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Thread: Chop Questions

  1. #1
    Registered User man dough nollij's Avatar
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    Default Chop Questions

    I hate to admit that I don't know the answer to this, but I'm willing to expose my ignorance to become more knowledgeable.

    I don't have access to a real mandolin teacher here, or even a fake one. I had a few lessons when I started mandolin playing a few years ago, before I got Shanghai'ed by grad school. No chopping content there. Not much practice for a couple o'years there...

    I've heard chop chords played on some dealer's web sites that sounded like a cleanly fretted chord, released at the last moment (A, G, etc.).

    When I watch videos of people performing bluegrass, it sounds more like they're touching down on all positions, but not really fretting all notes. Almost like you do a harmonic-- just dragging the fingertips on the notes of the chord, then letting off to make the chop chord.

    I've tried it both ways, and it sound better when I just kind of touch on the notes-- it gives that nice CHOP, CHOP sound. It's not very loud, but it's not real loud when I hear others do it on recordings.

    I know this is hard to do in words, but I'm curious how you all Cafe experts describe your chop techniques.

    Eh?

  2. #2
    Mark Evans mandozilla's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    Lee

    For me it kind of depends on the number/tune I'm playing. On up-tempo numbers / tunes I want a much more percussive chop so I release tension quite quickly after striking.

    At slower tempos, I play a lot more back-up and fill you know, tremolo and so forth. But when I chop on slower numbers, I tend to hold the tension down on the strings a bit longer and you can hear more of the actual chord sound.

    At these tempo's I also do a lot of triplet flourishes while chopping...Does this make any sense Lee?

    Chopping, for something relatively simple it sure is hard to explain...well for me it is anyway.


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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    It's great to see this topic come up. What you said here is right on the money:

    <When I watch videos of people performing bluegrass, it sounds more like they're touching down on all positions, but not really fretting all notes. Almost like you do a harmonic-- just dragging the fingertips on the notes of the chord, then letting off to make the chop chord.>

    That is definintely one of the techniques, as is playing only part of the chord, usually the two or three bottom strings. I actually think there are many ways to chop and sometimes it's the part of bluegrass mandolin that interests me most.

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    Mark Evans mandozilla's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    It's great fun to push the tempo of a band with your chopping to keep them from dragging.

    If the bass player is in sync with you, you can actually 'feel' how the direction is going...it's hard to explain but it's a wonderous thing to experience.

    Chopping is fun...and important!


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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    It's funny.

    The chop is only one thing, but so many do it somewhat differently that there are as many variations to it as pickers. When it's cooking on all four burners and blending with the band, you hardly notice the thing (well, not really, but it becomes ONE...Zen-y, I know).

    Ronnie M - perfect balance of tones + click
    Dempsey Young - more click than tones, still perfect
    Chris Thile - more click still
    Alan Bibey - more tones than click, right on
    Bill Monroe - manly (you better be sharp, boy!)
    Wayne Benson - perfect
    John Duffey - wolf-like, or non-existent, knew how to use it
    Bobby Osborne - pings it when needed

  6. #6
    Registered User Pete Martin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    Sam Bush has the ultimate chop sound to my ears, study his sound and try to duplicate!
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    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    To chop or not to chop, that is the question.

    The chop ain´t all to bluegrass mandolin playing. And the chop - being originated by Bill Monroe - is not really the same over the 50 or so years that Bill Monroe played bluegrass.

    I´d say, listen to early - pre banjo - bluegrass and you will have a "chop" that sounds a lot like jazz guitar vamping (listen to Freddy Green, Eddie Lang, Sons Of The Pioneers [Carl Farr]...). Fast forward that to the "vintage" bluegrass late 40ies to late 50ies and you will find a chop that is musical yet percussive. With that I mean that you hear the chord though it´s being stiffled by the "uplift" of the fingers that then causes the "pop". I would also say that there are quite some overtones involved in that chop concept. Fast forward that to the post firepoker days when the fabled Lloyd Loar F 5 was hardly playable - due to non neck resets - the chop is more a crack/whack at the strings, very dry with hardly any notes at all. Mind you, this is Monroe to my ear over his years.

    Talk about other musicians and their "chop-concept" and you could mention David Grisman and Doyle Lawson, who are missing in the so far list of choppers.

    man dough nollij, you´ve got the chop thing pretty much summarized. Within these boundaries about everything choppable is acceptable. If you keep a loose wrist, you´ll find the chop that suits you best.
    Last edited by grassrootphilosopher; Mar-31-2009 at 7:11am. Reason: proof reading
    Olaf

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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    I think Tim O'Brien is a monstrous rhythm player. Listen to some of his work on the first Hot Rize album. WOW! He really gets a great wood-y sound from his chop. It almost seems to have it's own mini-echo. He's a master at incorporating flourishes of tremolo on multiple strings with his chopping...much like Sam Bush. It's a very aggressive style at times and just makes me shake my head in wonder.

