View Full Version : Chop Help

Apr-04-2004, 7:39pm
I got a new Weber Custom Bitterrrot a few days back after playing on an Epiphone for a while, however my ability to chop has not gotten any better. I do not know any other mandolin players so it's hard for me to really learn proper technique. Can anyone please give me any pointers that they may have? Are there any tricks? Any short cuts? What is a good action height? Any ways to get better at rhythym? Are there any books or videos that do a good job of helping? Thanks.

jim simpson
Apr-05-2004, 7:14am
Whoa!! That's a lot of ?ss!
I don't know if this will help but when I started I would use a hand exercisor that allows the individual fingers to press down. I believe this increased my finger strength which translated to chop response. It is important to press and release at the right time to get the chop you want. It is also important not to throw in any extra chops or rythms while you are learning the fundamentals. Listen to a lot of recordings where the chop is easy to hear and play along with them. This can help with timing. The action height is a personal prefference thing. Some like it really high, others low.
Hope this helps,

Apr-05-2004, 7:33am
Apply the K.I.S.S. principle - Keep It Simple, Sammy. For starters, just hit one brush stroke across the strings on beats 2 and 4, like a metronome. Later, you can add embellishments and style, but for now, just do the standard pop.

Apr-05-2004, 9:32am
Thanks for the help. How exactly should the 'pop' sound? Right now I have a muddled sound and also some buzzing of some strings. Are hand strengtheners helpful?

Apr-05-2004, 11:50am
How about a shortcut that gives a very precussive sound.

Instead of trying to time the release of strings and the pick hand, just hold a mute chord. Meaning, make the chord shape but dont fret the strings.

Drive/snap the right hand quickly across/through the strings also helps tremendously with the chop too. Like flicking water off a rag. Try it at different speeds. Generally, you will notice that the faster and sharper you flick, the crisper the chop.

For woodier and bassier chops, try using chords the use more of the bass strings.

Apr-05-2004, 11:56am
How long does it take to get decent at chopping?

Apr-05-2004, 12:19pm
Can't say how long it takes to get there - it's obviously different for different folks - but, once you do get there, you're there! It's like the ol' proverbial "ridin' a bicycle" thing... once you "get it" (and you'll know when you get it!), your hands and wrists will "remember" how to do it for you from then on! That's why it's important to keep workin at it 'til you do get it... give your "muscle memory" something to remember!

Good luck... and don't quit now! You're almost there - trust me!


Apr-05-2004, 12:28pm
I've been playing mando for about 10years,probably 8yrs seriously and am still working on my chop.Had a private lesson with Herschel Sizemore a couple years ago.Herschels chop is more of a noted chop than percussive,he allows the strings to ring for a split second before dampening.Others like Sam Bush for instance,have a more percussive chop with little or no ringing to the chord.
Its a matter of personal preference,I like both depending on what I'm playing.
Finally,most critical is timing....my biggest challenge is to keep it steady. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif

Apr-05-2004, 2:02pm
To practice the chop do I just need to repeat strumming all 4 string while fretting the chord and then letting off? Are there certain 4 fingered chords that are easier to begin with or is the G (3257) the best place to start since most say it is the hardest? What does a bad chop sound like to compare with what I am ascribing to?

J Clark
Apr-05-2004, 11:48pm
I would try the method that Doyle Lawson showed my Uncle Bob at the Hugo OK festival in the 70s. Kind of like a choo choo train method.kind of mute the strings and lightly strum on the top two strings cha ka and then chop. try to get the notes clear. cha ka chop ka cha ka chop. kind of use the cha ka things to keep the tyming on the off beats
. It should help keep time. Good Luck and GOD Bless.
Holler if u have any other questions.

Apr-06-2004, 12:40pm

I have to say that you have to relax a little and not try to analyze so much. First, I think that you should listen to as much bluegrass related, or any mandolin related music, for that matter, as much as possible. If you're listening to bluegrass, focus in on the mando, and how the chop sounds while you're listening and try to really absorb it. Eventually the chop sound will become engrained into you brain. Then when you're practicing, playing, try to re-create the sound on your mando. Take it slow and easy.

Sometimes being critical of you're playing can be beneficial, but sometimes it can get in the way of actually learning how to play. Sometimes the best solution is to stop analyzing and just play and keep working at it.

Second, don't worry about how long it will take to chop. If you practice slowly and relaxed, it will come. What is the rush anyway? Do you feel the need to be as good as some of your musical influences? Do you feel the need impress people? Forget all that. All of the mando masters are great because they took the time to learn and didn't rush. They weren't magically good as soon as they started. It all takes time.

Coy Wylie
Apr-06-2004, 12:54pm
Good point Tremelo. Well said. I would add that he should go to a BG jam and sit in with some more advanced mando players and try to keep rythmn with their chop. I sat in a jam this morning where there were three mandos: an advanced, intermediate and beginner. I remember on one particular song how all three were chopping together with perfect timing... sounded cool.

Apr-06-2004, 10:35pm
Thanks for the advice. Unfortunately the reason I am asking so many questions here is that I do not have a group to play with nor do I know any other mandolin players. While I am currently trying to find such a group in my surroundings, Bluegrass is not a highly popular thing where I live. Of all this things associated with the mando, chopping mystifies me the most. Thanks again for helping me learn more about this subject. What albums are good to listen to, to get the knack for how a chop should sound?

Coy Wylie
Apr-06-2004, 11:54pm
Try "Skaggs and Rice." It's a guitar-mando only album recorded in the late 70's with Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice. I suggest this one because of the simplicity of two voice and two instruments and you can hear Ricky's excellent chop very well. I think you can order it through elderly.com

Apr-07-2004, 2:06am

Are you in Germany?

Apr-07-2004, 6:08pm
No I'm in Louisiana. I do have a friend in Germany who taught me some Deutsch.

Coy Wylie
Apr-07-2004, 6:28pm
So tell me about the Custom Bitterroot. What upgrades? Got a pic? What finish? I recently purchased one myself.

Apr-08-2004, 12:03am
I love my Bitterroot! It has a faded leather finish, Mother of Pearl blocks in the fretboard, and Fern grade Maple on the back. When I called Folk of the Wood I was ready to get a Traditional Beartooth. I was steered in another direction. My wife thankfully agreed to let me get it. She says it has to last me until I get out of school and am making real money. Willard, what is your Bitterroot like? Did you get tone bars or Modified X? Mine has Modified X even though I had originally wanted the tone bars. Since I'm not a seasoned picker, right now I won't be able to tell the difference. I'll try to work on some pics.

Coy Wylie
Apr-08-2004, 12:13am

I have the faded leather finish as well with gloss. The grain in the maple is shows through beautifully on front, back, sides, neck and the rear of the headstock. Mine is a tone bar model with diamond inlays, radiused neck and gold hardware. I really like it. The tone is sweet and well balanced. The volume is pretty strong but seems to be getting better the more she is played.

Apr-08-2004, 12:47pm
I'd like to re-emphasize the quickness of the pick hand through/across the strings. #Try and get them to sound all at once. #The speed and force will give a loud percussive chop.

Dont worry you aint gonna break anything... a string at the most. #

Experiment with it. #Just mute the entire second fret with your index finger or even the neck with your palm and drive/flick/snap the pick through/across all eight of those strings.

The try it with chord shapes. #I like the 2/3 finger shape chords.

# E # # F # # #G # # #A
e #x # # x # # #x # # # x
a #x # # x # # #2 # # #4
d #2 # #3 # # # 5 # # #7
g #1 # #2 # # # 4 # # #6