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Thread: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

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    Question GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    I am playing violin for 1 year and I'm into Irish music and recently bluegrass. Prior to violin I played whistle & flute for several years. So I was in a music store buying a ukulele and while waiting I picked up a mandolin and was playing around. I really enjoyed it and the fact that I could play some melodies right away.

    A mandolin isn't in my budget right now and I need all the practice time I can get for my violin, but I have recently been considering restringing my ukulele to GDAE and experimenting a bit to see how I like it. So I was reading some stories of other ukulele players who did that and it was interesting because a couple of them said they didn't find the GDAE tuning good for strumming while singing songs which is my primary use for my ukulele (I don't know how to pick it except for a few simple bluegrass tunes).

    I have read that mandolins usually chop or play counter-melody in bluegrass, and I haven't really found examples of people singing with a mandolin in a ukulele or guitar style. So I'm curious to know more about this before I head that this path, which would start with me restringing my ukulele GDAE.

    My thought was that if I did that with my uke, I could test it out. Once I learn the basic chord shapes I could strum along to the songs I know and I could also play melody on them. And if that went well I could consider buying a mandolin.

    I know a uke isn't a mandolin, so my question is more about GDAE tuning and its suitability for strumming and singing along. And I'm curious if mandolins do this (maybe outside of bluegrass). Overall I'm just interesting in learning more about how people use mandolins except for playing melody and chopping.

    Thanks

    PS: I forgot to add that I've read that learning mandolin for fiddle players is very helpful because it helps to learn chords which are useful for fiddle double stops. So it'd be a little bit of work to relearn the chord shapes that I already know on ukulele, but if it helps me for fiddle I wouldn't mind "switching over" to GDAE.
    Last edited by cunparis; Jan-05-2014 at 4:18pm. Reason: add comment about usefulness for fiddle double stops

  2. #2
    formerly Philphool Phil Goodson's Avatar
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    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    Well... I certainly strum and sing and do whatever music I like on mandolin without any problems or guilt. (I was just doing some Everly Brothers' stuff this afternoon.)

    Strumming a uke won't FEEL like a mandolin, but it should work fine. The biggest problem I have with a uke is how far apart the strings feel compared to the mando.

    Since you're a fiddle player, you may already know doublestops and that is a step towards chords for mandolin. It sounds like a $10 investment (set of strings to handle the new tuning) and likely will be fun. Why not??
    Phil

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    '`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`' Jacob's Avatar
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    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style


  4. #4
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    You can tune your ukulele like a mandolin with the Aquila strings (assuming it's a soprano uke; probably won't work on a tenor). Then what?

    Vocal-accompaniment chording on a 5ths-tuned instrument is surely possible, but the 4ths-and-3rd tuning, like a guitar or standard-tuned ukulele, does produce a "denser" sound that works a little better as vocal backup.

    If you want to play bluegrass with a 5ths-tuned instrument, perhaps eventually purchasing a mandolin, at some point you'll need to learn the "standard mandolin role" in bluegrass -- off-beat chordal "chops," lead breaks, etc. Not mandatory, but it's hard to get the "bluegrass sound" (assume that's what you're after) by strumming open-string chords behind vocals.

    Not to discourage you, and working with a GDAE-tuned ukulele will give you a bit of a head start in learning your way around the mandolin you may eventually buy. But "strumming uke/guitar style," while certainly possible, will be only partially useful for bluegrass. I mean, that bluegrass guitar player in your band is supposed to be taking care of that aspect of the music.
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    Mediocre but OK with that Paul Busman's Avatar
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    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    You can certainly strum. Some musical keys will be more manolin friendly than others. Luckily, if you like Irish music, D and G are good. For Irish music though, the mandolin makes a terrific melody instrument. I play mine in an Irish band, along with penny whistle and Irish flute. I usually play the melody, filled out with some two or three finger chords and it works very well.
    For wooden musical fun that doesn't involve strumming, check out:
    www.busmanwhistles.com
    Handcrafted pennywhistles in exotic hardwoods.

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    '`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`' Jacob's Avatar
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    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    You can tune your ukulele like a mandolin with the Aquila strings (assuming it's a soprano uke; probably won't work on a tenor).
    You are correct. The E string is much too thin for that application.
    This Aquila concert ukelele fifths tuning set works for (tenor) mandola CGDA tuning on concert and tenor ukes, and for octave mando GDAE tuning on baritone ukes.

