View Full Version : Southern Twang and Building Licks

Sep-01-2018, 1:36pm
People I see playing on Mandolin seem to have a certain kind of Twang for lack of a better word to their playing. I can't seem to do it. Is there a trick to it? Also is it possible to sort of improvise licks and if so is there a trick to that?


Mark Gunter
Sep-01-2018, 8:23pm
There are like whole other worlds living inside each of your questions :))

There are indeed tricks to pretty much everything cool that you hear people do on stringed instruments. You can learn some tricks by having people show you some, also by listening and trying to reproduce the sounds you want. The tricks used in playing stringed instruments don't generally come cheaply though, they often require a lot of listening and a lot of focused practice. Whether a person is a musician or a magician, a lot of practice and thought has to go into pulling off the tricks in a smooth and convincing way.

It might be helpful - for getting advice on what to do - if you could post an example in video or audio of the playing so we can see what Twang has really caught your ear for the moment. Because really, there is a whole world of technique and "feel" in playing music on Mandolin.

It is possible to improvise licks on the mandolin, most would agree that the tricks involved in that would be to (1) learn some stock licks and get them under your fingers and up to speed, (2) learn some scales, (3) play a whole lot of songs, (4) practice improvising no matter how badly you sound, and whether or not you think you know what you're doing, and (5) keep improvising until you like the way you sound, or for the rest of life.

I know, it's maybe not a very satisfying response, but the best I can do. Maybe if you can give one example to focus on I or someone else here can be more specific.

Sep-04-2018, 8:12am
You want "twang"? You need to listen to the honky-tonk, country boogie and Bakersfield guitar and steel players for the real deal…. James Burton, Roy Nichols, Don Rich, etc. You can go to their stylistic heirs: Clarence white (electric). Albert Lee, Bill Kirchen (Commander Cody), Vince Gill, Marty Stuart (gtr), Jerry Donahue. …. Richard Thompson also had a good handle on that style too!

Get BEYOND the tunnelvision of restricting your learning to other "mandolin players"! (with the possible exception of some herectics such as moi :)) )

"Swinging Doors", "The Bottle Let Me Down", "Workingman's Blues" - Merle Haggard, "Buckaroo" (Owens/Rich) REQUIRED vocabulary for passing "TWANG 101" There are plenty of YouTube instructional videos for that (on guitar), but they are slowed down, the notes don't transform into "guitar only" notes, so you should be able to get the note sequences and at least 50% of the feel (if you can't manage any bending, etc.)

Don Helms' steel guitar (no pedals) breaks on a slew of Hank Williams Sr. songs. (After Hank's death the Drifting Cowboys went to work for Ray Price and became the Cherokee Cowboys.) Steel guitar on so much of the mid-late 50's stuff, from various singers, is primo.

Don Rich (guitar) and Tom Brumley (pedal steel) solos on the older Buck Owens albums. Some great breaks, both steel and guitar on the old Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen albums

And those idiotic, stupid truck-driving songs are a goldmine of pedal-steel licks!!! Sometimes, the more obscure the recording artist, the funkier the licks, cause those guys usually just used session pros. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaMxJwq3wAk

and one of the dumbest, corniest ever... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rU7xQZBWZ8w


Niles H

Jim Garber
Sep-04-2018, 9:34am
Kellie: when you talk of twang do you mean the tonal qualities that certain players get or is it more of a style? If the former, much has to do with the style of mandolin (usually F-holes) and the general set up. I would also add in the type of picks and even strings. For the latter see above posts for excellent details and recommendations.

Sep-04-2018, 9:55am
I guess twang is one of those qualities that means different things to different folks. Me, I alway (up to now) associated twanginess with cheaper mandolins. Must be a different kind of twangy.

Sep-04-2018, 11:18am
I am thinking the OP means things like hammer ons, pull offs and slides. But I could be wrong.

Sep-04-2018, 11:27am
Get BEYOND the tunnelvision of restricting your learning to other "mandolin players"!

As a general statement I really agree with this. There is a certain sameness to so many of the good and great bluegrass and grassy pickers that you find in parking lot jams and open mics and such. They are all emulating each other.

Going after other sounds pushes the "traditional" boundaries, and makes for a unique style. (If I can't play better, at least I can play differenter.)

One thing I like is to emulate some old country stars vocal phrasing. You can learn a lot listening to wind instruments, voice included. And yea, we mandolinners don't have to take a breath, but those pauses really separate a break or a tune into understandable chunks.

Mark Wilson
Sep-04-2018, 11:30am
Must be a different kind of twangy.OP said it was the southern kind of twanginess. :cool: I may have it and don't even know it

Sep-14-2018, 12:43am
Kellie, It would be ever so much more fun if you would point us to a sample or clip or to a particular artist/song showing us what you mean by twang, then perhaps we could offer some suggestions. I'm gonna guess that you are referring to the techniques of sliding up the fretboard to reach a note, or hammer-ons, pull-offs and such, which i believe render a tune in a countrified sort of way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbvXwtFHztc