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Thread: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

  1. #1
    Registered User Bunnyf's Avatar
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    Default Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    I'm wondering whether those of you who played other instruments laid off of them when you first picked up the mandolin? I just started mando 9 months ago and love it but I continue to play alot of guitar and uke. Did most of you stop for a bit while you concentrated the mandolin? Other than eating up practice time, do you think it slows down mandolin progress when you mix in other instruments?

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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    Hasnít been true in my case. Whatís my favorite instrument? The one Iím playing right now! Guitar, piano, mandolin, mountain dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, folk harp, octave mandolin. All great fun. The only down side is, youíll never be at the top of the heap on anyone of them. But Iím ok with that. Being a multi instrumentalist is a skill all its own. I figure, I may never be the best mandolin player, but can Chris Thile play hammered dulcimer or harp as well as me? I donít think so!

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    mandolin slinger Steve Ostrander's Avatar
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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    I started on guitar about 50 years ago. Then in the 1980s I started playing bass. Ten years ago I started on mandolin and didn't play bass or guitar hardly at all. Lately I have gotten back to playing bass, and also some percussion. So the short answer is yes, I stopped bass and guitar for a while, and no, I don't think it slowed down mandolin progress, for me anyway. I was just consumed by mandolin, playing in the high register instead of the bass, and exploring the sonic possibilities of the mandolin. It's a totally different technique than guitar or bass, and you must realize that and embrace it.
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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    Perhaps I'm not a virtuoso at any one particular instrument, but I think I'm for the better as a musician/composer on the whole for playing a wide variety. It's nice recording songs and being able to think, "hmm kantele would sound really great over nylon string guitar here, leading up to a mandolin solo" and make it happen. I'm sort of a jack of a trades, master of none type in life in general though. I think there is a place for those who focus on one instrument and attain virtuosity, it takes all types to make a world.

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    Yes .. no .. maybe …. I took up with guitar first then mandolin lastly fiddle ….. I play all and the pecking order depends on which instrument lessons I am taking. I don't want to spend money on a teacher and not learn the lesson. Lately I have been back with guitar instruction. So guitar gets played daily and fiddle, a jealous mistress that one, then if there is time and energy which there generally is, mandolin. Soooo play all you can when you can. R/
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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    Yes.
    I bought a fern, and was committed to learning.
    First, i took lessons. Worked fiddle tunes, scales, chord inversions, general finger hand coordination.
    Then ensemble. More info to process than just me. Listen and play....and sing, etc.
    Jams....fearless of failure. Just so happy to play.

    Then a hobby band. Listen, fills, harmonies, solos, voicings for fit and color.

    I wanted to think in mandolin, instead of transposing from guitar.
    Id say this took a couple of years. Id play at least 1-2 hours daily. Sometimes 3-5, or more. Ffcp, grisman exercises. Hurt myself with too much. Trigger finger, once in pinky, once in ring. Be aware to STOP and rest at the slightest sign of fatigue or discomfort. Fwiw, each incident required i stop playing, entirely, everything but piano and harmonica, for 7-9 months.

    I recall the shift, ie, new instrument, almost but not quite automatic...which then melds with ...singing, chording, not looking at the neck, so getting the feel for where i was while looking at others in theband, or audience.....all muscle memory stuff.
    Playing jazz.......still trying......still transposing certain chords...all due to playing jazz sporadically.

    While i didnt quit guitar and bass, i too was enamored with mandolins tone, regsiter, and convenient size. So wonderful tonot have to lug a guitar or bass.

    I think immersion is a good way to increase learning speed. Playing with others too, but the initial time is difficult.

    I am, more or less, doing the same with banjo right now. But, this time, im revisiting guitar and mando regularly due to band requirements.

    I will offer, it is important to revisit other instruments weekly. Why? The reach, technique, pressure, etc and transition is at first a bit odd. Memory returns, but its good to not let it go too long. Soon, the brain no longer has to consciously make the change.

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    Registered User Bunnyf's Avatar
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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    I was thinking that immersion might increase my progress and get me into a mando-thinking head, thinking about mando fretboard and reinforcing mando muscle memory. Sometimes I worry that playing other instruments might distract from that goal. On the other hand, I would have a hard time laying off the other instruments. I dont expect to be a virtuoso on any instrument but I want to get to the point where a can play a reliable embellished melody on mando.

