My project for March

  1. HonketyHank
    I didn't do the Tune of the Month for March and for that I apologize. I will be doing the April tune. But I did decide to devote March to a project I have been putting off for a long time -- left hand pinkie finger development.

    I started by doing those spider walk exercises, or at least what I remembered of them from watching one of Mike Marshall's videos a long time ago. I confess that the first week or two was pretty boring and I didn't even think I was doing any good, but I stuck to it.

    I have this thing, maybe it is housed on the Y chromosome, where I secretly stare at another mandolin player's left pinkie and compare it to mine. My pinkie seems always to be shorter. I have thus for a long time said that must be why I have trouble using my pinkie effectively. Why I can't do all those stretchy chords. Why I can't play up the neck. Etc. Etc. And I was about to invoke the short pinkie excuse yet again when I remembered an old video by Pete Martin, specifically on use of the pinkie.

    I scrounged around and found his new website and his pinkie video. Watched it. And I noticed something I hadn't noticed before -- his pinkie finger is just as short as mine. Yet he has this great video showing how to use it and how to strengthen it. I watched it several more times and got a lot of new ideas and new incentive.

    So the next couple of weeks I really focused on what Pete was teaching. I can say that my pinkie finger is definitely stronger, a bit more agile, and a bit more under control. So doing all that work has helped and I intend to continue focused work on developing that finger.

    Finally, last week I was one of the lucky folks who got to attend Caleb Klauder's zoom workshop and I was really happy that he spent maybe a third of the time on developing and using the left hand pinkie finger. (And I noticed that he has a short pinkie, too.) One thing he said that cheered me up was that even though he uses that pinkie finger a LOT in his playing, he rarely does four finger chords.

    Some things I have learned:
    1. Posture is critically important. I have always slouched. Pete's video showed how the correct posture can give you maybe another inch of reach.
    2. Use a strap, even when seated. This also allows left hand positions that give better reach.
    3. Don't just do boring old spider walk exercises. Jazz them up. Or make up a tune. I am driving Beverly crazy with Mary Had A Little Lamb played in three different keys using middle finger, ring finger, pinkie; then ring finger, pinkie, index finger; then pinkie finger, index finger, middle finger. No open strings.
    4. Do closed position scales and arpeggios. Caleb also mention this.
    5. Work on good clean notes when doing pinkie exercises, not speed.
    6. Play a fiddle tune without using any open strings. I have been practicing with Liberty! in the key of E.
    7. Do the exercises until your pinkie hurts, then quit for a while or even quit for the day. Don't over do it. But don't underdo it either.

    Here is the page with Pete's Mandolin Basics videos including the pinkie video. I recommend viewing all of them, if only for review. Especially, view the one on left hand technique before working on the pinkie video.
  2. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Glad to see you made good use of March, Henry. And thanks for sharing your notes.
  3. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    That's a perfectly acceptable excuse for skipping the TOM, and you got much more out of working your fourth finger than you would have gotten from learning "All of Me." Good work!
  4. bbcee
    Hats off to you, Hank, for hunkering down and focusing on a problem area, and finding good resources to help. I was thinking during Caleb’s class how interesting it was that he was spending more than a little time on the pinkie. Good timing for you!
  5. HonketyHank
    Still working on it. My objective this month is to do a video of Staten Island HP in a completely closed position (key of E). That will force me to stretch the max and also make me learn the tune primarily on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers instead of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. I am finding that to be harder than the stretch with my 4th finger. It seems like I have learned patterns of notes using 1,2, and 3 and those patterns just refuse to come out of fingers 2,3, and 4. I do notice that my 4th finger is getting a bit stronger, though.
  6. SOMorris
    Thanks for the report, Hank. I don't know about other folks, but it helps me just knowing I am not the only one struggling sometimes.
  7. Ellsdemon
    Nice job Hank. I just that video of Pete's on the pinky. He's also been putting more videos out it seems lately or I'm just seeing them more. One of the things that helped me with my pinky a while back was FFcP and that scale. I even started it up a couple of weeks ago to help. I can't wait to hear how you've felt on your pinky strength
  8. HonketyHank
    This is turning out to be something of a major project. Some more observations:

    I am gradually getting over my sore lower back that resulted from forcing myself to sit up straight while practicing half the day. I can still remember my mother always nagging me "Sit up STRAIGHT, Henry, or you'll grow up crooked." I heard her, but I didn't listen.

    I am having to relearn how I put my left hand on the neck of the mandolin. I have been letting my palm turn out from the neck and thus ended up fretting with the fleshy pad of my pinkie finger (when I couldn't avoid using that finger). Pete Martin clearly demonstrates that you GOTTA use the tip and that finger has GOTTA be bent at both knuckles. This isn't going to happen with my old left hand positioning. So I am trying to relearn how to hold the mandolin. Not really hold it because I am using a strap now. But my thumb now goes up the neck past the nut now so my palm is almost touching the treble side of the neck just below the base of all four fingers. This position allows me to curl my pinkie and still reach the seventh fret with my pinkie while fretting the next string at the second fret. I can see that once I get used to it, I should be able to do runs and arpeggios as easily as I do now in open position. Should. I better. Dag nabbit.

