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Thread: How does playing mando with guitar work?

  1. #1

    Default How does playing mando with guitar work?

    Hey everyone. This is my first post on here...Hello!

    Not sure if there is a thread already about the following topic that I missed somewhere. If there is, please feel free to point me in the right direction.

    Here's the back story:
    I've been playing the mandolin on my own for about two years. I'm a singer (first and foremost) and also play the violin. I initially wanted to pick up the mandolin to strum chords to accompany myself when I sing, and that's essentially what I've been doing up until my guitarist friends have started invited me to play and sing with them...

    My issue:
    I've figured out strumming. If I'm playing a piece of music on my mandolin with my friend who is a guitarist, how can I figure out what else to play on my mandolin so we aren't just playing chords in unison? I have started doing some basic melodies on the mandolin and can improvise, but what about when I want to sing along too?

    Regarding music styles, we're playing a lot of folk tunes right now. I eventually want to get into gypsy jazz, but I need to practice the jazz chords more.

    Thanks for your wisdom! V.

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  3. #2
    Registered User
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    Default Re: How does playing mando with guitar work?

    Welcome to the Cafe!

    I would say the next logical move is to add rhythmic touches to your chord strumming - some staccato muting, some syncopation, etc. You can try to think of the mandolin as a percussion instrument that can also play chords and melody. Kind of hard to explain, but to me, Andrew Marlin of Mandolin Orange is a master of this.

    Mitch Russell

  4. #3
    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does playing mando with guitar work?

    Second the percussive thing -- you can do some interesting offbeat stuff if you think of the mandolin as a multi-use tool. I play with a guitarist a lot, but we normally do me on melody and the occasional double stop and he on strumming chords. If either of us could actually sing, that would add to the effect, but we rely on others to sing -- in which case i'll follow the vocals on melody and harmony. If you're comfortable playing harmony for yourself while the guitar player strums, that's another option.
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  5. #4

    Default Re: How does playing mando with guitar work?

    Thanks, both of you! Ah, yes! Great video. I need to study it in more detail I guess. I've watched Mandolin Orange before, but not in as much detail. So much going on here.

    My problem with playing harmony while I sing is that it sort of is like patting my head and rubbing my belly at the same time. Totally throws me off. At least at this stage in the game. Don't want to to look like I total ding dong while I'm playing. Ha.

    Thanks again!

  6. #5
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does playing mando with guitar work?

    Quote Originally Posted by ViolinVictoria View Post
    My problem with playing harmony while I sing is that it sort of is like patting my head and rubbing my belly at the same time.
    You are not like Andy Irvine, then
    The first thing I did when singin with mandolin was just playing the very melody I was singing - not very imaginative, but it is a start, and it does utilize the neural coupling of voice and hands Joe Cocker was famous for. I still have difficulties playing counter-melodies and variations while singing, though.

    Oh, and I never understood what's so special about that head-patting/belly-rubbing thing - I can do it.
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  7. #6
    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does playing mando with guitar work?

    It is generally overlooked that the main focus of playing music has to be on the melody. Listen to Bach (Brandenburg Concerto), Thelonious Monk (anything but check out the documentary produced by Clint Eastwood [itīs true]), Brubeck (the whole "Take Five" album is a great referrence), Bill Monroe (look up the Bill Monroe videos thread on the cafe) etc.

    My point is that any accompaniment must (!) reflect the melodic ideas in order to make the ensemble playing sound good. This is greatly (and sadly) overlooked by most bluegrass banjo pickers. They think that keeping the banjo rolling in an endles stream of notes is the thing (my pet peeve is the technically great Greg Liszt). This, as an example destroys the rythmical ideas of the melody.

    The same mistake is reflected in mandolin playing if we only focus on "the" bluegrass chop. "The" iconoclastic bluegrass chop - to my mind - is the focus of a single dampened chord stroke on the downbeat. Try this on some more elaborate rythmical pieces and you will find out that the musical idea is destroyed.

    That leaves the mandolin player in the dilemma that you have described in your initial post. The way out - with a focus on ensemble playing - is fairly simple.

    Do not play what the fellow musician plays. There is no problem in pausing. If the guitarist playes an intricate rythmical or melodic line ... give him space by not playing. Experiment with rythmical embellishments that are centered in the melodic rythm but stay out of the guitarists way. Play an open chord once in a while. Play a note progression that reflect the music (this sounds more complicated than it is: If you play a chord you at least play harmony to what you are singing). Throw in an arpegio once in a while.