  7. #7

    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    You can strum your violin mando-style, and it's already in GDAE tuning. I've done this on occasion. Not just pizzacato (where you still hold it under your chin) but holding it like a mando. It's got similar tonality, due to the f-holes, which provide a tight clumpy sound.

  8. #8
    '`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`' Jacob's Avatar
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    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    Bluegrass fiddlers tuck the bow under their left arm, hold their fiddle like a mandolin, and chop rhythm.
    Alison Krauss leaves the bow in her right hand, her fiddle under her chin, and chops.
    It appears to be Rasgueado style, with her fingernails.

  9. #9
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    Pizzicato , i believe..
    writing about music
    is like dancing,
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    "Pizzicato" is plucking violin strings with the fingers. Most bluegrass fiddlers who emulate the mandolin "chop" do it with their bows, playing short double-stops on the off-beat; "comping," perhaps?

    I have seen a few fiddlers do quasi-mandolin "chops" with their fingers, and also heard banjo players "chop" off-beat chords, in mandolin-less bluegrass ensembles. That off-beat "chop" is pretty de rigueur for bluegrass, so someone's got to supply it.
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  11. #11

    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    Right, since we're here on nitpicking café..

    Banjerists call it "pinching"

    It's easy to remember what pizz is -- it's what bass players do (when they're not playing with a bow (arco)

    When I saw Jacob's post, I was imagining how Allison would employ a rasgueado (flamenco technique of deploying the fingers in a "strum"--several varieties--also used in uke "strums," etc). I was thinking it was a matter of ergonomics--enabling the use of the 5th, 4th and 3rd fingernails, and why she would prefer this...maybe she has better nails on these fingers, etc..? I suppose if one is holding a bow between thumb and forefinger--and even middle finger--this would allow the 5th and 4th to pluck (strike). If I hold the bow with thumb and fore, a good 3-finger rasq can be executed

  12. #12

    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    Thanks everyone for the replies. To the person who said that the 4ths & 3rds tuning (uke/guitar) sounds "fuller", that makes a lot of sense and I finally understand why the uke/guitar may be better suited for strumming along while singing.

    I think I'm going to have to try the GDAE strings out, I have a soprano and I already bought the Aquila GDAE strings but haven't tried them yet. I was hesitating because I'd have to learn the chord shapes but I'm hoping this will help me with violin.

    I don't really plan to chop on the mandolin, if I was doing bluegrass I'd play violin since that is my main focus now. But what would be nice would be able to do both strumming along with singing AND picking the melody. And being able to play in various styles.

    Oh and I didn't know I could get the GDAE strings for the baritone. i have a baritone too so that is interesting.

    Thanks

  13. #13
    Registered User James Rankine's Avatar
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    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    I think this is what Petrus was talking about. Just play your violin like a mandolin - sounds pretty good to me.


  14. #14

    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    Yeah, pizzacato is plucking, but is normally done with the violin still under your chin, using your right hand fingers (with the right thumb on the corner of the fingerboard for support), while still holding the bow so you can immediately go back to bowing. I was thinking of forgoing the bow entirely and holding the violin mando style as James suggests. But the strings are always going to be too widely spaced for convincing rasgueado, and the curved bridge adds to the difficulty. But with practice you can pluck out something this way.

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    Idiot Savant padawan's Avatar
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    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    Quote Originally Posted by cunparis View Post
    I think I'm going to have to try the GDAE strings out, I have a soprano and I already bought the Aquila GDAE strings but haven't tried them yet. I was hesitating because I'd have to learn the chord shapes but I'm hoping this will help me with violin.
    DO IT! It sounds awesome. At least mine does (though my ears and skill level are both highly suspect)

    Quote Originally Posted by cunparis View Post
    Oh and I didn't know I could get the GDAE strings for the baritone. i have a baritone too so that is interesting.
    Absolutely. Here's an abbreviated version of my method (see link below for the original thread):
    Quote Originally Posted by padawan View Post
    ...I now own an "Ukuzouki !"

    Instrument: Oscar Schmidt baritone ukulele, model OU5B. Because that's what they had in stock (and it sounded pretty good).

