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Thread: One finger - two frets?

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    Default One finger - two frets?

    A recurring piece of eadvice on this forum regards fingering: 1st finger: frets 1,2, 2nd finger: frets 3,4, etc.

    I've never understood this approach, at least not in a diatonic context. E.g., that would entail entirely different fingering in the key of Ab or Db from A and D, instead of just pulling back your A and D fingerings one fret. In open position you would cover the Db and Ab scales with just three fingers, and in four instances one finger would cover two adjacent notes in the respective scales. My own default approach has always been: next note, next finger. What do the educators on the Café have to say about this?

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    Emando lover David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: One finger - two frets?

    If it works for you then go with it. I will say these things often are used for a reason. But if you’re playing music well then stick with it till you see the need for the other.

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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: One finger - two frets?

    Hi Ralph, there is an ongoing thread over in the General Discussions section of the forum under Newbie Mandolin Question. It was started by a long-time guitarist and he was asking about taking up mandolin and how to do this as easily as possible.

    The idea of one finger for two frets equates with the finger positions on the fiddle, and in the more-often-played scales in traditional music - G, D and A (Major scales) the scale is played with three fingers and because of the tuning being in 5ths those three scales can be played with identical fingering on two adjacent string courses: for G it is open G, fret 2, fret 4, fret 5 then open D, fret 2, fret 4 and fret 5, giving the notes G, A, B, C, D, E, F# and G. Using fingers 1, 2, and 3 to get those notes is standard fingering on mandolin and is what a fiddler would do as well. Moving the pattern across to the D and A strings would let us play the D major scale and across to the A and E would let us play the A major scale, all three with identical fingering. Playing A minor, starting on the A string, suggested fingering might be: open A, fret 2 for B using finger 1), fret 3 for C natural (finger 2), fret 5 for D (finger 3), open E, fret 1 for F natural (finger 1), fret 3 for G (finger 2) and fret 5 for A (finger 3). First finger plays on the first and second frets in this scale.

    Were I to play an Ab scale I would finger it as follows: G string fret 1 for the Ab, fret 3 for the Bb, Fret 5 for the C, fret 6 for the Db then on to the D string with fret 1 for the Eb, fret 3 for the F, fret 5 for the G and fret 6 for the Ab. Again, this is repeatable across the strings to get Eb and Bb scales. the 6th fret would be fingered with the pinkie (or many players would simply use the third finger moved up a fret, so it is used twice on each string).

    As David says above, whatever works for you is what you will use, and there are many ways of using the right hand too, with various players having their own picking patterns and hand actions which do not suit other players.

    The idea of two frets per finger also arises from the fact that the mandolin is a short-scaled instrument and the hand can feel a bit cramped if it is restricted to finger-per-fret playing. Of course there will be times you need to play adjacent frets when a note is sharpened or flattened, and then you will be using fingers on adjacent frets.

    Ultimately, we all arrive at a style which suits our individual playing and hands.
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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: One finger - two frets?

    This 2 frets/finger thing has always been just an approximation to me, invented for players who come from guitar. 1 diatonic scale note/finger describes it much better, resembling the logic of violinists.

    The rule is quickly broken, however, once you go into doublestops...
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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: One finger - two frets?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    This 2 frets/finger thing has always been just an approximation to me, invented for players who come from guitar. 1 diatonic scale note/finger describes it much better, resembling the logic of violinists.

    The rule is quickly broken, however, once you go into doublestops...
    and playing scales in 3rds or 6ths.

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    Default Re: One finger - two frets?

    I realize I should have pointed out that I've been playing the mandolin for 50 years, although the guitar (60 years!) has always been my main instrument. So I wasn't asking for personal advice, but rather what general advice you suggest giving to a rank beginner.

    On guitar I realized from the very beginning that a fourth is five frets, hence I could cover all keys with chromatic fingering in open position. My next discovery was that the F and C scales require only the use of the first three frets, hence transpose readily to higher positions, with strict chromatic fingering. And the third step was to free myself of this approach and move more freely over the fretboard. Today I would say that most of the time I play all over the neck out of the transposed C, E, and G forms across the strings and in various ad hoc patterns along them.

    On mandolin I of course realized right away that a fifth is seven frets so chromatic fingering wouldn't work. As my main motive was to be able to play fiddle tunes in their proper octave, and these largely alternate broken chords with scalewise motion, the next note--next finger approach seemed the most natural one. One of the first tunes I learned on the mando was Brilliancy (which I transcribed in 1965) which moves as high as fourth position but also has an ad hoc passage on the 1st string in the second part.
    So I built from that. Having small hands and with my age beginning to show I have been forced to adopt a slightly unorthodox approach, moving my hand a little more and using higher positions more than most players. In, e.g., A and D, I tend to stay out of 1st completely as the open root and fifth tend to trap me in clichés.


