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Thread: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

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    Registered User Mateus's Avatar
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    Default Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    Hello to all!

    I've been having a blast adding double stops to most of my tunes recently and that got me wondering about not only the language of bluegrass but the language of folk mandolinin. So how does one spean in folk mandolin?

    Would love to hear what you all have to discuss or clarify on the subject!
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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    As best he could, David says it here, though not folk specific.


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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    That depends on which "folk" music tradition you mean.

    If like most of you guys, you refer to American roots folk music, that's one thing, but there are folk traditions in other styles too.

    To my Italian folk ear, all Bluegrass and American folk mandolin playing has a musical "accent". I'd assume to you guys, my playing would have an "Italian accent"!

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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    My understanding of what is "folk" has always been a picture of coarse, rugged * and basic reliability. Following this concept, the folk language of a mandolin is expressing that with a raspy pick attack and the bare hint at harmony provided by the doublestop.
    For instance, listen to the mandolin accompaniment through most of this Steeleye Span song; with larger instruments, you can add sustain and bass to make the ruggedness "heavier".

    * don't make me say it: woody. Oh dear, now you did it.
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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    In my mind, "folk" style is not real well defined. Traditional, yea, depending on the specific tradition.

    Go to any folk festival and see how many different kinds of music and styles of playing there are. Almost nothing (except classical exactitude) is excluded by the term.
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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    I think if you have a jam with someone from another country or background who you meet on vacation, for example, there is often an element of playing in a common 'language', which may well be 'folk' mandolin - at least I would say it was in my own case.
    David A. Gordon

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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    Interesting. In the bluegrass thread i started many recommended listening as a starting point. Who are the american folk mandolinists that are worth listening to and what should i be listening for?
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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    Ry Cooder.
    "The paths of experimentation twist and turn through mountains of miscalculations, and often lose themselves in error and darkness!"
    --Leslie Daniel, "The Brain That Wouldn't Die."

    Some tunes: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCa1...SV2qtug/videos

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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    Howard Armstrong Yank Rachel

    {Classical music is folk music from a different time period.}



    + theres the rest of the world & their folk

    Karelian Folk ensamble 1 member plays mandolin.
    They toured thru here more than once.

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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    In my view, 'folk' encompasses all mandolin styles that are not classical, indian, rock, or jazz. Bluegrass, old time, celtic, & folk-pop are all folk styles. It's impossible to generalize much about such a broad spectrum.

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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    Norman Blake would be a good one to listen to whose mandolin playing is not quite bluegrass. It sounds to me like parlor music from the 1890s. Peter Ostrouschko said he is a renaissance hillbilly.

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    Peace. Love. Mandolin. Gelsenbury's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by s1m0n View Post
    In my view, 'folk' encompasses all mandolin styles that are not classical, indian, rock, or jazz. Bluegrass, old time, celtic, & folk-pop are all folk styles. It's impossible to generalize much about such a broad spectrum.
    It's just an example of how indefinable musical genres are. The moment you fix a definition will be the moment somebody pushes the boundaries. Even the simplest distinction between classical and folk traditions is blurry, if you consider O'Carolan, or classical composers' borrowing from folk tunes, or the great Avi Avital's "Between Worlds" recording.

    But the absence of a definition is not the same as the absence of a difference. I often think about it as a difference in spirit. The essence of the folk tradition, to my mind, is that it's necessarily participatory. To keep the tradition alive, people must join in regardless of their level of competence. Whereas other genres have branched off to cultivate compositional brilliance, technical virtuosity, fame or political messages, folk music is all about celebrating the tune and its sharing. That's not to say that folk musicians cannot be brilliant composers, excellent players, stars, or political activists - many are. But these qualities are neither essential nor necessarily aspirational to being a folk musician. When the record-selling celebrity plays the same tune as the hobbyist at the pub session, folk music is happening.

    Bluegrass is an oddity inasmuch as it's a living tradition and participatory music, but also makes substantial demands on virtuosity and cultivates a showing-off of individual players as the take solo breaks. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its heritage, it has a performance aspect that isn't present in all folk music.

