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Thread: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

  1. #1

    Default Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    Hi Café. I've read several threads related to this question, but I'm wondering if people have specific technique tips to suggest. Like others, I find that when I'm playing alone, my right hand stays nice and loose above the strings when I'm picking, but when I'm jamming--especially bluegrass--I start trying to compete with the volume around me, and my hand tenses up to try to dig out more volume, and wants to anchor down on the strings/bridge to try to get a little more control.

    Anybody have any specific tips to improve in this area--other than disciplining myself to stay loose and let the volume and speed come naturally rather than trying to force them?

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Mandolin Friendly Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    Interested in this as well, Thane. I've been giving it a lot of thought lately, and more in regard to left hand. I can play well with my left hand relaxed and focused on having a light touch (just enough pressure to make clear notes) and economy of motion, but when I play louder (more aggressively with the right hand) my left hand tenses up, exerts more pressure, etc. I have no idea how to teach myself not to do that.
    Technique, theory and fun, fun, fun. I love playing, studying and sharing MUSIC.
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  3. #3

    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    Interesting that I'm working on exactly this. What I'm doing, with my teacher, is play ii-v-Idom7-I6, 2 measures each. Play the chord, rest 3 beats taking left hand off fingerboard, play any riff for 4 beats, change chord. Slowly. Just started this, but already I see how tightly I had been gripping with the left hand. Like most things, this will take me a while to internalize.

    And in jams, of course, we typically show our bad habits since the tempo is quicker than we often practice these techniques.

    My $.02, ymmv.
    Play it like you mean it.

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    Registered User T.D.Nydn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    I play in all excessive volumes sometimes,very loud,to the point of my neighbors hearing me,,but I practice to be loud,,that's the key,you have to build up your strength and endurance in your right forearm,,train to put the power on when you need it,at home play loud until exhaustion,like a workout,,I also lift weights for my forearms, B.M.says " whip it like a mule",,,but Mark is right ,tensing up with the left hand is very natural and I have issues with that also....

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    Mandolin Friendly Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    I notice this, for instance, when I'm learning a new, unfamiliar tune and I decide to "zone out" practicing a lot of repetitions.

    Example: I've got the A section of tune freshly learned, so I make a backing track and sort of go into a trance playing repetition after repetition. If I find that my left hand gets tired quickly, or experiences pain, I'll realize that I'm using a bunch of wasted energy and pressure. Relax the hand and use it properly (after resting) and I can play practically endless repetitions - but only at lowered volume. When I play at increased volume, the left hand wants to do more as well as the right hand, and I ca't keep the tension out of it.
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    Unfamous String Buster Beanzy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    I don't put much more energy in or hit the strings harder, however I do focus a bit on the thumb and forefinger pressure while making sure the back of the hand and pad of the thumb stay relaxed. Also I like to feel the release from the string getting good and snappy. Not sure if that make sense, but it’s like really flicking the pick off the strings (you really need to keep a loose wrist to get that feeling, so it helps prevent it tensing up) any more volume needed and I’d reach for the mandolin-banjo, but I normally would tend to drop out if people are so loud they’re not listening.
    Eoin



    "Forget that anyone is listening to you and always listen to yourself" - Fryderyk Chopin

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    Mandolin Friendly Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    Good points Beanzy. Another line of thinking too is that an aggressive right hand attack can be seen as a technique in and of itself, depending what styles of music you play or what your goal may be in a particular piece. The challenge for me is to have that loose, relaxed independence in my left hand regardless what the right is doing. It's a real challenge and I haven't yet tried developing or finding exercises to help with it.
    Technique, theory and fun, fun, fun. I love playing, studying and sharing MUSIC.
    "Life is short. Play hard." - AlanN
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    HEY! The Cafe has Social Groups, check 'em out. I'm in these groups:
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    The Woodshed Study Group | Collings Mandolins | MandoCymru
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    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    Yesterday I played my daughter’s birthday present. It’s an electric guitar. I was allowed to play it for 10 minutes because apparently I’m new to electricity. It’s interesting though, you have to rethink each note you play, the strings are weirdly high, loose and don’t support the pick. And that number of watts -one mistake and the whole neighborhood hears it. I found I had to be more gente.
    It helped a lot. 10 minutes and now I’m on the mando again and I’m like really loose and relaxed, sitting back playing Oldtime.

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    Quote Originally Posted by Beanzy View Post
    I don't put much more energy in or hit the strings harder, however I do focus a bit on the thumb and forefinger pressure while making sure the back of the hand and pad of the thumb stay relaxed..
    Focus - that's the word I'm looking for in this situation. Thanks!

