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Thread: I bought an Octave! Now what?

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    Registered User JoeD's Avatar
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    Default I bought an Octave! Now what?

    I stopped by Fiddler's Green in Austin this weekend hoping to unload a Collings D2HA that I never really bonded with. They gave me a square deal on the guitar, and I found myself poking around the mandolin room. I left the Collings, and came home with two new instruments: 1) a 1916 pumpkin top Gibson A1 which might be the sweetest sounding mandolin I've ever played, and 2) a Pono octave mandolin, with a sitka top and mahogany back and sides.

    I've never owned or played an octave before, but I couldn't resist it. I've started picking out fiddle tunes on it, and I think it will make an amazing rhythm instrument. All of that extra sustain really brings out an interesting quality in everything I play on it. Very interested to hear any tips/suggestions for approaching the instrument.

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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    They make those in both short and long scale versions. Which is yours?

    It doesn’t matter that much for playing technique, just how easily it plays. Biggest thing you have to remember, don’t play it like a big mandolin, even though that’s what it is. On a mandolin, the majority of your fingers are responsible for two frets. For example in first position, index plays frets 1 and 2, middle finger 3 and 4, ring finger 5 and 6, and pinkie 7. You can do all of that without having to move your hand. On an octave, the wider fret spacing will usually allow for only one fret per finger. So, in first position, index does 2, middle 3, ring 4, and pinkie 5. To go down to fret 1 or up above 5 you move your hand. Very much like guitar single note playing. Additionally, mandolin left hand position does better if you angle (point) your fingers towards the bridge, like playing a violin. Octave left hand generally keeps the fingers more at a right angle to the board. Again, much like guitar.

    There will be those who will check in here and disagree with me, as they usually do when this subject comes up. “Well, I play it just like it was a big mandolin, with the same technique, and I do just fine! In fact I play it in a band, get paid, etc.”. Or someone will say “So and so, in the famous Irish Trad band Blarney Blah Blah, doesn’t do it that way.!” Whatever. I believe the majority of people play the way I outlined above. But there’s always more than one way to do anything.
    Don

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    Registered User JoeD's Avatar
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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    Thanks. For what it's worth, I saw Mike Marshal give essentially the same one-finger-per-fret advice on a youtube video this morning. I couldn't tell you the scale length offhand, but I would have to guess it's a short scale as it feels pretty loose and slinky. I'll have to look that up.

    Interesting you mention how the fingers should be angled. I've been playing almost exclusively guitar for the past couple of years, but recently started working on a plethora of new mandolin tunes for a contra dance band. My fingers want to angle sharply towards the bridge in a way I hadn't noticed previously. I may need to go back and watch a few videos on proper left hand technique.

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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    As a player of mandolin family from mandolin to bouzouki I completely agree with Don's advice to you. The positioning of the left hand fingers on the fretboard is an important point to note in mandolin playing. I play a lot with fiddlers and one of them was saying to me at our weekly session that she always tries to sit where she can see my hands as I use the fingering that fiddlers use and this angling of the fingers too (attendance at a local fiddle group for three years instilled this in me). When I play octave, if she is learning the tune, I try to remember to use fiddle fingering and go to two frets per finger - luckily I have fairly big hands and can stratch easily on the tunes (very largely Scottish pipe and fiddle tunes).
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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    We all have different sized hands and stretch-ability, due to age and other factors. It's just what works with your particular anatomy at a given scale length, and the tunes you play. Scale length and neck shapes are not standardized for OMs, so we're all making this up as we go along.

    For what it's worth, I play a 22" scale OM and use two-note-per-finger fiddle/mandolin fingering with a hand shift to the high B note on the E strings for a fiddle tune. That's a finger workout for sure, but I compensate by selecting repertoire for the OM that's slower in tempo, like marches, airs, and slow versions of reels. Tunes where I can milk the sustain, and the notes aren't flying by as fast as dance tunes.

    For the up-tempo tunes like jigs and reels, I prefer the quicker response of the mandolin. If I did play more of the fast stuff on OM, I'd probably switch to guitar fingering.

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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    That’s a great point brought up above, that the OM is a “new” enough instrument that there is really no standardized technique. So you will see some variation based on the physical characteristics of the player and the scale length of the instrument, which could be anything from 20 inches to 23 inches.

    If you use the technique I outlined above, you will use your pinkie more than with regular mandolin playing. A LOT more!
    Don

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    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    I got fired from the band Blarney Blah Blah for using the technique Don describes, but it was worth it.

