View Full Version : Tremelo help

Apr-06-2004, 3:14pm
I have to admit that trying to learn tremelo technique has been very frustrating. No matter what I try (loose pick grip, loose wrist, etc.), it just doesn't seem smooth.
I have just been blown away by Mike Compton after seeing him play with NBB. Does anyone know of any instructional materials (or instructors in the NC triad/mountains) that could help with learning his style of tremelo? I don't ever expect to sound like Mike, but maybe I could head in that direction.
Dan J.

Apr-06-2004, 4:11pm

You might want to check on co-mando.com. When Compton was guest of the week back in January I know he was asked about his tremolo and what techniques he uses.


Apr-06-2004, 4:24pm
Ya might try turnin' the pick a bit so it glides over the strings rather than plucks 'em, as you get smoother you can move it around to attain the volume or tone ya want.

Apr-06-2004, 6:44pm
It takes a long, long, long, long time. I've been playing 4 years, practicing every day for the past 3 years. I'll practice tremolo every day for 10-15 minutes, and I am just now starting to feel like it doesnt totally suck. Still have a long way to go though. Keep yer chin up!

Apr-07-2004, 7:52am
I've got a long way to go in this catagory too.
The way I've been practicing my tremelo is to start really slow and think of it as individual 16th notes on one string, then gradually pick up the tempo until it sounds like you want it to. Then try it on two strings. This helps with the mechanics of it.

For the timing aspect of it, which I really suck at, I like to try and count the beats and make sure I cut it at the exact right moment other wise a poorly timed tremelo ending can really foul up jam. This is probably the most important part of tremelo I think.
hope this helps a little...

John Flynn
Apr-07-2004, 7:57am
Mike gives workshops around the country fairly regularly. You might want to attend one. He is a blast to learn from!

I struggled with tremlo for a while, like everyone, and then one day, it just "happened." All of a sudden, I could do it and it was easy. So keep stuggling, it will happen. What I find useful is to get really specific about what you are trying to play and the sound you want. So rather than just saying "I want to learn tremlo," find an only moderately challenging tremlo part that you really like on a recording and try to learn that passage and sound just like that recording. You may not ever sound just like it, but I think the "learning circuits" in the brain work more effectively when you are that specific.

Now I am struggling with inserting really quick tremlo double stops! Hopefully, I will turn the corner on that soon.

Pete Martin
Apr-07-2004, 11:46am
There are a number of Mikes we would all like to be like (except Tyson).

Mike Compton is working on a video now. Anybody heard anything on this being released?

Apr-07-2004, 4:38pm
As for timing on the tremolo, many good players use 6 strokes per beat to deliberately control the timing such that you can transition cleanly. On really slow stuff, it can be modified to 8 strokes per beat.

Some people need to work on one particular aspect -- how to spell it. Darren and Tbone got it right -- Tremolo. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Apr-07-2004, 11:14pm
Spelling, eh????
Bill Monroe called it 'tremblin' the manalin.
Dan: I live just the other (west) side of Asheville & give lessons. My 'tremblin' would pass muster with Bill!!!
Practice tremolo doing slow scales.

Clyde Clevenger
Apr-08-2004, 12:53am
I just grease the pick. Makes holdin' 'em a little tough, but it will smooth out the tremblin'.

All seriousness aside, a good pick surface (smooth), a little "forehead grease" and a lot of "time behind the box."
Best quote I ever stole. Thanks Norman.

Apr-08-2004, 7:21am
Hey Dan,

That's some mighty fine aspirations you got there, buddy. Compton's #1 in my book! But if you can't study with MC, you definitley should consider taking some lessons with Evan. He's a terrific Monroe-style manalin player and a cool teacher who'll teach you not only how to tremble your manlin, but how to tap your foot, to boot! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif And there ain't NOthing he doesn't know about Mr. Monroe! If you're in his neighborhood, you really should give him a holler. Good luck, and say "Howdy" to Evan for me.


