Slurs on the mandolin

  1. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Sherry asked a question recently about playing slurs on the mandolin, over in the main forum, that thread is here:

    Her question was: "Can you play a 2 note slur on a mandolin by only plucking the first note, and, if so, how is it done?"

    Later, she gave more detail in a post on the second page there: "The question came up at my lesson yesterday and was posted at my teacher's request. I had played John Kelly's Birdfeeder Waltz for her and she wondered about playing the triplets without plucking 3 times."

    I found this interesting, because the first Newbies Tune-of-the Month from April, 2016, Road to Lisdoonvarna, contained a discussion about this very topic: Using hammer-ons and pull-offs to play triplets.

    I decided to add a topic here to point to that discussion and to summarize it. You can read the entire discussion here:

    When asked about my penchant for using hammers and pulls to play triplets, I made a video and posted to that thread. I'll include that post here:


    BJ, my apologies for not responding sooner, I just checked here about an hour ago. I made a video to answer your question, because I can't answer it by typing, but it's taking a long time to upload so I guess maybe you'll see it tomorrow. I'll also ask Brad if there's anything he wants to add here.


    My video is ready now, also I have left a message for Brad.

  2. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    In a later post, Brad Laird chimes in on the subject. I'll include his post here as well.

    Hello everyone and thank you Mark for asking me to drop in here and give my two cents worth on triplets.

    As I started typing my initial reply it dawned on me that I have discussed this (and many other things) in many of my video lessons so I did some digging through my video lessons and found a few examples where I am discussing a few triplets and how I tend to do them.

    I grabbed some clips from a couple of examples and uploaded them to YouTube. Here they are:

    The first is from my video "Old Joe Clark - Tune & Variations". It does a decent job of explaining the way I do "double hammer" triplets. This is one of the techniques Mark was showing in his video of Caledonian Laddie. I also spend a little time talking about position shifting. Here is clip 1:

    The second one is from my video "Mississippi Sawyer - Tune & Embellishments". This clip shows how I do "hammer-pulloff" type triplets.

    By the way, I have been granted permission to distribute free copies of that Mississippi Sawyer lesson to anyone who asks for it. These videos are distributed by Watch & Learn (aka and but they allow me to "give out samples". If you'd like a copy of the complete lesson (with the tracks and PDF file) just email me at and put something in the subject line about Mississippi Sawyer so I can find it easily among the tons of spam I get. I'll send you a download link and you can watch the whole lesson.

    Now, before I hit post, let me say that my way is only one way. I know a lot of players manage through some mystic ability which I do no possess, to play triplets with DUD or DDU or whatever, but for me I am so hooked on keeping my 8th note DUDU going steady that all of my triplets are formed with hammers, pulls or slides. Maybe I am just slow but I have never been able to shift gears and speed up my pick for those three notes and then slow back down to where I was cruising without sounding like a major hiccup. Cheers to those who do it that way. More power to 'em and to each his own.

    And, Mark, thanks for that video. Nice to see someone is actually reading them! (my books)
    Take care,
  3. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Those videos should offer some food for thought, and maybe some insights on using these ornamentations to play triplets while keeping the left hand groove flowing more smoothly. Any further discussion of this topic here is much appreciated, please let us know what you think and what you do.

    I feel that the discussion of hammer-ons and pull-offs goes toward answering the part of Sherry's question, "if so, how is it done?"
  4. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Thanks for all your hard work on this, Mark. I hope others are interested. I just can't take the time right now. Like I said in the "Slurs" post, I'm still working on double stops and 3rd position, not to mention all those arpeggio exercises in lesson 4. I feel I'm really handicapped by not having a regular mandolin teacher. Sorry for the whining.

    No response necessary. Just don't want you thinking I'm ungrateful.
  5. HonketyHank
    Hammer-ons will really benefit from the development of good calluses. But pull-offs might be a different story, depending on how they are executed. Both are really essential components of clawhammer banjo technique. I guess that's why they come pretty easily to me. But with the 'tighter' strings of the mandolin both are harder to sound out clearly, at least for me. I find the double pull-off especially difficult to hear when I try it.

    Watchout - here comes a blatant brag: Back in the day, I used to be able to play Old Joe Clark all the way through on the banjo without using my right hand. It wasn't flashy but it was indeed OJC. It was a show-off kind of thing. End of brag. But with practice, you can do a lot with the left hand.
  6. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    I agree with those observations, Henry, they're more difficult for me on mandolin, and some of the pull off's are maybe doubly so. Sounds like that OJC show off thingy was a really good exercise!

    I watched my video above from almost two years ago and can see how terrible my use of left hand fingertips was - fingers splayed and finger pads instead of tips fretting strings. It's taken a long time to correct that kind of stuff and get a clearer sound out of the mandolin.
  7. bradlaird
    Hi Mark, Hank and everybody! I had a melt down on my iMac last week and today--finally--I am pretending like things are "normal". Still testing things on a borrowed MacBook and so far so good. But, I just wanted to say that the first thing I did on the Cafe was pop over here to see how things are going. Keep on trucking!
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