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Thread: Tremolo Paradox

  1. #1
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Tremolo Paradox

    I've seen it written, heard it said, here and there on my quest to learn mandolin, keys to learning tremolo:

    1. Tilted pick (also, pick itself a little or more rounded)
    2. Very loose grip on pick
    3. Easier up by fretboard, more difficult nearer the bridge

    Also, I think I've read somewhere that it may take years to develop a really good tremolo. Well, I can sort of see that. I got seriously consumed with the mandolin, I think, about eight months ago . . . that's already the better part of a year, but tremolo eludes me. I also have learned the value of point #1 above. I can get something like a decent beginner's tremolo with pick nearly vertical and rounded, but (big surprise here) no volume.

    The paradox, when I am practicing to learn tremolo, it seems the really loose grip makes it more difficult for me to get a controlled action and sound. Also, it seems the farther up at or near fretboard, the more difficult. It's like loose pick + loose string area = no control - so my experience is like the opposite of what I'd expect based on advice I've read and heard.

    I'm just wondering if anybody else has experienced this? I don't know how to get the pick consistently going between strings, especially with double stops, while giving forth any decent volume, and I can't see how one can control the dynamics of something as 'delicate' as tremolo with a super-loose grip on the pick. I keep a fairly loose and relaxed grip on the pick most of the time as it is.

    Tremolo is trouble to me so far.
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    Registered User Hany Hayek's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    It took me more than a year to start producing an acceptable "counted" tremolo. It will come and quiet easy when you start gaining speed on normal up and down picking movement. Doesnt's mean that you don't train for it. Here is how our Cafe memeber Michael (mandoisland) eplains it : http://www.mandoisland.de/eng_tipps_...l#.Vo4Dn0_D88A
    Don't force it and don't get frustrated yet. Once you'll be able to do a tremolo, it will only improve.
    “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
    ― Victor Hugo

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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    I've been working on tremolo for the last six months or so too, but from a slightly different recipe supplied by Marilynn Mair. This involves a more pointed plectrum, which helps give greater volume. It's harder to control at first, but the volume increase seems worth it to me.

    The other thing that I found useful for control was some advice from Ms Mair elsewhere to make sure the plectrum follows through on each downstroke until it rests on the next set of strings (I think this is called a rest stroke).

    These two things make it harder to get a good sounding and fast tremolo initially, but, for me at least, they do seem to pay dividends later on.

    Having said that, there do seem to be at least two distinct approaches to tremolo characterized by either rounded or pointed plectrums, perhaps a more bluegrass style vs. a more classical one?

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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    Quote Originally Posted by markscarts View Post
    I've seen it written, heard it said, here and there on my quest to learn mandolin, keys to learning tremolo:

    1. Tilted pick (also, pick itself a little or more rounded)
    2. Very loose grip on pick
    3. Easier up by fretboard, more difficult nearer the bridge

    .......

    The paradox, when I am practicing to learn tremolo, it seems the really loose grip makes it more difficult for me to get a controlled action and sound. Also, it seems the farther up at or near fretboard, the more difficult. It's like loose pick + loose string area = no control - so my experience is like the opposite of what I'd expect based on advice I've read and heard.

    ..
    Quote Originally Posted by jeho2a View Post
    I've been working on tremolo for the last six months or so too, but from a slightly different recipe supplied by Marilynn Mair. This involves a more pointed plectrum, which helps give greater volume. It's harder to control at first, but the volume increase seems worth it to me.

    The other thing that I found useful for control was some advice from Ms Mair elsewhere to make sure the plectrum follows through on each downstroke until it rests on the next set of strings (I think this is called a rest stroke).

    These two things make it harder to get a good sounding and fast tremolo initially, but, for me at least, they do seem to pay dividends later on.

    Having said that, there do seem to be at least two distinct approaches to tremolo characterized by either rounded or pointed plectrums, perhaps a more bluegrass style vs. a more classical one?
    That may well be the case.

    The advice markscarts was using comes more from the Bluegrass side of mandolin playing, where tremolo is often played with a rounded pick and played near the end of the fingerboard, to the point where the "Florida" gets in the way of many players and is scooped or removed.