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    Registered User T.D.Nydn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    If you take any one note on the mandolin,and pick it very softly,and start increasing the force to make that louder and louder until you hit it and that note is as loud as you can possibly get it..now you can easily feel the different pressures that you need to get to those volumes....

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    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    Quote Originally Posted by T.D.Nydn View Post
    If you take any one note on the mandolin,and pick it very softly,and start increasing the force to make that louder and louder until you hit it and that note is as loud as you can possibly get it..now you can easily feel the different pressures that you need to get to those volumes....
    And you can do so with a controlled and relatively small movement of the right hand and fingers.

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    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    And you can do so with a controlled and relatively small movement of the right hand and fingers.
    Oh absolutely, don't start flaing like a drunk rock star,,,my goal is always try to play so it looks like your hand is barely moving..

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    I often go through a mental list.

    First I check for holding the mandolin properly.
    Then I mentally see if I can relax my right shoulder any more.
    then the right upper arm.
    Elboe.
    Forearm.
    Wrist.
    Then all the first hand joints as a group - the carpametacrpals
    Pinky.
    Ring finger,
    Middle finger,

    Then on the first finger I go a joint at a time.
    And the thumb a joint at a time.

    I mentally relax all of these as much as possible without losing my pick grip.

    It helps a lot, especially when I am all tensed up with performance anxiety.
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    Notary Sojac Paul Kotapish's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    Keep in mind that playing harder doesn't necessarily translate directly into being louder. At a certain point you'll get diminishing returns for your added effort that will wear you out without improving your sound.

    Make sure you are fretting the notes clearly and cleanly with your left hand and striking through both strings at the optimum spot using a clean attack with your right. Clear, articulated notes will cut through at a lower volume than muffled, sloppy ones.

    And at the risk of stating the obvious, check with the players around you to make sure that you actually need to play louder.

    The mandolin projects in such a way that the sound is often bigger out in front of the instrument than it feels under the ear, and sometimes what's required is a more a matter of adjusting your own perceptions than it is actually playing louder.
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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    Obligatory "not all genres are the same" post here.

    In some styles of music, you have to pace yourself even when playing loud. You might "whip it like a mule" if you're taking a Bluegrass solo, and then stepping back from the mic to chop chords. But when playing Irish/Scottish trad, even in a loud session, I might be playing a set of three reels that lasts for 5 minutes of high-speed, continuous picking. Sometimes longer, for sets of those insane 5 part pipe tunes, or the long Cape Breton-style sets. OldTime players can sit on one tune for a long time, when they get into one of those trance states at a jam.

    If I burn out early with hard picking, my hand starts to lose the ability to play smoothly and cleanly. There's no point in burning out early like that. So I have to find a middle ground, where I can maintain a decent volume for continuous fast picking of 8th notes without a break, for a full set of reels. And still be ready for the next set of reels.

    Paul's advice above, about remembering how mandolins project (especially with F-holes) is a good reminder. I often feel I'm not loud enough when playing with a gaggle of fiddlers and concertina/box players, but I know I'm not hearing my mandolin like the people across the circle in a session. I have to continuously remind myself about that, so I don't push too hard.

    One tip I can offer for more relaxed playing with volume, is not to choke up too much on the pick, with just a tiny bit exposed. I try to keep my thumb/index fingers back far enough that I feel a little bit of "float" in the pick as it moves across the strings. Not so much that I could drop the pick, or play too softly. Just not choking up and clenching tight on the pick. I still get very good volume on the pick attack this way, and it encourages a more relaxed feel.

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    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    Quote Originally Posted by Thane Glenn View Post
    Hi Café. I've read several threads related to this question, but I'm wondering if people have specific technique tips to suggest. Like others, I find that when I'm playing alone, my right hand stays nice and loose above the strings when I'm picking, but when I'm jamming--especially bluegrass--I start trying to compete with the volume around me, and my hand tenses up to try to dig out more volume, and wants to anchor down on the strings/bridge to try to get a little more control.

    Anybody have any specific tips to improve in this area--other than disciplining myself to stay loose and let the volume and speed come naturally rather than trying to force them?

    Thanks!
    I think that it has to be the other way round. Turn the volume around you down! Then your volume will be allright. I have recordings that will prevent me from becoming the next head of state because I tried to best other peoples volume. It´s just plain stupid to try to whack away on an instrument in order to be loud. You will be as loud as your instrument allows you to be. Aditionally, cutting power does not translate to loud.

    What everybody ought to strive for is to "blend". Most can´t or don´t focus to do so. It has nothing to do with being loud.
    Olaf

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  28. #17
    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Loud and Staying Loose?

    So if you´re playing easily, that´s the volume level that is good for you. Others ought to be able to adjust. Then the blend will start to kick in. And then ... comes the time when your music starts to sound really nice.
    Olaf

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