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Thread: Playing a five string vs a four

  1. #1

    Default Playing a five string vs a four

    I have been thinking about a 5 string, but wondering about how hard they are to play.

    The simplicity of a 4 string was originally why I switched from guitar to mandolin. So far so good.

    The beauty of 4 string closed chords, movable anywhere, is a huge benefit of mandolin. Seems like this would be lost on a 5 string.

    So I am thinking a 5-string is more suited to melodies, and 2-3 string chords, and less for the standard type of strumming/comping you would do on a four-string.

    It seems like string muting would require more effort too.

    Is this correct? More or less?
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  2. #2

    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    Depends on the kind of music you play and how you want to chord. For me, too many noters can get muddy.

    The 5 string doesn't mess with your mind any more than learning chords (3 or 4 finger) on the D,A and E strings. Now you have a new set of chords starting on those new, lower tones. Each of those sets of chords required a bit of brain reprocessing. Now you have 9 inversions to choose from, and not even counting the rootless ones!

    Other than than, not much different except you have another string to mute and more notes to choose from.
    Play it like you mean it.

  3. #3
    Americana in France? Daniel Nestlerode's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    I chord mostly on the bottom three strings (CGD). Getting up to the E string is a bit of a finger twister. It's harder to mute the C string than the E string, so 5 note chords are called for. But 42245 is not easy for an A chord and 42235 (Amin) is even harder.

    Have discovered how wonderful the keys of Fmaj, Bbmaj, and Gmin are. Seriously. A Bb chord is your friend with a low C.
    Play melodies and solos on all 5 strings

    Daniel

  4. #4

    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    Yeah this kinda agrees with what I was thinkin'. I just got an e-mandola to play with and if my tired old brain can deal with transposing everything a fifth (to avoid the tedium of editting lead sheets), then that may be an easier route to get a little lower than a mandolin, and still let me use FFCP chords and licks. A lead-melody-only instrument isn't the droid I am looking for right now.
    Trinity College TM325 Octave Mandolin (converted to 4-string tenor guitar).
    Eastman MD-605SB, MD-604SB, MD-305, all with Grover 309 tuners.
    Eastwood 4 string electric mandostang, 2x Airline e-mandola (4-string) one strung as an e-OM.
    DSP's: Helix HX Stomp, various Zooms.
    Amps: QSC-K10, DBR-10, THR-10, Sony XB-20.

  5. #5
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    I love 5 course instruments tuned in fifths. I've got a C-G-D-A-E 10 string mandola, 10 string mandocello and 10 string Hardanger viola. I also have a 5 string viola and 5 string octave viola. Its great having a bigger range for chords and melody.

  6. #6
    Quietly Making Noise Dave Greenspoon's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    I love having the low C available for chordings. Barre chords can be your friend on the 5. Having more real estate for runs up or down is also nice.
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    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    The low C string really gives a nice depth to the chords, in contrast the 4 string can sound thin...

    But there is some learning curve to the 5 string, and there is something simple about a 4-string having one finger per string that makes me feel I can shred harder.

    Been trying to get familiar with the 5 string slowly, electric is a side thing for me, my bluegrass band would freak out if I showed up with an amp!
    I should be pickin' rather than postin'

  8. #8
    Harley Marty
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    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobart View Post
    I love 5 course instruments tuned in fifths. I've got a C-G-D-A-E 10 string mandola, 10 string mandocello and 10 string Hardanger viola. I also have a 5 string viola and 5 string octave viola. Its great having a bigger range for chords and melody.
    A 5 string octave viola must be a beast! What size is it & what strings does it take? (I have an 18" octave/tenor fiddle fitted with 3/4 cello strings)

  9. #9
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    Quote Originally Posted by Harley Marty View Post
    A 5 string octave viola must be a beast! What size is it & what strings does it take? (I have an 18" octave/tenor fiddle fitted with 3/4 cello strings)
    It's a regular 16.5" viola (with a high E) strung with Sensicore Octave strings. I use a heavier Incredibow on it. It really rattles my jaw on the low notes.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    Quote Originally Posted by kurth83 View Post
    Is this correct? More or less?
    Pretty much.

    Think jazz - diads and triads vs big open chords. Comp on the lower 3 and solo on the upper.
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  11. #11

    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    I recently got a 5 String Goldtone and am too having a difficult time getting used to the C string. Some of you u have mentioned playing chords on the bass strings. Is there chord charts available, or an easy way to think about this?
    Teri LaMarco

  12. #12

    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    When I started playing CGDAE instruments, what confused me wasn't the low C Ė it was the fact that the D-string was now the middle string.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    Forget about playing chords using all the strings.

    The lower 4 strings (CGDA) are the same tuning as tenor guitar/banjo and mandola. The upper 4 strings (GDAE) are mandolin.

    A google on "tenor banjo chords" will give you lots of references.