Apr-08-2004, 8:39am
It helps to use a metronome and keep track of how much tremblin' you are doing per beat. However, Grisman feels that tremolo is "unmeasured"- that you go for it whether it's 13 or 15 strokes. Andy Statman used to try to figure out exactly what Bill was doing, down to the 17th stroke...getting in and out smoothly is the trick, which the metronome is invaluable for.

Apr-08-2004, 8:52am
I was just thinking about this last night.

I tried and tried and tried to tremolo effectively at jams and in practice to no avail - I'm talking a long time.

Then one day at a jam it just happened. I was tremoloing effectively. Strange thing is, I can never ever reproduce it when practicing alone. Or maybe I can but it just sounds like crud because its not in the context of group playing.

But when I'm playing in a group it just sounds natural, and its about all I do when folks are playing slower vocal numbers that don't really lend themselves to eight notes. And I'm pretty pleased with it, not trying to brag, but it sounds pretty good.

But whenever anyone asks me how I do it, I really just can't say anything more than "it just happened one day".

Maybe tremolo is something you can't practice?http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif?

Apr-08-2004, 8:54am
Gotta agree with Mr. McGann on this one, the trick is getting in and out. #John Reischman also recomended using a metronome for both the aspect of playing an "even" tremolo as well as getting the timing of going back to either a single string or chop.

John Flynn
Apr-08-2004, 8:58am
Strange thing is, I can never ever reproduce it when practicing alone. Or maybe I can but it just sounds like crud because its not in the context of group playing.
Just something to think about: When practicing alone, you are the "group." The group needs to be playing in your head along with the mando playing in your hands. This makes a big difference for practicing a lot of things.

Tom C
Apr-08-2004, 9:02am
Practice tremolos by playing waltzes. Ashokan Farewell, Ooopik waltz, lonesome moonlight waltz...etc. They're cool tunes too.

Apr-08-2004, 9:05am
I guess its worth it to say that I don't really "practice" as such, at least in an organized manner that alot of folks prescribe.

I just play through tunes and muck around. You're right johnny, I am the "group" in that context...and the sound of solo-mando tremolo...well, not something I particularly care for. At least I'm not good enough at it to make it sound interesting alone. Never ever sounds cool like when I'm tremoloing against a ryhthm section.

One thing I think you can do that would be fun is try some tremolo against some slow vocal-tune recordings. Tremolo can definitely sound cool against lyrics, behind another lead, or as the lead itself. Playing against recordings is a good idea I think in any case...why not for tremolo. Would definitely help out with timing. Plus its alot funner than the tick-tock of a metronome.

Apr-08-2004, 9:14am
On a related note, I've recently kind of become reinterested in the Del McCoury band.

Ronnie McCoury is an excellent tremolo player. I've been honing in on his tremolo playing when he uses it to back up other band members breaks, and it is super cool. I try to take those ideas and use them at jams and it sounds cool...at least to me (hope I'm not P-ing anybody O at the local BG jam).

Anyway, he's definitely someone to listen to for some cool BG tremolo ideas.

Apr-08-2004, 9:37am
I consider myself very fortunate to have take a few lessons from John McGann. He faced me with the big, black bad Franz metronome. If I learned nothing else from John, it was the values of the metronome to straighten out time and improve playing. And I still use it. It does work. John is correct, as always.
And I passed on that same info to my students; even JanJan overcame her aversion to visiting with 'Mr. 'Nome'.....

Apr-08-2004, 9:44am
Use a metronome, but understand it is only a tool.

I have a huge pet-peeve at jams about timing monsters whose use of a metronome has completely eradicated their ability to intentionally ebb and flow the speed of music.

Conversely, I've seen occassionally people who become over time dependent on a metronome to have good time.

Music is made by humans, not machines (well, good music anyway). A metronome is a tool to help you master your timing, not to dictate what that timing is, or to be used as a crutch.

