Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 25 of 32

Thread: Pick Depth

  1. #1

    Default Pick Depth

    Talk to me about pick depth. After a year of playing, I've pretty much settled on the pick sticking just a bit past the strings, maybe a couple of millimeters. But, I just watched a Sharon Gilchrist video in which she discussed an exercise where you practice brushing the tops or outside surface of the strings. What's the generally accepted pick depth practice? Are we truly "plucking" the strings with the pick tip sticking past them or are we just kind of "exciting" them by brushing as close to the outside surface as possible? Or maybe this changes depending on the type of playing you're doing? Maybe I'm overthinking this, but I've been focusing on my technique lately and really want to make sure basic stroke is solid. Thanks!

  2. The following members say thank you to KarlinJackson for this post:

    Tony S 

  3. #2
    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Manchester - Lancashire - NW England
    Posts
    14,187

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    From Karlin - "...maybe this changes depending on the type of playing you're doing ?". I think that maybe you've got it right there. Simply 'brushing' the strings with a pick isn't going to give you much volume,you do need to 'pick',espcially in a band context.

    Watch every YouTube mandolin clip that you can find, & you'll see almost every variety of picking style. One thing that is important to work on,is not hitting the fingerboard extension with the pick by picking too deep. That's something that i became aware of early on. It's not that difficult to do,simply try to keep your picking hand in a position where you don't ''dig in'' with the pick. Another thing not to do,is something that you mentioned - 'overthinking' things. Yes,you do need to think about things,but try to pick in a way that's ''naturally easy for you''. Do study the way that other players play,use what's useful to you & forget the rest. Trying to force the issue by trying to play like 'whoever',won't help - play like you !!,
    Ivan
    Weber F-5 'Fern'.
    Lebeda F-5 "Special".
    Stelling Bellflower BANJO
    Tokai - 'Tele-alike'.
    Ellis DeLuxe "A" style.

  4. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Ivan Kelsall For This Useful Post:


  5. #3
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Location
    0.8 mpc from NGC224, upstairs
    Posts
    10,011

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    Quote Originally Posted by KarlinJackson View Post
    "exciting" them by brushing as close to the outside surface as possible?
    It never occurred to me to sexually harass my instrument If you want to move the mandolin top as designed by its builder and create tone worth mentioning, you have to strike the strings with the full force broadside of the pick (the strings, that is, not other parts of the instrument).

    But of course: The less you touch the strings, the less people will hear you - if that is your goal
    the world is better off without bad ideas, good ideas are better off without the world

  6. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Bertram Henze For This Useful Post:


  7. #4
    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Kerrville, TX
    Posts
    4,004

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    I agree that technique should vary depending on what style of music you're playing, and may even vary within the same tune. But pick depth really isn't the main issue. Ideally, you want to pluck the strings with the tip of the pick, and not be slapping the strings with the side of the pick, which then has to grind its way off the strings as you pass. The cleanest notes will come from just getting enough contact with the string to move it and make it vibrate.

    So, definitely strive to use the tip of the pick. But the essence of tone is going to come from the firmness of your grip (or the looseness of your grip, as it were). This is what you'll want to adjust, depending on what you're playing. If you're doing chop chords, a fairly loose grip works very well while maintaining precision with your stroke. But if you're playing a really fast picking sequence and want to sound like Bill Monroe with a staccato attack on the strings, you may need to tighten your grip. Then, if you're trying to play fast but with good flow, you'll want to loosen that grip again. It really is context-dependent. In all cases, though, try to only use the tip of that pick to get the notes.

  8. The following members say thank you to Tobin for this post:


  9. #5

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    If I watch David Grisman or Sam Bush, I get the feeling they're going to pull the strings off.
    But I know a light touch for me yield better control. So I guess if one plays for the time they have, you might get more relaxed and possibly heavier handed. It would be great if either one would comment.

    I try to walk a line between being there in a timely manner and enough pick engagement to sound, well, , not thin. BTW I'm the guy that recently sawed off the florida on his Micheal Kelly MKLFSTB. It would not be the first time I've been sited as a bad example by some.

