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Thread: Reading notation up the neck

  1. #1
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    Default Reading notation up the neck

    I just got Niles Hokkanenís Bluegrass Up The Neck book. So far, Iím only working the first ďPreliminary Exercises,Ē but I can already tell this will open up a whole new world for me. Speaking of a whole new world, Iím finding that the most difficult part of this isnít playing the licks/chord positions starting at different parts of the neck, but making the eye/finger/ear connections with the written notation. Reading notation is natural for me at the bottom of the neck in first position, but now, moving up the neck, it almost feels like Iím starting from scratch to learn how to read notation. My question is if this is something worth concentrating on. Do people generally use notation when playing in chord positions up the neck, or do you just know where all the notes are on the fretboard so you know where all the root reference positions lie, and then just let the rest of the fingers fall into place? I should say that I mostly play old-time music, and donít generally rely on written notation anyway (but am interested in getting into bluegrass mandolin). I can also use tab, but coming from a fiddle (i.e., fretless mandolin) background, donít usually use tab much.

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    Quote Originally Posted by wormpicker View Post
    Do people generally use notation when playing in chord positions up the neck ... ?
    No, not when playing folk music. Pretty much always though, when people are playing classical music in an orchestra or other classical ensemble.

    Quote Originally Posted by wormpicker View Post
    I should say that I mostly play old-time music, and donít generally rely on written notation anyway (but am interested in getting into bluegrass mandolin). I can also use tab, but coming from a fiddle (i.e., fretless mandolin) background, donít usually use tab much.
    Are you thinking that reading notation is required for playing Bluegrass music then? I don't think so. Probably 99% of Bluegrass players don't read notation (that's a wild guess).

    If I were you, I'd stick with it anyway. Sounds like you're doing good. Having difficulty is not a bad thing, it just means you're learning something unfamiliar. My guess is that translating your notation up the neck is going to help you really learn the fretboard in the long run. When you start playing a bunch of bluegrass jams, you won't need any notation, different skills will be needed. Your reading skills could be valuable for other things, though, so only you can decide how much time to put into them.
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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    Thanks, Mark. No, I wasn’t thinking that reading notation was required for playing bluegrass. Like you said, following the notation as I play up the neck will, I imagine, go a long way to reinforcing which fret positions correspond to which notes. My bigger question is whether there’s any value at all in associating a finger to the notes up the neck, as there is for first position. I’m guessing there isn’t, because it changes constantly, depending on what chord position you’re playing out of. And even then, you can use any finger for the root note”home” of any chord position, right?

    So, perhaps the best way to approach each exercise in the Bluegrass Up the Neck book is to just use the notation (or even better, the tab) to learn each lick and then drill the lick from memory once it’s learned?

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    Hmmm, I guess I'm not sure of the question. I'd say there is some value in using the rules of thumb for describing hand positions:

    1. Basically, two frets per fingertip for each finger in each position if possible.
    2. 1st position: Index covers frets 1 & 2
    3. 2nd position: Index covers frets 3 & 4
    4. 3rd position: Index covers frets 5 & 6
    5. 4th position: Index covers frets 7 & 8
    6. Any finger could play the root note, you don't position the hand so the index (for instance) always covers the root note.

    So, in actual playing, the above are not hard, fast rules but rather a way to describe generally the left hand positions. But in practice, this is fluid and depends on getting the notes you want efficiently.

    Still not sure if that is what you're asking. Also, what I'm describing is 'generally accepted' description of terms, I think, and others disagree with this 'formula' sometimes here in this forum. I think some folk hate any talk of formula at all, but I use the above as a way of discussing things and as a general guide in my fingerings, and lastly - I'm no expert or no great player.
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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    I read notes, that makes me part of the 1%! Wooohoo.
    The entire world of classical music read notes, most at full speed. Once you learn to read position notation, it happens at full speed.
    Keep at it. No matter what position I play in, my minds eye sees sheet music.
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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    I too am very bad about knowing the names of the notes up the neck. (I can play scales up the neck.)
    Don Julin has a YouTube about learning the notes on the mandolin neck. Basically, taking a note in a lower position,
    and finding (and naming the note) in various places.

    I started as a folk musician; now play classical music too. I guess if I'd started as a classical player, I'd know the notes
    up the scale.

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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    Maybe I’m just overthinking this (I do that a lot) and should spend more time doing what I’m doing with Bluegrass Up the Neck. It sounds like paying attention to the notation as I’m doing certainly isn’t going to help me.

    I think you and Matt pretty much answered it for me—as I work on this, I will be able to automatically attach notes to frets and strings all over the neck.

    It seems like Niles’ way of thinking in BUTN doesn’t really involve numbered position (1st, 2nd, etc.). Instead, it uses root note chord positions. I suppose it will all come together eventually, and I’ll have a map of notes and frets in my brain, and my fingers will know what note they’re on no matter where I am on the fingerboard. It’ll probably take a while to get there, but I’ll keep plugging away at it!

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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    Excellent question, wormpicker. I have wondered the same thing for some time on the ukulele and guitar. I was classically trained on trumpet back in the 1960s in middle school. When reading standard notation there, my brain always knew instantly which buttons to press when I saw a note on the staff. The only real decision was how hard to press my lips together to get the right octave.

    With any stringed instrument, its much more complicated, since there is more than one place on the neck and strings where you can generally play a given note. In fist position, its not too difficult, and I can generally sight read and play most music there. However, going up the neck, its a whole different ballgame for me at least. About the closest I have come to having my old brain automatically associate a place up the neck for a given note is when learning to play at a given position.

