View Full Version : Tremolo in blues

Dec-09-2004, 1:04pm
I've been playing mandolin for about a year with a focus on blues. I at first resisted tremolo as being an unnecessary embellishment. It didn't take me long to realize its value in blues (or probably any other style of mandolin playing). It has taken me roughly the entire time (using tremolo perhapes two to three hours per day) to begin to feel really comfortable using tremolo. At this point I am working on tremolo on two string pairs. I don't mean to say I am really proficient but I am comfortable with it and can break into or out of it at will. I suspect I am well on the way to being able to use it effectively and think of it now as a positive technique in my (rather small) bag of tricks.

If anyone doubts the value of tremolo I would suggest listening to Jacob de Bandolim (hope I spelled it right).

I don't mean to suggest that tremolo is more effective in blues than other forms of music but I am at the point where (to my own ear at least) I can make it sing and it seems to take on a life of its own certainly different from conventional picking on guitar or mando. To my ear it seems to give special meaning to the term "wail". That (usually high pitched)sustained vibrating voice. Maybe I am being theatrical but off hand I can't think of another instrument which does it as well as the mandolin.

So I guess I have nothing new or profound to offer anyone, except to say that when all that effort begins to pay off in proficient and controlled expression it is a mighty satisfying feeling.

Dec-09-2004, 1:21pm
I always look to David Grisman for tremelo inspiration. It certainly adds expression to the mandolin voice, besides how else are we going to compete with those bowed instruments for a continuous sustained sound. You might want to try tremelo of double stops, or two pairs of strings. Look into some Bill Monroe blues.

Dec-09-2004, 2:20pm
i agree. i am a harp player (another great wailing instrument) as well as mando. tremolo is an essential when i'm playing blues. still working at it, getting it much of the time, and lately working on the doublestop tremolo- hard, but worth it when it hits!
hey bmac and other blues types. email me off list ilkslp@comcast.net and i'll send you a recent live thrill is gone my partner just sent me. a little weak in the intro, but i think the jam for a still relative newbie doing blues improv came out pretty good and lots of tremolo in the jam.
if anyone has other to share please do so with us!!!

Dec-10-2004, 8:07am
Yes tremolo sounds nice for Blues, especially when you really attack the strings on the high notes - followed by a slow & easy "walk down " to the lower notes....

Dec-10-2004, 9:37am
aaaaaaah rene- you have returned!
any tricks to smoother doublestop/doublecourse tremolo- working on it, getting better, but would love some help

Dec-11-2004, 1:48am
Tremolo IS a mandatory skill for a mandolin player, no matter which type of music you're playing (studying). And it does require practice, and more practice to get it right every time you try to perform it.

Oddly, one of the things I've just been working on, Pachelbel's Canon in D has a ton of double stop tremolo bars in it. What I noticed in this marvelous, slow piece is to get the tremolo to work / sound right, I need to 'pulse' the tremolo texture. I've been experimenting with different attack levels to get an almost vibrato like tone from one stroke to the next.

In experimenting with this piece of music, I began to feel minor surface irregularities in the picks I was using (Dunlop Ultex 1.00). Until then, these particular picks felt as if they had the smoothest edge of any pick I'd tried. To smooth them out even more, I tried some 3/0 steel wool and Micro Mesh paper of various grits and just - polished - the percussive edge of a few of them.

Big Difference!

Since then, I've buffed Fender heavies, horn, Dunlop Tortex, Golden Gates and a lot of odd picks and noticed - a minute or two buffing the playing edges really makes a difference in the way the pick glides / slides over the string courses. What tremolo I had is now much more controlable and enjoyable (not quite effortless but ...).

Peter Hackman
Dec-14-2004, 12:23pm
I don't exactly think of tremolo as "mandatory"; it's
an effect, an important
possibility to be used with economy and
taste. I've been listening to tapes of my own playing
and sometimes I cringe over a misplaced tremolo -
why did I
overdo that, should have saved the tremolo for the next bar
and let those four notes build up to it, etc., etc., etc. -

I agree with SternART, Grisman is the master, he knows
how to use the tremolo dynamically and expressively,
but he also drops it in places where most of us
would use it, out of sheer habit, I suppose.

Dec-14-2004, 1:41pm
different strokes for different folks. though i agree, like any musical tool, the right place and the right time for the right song is key, but in blues mandolin especially, tremolo takes the place of some wailing notes (taking the place of sustained notes on a guitar), when used with 2 courses offers some power at points. if you listen to the old blues mando masters (see the other recent thread), they used an awful lot of tremolo, and it sounds pretty good. tremolo to me though an effect, is an essential part of playing mandolin, and in certain genres, is a must.
just my humble opinion.:blues: