (i.e., that rhythm).

It also depends on what rhythm instruments are present at your jam. If you've got 2 guitars, a bass (and some guy playing spoons/bones/bodhran/jug etc., etc.), a mandolin playing chords is just gonna get lost. Find some different chord voicings--up the neck maybe or even some swing patterns depending on the open-mindedness of the group. Try playing harmony notes like a guitar might play a bass run. Use the inherently higher range of the mandolin to add your touches.

Just my $.02 and taken from my experiences at my jam. I definitely try to completely focus on the melody, though, so maybe I'm not the best judge. The good thing is that I've probably learned a good 200 tunes well enough to play along with the group http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

Jul-15-2005, 5:19pm
I also think it helps to avoid using the chop chords and to have more rythem to your strum than just the 2 and 4 beats. That said, I play old-time music and play the melody.


John Flynn
Jul-15-2005, 7:52pm
I am mostly a melody guy too, but I have had lessons from three very experienced OT mando players on rhythm. What I learned is:

1. Watch your volume on rhythm. Always be able to hear the fiddler.

2. Your mainstay should be a simple "boom chuck" strum, with the "boom" hitting the G course and the "chuck" being a full downstroke. Upstrokes should be rare.

3. Concentrate on the G, D & A strings. Go very light on the E string. On a mando, it can make the rhythm sound too shrill.

4. Add creative strums, chops, etc. sparingly and only for short variations in the basic strum.

Jul-15-2005, 8:55pm
Slight variations on themes above:

One can also play with emphasis on the Down beat (ex: ONE two three four, ONE two three four, ONE two THREE four, ONE two three four). Take a listen to how Dan Gellert plays (http://dangellert.com/) fiddle and banjo (mp3's in the audio section of the site), then try playing this rhythm pattern behind the tracks. It's what he prefers and encourages when I get the chance to play in the background at a dance. I also play the Boom Chuck style, but it's actually harder for me to keep the down beat pattern going - I'm used to the Boom Chuck. I often play melody, but more frequently I'm playing rhythm - and enjoying, too.

RE: Chord shapes - I almost always play with open two finger chords, almost never use closed chop shapes. This adds a nice rhythmic droning as the open chords ring out.

Here's a portion of a low-fi home recording of Angeline The Baker (http://homepage.mac.com/philg2/.Music/AngelineAgain.mp3) as an example of the above. My pick choice was the pits (round end of a thick teardrop sounds thin on the lead), but it was the best take of the bunch.

Hope this helps.