  11. #8

    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    Hard to say. It depends on what your goals are.
    (Just my opinions here, mind you.)
    Virtuosity, as in blistering-fast bluegrass leads? Knowledge of and technical proficiency in a yooge catalogue of old-time tunes? Nimble and tasty jazz solos? Stick with one axe, practice your tookus off and only pick another up occasionally to keep basic chops. Being skilled enough to keep up and have fun in jams and sessions? Budget practice time for each instrument. Just having fun, and not worrying about much else? Play/practice on what you want when you want.
    My $.02 worth.
    My own approach is to have fun. That might mean playing mostly mando for a stretch of time, or picking it up for a spin now and then. Just depends.
    Basically, whatever would give you the most pleasure.
    Good luck!

  12. #9
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    I forsook other instruments for a couple years and tried to learn mandolin. This didn't happen all at once. I bought a little bowlback on a whim, figured out a guitar tune on it (Tennessee Flat Top Box), and my neighbor and I played the tune at a jam ... then I loaned the mandolin to a fiddler friend and he kept it a year or so. During that year, I got the itch and bought a new, cheap mandolin and started learning some fiddle tunes. Within about eight months, I became so enamored with mandolin that I neglected all other instruments, and that continued until recently. The only time I'd pick up a guitar was when I went to play out.

    Steve's words are so true for me: "... i too was enamored with mandolins tone, regsiter, and convenient size. So wonderful to not have to lug a guitar or bass"
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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    I've been focusing on mandolin of late, and haven't played much guitar, banjo, Uke, or bass. Will get on kicks with the mandocello as well, but mandolin is what I tend to pick up if I'm just wanting to pick a little. I still play a lot of guitar and bass as the "adult supervision" for our youth band at church, and will increase use of those significantly when we really crank back up in September, based purely on what the band needs from me.

    I've considered getting rid of everything except 1 guitar and my mandolin family instruments, but, ya know, it's fun to blast some electric guitar every now and then I'll agree that focusing on one instrument will speed up your proficiency on that instrument, but I also find that the cross pollination helps as well. Playing banjo makes me a better finger picker on guitar. Mandolin helps my flatpicking out. Bass helps with my timing and rhythm, and guitar helps with both rhythmic strumming and also transferring lead lines to mandolin or emando.
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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bunnyf View Post
    I'm wondering whether those of you who played other instruments laid off of them when you first picked up the mandolin? I just started mando 9 months ago and love it but I continue to play alot of guitar and uke. Did most of you stop for a bit while you concentrated the mandolin? Other than eating up practice time, do you think it slows down mandolin progress when you mix in other instruments?
    I think itīs a matter of musical ability.

    In what seems another lifetime I tried to pick up the banjo. I was also playing guitar. It didnīt work out. I thought that Iīd better learn to be proficient on the guitar "first" before picking up a banjo. So what seems half a lifetime later, while still playing guitar, I picked up the mandolin. Now - in some musical circles - I am recognized as a mandolinplayer and some are astonished to see me play guitar (which I think I do play probably better than mandolin). Fastforward that to some years later and the banjo is no problem for me. I do okay though I would not go out on a limb and play Bluegrass Breakdown.

    You may figure all this out for yourself. You should also take into consideration the type of music that you intend to play on the instrument.

    If you play one genre of music on all instruments it may be a lot easier to do the switch than when you play different genres of music (like classical violin, heavy metal bass [guitar], blues guitar, irish mandolin and bluegrass banjo).
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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    I play guitar. I practice the mandolin. Probably 30/70 split. My goal is to play the guitar and play the mandolin.
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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    I play guitar. I practice the mandolin. Probably 30/70 split. My goal is to play the guitar and play the mandolin.
    My goal early on with mandolin was to one day play more than I practice. Probably 50/50 now

    To the OP - I played bass all my adult life and haven't played it once in 5 years of mandolin

  19. #14

    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    Quote Originally Posted by grassrootphilosopher View Post
    ... You should also take into consideration the type of music that you intend to play on the instrument.