Just my 2 cents.

Izaac Walton
Apr-08-2004, 10:48am
Glad to have run across this thread. This is something I've been working on seriously now for just a couple of weeks, ever since I met a fellow mandolin player at the new Mandolin Society of Central Indiana whose tremolo was the slickest thing I'd ever seen. Seemed as effortless as breathing. My search for good tremolo instruction led me to a helpful article on playing classical music by Marilynn Mair which I found at the Mandolin Magazine website. After a couple of weeks of focusing on tremolo I have seen encouraging progress. Maybe someday it will "happen" for me too.

Forehead grease...I'll try that to. Good idea!

BTW, I'm trying to learn tremolo without posting or resting the heel of my hand on the bridge. The more I work at it the easier it becomes. Focus on a really loose wrist. What works best for you? Do you post or rest your hand on the bridge?

Apr-08-2004, 1:06pm
I personally don't do either, and I'm not trying to say the way I do it is the right or wrong way, especially since I stumbled on it by accident basically.

But with tremolo (and all picking really), I like to be able to move my pick away from and towards the bridge to get a more sweet airy tone or a more raunchy tone. I think with tremolo it can be cool to vary like that even in the same tremolo phrase to get an added tonal dynamic waving between harsh and sweet tones. Posting a finger or resting my palm limits my movement towards and away from the bridge.

My 2 cent, anyway. Like I said, I'm not trying to say this is the "right way".

Michael H Geimer
Apr-08-2004, 2:23pm
"Just something to think about: When practicing alone, you are the "group." The group needs to be playing in your head along with the mando playing in your hands. This makes a big difference for practicing a lot of things."

I could spend all day pondering the wealth of insight within that simple statement.

I tremolo poorly-to-passably using 1/24-notes ... 6 to a beat as was mentioned above, and that's the timing I hear most often on recordings.

Another mandolin player I've been working with has been spending 10-15 minutes a day on his tremolo, with a metronome, and his progess has been significant. (I'm evious)

- Benig

Tom C
Apr-08-2004, 2:33pm
I do not think tremelos are based on timing where you try to get it down using a metronome. Various tremelo 'tempos' can be used for a given tune's timing. The idea is to sound smooth. I've heard/played lonesome moonlight walts where it's
da da da.......... (quick tremelo)
da da da . . . . . (slower tremelo)
but they end at the right place. You can even do one in between and it will still sound correct.

Michael H Geimer
Apr-08-2004, 3:17pm
True enough. I have apreference for tremolos that are based on a triplet feel ... but with the right touch, I suppose even an 1/8-note tremolo could sound *just right* in certain situations.

As far as the 'in-between' values, I recall my frustrations at trying to workout some piano ornamentations where the phrase contains, say five notes, or seven, or some other odd-ball value ... with repetition my brain would eventually reconcile the timing, and it would all work itself out into a smooth phrase.

So, I'm with you ... I just prefer what *I* prefer.

- Benig

Mike Buesseler
Apr-08-2004, 4:12pm
I'm sure there are millions of tunes that would make for good tremolo practice. #The one I have found works best for me (and my mediocre, but improving) tremolo is "Inisheer." #Celtic, tab available at Co-mando, I think. #It lets you get in and out of tremolo often. # Nice tune, also, btw.

Jack Roberts
Apr-11-2004, 3:38pm
Once you learn to tremolo on a single string, then you have to learn to tremolo double stops, and after that you have to learn to coordinate your left hand with your right hand to play trills. It doesn't end. Someone told me when I bought my mandolin:"Give it time...it will take all you can give it..."


Amanda Lynn
Apr-11-2004, 9:39pm
Tremolo is my main technique. I'm basically self-taught, so the following advice might fall under the "bad habit" heading, but here goes: When I play tremolo, most of the time I brace my right arm on the front of the mandolin all the way up to the first joint of my little finger.