    In the mean time, my pinkie is sore and still wants to collapse down to straight and flat. And I am getting new calluses. O Boy.

    One thought keeps me going -- when I was halfway through February trying to make my fingers do Fisher's Hornpipe in F, I was pretty discouraged. But I kept at it and I did get it down pretty smooth (even if not very fast) by the end of the month.

    I still plan to have a Staten Island video, but it will probably be pretty rough.
  9. NDO
    Way to go Hank! I’m so new I haven’t discovered my bad habits yet but I’m encouraged that it’s possible to fix them after I break things
  10. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    "I am having to relearn how I put my left hand on the neck of the mandolin." ~ Great stuff Henry! All this musical stuff, for me, has been a process of continued learning of new things and re-learning of old things, all my life, on any musical instrument. I keep finding ways to extend my reach on the mandolin and working on using better technique - and mostly failing - but its so much fun to work on it, I don't mind the process.

    Wonder if Thile is an organ donor? Sometimes I think I need a hand transplant to go with the brain one I'm long overdue.
  11. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    Henry, I'll be really interested to watch what that pinkie is doing in your video.

    The two bad habits I have been working on are putting my thumb on the back of the neck and planting my pinkie on the pickguard. I think I'm close to conquering both!
  12. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    My (violin) teacher's main focuses right now are to have me plant my first finger, now that I'm better about holding my fingers down, and naming the notes as I play, thinking in terms of note names, rather than finger numbers. I detest the exercises, but do see the value.

    On my own I'm working on crosspicking and strum patterns, plus 3 gospel songs I've selected for the next jam session.

    It's interesting to see what each of us is working on.
  13. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    I'm working on keeping my fingers planting and only moving them when it is necessary. I've got a group of songs I"m practicing and working on building speed and I realized at some point that I was never going to get, for example, 8th of January, up to full speed if I keep letting my fingers fly off between every note. These songs are all through Peghead Nation and Sharon Gilchrest is big on the fingerplanting technique. I've learned a lot from that course.
  14. HonketyHank
    Speaking of flyaway fingers, I have been working on that, too, especially that pointy index finger. I suspect that we are not the only folks battling this. Here is an excerpt from a large painting "The Investiture of St. Martin", painted in 1322. When I saw this I thought that guy could be me. Maybe this was considered good form back then but he doesn't look all that happy:

  15. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Someone should have told him
  16. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    Yes, Sherry, they are whispering behind his back at him instead
  17. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    They are! Lol
  18. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    That's a riot! I am also working on the pointer finger.
  19. HonketyHank
    I know what he is doing! He is playing in open position, so he doesn't NEED that pointer finger. Good exercise!
  20. SOMorris
    "...but he doesn't look all that happy:"

    That's probably because his pinky is killing him, Hank! It looks painful!
  21. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter

    Actually, now that you mention it, there's something going on with his middle finger, too. I don't know about you guys, but mine doesn't bend at the bottom that way!
  22. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    What's that stuck between his 2nd and 3rd fingers on his right hand?
  23. HonketyHank
    I think I have seen that in old instructional books as how to use a goose quill pick. Maybe I'm pseudo-remembering it though.
  24. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    I'm more concerned about his right hand. No evidence of a thumb, little finger is doubtful, and his wrist looks to have been badly broken and treated by a 14th century bonesetter. Maybe the goose got him when he was trying for a quill. Actually, he may not have a left thumb either.
  25. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    Oh, he's got a left thumb, he's got it braced against the back, and that's another thing the onlookers are whispering about.
  26. HonketyHank
    Anybody here play the flute or recorder or whistle? Here is the rest of the painting. Can you actually play two penny whistles at the same time and make musical sounds?

    And heck, I wonder about the chorus behind the gitterner (gitternist? manlin-man?) - what are they singing? Or are they singing anything? Maybe they are a band of pickpockets trying to look like "who me?".

    I do like the night-shirts some of those guys are wearing. Plaid on one half and tweed on the other, etc. Cool. I have a couple pair of socks like that. But why wear your pajamas to such a serious occasion?

    Actually, it is an interesting painting and quite remarkable for being 800 years old.
  27. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    It's very interesting, and thank you, Henry for posting it as the discussion of it has been very entertaining!

