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Thread: Practicing Mandolin to prepare for Octave

  1. #1

    Default Practicing Mandolin to prepare for Octave

    I used to play the tenor banjo years ago, but the brightness of the sound caused me to drift into a nylon stringed 5-string banjo, played clawhammer style. I tend to prefer deeper sounds, especially when practicing by myself. Iím much more into Irish music now, and after hearing a few octaves and Ďzouks played in trad sessions in Ireland this summer, I decided I wanted to try the octave mandolin.

    I recently ordered an octave, but since itís going to be months Ďtil itís delivered, I picked up a simple mandolin to practice in the meantime. I was ignorant of the 2 frets per finger method, so I started playing the way I remembered from the tenor banjo. Then I heard about the 2 frets guideline, so I switched. But THEN I heard that a lot of octave players use the guitar fingerings Ö now Iím trying to decide if I should switch back.

    Since I know enough about myself to say that I really want to play the octave more because of the lower register, and the current mandolin is just a placeholder, is it a bad idea to keep practicing the mandolin-style fingerings when Iíll probably have to go back to guitar/octave/1 fret per finger when the octave arrives?

    I didnít feel like I gained that much speed from going to the 2 frets per finger method Ė but I havenít played many songs that go up the neck. Even with the guitar fingerings, I found that I needed only a few shifts, and I really could get frets 1, 6, and 7 by stretching index finger and pinky. Iím wondering how much it would hold me back, in the futureÖ Any advice? Thanks!

  2. #2
    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing Mandolin to prepare for Octave

    An interesting point you make here, J. I play mandolin family instruments as well as guitar, and came to the mandolin from guitar. I play mandolin in the "prescribed" way - 2 frets per finger but generally on the octave i revert to guitar fingering as you are doing. I have never found it a big problem going from mandolin to octave, and I know that for many of the tunes I play I do tend to use mandolin fingering even on the octave. The tunes are generally Scottish pipe tunes and only have a range of 9 notes, so do not demand that we go up the fingerboard often if at all. THe octave suits those tunes with its lower register. I also have fairly big hands and a wide finger spread after years of guitar and bass playing, and I find that some mandolins are a bit too tight for me with their fairly narrow nut width. I am fortunate that the instruments I play are made by myself and my mandolins have a 32mm nut width and a scale length of around 375 mm which I find to be more comfortable for me.

    As long as you are playing and finding no real problems, keep having fun
    I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. - Eric Morecambe

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    Registered User fox's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing Mandolin to prepare for Octave

    Sounds like you should try out a tenor guitar, play them like a tenor banjo but, the sound is so much sweeter than a banjo!
    I use one finger per fret on my octaves.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Practicing Mandolin to prepare for Octave

    A lot of the speed in any fingering method comes not from the efficiency of the method itself, but from practice.

    I started as a cello player, long ago in elementary school, so for me the fastest way to finger any instrument with a longer scale than a mandola is "cello style" - two frets each for the first and fourth fingers, one fret each for the middle two. Decades of repeated scales and runs under my fingers have made this more of a determining factor than the scale length of the instrument. My octave is 21", tenor guitar 23", baritone tenor guitar and cello 27", and I finger them all the same because ultimately the psychological speed of knowing which finger has which note trumps any kind of spatial efficiency.

    So just pick a style and then practice, a lot, until the speed comes. Django played his Selmer with a thumb and only two fingers. There are no rules, only conventions. Choose a convention for yourself and stick to it, and have fun!!

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    Default Re: Practicing Mandolin to prepare for Octave

    I think you'll find the octave to be a completely different instrument than mando. My hands aren't large enough to play OM or Cello in mandolin fashion effectively, so that's out for me. I would learn mandolin with "mandolin fingering," and then adjust to octave fingering when it arrives, if your hands won't allow your ring finger to cleanly reach the fifth fret. I bought my octave expecting to just be able to transfer mando fingering, and got a little frustrated when I couldn't. If you expect it to be substantially different, it helps from a patience standpoint. Knowing this, I recently bought a mandocello, and am having a blast with it!
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Practicing Mandolin to prepare for Octave

    I too come from a guitar background, and have been gradually working my way down from long scale instruments (bouzouki and octave mandolin, Mandola ) down to what is almost a mandolin (my Old Wave 10 string). The octave was quite natural for me as I could use my guitar fingering, one finger per fret, and shift position when needed. I just could not get my head around mandolin fingering until quite recently. It seemed counter intuitive to me. Anyway, I use mandolin fingering now on my 10 string, 15" scale. A bit of a stretch but it makes a lot more sense now.

    Robbie

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