    Now, while this may be the most common technical approach in Bluegrass, the Italian-classical approach to tremolo is quite different - use a pointier pick, rest-stroke follow through, play closer to the bridge than the BG players do, etc.

    Anyone that has read my posts know I come from the Italian school, use very pointy picks, and so on.

    But remember there is a big difference in what an Italian-school player wants in terms of tone color than a BG player, so each approach has merit in its appropriate application. Still, I prefer the tone of a pick that actually plucks the strings, rather than sort of brushes or glides over them, but that's due to the style I play.

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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    Indeed. In this video, at around 3:12, Roland White says "you don't what to do tremolo like this <plays italian-classical tremolo>, that's not the type of music we're playing", and Marilynn Mair in the article I cited earlier says avoid rounded picks.

    I was trying to signal in my earlier post that one needs to know which field of music the advice comes from to judge whether it's useful for one's own purposes. I personally much prefer the classical approach even though I don't play much classical music myself (quite a bit of Italian though, so perhaps that's why I like it).

    Some aspects of tremolo are the same though: relaxation and the fact that it takes a lot of practice-time to get right.

    I do like what Marilynn Mair says about tremolo in her article:

    [A] beautiful tremolo is a joy forever, and the pleasure is definitely within your reach. It just requires patience, and you too can experience the thrill of spinning an unbroken line through crescendos and decrescendos to touch down unscathed. And here’s the best news — once you’ve attained the right touch you get to keep that golden sound forever.

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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    when you wrote that you have a problem with moving both strings,and double stops ,and a problem with volume,I am not sure but it might go back to a proper pick grip and the pick.The knuckle grip will give you the strength you need to consistently blow through a course of strings,I also use a pointed,thin,extremely stiff pick,to drive the strings with force,,

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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    I agree that tremolo can be more difficult up there at the fretboard than down by the bridge. And the reason comes down to basic physics. That's closer to the middle of the string, where the amplitude of the string's oscillation is at its greatest. So getting a controlled tremolo there is harder, because you're up against a moving target, so to speak, and it feels floppier. You have to move your wrist more, and with that comes greater chance of hitting adjacent strings, or not being able to play as fast. Down by the bridge, there's less movement and the strings feel "tighter", making it easier and faster to move the pick across.

    But the problem is, in my mind, tremolo down by the bridge can sound awful. It's tinny, sharp, and piercing, with too much bright poppy pick noise and not enough string volume. Despite the fact that Bill Monroe liked to play real close to the bridge, and his tremolo sounded very machine-gun-like, I think most modern bluegrass players (who aren't trying to emulate Monroe style) are playing further up by the fretboard where they can get a better tone and a smoother sounding tremolo. Playing closer to the bridge requires a lot more "digging in" with the pick during a tremolo in order to get volume, which leads to that poppy pick noise and sharp rat-a-tat sound.

    In my opinion, a good modern bluegrass tremolo is more of a rolling fast strum, played very loosely. Pretty much just a light brush across the strings, and played around the 18th to 22nd fret area. Not the Italian-style or Monroe-style machine-gun sound down by the bridge. But of course you'll want to decide which you like best and go that route. Both tremolo styles can be appropriate in bluegrass, depending on how you want to sound. I admit bias to liking the smoother, deeper-toned tremolo sound better, even though it's harder to get going right.

    Check out Ben Hodges' tremolo (See this video, start around 1:25). This is what I'm talking about. In fact, he does most of his playing up around the 22nd fret area, although you can see he moves his pick closer to the bridge on occasion, depending on the sound he wants at that moment. But his tremolo, like most of his playing, has a very smooth strummy sound.

    In order to play your tremolo smoothly in that area, you have to get your arm more in line with the strings and make sure your wrist is nice and loose, with a relaxed pick grip and a light motion. I think Ben's technique is perfect for this. Here's another video of his playing. He does some nice tremolo right at the end, around 3:40. But notice that during all his strummy-type playing, he's basically doing the same thing as he does during tremolo. Same arm position, same wrist movement, same area of the strings that he's picking. It's all very smooth.