    Strings: D'Addario "Pro-Arte" EJ46 (hard tension) nylon strings (Because those are the first 'high tension' strings I found on the rack)

    Re-strung as an Octave mandolin like this:

    Guitar string-------Used as Octave mandolin string
    1 (Low E)---------G
    2 (A)-------------D
    3(D)----------------Not used
    4(G)--------------A
    5(B)--------------E
    6(High E) ----------Not used

    Remember kids (who find this thread via Google search) octave mandolins are tuned to G2, D3, A3, E4 - Don't try to tune them up as high as a mandolin.

    From what I've found out you need to use use high tension strings as the normal classical guitar strings aren't up to the task.

    Considering a cheapo baritone ukulele can be had for less than $100 and a set of strings is $5 or $6 you owe it to yourself to have a go at it.

    Full thread:
    mandolincafe.com thread "How-to-string-Baritone-Uke-in-GDAE"
    My GFs: Collings MF, Mandobird VIII, Mando-Strat, soprano & baritone ukuleles tuned to GDAE and a Martin X1-DE Guitar.

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    Registered User Italian Red's Avatar
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    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    Hi there
    i've opened a thread concerning an experiment i wish to try:
    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...tar-or-similar

    In few words, i wish to convert a tenor or (better) a baritone uke into a 5-string instrument, tuned in fifth CGDAE.
    I wish to know which is the best solution concerning the correct strings gauge and tension.
    Many thanks in advance

    Andre from Italy

  18. #17

    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    I have my GDAE strings on my soprano uke for a week now. I must say that the E string is very high. I think the regular uke tuning sounds better for strumming, but at the same time I love being able to play melody on it. My E string broke twice but fortunately it was at the end and since I hadn't trimmed it I could restring it. The last time I made a triple knot and that seems to be holding it.

    Its hard to get used to the new chord shapes but I'm working on it.

  19. #18
    Registered User Italian Red's Avatar
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    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    i already play a custom made 5 string electric mandolin (astonishing sound for rock, blues and tango too!), and i'm currently building a same tuning mandola.
    But for many reasons now i need an acoustic instrument: is easy for me playing with these chords shapes and i'm in love whith their voicings. (sorry for my bad english).

    A soprano is too high, my goal should be a baritone or -at worst- a tenor scale .
    Ciao!

  20. #19
    Destroyer of Mandolins
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    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    Quote Originally Posted by cunparis View Post
    Thanks everyone for the replies. To the person who said that the 4ths & 3rds tuning (uke/guitar) sounds "fuller", that makes a lot of sense and I finally understand why the uke/guitar may be better suited for strumming along while singing.
    When it comes to singing along with a solo instrument playing chords, I have come to believe that our ear wants to hear the tonic form of the chord, or at least we like to hear the root of the chord solidly in the bass. Mandolins with their fifths tunings seldom play the tonic (root) form. Often we're hearing the second, third, or even fourth inversion of the chord. I don't think we respond quite as well to that. That's what makes the guitar and ukulele, and even the banjo if tuned in the 'Chicago' style, so very powerful when it comes to chording.
    Dedicated Ovation player
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    Bark first, Bite later Steve Zawacki's Avatar
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    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    Quote Originally Posted by cunparis View Post
    I have my GDAE strings on my soprano uke for a week now. I must say that the E string is very high. I think the regular uke tuning sounds better for strumming, but at the same time I love being able to play melody on it. My E string broke twice but fortunately it was at the end and since I hadn't trimmed it I could restring it. The last time I made a triple knot and that seems to be holding it.

    Its hard to get used to the new chord shapes but I'm working on it.
    Had the same problem with the Aquila soprano uke GDAE set on a RISA Solid Soprano uke. Sometimes the E lasts forever, other times they seem to pop quickly. Have tried replacing the Aquila E with 20lb-test 0.018"/0.044mm monofilament fishing line and it works well. Have cut a few lengths from the line spool to keep as spares in the gig bag, but so far the one line has held well.

    As an experiment, got a Diamond Head DU-150 soprano uke (made by Saga, the Rover/Kentucky mandolin maker) for $32 from one of the big box stores and put Aquila soprano GDAE strings on it. The goal was to see if it really worked well enough to use the uke as a 4-string "travel mandolin" instead of the RISA. Bottom line is that it does work, feels/sounds like a mini tenor guitar, and makes either the RISA now expendable or my Fender FM-101 trade bait for another uke (concert or baritone) to restring CGDA or GDAE as appropriate.