    If I play an ascending B flat scale by the diatonic approach I will use my little finger for the eb and bb on the highest courses, but if a phrase turns on the eb I might use my 3rd finger for both the d and eb - but that belongs to the 2nd phase of learning. And today, in the keys of F and Bb, I find a lot of stuff by combining 1st and 2nd position in various ways (now into the 3rd phase, i.e., something I wouldn't suggest to beginners).

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: One finger - two frets?

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    next note, next finger.
    You mean, next note in the scale, next finger?

    If I understand you, that is the regular mandolin diatonic playing. Right? I need to go over your examples again.

    In my very beginner guitar lessons it drives me crazy to skip a finger to go up a regular scale. For me that is the hardest part.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: One finger - two frets?

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    A recurring piece of eadvice on this forum regards fingering: 1st finger: frets 1,2, 2nd finger: frets 3,4, etc.

    I've never understood this approach, at least not in a diatonic context. E.g., that would entail entirely different fingering in the key of Ab or Db from A and D, instead of just pulling back your A and D fingerings one fret. In open position you would cover the Db and Ab scales with just three fingers, and in four instances one finger would cover two adjacent notes in the respective scales. My own default approach has always been: next note, next finger. What do the educators on the Café have to say about this?
    I read this about 5 times and find it very confusing. How do you play an Ab scale in open position (I assume meaning using open strings) on a mandolin. None of those open strings are in an Ab major scale. And if you play an A major scale with no open strings in first position, you can lower the whole fingering down one fret to play the Ab scale.

    John Kelly's explanation that fingering of the mandolin generally derives from the violin makes the most sense.

    However, if you find it easier to play like a guitar, as others have noted, that is fine as long as you get the notes you need.

    In, e.g., A and D, I tend to stay out of 1st completely as the open root and fifth tend to trap me in clichés.
    Explain what you mean by that? I certainly understand exploring different positions for improvising solos in a fiddle tune and even avoiding open strings.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: One finger - two frets?

    I have a friend who plays mandolin chromatically, one finger one fret, all the time. He has done it for years and years and plays very well.

    It has the advantage that he can jump to mandola, octave mandolin, tenor guitar tuned in fifths, and even his big mandocello, without the slightest hesitation or mental speed bump. Its a little cramped on the mandolin, as you might expect, but the flexibility to easily move to the big instruments and not have to stretch seems worth it, in his case anyway.
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    Default Re: One finger - two frets?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I have a friend who plays mandolin chromatically, one finger one fret, all the time. He has done it for years and years and plays very well.

    It has the advantage that he can jump to mandola, octave mandolin, tenor guitar tuned in fifths, and even his big mandocello, without the slightest hesitation or mental speed bump. Its a little cramped on the mandolin, as you might expect, but the flexibility to easily move to the big instruments and not have to stretch seems worth it, in his case anyway.
    This is interesting to me, because I put in the time to learn FFCP on my six-course mandophone, a 12-string guitar converted to full fifths tuning (CGADEB). (There's a topic here on the Cafe about what I did to convert it here.)

    It took a while to get it down, but now FFCP even on the instruments longer than mandola is a habit, with a slight motion of the hand which i think of as "rolling" on the way from lowest to highest fretted notes on a particular course.

    It definitely took some dedicated practice on scalework with a metronome, but then again, what worthwhile skill doesn't require practice?

    My reasoning on learning one (FFCP) over another (one finger one fret) is that it allows me to play more octaves in a single position without the need to constantly shift. Avoiding major shifts is one core characteristic of both FFCP on full fifths instruments, and of one finger one fret on guitar.
    Playing a no-point 14-fret-to-the-body oval-hole with scroll, a Flatiron 1SH mandola (original owner), a McNally Ukulele Strumstick in CGDA mandola tuning, a McNally 4-string Chromatic Strumstick in GDAE octave mandolin tuning, and rocking my six-course, unison-tuned 12-string Ovation mandophone/extended cittern in CGDAEB Full Fifths Tuning...

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    Default Re: One finger - two frets?

    For Ab, play Flickin' My Pick, by Jethro. I originally learned it from his book and used the implied/specified fingerings (can't remember if the Mel Bay book detailed fingerings). Now, I do it that way or with a slight shift to use more of the ring finger. Either way, a good work-out across and up-down the fingerboard, in an odd key. I hope to jam on this number with Don Stiernberg at Alan Bibey's camp this summer...he'll straighten me out...

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    Default Re: One finger - two frets?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    I read this about 5 times and find it very confusing. How do you play an Ab scale in open position (I assume meaning using open strings) on a mandolin. None of those open strings are in an Ab major scale. And if you play an A major scale with no open strings in first position, you can lower the whole fingering down one fret to play the Ab scale.

    John Kelly's explanation that fingering of the mandolin generally derives from the violin makes the most sense.

    However, if you find it easier to play like a guitar, as others have noted, that is fine as long as you get the notes you need.



    Explain what you mean by that? I certainly understand exploring different positions for improvising solos in a fiddle tune and even avoiding open strings.