  10. #6

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    Quote Originally Posted by KarlinJackson View Post
    Talk to me about pick depth. After a year of playing, I've pretty much settled on the pick sticking just a bit past the strings, maybe a couple of millimeters. But, I just watched a Sharon Gilchrist video in which she discussed an exercise where you practice brushing the tops or outside surface of the strings. What's the generally accepted pick depth practice? Are we truly "plucking" the strings with the pick tip sticking past them or are we just kind of "exciting" them by brushing as close to the outside surface as possible? Or maybe this changes depending on the type of playing you're doing? Maybe I'm overthinking this, but I've been focusing on my technique lately and really want to make sure basic stroke is solid. Thanks!
    You're going to want to strive to be able to use the pick in as many various and creative ways as you can (as the pick is an essential means of activating and speaking through your instrument, and using the instrument as an expressive tool), as this is a goal for all players on all instruments, most essentially.

    Playing lightly is fine. But you also should learn how to drive the instrument. Learn what expressive capacities the instrument has. This should also serve to instruct you how to develop technique (learn to pick, etc). If you are an astute observer/learner, the instrument will teach you how to play.

  11. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to catmandu2 For This Useful Post:


  12. #7
    Registered User Vincent Capostagno's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Brick, NJ
    Posts
    79

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    This is the counter argument to the Bluetooth pick in another post. Play Your instrument with Your favorite strings and picks. Work on your technique until you get a sound that suits the music you are playing. Trust your ears (and emotions).

  13. #8
    Orso grasso FatBear's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Escondido, CA
    Posts
    299

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    It never occurred to me to sexually harass my instrument
    Well he didn't say he was going to grab the sound hole...

  14. #9
    Orso grasso FatBear's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Escondido, CA
    Posts
    299

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    I use a triangular pick (not a blunt Bluegrass style) and I find that I can slap the strings with the side of the tip and get a lot of volume, I can brush the strings and get a quieter and more gentle sound (serenade), I can turn the pick at a slight angle to get smoother tremolo. I can also grip the pick harder to get more volume and softer to improve my tremolo. I have no idea if any of these are techniques shared by other mandolin players, I've just worked most of them out for myself.

    I did have a mandolin teacher once tell me to pick "through the strings", not just pluck at them, emphasizing a sweeping motion with the right hand.

  15. #10
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    S.W. Wisconsin
    Posts
    6,952

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    It takes very little movement and a very small amount of pick touching the strings to both give gentle response or drive it hard. I can drive hard with very little of the pick hitting the strings. I like a rounded pick, but lately have been using the pointy part because of arthritis pain. Technique is all about very little movement, which is quicker and being able to be gentle or powerful with that small movement so you can play fast loud or soft. With fast leads movement past the string is wasted. The same that goes for the left hand, not taking the fingers off the board, but keeping them close for less movement, also goes for the right hand by not striking the string and going way past to or thru the next string. This is especially important for a smooth tremolo, not to go past the strings in either direction. Unless you are strumming of course, but there is no need to have the pick going deep in the strings. If you hold it loose or tight, with a lot of pick showing or very little pick showing controlled depth is something that is important. IMHO the less wasted movement the better.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

  16. The Following 3 Users Say Thank You to pops1 For This Useful Post:


  17. #11
    Registered User zedmando's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Location
    At home
    Posts
    817

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    I find that how much of the pick I hold and how deep it goes into the strings depends on a combination of the following (Not necessarily all of them apply in every instance):
    the style of music I am playign, the speed at which I am playing, whether I am playing chords or single notes, the softness/loudness and the feel I want.
    Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?

  18. #12
    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Manchester - Lancashire - NW England
    Posts
    14,187

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    From FatBear - "(not a blunt Bluegrass style)". While understanding your comment,i think that most folks use a pick that produces a 'tone' that they like,whether they play Bluegrass or not. I don't consider 'blunt' picks to be ''Bluegrass picks'' any more than pointed ones. For me,rounded (blunt ?) picks don't produce enough volume or clarity. Picks like the Golden Gate or Dawg styles rob my mandolin of any semblance of tone or volume.They simply don't work 'for me',but other folks love 'em,
    Ivan
    Weber F-5 'Fern'.
    Lebeda F-5 "Special".
    Stelling Bellflower BANJO
    Tokai - 'Tele-alike'.
    Ellis DeLuxe "A" style.

  19. The following members say thank you to Ivan Kelsall for this post:


  20. #13
    Down the road I go Trav'linmando's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2016
    Location
    WA on the Snake River
    Posts
    142

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    Thanks for the information. I try to learn a little bit more each day.
    Very few of us know, how much we have to know, in order to know, how little we know.
    Father Ed Dowling

    Pava A5 #156
    Eastman 815V
    Eastman 514
    Eastman 404
    Godin A8

  21. #14
    Stop the chop!
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    europe
    Posts
    1,555
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    Generally speaking, "do what comes naturally to you" is a very poor piece of advice. It's very easy for a beginner to get stuck in bad habits and patterns believing them to be natural. Watching players may be a good idea, although it's often hard to tell what they are actually doing. However, don't watch Sam Bush, except on old videos, say, from the early70's. Owing to an accident he had to change his right hand technique - what you can see on the old videos with the BG Alliance appears to be much more mainstream, natural and
    effortless. Two players with very natural and relaxed techniques are Andy Leftwich and David Long.