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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric F. View Post
    I got fired from the band Blarney Blah Blah for using the technique Don describes, but it was worth it.
    Sweet revenge. Blarney Blah Blah's current octave player totally sucks.

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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    Don

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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    You'll find your guitar experience to be very helpful on OM. As others have described, you are sort of using guitar fretting with mandolin fretboard layout. For playing rhythm, I tend to use open chords that give a sound blending guitar resonance with mandolin notes that are in the guitar range, being an octave lower than mandolin. For me, guitar, mandolin, and OM are three overlapping, but different instruments.
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    Registered User J.C. Bryant's Avatar
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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    In response to "foldedpath", I agree that slower tempo tunes probably fit better into that area where the OM seems to sound best (very subjective). Since I primarily, mostly, play for myself I also fine that a lot of fiddle tunes which are played blazingly fast also sound great slowed down to the point one actually hears the notes in a different way. I'm no great musician or anything like that but it seems to change the whole character of the song/tune and makes it something completely different. Most of the time I like this, sometimes not. Just a thought. thank you all.

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    Americana in France? Daniel Nestlerode's Avatar
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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    I can't imagine two new instruments at the same. I'd be bouncing back and forth between them and not enjoying either as much as I thought I should!

    I agree with Don. Use the technique that fits your hand given the scale length and even the tune.

    I play a 19"scale length Paul Hathaway octave mando. I can mostly get away with standard mandolin technique and even play some of the faster standard fiddle tunes, like Temperance Reel. (To be completely honest, I need to practice up a lot to get two runs through Temperance Reel cleanly on the OM. I'm out of practice right now and I could not manage one run!)

    Being spoiled by the 19" scale, I can't consider getting anything bigger.

    Daniel

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    Registered User Papalobo's Avatar
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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    agree, and it's amazing how some songs sound so much better slowed down ... listen to the acoustic version of Layla by Eric Clapton vs his electric ..any version .

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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    I'm probably not the best person to ask. But that won't stop me throwing my tuppence in.

    I mostly use mine for accompanying my singing so play chords more than tunes. I play a Hathway short scale bouzouki tuned GDAE there's no way I could play tunes with mandolin fingerings. In fact, on the odd occasions I go back, I found myself tripping over my fingers.

    On the other hand, the extra sustain is something to revel in. Letting notes and chords ring is what makes the om special.

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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    I used to have a 22.5 in Weber Hyalite OM that I really liked, but I just didn't play it enough to get my pinky fully functional, and when I did play it it was often in an accompaniment role for singers, so I primarily used 2-3 finger chords and barre chords. It was a rhythm machine! I used the method Don described above, and, unless you've got mammoth hands, agree that's probably the best approach. I've since let the OM go and am now struggling with a mandocello, which is very well set up and a tone monster, but I'm having many of the same issues, for the same reason...I need to play it every day for a few months and get that pinky in shape...

    Or, maybe I just need to turn it into a mandola so I can use essentially the same fingerings as I do on mandolin...but, I love the bass thump the MC provides...

    Anyway, congrats on your new instruments, and enjoy!!
    Chuck

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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    Any tips on working the pinky into shape for the F# to D stretch on the E and A strings? That one gives me fits, especially when I want to keep the pinky down to let it ring. I am playing a 22.75" OM. I am doing the spider walk up and down the strings in that position, but being careful. It doesn't take long for me to start feeling a bit sore in my fingers and arm.

    It seems that OMs are all the rage now. Not long ago, even I could gig with Blarney Blah Blah simply because I knew how to spell "octave". Now they have a plethora of mediocre OM players to choose from!
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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: I bought an Octave! Now what?

    Since I'm still new to OM also, haven't really figured out a role yet. In a couple of groups, mainly play the melody, just down an octave from the fiddles. Occasionally will throw in a fill. Haven't yet gotten to a point where a counter melody or harmony will appear. In large part because of my lack of experience. Will also just switch over to rhythm if necessary to help carry a tune.

    As to fingering, am all over the place on it. Depending on how my fingers are feeling and how fast the tune is. The Eastman has a 21" scale and it's not that easy to use regular mandolin fingering. Often it's just whatever works and try not to think about it too much.
    1910 Gibson A, 1929 Gibson A Jr., 2018 Eastman MDO-305, 2018 Big Muddy MW-0, 2015 Ashbury Style E OM, 1983 Flatiron 1N
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