    I use the words "first" and "open" interchangeably. Not sure what others mean by 2nd, 3rd, and 4th - to me they are the positions taking off from the 3rd, 5th, and 7th frets, where the fret markers are. Of course, only the keys of F, C, G, and D have open scale notes on all courses, and Ab has only one, the low g, so "1st" might be more accurate.

    I never said anything about fingering the mandolin like a guitar, and certainly not that it's easier. On the contrary I contrast the rigid "one finger, two frets" approach with the diatonic approach "next (scale) note, next finger". In "easy" keys such as A, D and G these rules amount to the same thing in 1st position, but certainly not in, e.g.,Bb, Ab or Db.

    Not sure I can explain the last point better. I don't see any particular advantage i having the root and fifth open. One reason for my attraction to F, Bb, and Eb is the open 7th and 3rd. Also, a great many songs are printed in those keys.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: One finger - two frets?

    Quote Originally Posted by Explorer View Post
    without the need to constantly shift. Avoiding major shifts is one core characteristic of both FFCP on full fifths instruments, and of one finger one fret on guitar.
    I believe you are correct. I think the ergonomics are that (in first position) it should not take more than the average hand span to cover all the notes below the next string up. It kind of makes sense.

    What I am learning from my teacher is that being able to shift effectively is really the key to the universe. Its like getting a bicycle when you have had to walk everywhere.
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    Registered User SincereCorgi's Avatar
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    Default Re: One finger - two frets?

    I think the two-frets-per-finger is a simplification for beginners. More advanced players will use guitar-style finger placement mixed with violin-style finger placement. A passage like a chromatic scale, for example, is much better suited to guitar-style fingering.

    It's also stylistic- you can play most fiddle tunes in the open position and sound good, but trying to play a swing tune the same way will sound wrong.

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    Default Re: One finger - two frets?

    I like the 2 frets method. Helps me always know where my fingers are.

    In first position I need to cheat and use my pinkie for 6. Hands are too small.
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    Default Re: One finger - two frets?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Kelly View Post

    The idea of one finger for two frets equates with the finger positions on the fiddle,



    Were I to play an Ab scale I would finger it as follows: G string fret 1 for the Ab, fret 3 for the Bb, Fret 5 for the C, fret 6 for the Db then on to the D string with fret 1 for the Eb, fret 3 for the F, fret 5 for the G and fret 6 for the Ab. Again, this is repeatable across the strings to get Eb and Bb scales. the 6th fret would be fingered with the pinkie (or many players would simply use the third finger moved up a fret, so it is used twice on each string).


    The idea of two frets per finger also arises from the fact that the mandolin is a short-scaled instrument and the hand can feel a bit cramped if it is restricted to finger-per-fret playing. Of course there will be times you need to play adjacent frets when a note is sharpened or flattened, and then you will be using fingers on adjacent frets.

    Ultimately, we all arrive at a style which suits our individual playing and hands.

    As I already pointed out, I was not contrasting "one finger two frets" with "one finger one fret" (which to me doesn't work). As for the violin whatever I managed to google was a bit confusing, with, e.g., one source explaining fingering without reference to key, yet not the same on all four strings. So I consulted a friend of mine, who has played the fiddle for more than 50 years, mostly country, bluegrass (he has toured and recorded with Jimmy Martin), and Western Swing. And he answered that the natural approach to Ab in first position is to use the same fingering as in A, a half step back, i.e., the approach I favor. Here's how August Watters, a prominent educator, explained the matter on this forum, on July-26-2006:

    " ---
    2) on mandolin, do the same thing. If your hand is in the usual position, fingers 1-2-3-4 on the first string, first fret will produce part of a diatonic scale such as F-G-A-Bb. Thus, "diatonic" fingering.

    There are exceptions both ways: chromatic fingering can be used on mandolin, but requires cramping the fingers together more tightly than usual. Diatonic fingering can be used on guitar, especially in the higher positions where the frets are closer together. But the exceptions prove the rule.


    (.Quote Originally Posted by ---
    Sounds like classroom terminology that music majors absolutely need to memorize and ordinary players can comfotably ignore or forget about.)

    Ignoring the difference in fingering the two fingering systems causes a lot of confusion! One of the most common problems I see in beginning-to-intermediate-level mandolin students is not knowing which finger to use. ***Once you get the one-finger-per-diatonic-note system down (and understand when the exceptions are), the whole fingerboard falls into place."


    One exception would be the g string in A, which has five fretted scale notes in 1st position: g#, a, b, c#, d --- as the g# is the only scale note on the 1st fret I base my approach to that key on the 2nd fret and reach back with my index to catch the g# when needed. Analogously, the keys of E, B, and F# will have five scale notes on the 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings respectively. F#, of course, has 1st fret scale notes on all courses but a 7th fret scale note only on the e course, so in that case I would base myself on the 1st fret, and use my pinky for both the a# and b on the 1st string.

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