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Thread: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

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    Default The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    I recently saw an English folk quartet in concert. One member of the group played guitar and mandolin. I asked another group member how he decided which instrument to play on each song. She replied that he tended to play guitar on rock and on country and western songs, and mandolin on folk songs.

    I'm proud to say that I play rock music on my mandolin.
    In the second movement, not too heavy on the banjos. Eric Morecambe

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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    I've never heard of an English folk quartet that played rock and country. Don't let these things bother you. You can play anything you want on your mandolin.

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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    I dabble in a bit of blues on mine. People are always trying to pigeon hole things. It limits what one can do.
    Its not a backwards guitar.

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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    Not really. It doesn't limit your ability, but it limits their perception, their understanding and appreciation of what you can do, and indeed are doing, because they are not listening with their ears and an open, receptive mind, but with the desire to find proof of their preconceived assumptions. They are missing out because of their prejudice, not you. The mandolin is no more limited to folk music than guitar is to rock or piano to classical. It may be most popularly used in bluegrass, but it is quite capable and even adept at conveying many other types of music. It's not what you have, it's what you do with it that counts.
    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    journeybear's right, the mandolin is not limited to folk music nor rock - after all it is a CLASSICAL instrument and capable of playing almost any sort of music on it.

    Even though most mandolin playing is in a folk style, it all started with the classical mandolin.

    Now I'm off to play some rock on my mandolin.....classic rock

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument.
    This struck me as coffee choking funny. I am not sure why. I mean yea the mandolin can and does do anything.

    But the unquestioned implication, I suppose, is that "folk instrument" is less than "musical instrument". An ocarina or something. Folk instruments are like, playing spoons, or the bones, or jaw harp, wash tub base. Something improvised, maybe homemade, certainly not refined or sophisticated enough for polite society. Certainly not cool enough for any young person with hopes of a social life. Not something anyone would aspire to.

    You might have to wear some "native costume" from somewhere nobody can pronounce, and play in front of several young girls dancing in over bright decorated dresses next to a flag. You might have to wear some bells. Something for multi-cultural festivals and church fund raisers.


    Is that a folk instrument I see in that video?
    Doesn't even have strings.

    (That place nobody can pronounce is different for everyone I am sure. I didn't get "Olathe" right the first time myself. But a couple of red beers at a place in the mall fixed that right away.)
    Last edited by JeffD; Dec-15-2014 at 10:08am.
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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    Now I'm off to play some rock on my mandolin.....classic rock
    Right! A little Led Zeppelin, or something from Rod Stewart, perhaps. Or if you want to get a bit more modern, Cowboy Junkies.
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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    Oooh ... ocarina! One is a folk instrument, twenty is a humble but sublime orchestra.

    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    I found my grandfathers ocarina yesterday when looking for something else. Played around with it for about 1/2 hour, handed it to my wife and together had a lovely duet for Kitchen Girl & Swinging on a Gate medley. An ocarina & mandolin together was a perfect fit...
    I think, therefore, I pick.

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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    Right! A little Led Zeppelin, or something from Rod Stewart, perhaps. Or if you want to get a bit more modern, Cowboy Junkies.
    Or REM.

    As for the Rod Stewart bit, even though the rest of what I learned to play on mandolin as a kid was Italian, I'm happy to say that the very first thing I played on my new mandolin was the end part of "Maggie May".

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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    Folk instrument.

    HHHHmmmmmmm

    This is a whole can of worms, as even the esteemed concert violin is also a folk fiddle.

    Sometimes it's how you use it....classical instruments are also "folk instruments" when used by folk to play popular functional music, not "art" music.

    Some instruments used to be classical and now are folk, like the Irish flute which is just the large-tone-hole simple system keyed flute as used in classical music before the invention and adoption of the Boehm flute.

    Clarinets are often used in folk music, like Greek, Turkish, Klezmer, Dixieland, etc. Another classical instrument used for folk music.

    And then there are the instruments never intended for concert use, like the diatonic accordion and concertina (not the English concertina which was designed to play classical music), the Appalachian dulcimer, the zurna/davul, etc.

    So it's not an easy designation or classification of instruments, and of little help to the organologist.

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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    Or REM.

    As for the Rod Stewart bit, even though the rest of what I learned to play on mandolin as a kid was Italian, I'm happy to say that the very first thing I played on my new mandolin was the end part of "Maggie May".
    Well, you said "classic rock." I was already pushing it with Cowboy Junkies.