    So, if the need is there for a quieter alternative, a 1-pound in-the-suitcase traveler or office/car quick-grab where storage space is premium, then a GDAE-converted, inexpensive soprano uke may fit the bill.
    ...Steve

    Current Stable: Two Tenor Guitars (Martin 515, Blueridge BR-40T), a Tenor Banjo (Deering GoodTime 17-Fret), a Mandolin (Burgess #7). two Banjo-Ukes and five Ukuleles..

    The inventory is always in some flux, but that's part of the fun.

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  23. #21

    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    Hello, all.
    I have been reading all old threads here, and on Banjo Hangout, and Uke Underground, regarding playing any and all smallish four string machines in GDAE. Fifths are the "secret" that got me into strings, and I love them. Last night I got a 40 dollar Rogue baritone uke for my next conversion, since my old tenor banjo is loud and heavy, and not up to late evening gentle practice in the kitchen while my beloved watches tv two rooms away. I haven't even changed the strings, and it is already a home run. It is neatly built, albeit with some fret-dressing in the near future, and has a couple of splotches in the finish. But, is sounds properly like a small classical guitar; sweet, not too loud but loud enough, easy action, and the tuners work fine. The strings are stretchy as can be, but tuning it takes ten seconds every couple/few minutes, and I am wondering if these cheap strings will "settle in" like my better Aquila and D'Addarios always do. The big surprise is that the low string is even playable at all, since I tuned it down from D to the next lower G. Soft, but not awful. A heavier tension guitar set should let it play that pitch with a bit more tightness.

    Anyway, it now supports my old tenor banjo, my two soprano ukes tuned with the Aquila set (everybody loves the sound!) and my FireFly banjo uke tuned the same way. Oh, and the classic "The Gibson" trapdoor mandolin banjo tuned with just four of the Aquila "red" mandolin set. There, I had to swap the high E for a regular Nylgut from the usual Aquila set, 'cause I snapped it three times.

    All I care about is playing tunes, and want to get as quick as I can as quickly as I can. Long live fifths!

    Regards,

    David

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  25. #22

    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    Wow! There's a lot of good info up there! One addition:

    How full your mando chords sound also depends on which inversions you use. For instance, an A played 2-2-4-5 or a D played 2-4-5-5 will sound as complete as anything you'd play on a uke. And since those are bar chords, you can move them.

    PS - Someone say something if I got those sequences reversed!

  26. #23

    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    First off, here's a little more Andrew Bird.



    I regularly play both ukulele- and charango-style on my mandolin, using pickless strumming you can find demonstrated in numerous YouTube videos.

    Also, one can use felt ukulele picks to remove the steel-string "shine" and get a more uke-like sound.

  27. #24

    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    You should play your uke like a uke and get a mandolin for playing like a mandolin. You can get a mandolin very cheaply 2nd-hand. I played a 2nd-hand mandolin for 10 years and never wished for a better one until recently. I find the tuning in 5ths to make more logical sense for playing melody, which is how I play old-time music.

    I have heard people play mandolins with chords and singing. Sounds great. They used to have mandolin orchestras. Mandolins can really do just about anything. Apparently Chris Thile is traveling with Yo-yo Ma and was here in my town recently. Now all I ever hear from people is "Did you see him play with Yo-yo Ma?" Apparently he was playing the harpsichord part of some piece and everybody said it sounded just like a real harpsichord.

    I tried tuning a uke like a mandolin once but unless you get different strings, it doesn't work with the strings that come with. It doesn't feel the same or sound the same. Something's definitely missing. But if you can tune your uke like a mandolin as a test, you might realize you really want to play mandolin. Mandolin is a great instrument to play. It's a pickin' fiddle and a strummin' fiddle. It's also unusual and interesting to people on the street. A lot of them don't know what it is and want to stop and look and put a dollar in yo' case.

  28. #25

    Default Re: GDAE tuning and strumming uke/guitar style

    I just yesterday converted a concert uke to mandolin tuning. I already had a low G on it to begin with (I string all my ukuleles with low G's). I tuned up the C to a D, discarded the E string, moved the A string down where the E was, then strung a 20-lb fishing line for the E. So far, it's holding up. But then it's only been less than 24 hours.
    Josefina

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