    If you play one genre of music on all instruments it may be a lot easier to do the switch than when you play different genres of music (like classical violin, heavy metal bass [guitar], blues guitar, irish mandolin and bluegrass banjo).
    Salient. When I was learning mandolin - playing various "folk" forms - I played gtr, banjo, fiddle, (bass) concurrently. But when studying other instruments outside of typical (American) folk idioms, I gradually left these. I still play some "irish" - harp, fiddle, box, flute - for fun, but that's about all I retain from 15 or so years of "American folk" playing. So wrt what grassrootphilosopher said above, the idiom/music dictated what instruments I got on with. My current exploits don't include any of the folk playing/instruments I was doing in the last 10 - 15 years.

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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    When I first started playing the mandolin I pretty much became obsessed, only picking up my tenor banjo occasionally for the first few years, and forsaking the guitar entirely for 10 years! - only just got back into guitar with a vengeance this past April. After 4-5 years of mandolin obsession I dived headlong back into another one of my instruments, the drums, and most of my time for the next 5 years was taken up with playing in multiple bands and learning jazz drumming. The mandolin cycled back into rotation in 2016 as did the tenor banjo, and since then I've managed to somehow balance all of my instruments so none get neglected!

    I do feel that focusing solely on one instrument for a period of time helped to jumpstart progress in a way that might not have happened if I was trying to learn a new instrument while still putting time in on the other instruments.
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    Registered User Cochiti Don's Avatar
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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    Quote Originally Posted by UsuallyPickin View Post
    Yes .. no .. maybe …. I took up with guitar first then mandolin lastly fiddle ….. I play all and the pecking order depends on which instrument lessons I am taking. I don't want to spend money on a teacher and not learn the lesson. Lately I have been back with guitar instruction. So guitar gets played daily and fiddle, a jealous mistress that one, then if there is time and energy which there generally is, mandolin. Soooo play all you can when you can. R/
    Fiddle is indeed a jealous mistress. The time it takes to sound good on that thing, has eaten up most of my mando time
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    Some Ability - No Talent MikeZito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    When I first picked up the mandolin I had my own little recording studio, I was writing songs in big batches and I was constantly recording new material . . . and since I play all of my own instruments in the studio (nobody wants to play with me) I was trying to get my mandolin chops down, while I was continuing to regularly play guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, hand percussion, etc. To this day I am very comfortable playing mandolin in the studio, but would be VERY hesitant to play live, or even at a jam.

  24. #18
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cochiti Don View Post
    Fiddle is indeed a jealous mistress. The time it takes to sound good on that thing, has eaten up most of my mando time
    I'm in that same situation right now with learning "Irish" flute, another jealous mistress. There is zero transfer of technique from mandolin, or all my years playing guitar. Maybe some finger dexterity helps, but that's about it.

    I'm still picking up the mandolin often enough to stay at a maintenance level of technique. It's my primary instrument for pub sessions until (and if) I'm solid enough to start bringing in the flute. So I don't think I'll backslide on mandolin. I don't think I'd ever switch completely to flute either, because there are some things the mandolin does better, like mixing occasional harmony with the melody lines. I like coming at this particular genre of music (Irish and Scottish trad) from two different instrumental angles.

    Guitar is another thing... I play it very little these days, and I know I've lost some dexterity and fluidity I used to have on that instrument. I pick it up once or twice a month and run through a few slower fingerstyle arrangements. But it would take more time and effort to get back to where I was, 10 or 20 years ago, when guitar was the only thing I played. At my increasingly geezer-like age, that's probably a losing proposition anyway. I'm at a point where I feel it's better to focus on what I think I can get away with, on just one or two core instruments.

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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    My hat is off to all of you for your talents. I tried playing guitar, but we never jelled. I find learning to play the mandolin hard enough and the thought of trying to learn another instrument gives me the shivers,

  26. #20
    Registered User Bunnyf's Avatar
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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    I'm finding all the comments very interesting. I think I'm gonna cut back on other instruments as much as possible. I'd really like to get more proficient and feel comfortable taking a simple break in a local BG jam. I lead a mixed acoustic weekly jam (mixed genre) and while I pick up the mando for occasional easy tunes, I feel more at ease playing guitar there. I'm gonna try to limit my picking up the guitar only for more difficult songs at jams (ones that I'm really not up to playing on mando). Also I think I need to restructure my playing time to more mando PRACTICE and less guitar noodling.