    Most of all: Keep it simple when you start out. Move on from there. Donīt be afraid. Youīre allways at least only a fret away from the right note, so corrections are easy.

    As an afterthought: Listen to - let`s say "The Hot Club Of France". There were at least 2 (sometimes more) guitars that made "la pompe". That is, they played the rythm in unison. So thereīs no wrong in doing that.

    What I found out though is that most people when they play together do not play a unison rythm. I had that experience - which was really weird but eyeopening - when I had a session with my sonīs former guitar teacher, who is a professional musician and a good guitar player. But our two rythmical understandings of the very same tune were different so that even when we played the same chords and the same basic acompaniment pattern to the vocals, we were not only not in unison but the slightly different rythmical aproacht - to my mind - totally destroyed everything. Listening to the others while playing is essential.

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    Registered User Cochiti Don's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does playing mando with guitar work?

    I have the same issue except that I'm a beginner. I'm doing my first gig at the end of the month with two guitar players, who basically are "boom-chuck" strummers. I'm experimenting with little runs but there's no time to perfect them. Thanks for the post!
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  10. #8
    mandolin slinger Steve Ostrander's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does playing mando with guitar work?

    Try to play little runs at the end of singing lines. This will make it more interesting and not interfere with the singing.
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  11. #9
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    Default Re: How does playing mando with guitar work?

    OK ...... Spicing up a duet . Firstly when you are singing don't worry about only playing chords. The audience is interested in the vocal parts the story line and poetry and harmony . Playing fill , those areas between verses, you can play an arpeggio or cross pick the current chord or an inversion of it. You don't want to be taking away from the vocal performance with tone clutter and you want to be ready to come back in on the beat with the vocal so keep it simple and don't over run the time slot. Lead into the chord change if there is one. This can be done with a partial scale played in single tones or double stops. Lastly is punctuation .... an off beat a series of them can syncopate the melody nicely but is a tool best not over used. R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

  12. #10

    Default Re: How does playing mando with guitar work?

    When I first started doing duets on guitar with a mandolin player, my approach was to find and listen to mandolin guitar groups and CD's for ideas. There are dozens of examples including Grisman and Garcia, Skaggs and Rice, The Louvin Brothers, The Monroe Brothers, Thile and Daves, Homer and Jethro, Stiernberg and Carlini, some Norman and Nancy Blake songs, Doc and Dawg, Tone Poems with Tony Rice and Dawg. There are more approaches there than I have been able to absorb.

  13. #11
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: How does playing mando with guitar work?

    I love playing comping parts on mando alongside guitar or piano, there is so much you can do, CarlM's post above has really good advice about listening to the masters' ideas. Just try some simple variations and see what works for you. One of the best things about a mandolin is the ability to play percussion, melody and harmony on the same instrument. The concept is a lot like jazz comping on piano or guitar, but you "sit" in a different place in the music.
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  14. #12
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    Default Re: How does playing mando with guitar work?

    I'd highly recommend that you listen to the fabulous Chris Thile and Michael Daves bluegrass album "Sleep With One Eye Open" for a thousand or more musical ideas on how the mandolin can play both rhythm and fills in a spare, guitar-mandolin duo setting. Thile does not merely produce a bluegrass "chop", although he manages to fill in the offbeats (since the guitar handles downbeats better): he also creates moving bass lines, different chord inversions and color tones, amazing fills and runs, double-time strums, rhythmic accents, ... and a whole lot more. This is WAAAY beyond the traditional "Bill Monroe bluegrass chop". Here's a taste, from NPR:

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  16. #13
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does playing mando with guitar work?

    Hi and welcome Victoria. If you know the chords well enough to strum them and have a violin background, try picking the chords as arpeggios while the guitarist strums. You probably did a ton of these exercises as a beginner violinist. Throw in some hammer-ons and pull-offs to add variety. Keep working on doing this while singing - it is a skill worth developing.

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  18. #14
    Registered User zedmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: How does playing mando with guitar work?

    Some good advice--but since the mandolin is in a different range than the guitar even if you play the same chords in the same rhythm it will sound different, but that's okay.

    Still good advice above for moving beyond that.
    Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?

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  20. #15

    Default Re: How does playing mando with guitar work?

    Wow! Okay. Thanks everyone. So glad I found this forum. Lots of knowledge on the mandolin! I started working on the arpeggios this week. Having a bit of a "duh" moment, but super excited about having a new technicque to use.

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