    I have read probably hundreds of guitar and/or ukulele players say that you need to memorize the fretboard, and perhaps as many saying you don't need to. I hope to resolve it in my mind one day lol. I have watched Clyde Clevenger's YouTube video a few times on playing at various positions up the neck (depending on what key you are in), and it makes sense to me, but of course he doesn't worry about associating it with written notation.

    I play once a month in a bluegrass gospel jam. There, it is impractical to be reading anything more than a simple chord chart, and even that is difficult because you don't know what key people are going to call a song in, and I don't always have them in my iPad, which seem to have become common at these jams (I know blasphemy). Given that, it seems to my beginners mind that you have to pick a position and the associated scale in that position to have a prayer at picking out the tune quickly.

    Its a fun but sometimes frustrated journey. I look forward to reading the more experienced members perspectives on this .
    Last edited by Smyrna5; Dec-16-2018 at 3:00am.

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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    Quote Originally Posted by wormpicker View Post
    It sounds like paying attention to the notation as I’m doing certainly isn’t going to help me.
    Whoops! That was supposed to say “isn’t going to HURT me”! Blame either the iPad or the wine...

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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    Rather than "learning every fret of the neck" I work from the G string, set my root note, then have at.

    So far I've worked on Major, Minor, and double harmonic minor. They are basically just "shapes" to me.
    I start on the root with each finger to get all of the "layouts" for the scale.

    Once all that is worked out, all keys are basically just a starting point.

    I am a music theorist and minor league composer, so "hearing" the notes comes pretty naturally to me. Once I know the key and position, I don't really think of the note names and frets so much as "how should what I'm reading sound?"

    It's a bit tricky if I start the scale on the D and A strings as I have to think a bit more about the fingerboard "layout". Both otherwise the theory is the same.

    I am currently working on the same idea for chords. I have root position (starting on the root of the I chord) I - IV - V chords down (major and minor). ii - iii - vi - vii are next...

    Then working on 1st and 2nd inversions (starting on the 3rd and 5th of the I chord).

    [[[]]]

    Funny side affect... because I start scales with each finger, I tend to start with the D scale (major or minor) on the G string, so quite a bit up the neck, but it allows me to start a scale with my pinky and not user any open strings.

    [[[]]]

    Carl

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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    I have not read Nile's book. But in general, there seems to be two approaches for thinking up the neck. And both are equally important I have finally concluded.

    One is to know closed finger patterns that can be started on any fret and moved up and down and in many cases side to side. This is great for jamming and bluegrass and improvising. There are several resources for this. This method envisions the fret board as infinite in both directions, and closed finger patterns and chords and even chord sequences (I, IV, V etc.) can move any where in any key.

    The other is to learn the positions, especially third position. Third position envisions the fret board as starting at the fifth fret. Figure out the tunes you know up there and also (much more challenging for me) learn to read up in third. It can be done! I am not particularly talented and it drove me to distraction, (almost induced stuttering), but I have gotten better and better at it. There are several resources for this as well.

    I was firmly in the camp of the first technique for years and years, but now pursuing classical music, I am finding that both schemes are important, valuable, and useful ways of imagining the fret board.

    Of course, one has to learn it all. I find everything i don't know eventually bites me in the tail piece.
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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    Nice to hear about "closed finger patterns", that's how I've been approaching it, nice to know there is a name for it.

    Now I can google even MORE stuff about the mandolin!

    :-)

    C

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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    Thanks to you all for your really helpful insight and perspective. I’m excited to learn my way around this stringed beast through both closed positions and third position.

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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    Good thread, made me realize that when I move up the neck I’m not thinking notes at all but patterns and automatically playing in them. I’m going to work on reading up there now, great info in this thread.
    Northfield F5M #268, AT02 #7

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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    Intermediate violin students learn positions and there are many many good resources for this in the violin world. Here is one. These will get you reading notation up the neck.
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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    The two best resources for closed form playing, in my experience, are:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    Once you make a little progress playing up in the nose bleed seats and start integrating into your normal playing activities, you get this amazing feeling. Its like the mandolin is a brand new instrument with infinite possibilities never before imagined.

    I learned closed position play first and went nuts with enthusiasm figuring stuff out, jamming, not bothering even to ask what key a tune was in.

    Then I started in with position play, which for me was harder. Everyone is different. But again, the same "embryo once again" feeling, the same perception that the mandolin was a new and funner instrument.

    For me, I could not have done the position play with out my mandolin coach (teacher). We meet on Skype once a week. Lots of little tricks and tips that a teacher can give and without which you have to go the hard way. But everyone learns differently.

    For everyone out there. My experience is that the mandolin has infinite rooms waiting to be explored. Where ever you are on the instrument, what ever level - push yourself into the next room. There are great beauties in the next room. And at the far end, a door into the next next room.
    Last edited by JeffD; Dec-19-2018 at 1:05pm.
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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    Thanks, Jeff. Yep, I've got all three (did I mention I tend to overthink things), and have been working with them--mostly Getting Into Jazz Mandolin, and mostly the beginning set of scale exercises.

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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    Once you make a little progress playing up in the nose bleed seats and start integrating into your normal playing activities, you get this amazing feeling. Its like the mandolin is a brand new instrument with infinite possibilities never before imagined.
    Yes! that's what I'm feeling in my new up-the-neck explorations. Although, I'm still just a year into playing mandolin, so it still IS a brand new instrument with infinite possibilities!

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    Default Re: Reading notation up the neck

    Quote Originally Posted by wormpicker View Post
    so it still IS a brand new instrument with infinite possibilities!
    May you always feel this way.
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