    The first thing I was "commissioned" to play on mandolin was that same end bit. I started out playing songs I already knew, or rather, had an idea of how they went, aided by songbooks and the Mel Bay Mandolin Chords book. Since this was during the classic rock era, these songs were by The Band, Lovin' Spoonful, Traffic, Dead, Airplane, Tull, and the like. Not traditional mandolin songs, per se, just songs I liked and could figure out. And I think I already explained how I feel about expectations for the mandolin.
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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard J View Post
    I found my grandfathers ocarina yesterday when looking for something else. Played around with it for about 1/2 hour, handed it to my wife and together had a lovely duet for Kitchen Girl & Swinging on a Gate medley. An ocarina & mandolin together was a perfect fit...
    My first instrument was the Tonette, a plastic ocarina foisted upon school kids in the late 50s - early 60s. I used to wail on it, so much so my mom got me a recorder and some lessons - my only formal music theory education. I've progressed just a bit since then but earlier this year got a hankering to revisit this and found one on eBay at a non-collector's price (unbelievable what some people think anything of a certain age is worth). It's fun to tootle around on, but it is clearly sized for younger, smaller hands. And, um, somewhat lacking in definition and tonality. Good enough place to start, though, I reckon.

    Vivaldi didn't write a concerto for it, so it can't be considered a classical instrument, but a folk instrument, I suppose. Same applies to banjo. And musical saw, bo diddly, psaltery, all the instruments DavidKOS mentioned, and plenty more. Though if The Red Priest were alive today, he might have some fun writing for some of these and other instruments.
    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard J View Post
    I found my grandfathers ocarina yesterday when looking for something else. Played around with it for about 1/2 hour, handed it to my wife and together had a lovely duet for Kitchen Girl & Swinging on a Gate medley. An ocarina & mandolin together was a perfect fit...
    I met a fellow at a festival who could play old timey fiddle tunes on an ocarina, quite well. It was pretty cool to play with him.
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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    So it's not an easy designation or classification of instruments,.
    Absolutely not. Or of music.

    Especially in cultures where three levels of music developed - where the local (traditional) high classical became subordinate to the imported European high classical. The Irish Harp music is folk to the classical, and classical to the folk.

    I won't say that the distinctions that define folk music are non-existant, just that the domain is fuzzy edged.

    And from the point of view of a non-professional participant in the music, its all good, its all important, its all ennobling, and it can all be done on the mandolin.
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    fretboard roamer Paul Merlo's Avatar
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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    I always thought Folk bands were 3 acoustic guitar's and the one guy's girlfriend on tambourine?
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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    This quartet is vocalist, guitar player/vocalist, violin player, and guitar player/mandolin player.
    In the second movement, not too heavy on the banjos. Eric Morecambe

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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    I'm a little confused. based on what I've read on this forum, most of our audiences don't even know the name of the instrument we play ("little guitar", "Ukalele", "what is that?"), so why would we let other's perception of the instrument have any influence on what type of music we play on it? The word "play" implies use of the imagination, limits are for people who want to stay in the box instead of thinking outside of it. "What kind of music do you play?" is my least favorite question.
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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    Since this was during the classic rock era, these songs were by The Band, Lovin' Spoonful, Traffic, Dead, Airplane, Tull, and the like. Not traditional mandolin songs,
    Like Tull's "Fat Man"?

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    My first instrument was the Tonette, a plastic ocarina foisted upon school kids in the late 50s - early 60s. I used to wail on it, so much so my mom got me a recorder and some lessons - my only formal music theory education. .....

    Vivaldi didn't write a concerto for it, so it can't be considered a classical instrument, but a folk instrument, I suppose. Same applies to banjo. And musical saw, bo diddly, psaltery, all the instruments DavidKOS mentioned, and plenty more. Though if The Red Priest were alive today, he might have some fun writing for some of these and other instruments.
    There's that line, that fuzzy line. If Vivaldi or Mozart or who-all wrote a piece for the instrument in question it's "classical". Even if it's a mechanical instrument? Something limited? Again, no easy answers.

    And if he were around now there would be Vivaldi works for 'ukulele.

    Quote Originally Posted by Skunkwood View Post
    so why would we let other's perception of the instrument have any influence on what type of music we play on it? The word "play" implies use of the imagination, limits are for people who want to stay in the box instead of thinking outside of it. "What kind of music do you play?" is my least favorite question.

    I get, and spiritually agree with where you're coming from.

    But the quest about what music you play is an easy starting point for players of an instrument like guitar - or mandolin - that can play so many styles of music. I consider it an innocent question.