    With all that said, I struggle with tremolo too. I can get it going real nicely sometimes, especially at home where I'm relaxed. Put me in a public setting, where I'm paying attention to everyone else at the jam, and may be a bit nervous, and my tremolo goes to hell. It takes not only practice, but being in the right relaxed state to pull off well.

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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    Quote Originally Posted by markscarts View Post
    tremolo eludes me...
    Me too. It's the thing I work at the most and get back the least.

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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    And oh, by the way, one thing that always helps me to smooth out my tremolo is to focus on this phrase (borrowed from jazzmando.com ):

    "Stirred, not shaken."

    When I feel my tremolo getting choppy or too tense, I try to think about what it means to stir the tremolo, not shake it. That may mean something different to all of us, in terms of how we apply our technique. But I do find that it helps to keep that theme in my head when I try to tremolo.

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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    It took awhile, but I am now very satisfied with my tremolo. I took a different approach. I have never been one to practice techniques just as drills. It just doesn't work for me. The way I did it was to pick out some mandolin recordings of tunes I could learn that had tremolo on them that really sounded good, I mean so good the arrangement just wouldn't be the same without it. I listened to those recordings over and over until they were completely in my head. And then I learned those tunes and concentrated on making that sound I was hearing in my head, that tremolo that needed to be there. I found my brain/hand connection really kicked in and eureka! With some practice, it was just there. I did that with a few tunes and now I can kick in the tremolo anytime I want it. I just hear where I want it to be and what I want it to sound like and it just happens.

    FWIW, I did the same with cross-picking, with equal success.

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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    markscarts, you will want to integrate your tremolo in your normal playing, so I suggest to keep going at it with your normal grip on your favorite pick. As soon as you feel like loosening to get that lazy, fluffy and nonchalant (pretty modern) bluegrass sound you seem to describe, go ahead and try to get there from where it is natural for you.

    Also listen to more tense tremolos like say Ira Louvin's, Red Rector's, Andy Statman's, John Duffey's or whoever is your cup of tea. Roland White (...however great his casual approach to tremolo...) is wrong. It's all legal and useful in bluegrass.

    Your personal or contextual delivery is one of the nicer tools in your box for adding colour or flavour to your music.

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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    Quote Originally Posted by jeho2a View Post
    Indeed. In this video, at around 3:12, Roland White says "you don't what to do tremolo like this <plays italian-classical tremolo>, that's not the type of music we're playing", and Marilynn Mair in the article I cited earlier says avoid rounded picks.
    :
    Each music has developed a somewhat different aesthetic.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tobin View Post
    But the problem is, in my mind, tremolo down by the bridge can sound awful.
    ........
    Check out Ben Hodges' tremolo (See this video, start around 1:25). This is what I'm talking about. In fact, he does most of his playing up around the 22nd fret area, although you can see he moves his pick closer to the bridge on occasion, depending on the sound he wants at that moment. But his tremolo, like most of his playing, has a very smooth strummy sound.

    In order to play your tremolo smoothly in that area, you have to get your arm more in line with the strings and make sure your wrist is nice and loose, with a relaxed pick grip and a light motion. I think Ben's technique is perfect for this. Here's another video of his playing. He does some nice tremolo right at the end, around 3:40.
    That's not an Italian tremolo for sure!

    I like this video, even if she is more of the German school:


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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    The most pleasing tremolo I have heard was Butch Baldassari's.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKechf26xCo
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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    The most pleasing tremolo I have heard was Butch Baldassari's.
    A fine player with a sweet tremolo.

    But check this out:



    I like the faster tremolo, it sounds more like a sustained tone.

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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    Very sweet. Very.
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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    An excellent example,David, of what a "mandolin player" should be....is that the "Italian" tremolo?

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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    I think its a taste thing. I don't think there is a knowledgeable person around who would say that Carlo Aonzo's tremolo is unacceptable. It may be preferable for some pieces, or some genres, or even some mandolins. Ditto with my favorite, Butch Baldassari.