    And, to answer the original question, you do not need a firm grip or a deep dip to get a powerful sound from the mandolin. That (judging from some posts and videos) is probably one of the most common mistakes that beginners make, often producing a very stiff sound and spasmodic groove.

  22. The following members say thank you to ralph johansson for this post:


  23. #15
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Location
    0.8 mpc from NGC224, upstairs
    Posts
    10,011

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    I looked again at the OP. It mentions brushing the tops of the strings, with the pick not reaching down below the strings, and that is what prompted my answer. I think it is not practically feasible to control the pick with such a precision, especially with the gauges of the plain strings (half of 0.010? come on!). You either hit the strings fully or not at all. "Digging deep" is another order of magnitude miles away from that.
    the world is better off without bad ideas, good ideas are better off without the world

  24. #16

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    ...
    I think it is not practically feasible to control the pick with such a precision, especially with the gauges of the plain strings (half of 0.010? come on!). You either hit the strings fully or not at all. "Digging deep" is another order of magnitude miles away from that.
    I disagree completely. Not only do you want to attain this (cited) nuance of control, but every other subtle shade and degree between. It's how we achieve dynamics on a plucked stringed instrument (that is, if you DO want to play with dynamics). There are (a great deal) more volume and tonal variations to be derived from these instruments than simply either "(hit the strings) fully or not at all." These are, after all, analog rather than digital technology..

    It might be useful for plucked stringed-instrument players - who often are learning without benefit of formal/pedagogic instruction - to consider what happens on other instruments, such as strings/violin and wind instruments: THE FIRST lessons involve playing long tones - which is sustained throughout years of developmental practice. The student learns to play, from the outset, all the dynamics - from very soft to very strong (pp-pianissimo to ff-forte) Why? To learn to impart dynamics when playing - which breathes life into the music.

    Though less intuitive to execute given its limited potential (compared with strings, winds, et al), dynamics can certainly be achieved on mandolin. Variation in attack is one way we effect dynamics. Without dynamics, playing is one-dimensional, stiff, uninteresting, unmusical. Notes are only half of the game ..

    *FWIW, this is one of the inherent challenges in mandolin/plucked strings: overcoming mono-tone 'one-dimensionality' (lack of dynamics) and imparting vitality/musicality to one's playing. Pete Erskine has a quip: "What do you mean dynamics? ... I'm playing as loud as I can!"
    Last edited by catmandu2; Jan-07-2017 at 1:33pm.

  25. The following members say thank you to catmandu2 for this post:


  26. #17
    Orso grasso FatBear's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Escondido, CA
    Posts
    299

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    Quote Originally Posted by Ivan Kelsall View Post
    From FatBear - "(not a blunt Bluegrass style)". While understanding your comment
    I'd like to make sure you really do understand it. I only used the word "blunt" to describe the shape as I perceive it, not to describe the usage. They certainly are blunt as opposed to "pointy" like mine. It's not to disparage players who use that shape - nearly all of whom are probably better than I am. Maybe I should have said "rounded" but that word didn't come to mind at the moment.

    The blunt/rounded shape was described to me as more popular with bluegrass players by a very good Portland bluegrass player, so I assumed he know what he was talking about. I suspect that a mandolin with the power to be played really hard and loud with heavy strings might do much better with a blunt/rounded pick than my Big Muddy with J73s on it. Or maybe it's better for really fast picking as I would think it less likely to get hung up on a string and slow you down. Wiser (and faster) players than me would have to answer that.

    Blue Chip makes triangular picks with both pointy and blunt/rounded corners. I suppose you could use the blunt corners for heavy picking and the pointy corners for more subtle stuff. I, for one, do not have the skill to switch back and forth. Mine has all three pointy corners so it's one less thing I have to worry about.

  27. The following members say thank you to FatBear for this post:


  28. #18
    Orso grasso FatBear's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Escondido, CA
    Posts
    299

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    Quote Originally Posted by Trav'linmando View Post
    Thanks for the information. I try to learn a little bit more each day.
    Me, too!