    Celtic is a label that makes sense to Americans, but isn't used much as a genre label in Europe. Here in England, we talk about Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Breton, etc., knowing that there is overlap - also with the English traditions, which are not usually considered Celtic. Elsewhere in Europe, it's mostly Irish folk music that is well known, perhaps Breton too. But I haven't heard people call this Celtic, except in the titles of some high-profile festivals.

    So how do you play "folk" style? In keeping with the thoughts above, I believe it's about playing in the right spirit rather than a question of technique. Worship the tune. The tune is everything. The player matters very little. The player is just one link in a long chain of lived tradition and experience. Keep it honest and simple, so that others can join in and take the tune away with them. Let others join in regardless of how well they play or whose "turn" it is. Favour simple chords and arrangements, for the same reasons. Use ornamentation to serve the tune, not to impress people. Stay close to the melody because it's the melody that matters. The music is infinitely bigger than any player.

    Not that I'm qualified to talk ... But I've thought a lot about these things.

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    Mandolin Botherer Shelagh Moore's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    Nice summary Gelsenbury! +1

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    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Gelsenbury View Post
    It's just an example of how indefinable musical genres are. The moment you fix a definition will be the moment somebody pushes the boundaries. Even the simplest distinction between classical and folk traditions is blurry, if you consider O'Carolan, or classical composers' borrowing from folk tunes, or the great Avi Avital's "Between Worlds" recording.

    But the absence of a definition is not the same as the absence of a difference. I often think about it as a difference in spirit. The essence of the folk tradition, to my mind, is that it's necessarily participatory. To keep the tradition alive, people must join in regardless of their level of competence. Whereas other genres have branched off to cultivate compositional brilliance, technical virtuosity, fame or political messages, folk music is all about celebrating the tune and its sharing. That's not to say that folk musicians cannot be brilliant composers, excellent players, stars, or political activists - many are. But these qualities are neither essential nor necessarily aspirational to being a folk musician. When the record-selling celebrity plays the same tune as the hobbyist at the pub session, folk music is happening.

    Bluegrass is an oddity inasmuch as it's a living tradition and participatory music, but also makes substantial demands on virtuosity and cultivates a showing-off of individual players as the take solo breaks. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its heritage, it has a performance aspect that isn't present in all folk music.

    Celtic is a label that makes sense to Americans, but isn't used much as a genre label in Europe. Here in England, we talk about Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Breton, etc., knowing that there is overlap - also with the English traditions, which are not usually considered Celtic. Elsewhere in Europe, it's mostly Irish folk music that is well known, perhaps Breton too. But I haven't heard people call this Celtic, except in the titles of some high-profile festivals.

    So how do you play "folk" style? In keeping with the thoughts above, I believe it's about playing in the right spirit rather than a question of technique. Worship the tune. The tune is everything. The player matters very little. The player is just one link in a long chain of lived tradition and experience. Keep it honest and simple, so that others can join in and take the tune away with them. Let others join in regardless of how well they play or whose "turn" it is. Favour simple chords and arrangements, for the same reasons. Use ornamentation to serve the tune, not to impress people. Stay close to the melody because it's the melody that matters. The music is infinitely bigger than any player.

    Not that I'm qualified to talk ... But I've thought a lot about these things.

    That sounds about right to me too.
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    Registered User Mateus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    Thank you so much Gelsenbury!
    I was always thinking of it as a technical question but the spirit of it does make that a very excellent way to look at the song.
    Thanks to all who participated in this!
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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Gelsenbury View Post
    Worship the tune. The tune is everything.
    Corresponds well with what I always feel: You don't play the instrument and the instrument plays the music. The music plays the instrument, and the music is you.
    I always wondered how it could work any other way - but then, I'm a folk musician

    Come to think of it, that also explains why practising scales never worked for me.
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    Default Re: Speaking the language of folk mandolin

    What a great topic... I've enjoyed this read... Thanks gang!
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