    And there are likely tremolos we would disagree on, and some we might even dislike.

    I don't think the techniques involved are so gigantically different that need be pursued separately, or that progress towards one kind of tremolo impedes progress towards another.
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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    Man, both those were just great. I really like the mellow tone and musicianship on Cantabile! As for Aonzo, he is truly a gifted player. It was interesting to see him plucking the open string bass note with his left hand pinkie while working through a difficult piece with a grueling feat of tremolo. I thought I could see the agony in his face from his desire to wrench out perfection.

    I plan to have a look and listen to most, if not all, the players mentioned here.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeroen View Post
    markscarts, you will want to integrate your tremolo in your normal playing, so I suggest to keep going at it with your normal grip on your favorite pick. As soon as you feel like loosening to get that lazy, fluffy and nonchalant (pretty modern) bluegrass sound you seem to describe, go ahead and try to get there from where it is natural for you.

    Also listen to more tense tremolos like say Ira Louvin's, Red Rector's, Andy Statman's, John Duffey's or whoever is your cup of tea. Roland White (...however great his casual approach to tremolo...) is wrong. It's all legal and useful in bluegrass.

    Your personal or contextual delivery is one of the nicer tools in your box for adding colour or flavour to your music.
    I think this is great advice.
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  30. #19
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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flynn View Post
    It took awhile, but I am now very satisfied with my tremolo. I took a different approach. I have never been one to practice techniques just as drills. It just doesn't work for me. The way I did it was to pick out some mandolin recordings of tunes I could learn that had tremolo on them that really sounded good, I mean so good the arrangement just wouldn't be the same without it. I listened to those recordings over and over until they were completely in my head. And then I learned those tunes and concentrated on making that sound I was hearing in my head, that tremolo that needed to be there. I found my brain/hand connection really kicked in and eureka! With some practice, it was just there. I did that with a few tunes and now I can kick in the tremolo anytime I want it. I just hear where I want it to be and what I want it to sound like and it just happens.

    FWIW, I did the same with cross-picking, with equal success.
    More good advice - I agree, and I've been thinking that practicing actual tunes that rely heavily on tremolo is going to be the best way to develop it musically. At the same time, though, I plan to try some of the exercises that folk give as well. I think there will be value in that as well.
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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    Quote Originally Posted by Tobin View Post
    I agree that tremolo can be more difficult up there at the fretboard than down by the bridge. And the reason comes down to basic physics. That's closer to the middle of the string, where the amplitude of the string's oscillation is at its greatest. So getting a controlled tremolo there is harder, because you're up against a moving target, so to speak, and it feels floppier. You have to move your wrist more, and with that comes greater chance of hitting adjacent strings, or not being able to play as fast. Down by the bridge, there's less movement and the strings feel "tighter", making it easier and faster to move the pick across.

    But the problem is, in my mind, tremolo down by the bridge can sound awful. It's tinny, sharp, and piercing, with too much bright poppy pick noise and not enough string volume. Despite the fact that Bill Monroe liked to play real close to the bridge, and his tremolo sounded very machine-gun-like, I think most modern bluegrass players (who aren't trying to emulate Monroe style) are playing further up by the fretboard where they can get a better tone and a smoother sounding tremolo. Playing closer to the bridge requires a lot more "digging in" with the pick during a tremolo in order to get volume, which leads to that poppy pick noise and sharp rat-a-tat sound.

    In my opinion, a good modern bluegrass tremolo is more of a rolling fast strum, played very loosely. Pretty much just a light brush across the strings, and played around the 18th to 22nd fret area. Not the Italian-style or Monroe-style machine-gun sound down by the bridge. But of course you'll want to decide which you like best and go that route. Both tremolo styles can be appropriate in bluegrass, depending on how you want to sound. I admit bias to liking the smoother, deeper-toned tremolo sound better, even though it's harder to get going right.

    Check out Ben Hodges' tremolo (See this video, start around 1:25). This is what I'm talking about. In fact, he does most of his playing up around the 22nd fret area, although you can see he moves his pick closer to the bridge on occasion, depending on the sound he wants at that moment. But his tremolo, like most of his playing, has a very smooth strummy sound.

    In order to play your tremolo smoothly in that area, you have to get your arm more in line with the strings and make sure your wrist is nice and loose, with a relaxed pick grip and a light motion. I think Ben's technique is perfect for this. Here's another video of his playing. He does some nice tremolo right at the end, around 3:40. But notice that during all his strummy-type playing, he's basically doing the same thing as he does during tremolo. Same arm position, same wrist movement, same area of the strings that he's picking. It's all very smooth.

    With all that said, I struggle with tremolo too. I can get it going real nicely sometimes, especially at home where I'm relaxed. Put me in a public setting, where I'm paying attention to everyone else at the jam, and may be a bit nervous, and my tremolo goes to hell. It takes not only practice, but being in the right relaxed state to pull off well.
    Tobin, that was extremely informative, I appreciate your taking the tie to give such a full take on this. I'm going to cut and paste this for keeping, also will check out Ben's tremolo. Thanks.
    Technique, theory and fun, fun, fun. I love playing, studying and sharing MUSIC.
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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    Quote Originally Posted by T.D.Nydn View Post
    An excellent example,David, of what a "mandolin player" should be....is that the "Italian" tremolo?
    One variety, Aonzo sure has a pretty sound to my sensibility. He studied with Ugo Orlandi so it's typical of one of the Italian schools.

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I don't think the techniques involved are so gigantically different that need be pursued separately, or that progress towards one kind of tremolo impedes progress towards another.
    It's more a matter of style, interpretation, and application than of basic technical differences.

    I mean, what is a tremolo anyway - you pick the string really fast over and over!

    What I hear is a tendency for Italians to tremolo faster and often unmeasured, and Blugrassers to tremolo a tad slower and are more likely to use a measured tremolo.

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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    One thing I have found when training my tremolo is to start small and quiet, really looking at the miniature details of how the pick is hitting the strings. Literally look closely to see how you are pushing the strings aside. How deeply does the pick go?, how much does it deflect?, what does it take to make the plectrum just bubble through / between the courses rather than snagging and tripping you up? (requiring strength rather than technique to overcome the snag). Once you have the mental picture of what you see close up, then you can really use that to work with when practicing normally. Your hand and fingers respond to the changes and control your brain visualises from those close up memories. Using this I have been able to develop several different styles of tremolo to apply across the genres I play.

    So small and quiet to start with, then for most purposes it will only be pinching the plectrum more firmly (giving it more support so it offers more resistance to the strings) to gain more volume. You normally want to avoid digging in with tremolo, just use the firmer/looser grip while still catching both courses at the same level. I like to get my plectrum as close to 90 degrees to the courses as I can to keep things even and in control.
    Eoin



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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    So...tremolo from wrist or elbow? I tremolo from the elbow, but this has the disadvantage that I have to dump the bowl back in my lap to hold it. I don't think I could sit like Carlo for more than a minute or two. BTW, like the 'tache -I used to have mine a bit like that many years ago -fortunately no pictures survive (I hope!).

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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    I have my arm completely in-line with the strings so can't really break it down as being one or the other, so both are available as needed. I do tend to engage a bit of arm if I want to make a tremolo sound more legato, as I can use it to help with the messa di voce, or ebb and flow feel in a longer tremolo.
    Eoin



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    Default Re: Tremolo Paradox

    Quote Originally Posted by derbex View Post
    So...tremolo from wrist or elbow?
    If you watch the majority of pros, and listen to what they recommend, they do it all with the wrist. Sam Bush being a notable exception, since his wrist doesn't flex due to injury. I have a similar issue from a horse-related accident 11 years ago. I have a plate and 11 screws in my wrist, so getting pure wrist-driven tremolo action just isn't going to happen. I do have to use some arm movement. But for you folks with normal, healthy wrists, you'll get a more controlled (and faster) tremolo by employing your wrist instead of your elbow for the motion.

    I could be wrong, but I can't think of a single mandolin teacher who would recommend doing tremolo from the elbow.

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