    I see your location is "Peterbilt". Do you take your mandolin with you on the road? I'm not a trucker, but I do make a few 1000+ mile road trips a year and I'm always grateful I don't play something larger.

  29. #19
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Location
    0.8 mpc from NGC224, upstairs
    Posts
    10,011

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    Not only do you want to attain this (cited) nuance of control, but every other subtle shade and degree between. It's how we achieve dynamics on a plucked stringed instrument (that is, if you DO want to play with dynamics).
    I do dynamics, too. But I control it by how hard I grip the pick (let's suppose it's a stiff pick, for the moment), so the combined fingers/pick system can be harder or softer. When I want to play soft, the pick is allowed to pivot between my fingers and slide over the strings, thus transferring less energy into the strings - but even then, when it first touches the strings, its tip is sticking out under the strings at least a little bit, and it goes on to change its tilt while brushing over the strings.
    That is control by stiffness, not by height. I could never control height with sub-millimeter precision with a hard-gripped pick.
    the world is better off without bad ideas, good ideas are better off without the world

  30. The following members say thank you to Bertram Henze for this post:


  31. #20
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    California
    Posts
    400

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    I attended a Mike Compton workshop where he emphasized not picking or plucking the strings, but scratching or rubbing the strings. Which sounds like what the OP mentioned regarding Sharon Gilchrist's recommendations. Of course this was to attain a traditional Monroe style bluegrass sound. I have found this has really helped me. It was difficult to learn.

    MC also recommends hitting the strings at a right angle with the pick, and holding it very loosely. Quite a few other great players recommend hitting the string at a more acute angle, such as Mike Marshall and John McGann.

    There's more than one way to skin a cat. Experiment and find what works for you and your style.

  32. The following members say thank you to Bill Foss for this post:


  33. #21

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    I do dynamics, too. But I control it by how hard I grip the pick (let's suppose it's a stiff pick, for the moment), so the combined fingers/pick system can be harder or softer. When I want to play soft, the pick is allowed to pivot between my fingers and slide over the strings, thus transferring less energy into the strings - but even then, when it first touches the strings, its tip is sticking out under the strings at least a little bit, and it goes on to change its tilt while brushing over the strings.
    That is control by stiffness, not by height. I could never control height with sub-millimeter precision with a hard-gripped pick.
    Gotcha. Yet, consider that you can render different sound with different controls. Not only can you render variation with pick 'grip' force, but also relative height and angle, and force - combined (you may even be doing these adjustments, unconsciously). Just more colors in the box and textures from the brush.. With the mandolin being so limited WRT its capacity to effect tonal variation (compared with instruments that do this so well), I find myself reaching for all the tools at my disposal.

    As a general recommendation for learners, I feel it's important to learn to play the instrument (use the pick) exploiting its tonal potential to the fullest - which amounts to using all resources available for expression.

  34. #22
    Down the road I go Trav'linmando's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2016
    Location
    WA on the Snake River
    Posts
    142

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    I see your location is "Peterbilt". Do you take your mandolin with you on the road?

    Fat Bear , yes I am on the road with 2 mandolins right now. Get to play in a new town every day.
    Have to retune and adjust for temperature/humidity every day

    Larry
    Very few of us know, how much we have to know, in order to know, how little we know.
    Father Ed Dowling

    Pava A5 #156
    Eastman 815V
    Eastman 514
    Eastman 404
    Godin A8

  35. #23
    Registered User Marc Berman's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    Red Hook, NY
    Posts
    468

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    Chris Thile playing Bach. Some nice close-ups of his picking technique.

    Marc B.

  36. The Following 3 Users Say Thank You to Marc Berman For This Useful Post:


  37. #24
    Registered User bradlaird's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Americus, GA
    Posts
    260
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    Quote Originally Posted by Marc Berman View Post
    Chris Thile playing Bach. Some nice close-ups of his picking technique.
    It is very instructive to use the YouTube settings and knock it down to 1/2 or 1/4 speed on those right hand closeups.

  38. #25
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Location
    Belton, Missouri, USA
    Posts
    5

    Default Re: Pick Depth

    Quote Originally Posted by bradlaird View Post
    It is very instructive to use the YouTube settings and knock it down to 1/2 or 1/4 speed on those right hand closeups.
    Lol, I didn't know that YouTube let you slow down the audio and video! Thanks!
    Doug Brock
    Kentucky KM-505, Eastman MD-505, Martin HD28, Martin D18GE, CA Bluegrass Performer (carbon fiber dreadnaught)

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •