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Thread: Playing with a pianist

  1. #1

    Default Playing with a pianist

    Long story, short.

    Moved to a smallish sized city (15k) which doesn't have much of a music scene. Thought I would "join" a band but not much around so ended up forming my own combo with a pianist and a bass player. We do swing music, Gypsy jazz, ragtime/Dixieland, and some older blues (e.g., St. Louis Blues).

    The pianist is very good, and is usually the one who gets called to go accompany the local school groups (e.g., junior high choir, senior high choir) and plays for two different churches.

    However, I still think we struggle to figure out how to play as a combo. My experience with pianists (aka "church piano syndrome") is that they can play all the parts and do so, which doesn't leave much room for the bass and mandolin.

    Anyone else out there play regularly with a pianist? It doesn't seem that common, but I have been 5 years looking for a guitarist and believe it or not, there aren't that many in this place.

    How to gel better as a small combo?
    "Those who know don't have the words to tell, and the ones with the words don't know so well." - Bruce Cockburn

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  3. #2
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    I love playing mandolin with a pianist, I can find room to "move around" the pianist,and mandolin/piano rhythm playing is really cool. You have to figure out how to divide up the "space" in the tune. It takes some maturity and sophistication from the pianist, to remember what matters is how the tune sounds, not the piano. When it works right, it's a blast. Good Luck!
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  5. #3
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    Assuming this pianist is an accomplished musician, you may want to sit down with him and the bass player and discuss arrangements. Are you just working off of lead sheets. In that case perhaps you need to actually arrange the music. You might do some simple recordings at your rehearsals and then listen critically. The longer you all play together the more you will mesh better. The pianist may just need to back off and may not realize it but perhaps when he hears what thing sound like he may do so.
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    Registered User Billy Packard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    Hi Teak,

    I've done it all, guitar backup to solo mandolin and my favorite duo is mandolin and piano.

    With all things being equal, (that is in a balance of talent), the sonic range is full orchestral with a piano.

    When a keyboard player teams up with a mandolinist they must share the sonic territory. That's to say the keyboard needs to voice things around the mandolin's range. Once things are mapped out it's a full on song.

    While some styles of music don't usually include pianos, (bluegrass), a good keyboard player will lift pretty much any ensemble.



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    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    There is a huge tradition of pianists accompanying fiddle players in all sorts of music.
    Mandolin isn't so different.

    For my part, I quite often play with a piano, both informally and sometimes gigs. I like it.
    David A. Gordon

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    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    I looooove how this pianist plays and of course Dominick's mando work is terrific as always. This gives you a good idea of how these two instruments blend acoustically with no amplification. I do you find that even in the Thile/Mehldau recordings the mandolin does struggle a bit to cut through the piano. There is something about the frequency of those do you instruments being played at the same time that does not allow the mandolin to show it's full-bodied sound. There is one recording by Mike Marshall on his wine country CD of minor swing that is by far the best piano/mandolin recording I've ever heard. Mikes Loar is by far one of the best mandolins I've ever played. John Monteleone did an amazing job regraduating the top and and replacing the tone bars. Not to mention all the other work that was done to it by other great luthiers...

    Last edited by Demetrius; Jan-14-2018 at 10:31am.

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  12. #7

    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    First of all, thanks to everyone for posting. I learned something from each of you.

    I agree that the mandolin and piano at times have sounded great together on some songs and not so great on others. We just added the bass player in on our latest gig and he didn't feel that the pianist give him any space so we will have a sit down and discuss this. That, and the fact that the weak link in this trio is the mandolinist ( ), makes me want to double down on working on the rhythm portion of our (my) playing.

    And thanks for the video, Demetrius. Seeing is believing in the possibilities for us.
    "Those who know don't have the words to tell, and the ones with the words don't know so well." - Bruce Cockburn

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    Registered User Bob Visentin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    I only play bass guitar on stage and have played with piano and guitar players who feel they need to play it all. The band I'm with now had a guitar player who stepped on every thing. Played my bass lines and all the fills leaving no room for the fiddle. He would not even look at the fiddle player on stage. Now we have the best keyboard player I have ever played with. He is very generous and leaves room for all while still being able to shine. I think it is a matter of awareness and listening. I play way less and completely different when there is a drummer to keep the beat and a piano player should play different when there is a bass.

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    Pianists are used to covering bass, chords and melody all at once -- and they can do it. We mere mortal mandolinists can't. The pianist OP's working with is used to playing accompaniment for singing (choruses, churches), which calls for a "full" sound, that often involves playing all the parts -- soprano, alto, tenor, bass -- as accompaniment. I assume, as well, that he/she is used to working from written music, and perhaps not used to listening to other instruments, and leaving them sufficient room to solo and improvise.

    Plus, the piano's inherently much louder than the mandolin, especially if the pianist "rides the pedal" to get more sustain and volume. It may require a bit of "re-education" to make him/her comfortable as a trio member.

    Having said that, there are all kinds of opportunities for counterpoint, chordal accompaniment, harmonies below the melody, and interesting musical "back and forth" between the piano and mandolin. If the pianist is as expert as described, he/she may find it an interesting challenge, with some musically interesting results.
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    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    Speaking as a pianist for many more years than a mandolinist, if the pianist is used to accompanying solo vocalists or other instruments, it will be easier. The pianist can really back down the volume if requested, and as mentioned above, you may want to arrange the music a bit to give everyone a chance to "shine." I would have no problem with such a discussion, but I have also over the years accompanied many vocalists and solo instruments.

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  19. #11

    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    I play acoustic and electric guirar with piano players sometimes, and I actually find it's easier than playing with another guitarist. The sonic space is so different that it's easy to find chords and notes that complement the piano. No one seems to get stepped on.

    Never tried it with mando, but I imagine it would be the same story. A little mando chop goes a long way!

    The bassist for Saffire: The Uppity Blues Women picks up a mando sometimes. You might want to listen to some of their stuff to see how they do it.

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    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    Here's a cool one arranged and performed Cafe member Neil Gladd.

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    In addition to the usual Italian folk and pop music that sounds great played by a mandolin and piano, there is a body of Italian music for mandolin and piano too.

    Some examples:

    http://imslp.org/wiki/Category:For_m...n,_piano_(arr)

    http://imslp.org/wiki/Mandolin_Conce...nier%2C_Carlo)

    http://ks.imslp.net/files/imglnks/us...lin_woo44a.pdf

    http://www.federmandolino.it/listing...ndolino_piano/

    Also, Klezmer works well with mandolin and piano as does choro.

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    Registered User Frankdolin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    As a child I spent a lot of time with three folks my Dad knew who all were pianists. And since my Dad wasn't that great of a musician I learned a TON playing with these folks. Don't remember the dynamics of their being able to accompany me, but it was always seamless and was just normal to me at the time.

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    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    I routinely play with "church" pianists, and usually they are trained to "play it all." In band situations, they really need to back off the left hand and use the right for covering chords as opposed to playing the melody. If it is just me and the pianist and they barrel through, I find myself playing the mandolin more like a guitar and just focusing on the chords while trying to add dynamics.
    My biggest problem in that situation is timing. As a trained drummer, my internal metronome knows where the beat is, but a play it all pianist will usually move the beat around the vocal melody so that some notes are late, others early. I've learned that the secret is to sing the melody to myself while playing, and I can usually match up to their timing.
    As an aside, this last Sunday the pianist made the mistake of picking some hymns that are easily translated to bluegrass. Thus right after the intro I broke into a chuck 'n chop and took them for a ride. 'got some smiles over that one.
    Sooner or later we're all just old men wearing funny clothes.

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  29. #16

    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    Quote Originally Posted by gspiess View Post
    I routinely play with "church" pianists, and usually they are trained to "play it all."

    My biggest problem in that situation is timing. As a trained drummer, my internal metronome knows where the beat is, but a play it all pianist will usually move the beat around the vocal melody so that some notes are late, others early. I've learned that the secret is to sing the melody to myself while playing, and I can usually match up to their timing.
    Exactly. You nailed the issue right there. Our timing seems off mostly because I brought in a bass player who is rock steady in timing and I notice now how the pianist moves the beat around.
    "Those who know don't have the words to tell, and the ones with the words don't know so well." - Bruce Cockburn

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    One thing I didn't see mentioned. I try and position myself so that the piano player and I can easily catch each other's eyes. Everything being discussed above seems to happen easier if we can see each other smile or nod or signal.
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  32. #18
    Registered User Billy Packard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    We play a few E. Mezzacapo mandolin and piano compositions. Here's a lovely mazurka.



    Click image for larger version. 

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    Registered User Billy Packard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing with a pianist

    Keeping up to date...



    We've been enjoying the Beethoven Adagio, especially at a more brisk tempo, like this...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qzsgA1BMBo



    or, even more brisk--like this!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXgPLxLLfH0



    At any rate, it's wonderful--the mandolin and piano, especially in loving hands.


    Billy
    Billy Packard
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