  27. #21
    Gummy Bears and Scotch BrianWilliam's Avatar
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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    My guitar is lonely. My fiddle is not.

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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    For quite a few years my guitar was lonely too. Now I try to play both the mandolin and guitar about equally.

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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    I have mixed around a lot, sometimes practicing two or more instruments together, and sometimes focussing on one. For me being a multi-instrumentalist means being jack of all trades, master of none. I have a day job and don't have 4 hours of practice time per day like I used to.

    I don't think there is any doubt that splitting your practice times over multiple instruments will cause you to progress slower on each of them. The multi-instrumentalists who get good (I am not one of those), spent a lot of time on each of their instruments, and probably had a lot of talent to start with too.

    But there are synergies, and even some things that carry over 100%.

    Certain skills, like picking, plucking, bending, etc, do carry over from one stringed instrument to another, this is a synergy in my mind.

    One thing that does carry over 100% to multiple instruments is reading music. I learned to sight read on my first one and it has benefitted me on every one after that, it's the gift that keeps on giving. A good reader hears the notes in their head when they see a page, and developing skills on an instrument is learning to translate what you hear in your head to coming out of the instrument, it's just chops, and learning what the instrument can do. Amazingly I was able to learn to sight read drum parts without much difficulty, and very complex ones too.

    Musicianship also carries over, the ability to phrase a melodic line for me was the same on voice as it was on trumpet, this includes vibrato and all the subtle shadings to get a melodic line to sound good. No good musician ever plays a melody flat, it crescendos and decrescendos, it lives and breathes, you have to work to give a melodic line life.

    Mando lacks the expressiveness of a wind instrument, but it is not completely lacking in interesting subtle shadings, and it has chords, but is nowhere near as difficult as guitar or piano IMHO. So mando is one of the ones that has stuck with me longer.

    Musicians who only play single note instruments often lack knowledge of chords, especially earlier in their musical careers. That was the reason I did piano for a few years, and why I focused mostly on chord accompaniment (I could sing and play piano together). Knowledge of chord progressions carries over nicely, if you know I,IV,V,I, and what to do with variations on themes like that, it benefits you as you move from one instrument to the next. And if you know advanced chords even better. I learned to love stuff Like V/IV I/III (think G/F or C/E), add2s, sus and so on. Chord substitutions work the same for any instrument once you can play the chords. Probably not that useful in bluegrass, but will be if you branch out into anything jazzy, and is highly useful in worship music too.

    For me the maintenance and difficulty level of an instrument also greatly affects its longevity with me.

    Because once you get to a certain level, different instruments require different levels of maintenance (both physically and mentally, and each of these can vary wildly per instrument). Piano is intensely mental, trumpet is intensely physical like training for the Olympics. And the further you get on any given instrument, the more maintenance it takes to maintain that level. Although this does end, guys that have played the same instrument professionally for 40 years will often tell you they don't practice, except for the need to stay in physical shape. But this will usually be on instruments that are noticeably easier than piano from a mental perspective, think sax players, or they aren't playing anything written by Rachmaninoff.

    As I have progressed, and found I prefer variety to a single instrument, I have shied away from the high-maintenance high-difficulty instruments in favor of medium or lower level ones. Drums and bass get my vote for the easiest, mandolin is intermediate-level IMHO. And guitar is harder than mandolin for me, but I am more of a melodic player due to trumpet being my first (and only good) instrument, so it's no surprise that mando stuck better than guitar for me.

    I also never start a new instrument without a teacher to get the basics right, developing wrong habits will hold you back forever. A mid-level instrument plus a good teacher to me is better than a great instrument with no teacher.

    Learning all those instruments did make me a fantastic sound guy, because I understand how instruments are supposed to sound, and where they are meant to fit in a mix for various musical genres. But sometimes that works against me, as I have to do sound rather than get to play, because I am top-notch in sound, and only intermediate-level (at best) on my various instruments.

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  31. #24
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Multi-Instrumentalist's Advice?

    Fiddle has really taken over the practice time, though my performance time is 75% mandolin, 25% guitar. All the work on fiddle had a positive effect on my guitar playing, which had sorta plateaued.
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    Quote Originally Posted by stevedenver View Post
    Yes.
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    That's about as far as I got.
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