    I thought I'd offer this on a similar note, a 1770's Guittar (as Jake spells it) from Jake Wildwood's blog

  28. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Henry,are you sure that guy's not picking his teeth?
  29. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    It is a cool painting. I like the guitar, too.
  30. Southern Man
    Southern Man

    I do not play pennywhistle, but I have seen an artist play two saxophone at the same time (I believe it was an alto sax and a tenor sax). It was really good. So, I am definitely going with two pennywhistles are a really good possibility.
  31. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    Wait, I've played clarinet. I know a little about embouchure. How the heck could you position two reeds in your mouth at the same time?

    Also, what's the guy on the floor doing?
  32. Southern Man
    Southern Man

    I have no idea how he did it, but this is the late, great Andy Goessling of Railroad Earth (and other bands previously). Andy played a ton of instruments. I believe I've heard 22 instruments, but I"ve never seen a list or full count. And those weren't just things he fooled around with in extra time on the road, but instruments he played professionally on stage. He played a number of mandolin family instruments, I believe mandolin, octave, and bouzouki for sure. Anyway, here is a brief clip of him with two saxophone. There are other videos out there, but this is what the quick google search showed up. I was not at this show but I have been at shows when he played the double-saxes:
  33. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
  34. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
  35. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Flute was my first instrument, I played a lot of recorder at one point, and I've messed with tin whistles. As Sue says, embouchure would be a problem. So would fingering, as it takes the fingers on both hands to play a simple major scale. My guess is that he is just warming them up. When the guy in the foreground is done pranking the guy in the halo by tying his shoelaces together, he will hand him one and the wild rumpus will begin.

    It actually is a lovely painting—thanks, Hank. The guittar is very cool too, Sue. Is it actually that old, or a modern replica?
  36. bbcee
    I had a waldzither, a grandson of that English guittar, that used Preston tuners. Actually, you have one as well, right Henry?

    Oh boy, what fun string changes were!
  37. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    It's actually that old. If Jake's shop were just a little closer (it's a 2+ hour drive), I might've thought about driving up there while he had it just to see it in person and maybe touch it. Can you imagine what that instrument's seen? You can read about the repairs he made on the blog post.

    Louise, I thought about the fingering, too. In the video, he was playing each sax with one hand. Limited availability of notes, I would think.

    And, you may be right about the shoelaces
  38. HonketyHank
    Still working on it. A few more observations:
    1. As Mike Marshall and others have emphasized, it is possible to overdo the exercises and develop tendonitis. I have done just that. It's getting better now, but I lost a few days.
    2. I rediscovered another video on left hand work - , by Anthony Hannigan.
    3. Anthony has a bunch of instructional videos - the video above is #17 in his beginner series - here:
    4. He also has an intermediate series - here:

    ps: yes I still have the waldzither. I get it out every now and then. It was a real wreck when I bought it. But it cleaned up nicely. It still has a wide variety of cracks, dings, scrapes, etc, but the neck is straight, the action is good, the tuners work, and it sounds pretty good.
  39. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Honkety, do you have a short-scale mandolin? If so, working on the fourth-finger exercises on it for a time, then moving up to a 13 7/8" scale mando might help you progress without doing things you will regret. That extra 7/8" makes a surprising amount of difference.
  40. HonketyHank
    No, I don't. But since I am basically doing FFcP exercises, I could certainly move up the neck a couple of frets. Or heck, I probably have a banjo capo around here somewhere I could slap on. Good thought, Louise - thanks.
  41. HonketyHank
    I suppose I could spend another couple of days (or months) trying to clean this up, but the facto-dematter is that I still lack co-ordination in my left hand fingers. They all have different roles playing in a closed position as opposed to the open position play I have gotten very accustomed to. And then when I actually put together a string of not-too-bad notes I tend to start thinking "not too bad so far, now don't screw this up..." -- which of course is a guaranteed trainwreck starter.

    But the good news is that the limitation is no longer predominantly in my inability to reach my pinkie out for those notes, nor is it a lack of strength in my pinkie. I do still have to concentrate on my posture and left hand position and I suspect I will be able to do better with those things the more I practice them. I slip back into my flyaway left hand and slouchy posture pretty easily, especially when the "Record" light is on.

    Another problem that I expect to go away with practice is evident in the video. I discovered that if my mandolin is tilted enough for me to get a good view of the fretboard to make sure I am getting my fingers into the right places, it becomes much harder for me to get them there. It also encourages my slouchy posture, which further limits the reach of my fingers. With practice my fingers should be able to find their own way without me guiding them with my eyes.

    So anyway, I am still working in this FFCP (Four-Finger-Closed-Position) stuff and I think it is beginning to pay off. I sometimes find myself using my pinkie on the seventh fret when playing in open position and I could be playing the open string next door.

    Meanwhile, my good buddy, Red Bear, tells me that he needs earplugs to go with the mask.
  42. HonketyHank

  43. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
  44. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    Great job of pinkie discipline! You have inspired me to work on this song and try to whip my own pinkie into shape!
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