    You have to get used to focusing on your playing more - i.e. muting the unwanted string and picking more accurately. Once you get proficient you'll find you're playing diads and triads more than open chords.
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  15. #14
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    Quote Originally Posted by Amandalyn View Post
    I recently got a 5 String Goldtone and am too having a difficult time getting used to the C string. Some of you u have mentioned playing chords on the bass strings. Is there chord charts available, or an easy way to think about this?
    Just like guitar, you don't have to play all the strings on every chord. Picture a standard first position 3 finger G on mandolin - X523. On a 5 course C-G-D-A-E instrument this is XX523. Now move all your fingers one course over (to the lower strings) to X523X. That's a C or a 4th from the G you started with.

    Now move all your fingers one course over (to the lower strings) to 523XX. That's an F or a 4th from the C you just left. Notice when you go the other way (from F to C to G) you move a 5th as you go one course up. The beauty of an instrument tuned in 5ths.

    Of course we aren't limited to just 3 course chords but I think its a pretty simple illustration.

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  17. #15
    Americana in France? Daniel Nestlerode's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    I think of a 5 string emando as a mandola with a cheater 'e' course.

    Get yourself started with mandola chords/CGDA. Then start playing scales using all 5 strings. What you'll quickly sort out is that the e string will allow you to move up a 5th without using your pinky.

    5 string chords are possible and sound pretty good IF your instrument is well intonated. For example:
    Fmaj: 02301
    Bbmaj: 65311
    Cmaj: 00230
    Dmaj: 22452
    Getting your 'C' course to play well with the others will be the key.

    It's easier to intonate the instrument if you think of it as a mandolin first, and then try to get the C string sorted. But this usually means that the C is out somewhere. And this will lead to playing more like a mandolin and getting frustrated by a C string that isn't quite right. So when intonating it's better to think of it as a short scale mandola, and then sort out the E string.

    I learned this 'the hard way' by being annoyed with a C course that was always a bit out when open but fretting in tune or by being in tune when open but fretting out of tune. Get the intonation sorted and you'll progress a lot faster because your ears will be happier.

    Hope this helps!
    Daniel

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    Lord of All Badgers Lord of the Badgers's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    I had a 10 string cittern tuned CGDAD. A lot of fun though required more strength than I possessed hence the past tense.
    I would often play a high Em leaving the C open. What an epic Cmaj7 (ish)!!!
    But I enjoyed how I could chord in a key without having to go up to the neck all the time.
    I'd try again with a more playable instrument if I could.

    Ps Five courses is harder to resell most times
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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    using 3 string chords ... with the 1/root on the middle 3, 234, 123 is the 5th, 345 is the 4th ,,
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    '`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`' Jacob's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    Forget about playing chords. Think five string fiddle. Expanded lead lines. Melody machine. Just my 2Ę.

  22. #19

    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    Quote Originally Posted by kurth83 View Post
    The beauty of 4 string closed chords, movable anywhere, is a huge benefit of mandolin. Seems like this would be lost on a 5 string.
    Playing 4-string closed chords on a 5-string mandolin is no harder than playing 3-string closed chords on a 4-string mandolin.

    Quote Originally Posted by kurth83 View Post
    So I am thinking a 5-string is more suited to melodies, and 2-3 string chords, and less for the standard type of strumming/comping you would do on a four-string.
    I don't find this to be true. Other than having more options with a 5-string, I find very little difference in my playing styles on the two instruments.

  23. #20
    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    Of course it is confusing at first. I first tried five-string violin, which was tricky but I got used to it. Five-course mandolin is much more useful than 5-string violin and well worth learning.

    Five courses are much more than some extra notes. First, you get to play bass lines, counterpoint, and chords in a lower register than the melody. Second, you can play chords/intervals in normal mandolin range that are not possible without the lower course.

    The common approach to four-course playing is limited by the higher range, which means the player canít freely fill the sound up with strumming, as it pulls the focus away from the melody. That is why mandolin often defaults to chopping.

    A modification four-course players should consider is to switch to Gimble tuning, just convert to CGDA. This gets you the lower range and keeps the easy reaches and playability of mandolin.

    But letís consider that millions of people around the world successfully manage five different pitched strings on guitar, as well as a sixth string. Also, a my personal journey has left the single-course mandolin behind. We have half the string length of a guitar so we need twice the strings.
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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    just saying simple 4,1, 5 chords are all on the same fret
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    Registered User John Van Zandt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    8 strings works for me. When learning to play, hearing two D strings side by side referred to as THE D string sounds like a failure to communicate. One course or pair of D strings is plural.
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    Chief Moderator/Shepherd Ted Eschliman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing a five string vs a four

    I'm with Daniel. 5-string for me is a mandola with an extra E string for melody, all my chording is based on 3-note chords on the lower three strings, half-muting the remaining strings. If you're interested, I have a set of chord grips you can transpose from here: 5-string Mandolin Chord Sets.

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