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Thread: LH Position question

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    Default LH Position question

    Iím an orchestra director in Texas, with a good knowledge of classical violin technique. Iíve been playing mandolin casually for about ten years, but without much attention to good technique. I am trying to figure out the best left hand position for good agility and speed. I realize that the best technique for violin may not be best for mandolin, so please humor my questions.

    1. Do you hold the neck between the thumb and first knuckle of the first finger? Or do you place your thumb more on the back of the neck and have it provide the back pressure for your fingers on the neck, allowing your left knuckle to drift away from the neck a little?

    2. Suppose youíre playing a D scale. Would you finger the notes on the D string (D, E, F#, G) as open, first finger, second, and third? Or open, first, third, and fourth?

    3. What gage strings do you use? Iím trying to find a balance between playability and tone/intonation.

    Thanks again!

  2. #2
    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: LH Position question

    All in all, left hand position is much more similar to violin than guitar. Mandolin necks are hugely variable, though. You'll find a lot more variation in mandolinists' than violinists' technique. There was a thread a year or two ago where a bunch of people sent in photos on hand and thumb positions. I can't find it at the moment—maybe someone else can.

    For fingering on a D scale, I would use 0-1-2-3. I'm primarily a violist though, so the scale of a mandolin neck is not off-putting. Generally, each finger covers two frets on a mandolin.

    I use light strings, either the D'Addario EJ73s or Martins, on my instrument that doesn't have a truss rod and mediums on the one that does. Intonation is a constant source of frustration. Being used to non-fretted instruments, frets definitely have limits.

  3. #3

    Default Re: LH Position question

    Out of order, because this is the order in which I would deal with these separate questions.

    3. I use ultra-light strings, starting with the gauges used in the GHS A240 Ultra Light set. Some mandolins and mandolas, especially those designed for bluegrass, can be pretty overbuilt and require thicker strings, but I don't play such instruments. Since my instruments are more lightly built, lighter strings don't damp the top from pressure, and have more volume on tap. Additionally, it's easier to play classical and chord-melody style up beyond the 12th fret.

    1. To clarify, my mandolins and mandolas are fully supported by the strap, so there are no issues with no neck diving, and the fretting hand is completely free to move without having to grasp the neck. It's the same philosophy as not needing to support a violin beyond with the shoulder rest and the chin rest, leaving the fingerboard hand free to play as it will. My thumb is usually behind the neck, and not much pressure is required even to chord. The fretting hand can even drop away entirely, if riffing n the open strings.

    2. I play it a few different ways. I bought books on shifting for violin, viola and even cello, as I play some instruments with very long scale lengths. It helps to be able to play steadily in multiple patterns.

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    Default Re: LH Position question

    Quote Originally Posted by lrjackson06 View Post
    Iím an orchestra director in Texas, with a good knowledge of classical violin technique. Iíve been playing mandolin casually for about ten years, but without much attention to good technique. I am trying to figure out the best left hand position for good agility and speed. I realize that the best technique for violin may not be best for mandolin, so please humor my questions.

    1. Do you hold the neck between the thumb and first knuckle of the first finger? Or do you place your thumb more on the back of the neck and have it provide the back pressure for your fingers on the neck, allowing your left knuckle to drift away from the neck a little?

    2. Suppose youíre playing a D scale. Would you finger the notes on the D string (D, E, F#, G) as open, first finger, second, and third? Or open, first, third, and fourth?

    3. What gage strings do you use? Iím trying to find a balance between playability and tone/intonation.

    Thanks again!
    1) I don't hold or support the neck at all. Nor do I place the thumb here or there (I have almost no control over it, anyway). The role of the left hand is to stop the strings. Basically I secure the mandolin in place using strap, points (playing seated) or the inner portion of my forearm I then bring my left hand to the neck of the mandolin and start playing. The thumb will land where it lands, mostly on the side of the neck. When barring (if at all) it will slide in below the neck, traveling up the neck it's likely to trail behind.

    2) In a strictly diatonic context I finger diatonically, next (scale) note, next finger.
    In this example the 3rd finger goes to the g note, and the 4th to the a (unless open a sounds or performs better). (Which of the two fingers to use for the g# is a matter of context.)

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