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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by Skunkwood View Post
    I'm a little confused. based on what I've read on this forum, most of our audiences don't even know the name of the instrument we play ("little guitar", "Ukalele", "what is that?"), so why would we let other's perception of the instrument have any influence on what type of music we play on it?
    From a practical point of view I doubt if anyone really does.

    . "What kind of music do you play?" is my least favorite question.
    My experience has been that if someone asks that question, as you have worded it, I likely do not play a kind of music with which the person is familiar.

    There are probably exceptions. I will let you know when I come across one.
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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    Like Tull's "Fat Man"?
    No; one would think, but no. Somehow I had the book for their first album, "This Was," their bluesiest, jazziest one, so that's "Some Day the Sun Won't Shine for You," "Beggar's Farm," "My Sunday Feeling," and one of my all-time favorite Tull songs, "A Song for Jeffrey." (I noodle the riff from "Beggar's Farm" to this day; of course, no one recognizes it.) I realized much later that "It's Breaking Me Up," with its off-kilter rhythm kick and the way it leans on the intro/interlude riff, was a big influence on my own songwriting regarding the blues.and let's not forget their version of "Cat's Squirrel," very different from Cream's, and featuring possibly the longest continuous drum roll in the history of rock, about 2:25, behind Mick Abrahams' wide-ranging guitar solo. Truly, a great album, preceding all the acoustic and other weirdness that began on "Stand Up," another great album. Pretty sure Mick had to go, as Ian was a bit of a control freak, and couldn't abide having two creative forces in the band. (That's my take, anyway.) Finally, a moment of silence for Glenn Cornick, bass player, who died this past August 29th.


    There's that line, that fuzzy line. If Vivaldi or Mozart or who-all wrote a piece for the instrument in question it's "classical". Even if it's a mechanical instrument? Something limited? Again, no easy answers.
    I was being a bit facetious, though Vivaldi did write for an impressive variety of instruments.
    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    But the unquestioned implication, I suppose, is that "folk instrument" is less than "musical instrument".
    And that the mandolin is elevated by being used for rock. Fair enough, I suppose, for the rock sub-forum.

    But I can find nothing wrong with the band's decision. Unless misquoted, they didn't say that the mandolin is unsuitable for anything but folk. They just choose to use it for folk. One might equally well question the choice of guitar for rock, when it can do such a good job in folk.

    Isn't it good that mandolin and guitar are so versatile that we can use them for Christmas songs as well as folk, rock, blues, classical, and whatever else floats our boat?

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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    Oh, mine is not a serious complaint, I haven't taken offense or anything. It just stuck me as funny "more than just a folk instrument". We would not normally say "more than just a chamber musician", or "more than just a jazz instrument" and we would never say "more than just a blues instrument".

    I get what the band is trying to do, and it likely makes sense for them.

    I like it the other way as well, when electric guitars and rock idioms are used in a folk context. I have always loved Steeleye Span.

    For another genre bender - I really like the band Apocalyptica. Taking the cello into heavy metal is a really cool idea. Its not as new an idea anymore, but when I first heard it I was really impressed. The cello was elevated into rock, from being "just another orchestral instrument" I suppose.
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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    During my career as a music journalist in the 1990s I encountered cello in unusual settings, two different contexts. One was in Heather Nova's band, in which Nadia Lanman added her cello to the typical rock quartet instrumentation of bass, drums, rhythm and lead guitars. This added some intrigue as well as texture to the mix. She had a straightforward pickup system, as far as I could tell - not heavy on effects. She was more effective on the quieter songs, I suppose, but she kicked it on the rockers, too.

    Donna DeLory, one of Madonna's two principal backup singer/dancers, had a solo career going. She played harmonium on a little over half of her songs, but her main backing came from Cameron Stone playing cello, through a variety of effects. He was brilliant at this, provided a solid backdrop for her singing, and also adroitly playing fills, hooks, and short solos. It was fascinating to see what he would come up with to fulfill his role - always solid, never overpowering, but immensely varied. It was quite an accomplishment for a sideman, and being able to divert attention now and then from the vivacious, delightful Donna was its own sort of achievement.
    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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    Default Re: The mandolin is more than just a folk instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by Upnorth View Post
    . . . I asked another group member how he decided which instrument to play on each song. She replied that he tended to play guitar on rock and on country and western songs, and mandolin on folk songs.
    This is the source of my confusement. I don't know about that other stuff.
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