  10. #9
    formerly OldDirtyTurtle Jason Kindall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    Good thread. I've been a guitar player (primarily electric) for half my life and always incorporated muted string rakes and chord vamping since I began trying to emulate Hendrix, SRV, and any number of late-60's through mid-70's rock and blues players.

    My fascination for the way musicians color the voice of an instrument has really been focused on 'the chop' recently. I find myself listening intently to Dawg on the Old and In the Way sets. Man what a tone!

    My own chop is too new to even discuss. It's finding its way, though.

  11. #10

    Default Re: Chop Questions

    Another newb question, and this may sound really ignorant, but is it legitimate to chop up? I guess it wouldn't really be a chopping motion then, but I find myself wondering how a mandolinist chopping only downward can keep up with a really hard-driving song.

    Also, what do people think about chopping using shapes other than the standards in the middle of the neck (e.g., A-2245 rather than A-9745 or D-245X rather than D-7452)? I practice the longer stretches a lot, and I've made a lot of progress with them. I'm confident that in time I will be able to play them cleanly and move between them at decent speed. But for now I'm much more effective with the easier fingerings closer to the nut, so I use those when I'm playing with others.
    Last edited by Man of Wax; Mar-31-2009 at 2:36pm. Reason: Got those numbers mixed up.

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    Registered User Bob Andress's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    I noticed when that when I chop up, I really dig into the strings and get that force I'm looking for. Since I have NEVER seen anyone chop up I'm trying to get that same point of attack on the down chop - haven't gotten it yet.

    I know that doesn't answer questions execpt to say that I think the right hand (the angle you attack the strings) has as much to do with the chop as the left hand.

  13. #12

    Default Re: Chop Questions

    There are various strumming techniques but a chop is a downstroke

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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    I saw a guy chop on the upstroke once, he was pretty good.

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    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    Also, what do people think about chopping using shapes other than the standards in the middle of the neck (e.g., A-2245 rather than A-9754 or D-245X rather than D-7542)? I practice the longer stretches a lot, and I've made a lot of progress with them. I'm confident that in time I will be able to play them cleanly and move between them at decent speed. But for now I'm much more effective with the easier fingerings closer to the nut, so I use those when I'm playing with others.
    That's how I have to play for now too. I can play the G-chop chord, but it takes me about 3 seconds to get my hand into that position. So I play an A-2245 or D-2455 pattern chord. Between the two, I can hit pretty much every chord I need, moving up or down. I'll still work on the G-chop, but I honestly don't think I'll ever get comfortable with it. Especially with moving it up or down the neck.

    Anybody remember that old episode of "Friends" where Phoebe is describing guitar chords by the hand shapes required to fret them? If I had to name the mandolin G-chop chord one of those types of names, it would be the mummy hand chord. <-- (click to see what I mean)

  16. #15

    Default Re: Chop Questions

    I saw a guy chop on the upstroke once, he was pretty good.
    It can be done, I guess, but pretty rare. I have to admit that I've tried it just fooling around but I think the down stroke will emphasize the lower tones of the chord and is a sound I prefer. I think that a beginner should learn the basics before experimenting, you should know what rules you are breaking.

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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Bunting View Post
    It can be done, I guess, but pretty rare. I have to admit that I've tried it just fooling around but I think the down stroke will emphasize the lower tones of the chord and is a sound I prefer. I think that a beginner should learn the basics before experimenting, you should know what rules you are breaking.

    I played in a Klezmer band for several years. It was large group with trumpet, trombone and clarinet, but no drummer. I started chopping up because it brought out the mandolin sound more so than chopping downward, which got lost in the guitar and accordion tones. But for bluegrass, I'd say "up-chopping" wouldn't work out.

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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    Didn't we have a thread on this earlier on? I think there were many useful ideas there, it may be worth finding..

    I agree with Pete. Find your paradigm chopper and emulate that. Further, I agree about Sam Bush. I would also add Doyle Lawson, Jimmy Gaudreau, Adam Steffey, Tom Rozum...

    Chopping is not muting. Push down all four strings. Strike them, or rather swing through them(like a bat through a ball or a golfclub through a golfball)using one flick of the pick. You want to hear all four notes in the chord. After you've begun vibrating the strings, lift your fingers up off the board but keep them in contact with the strings. That's how you shorten the decay time of the chord. Another thing that helped me and my students is to conceive of the four notes as all one thing--it's four strings and notes, but swing through it as if it were one.

    The 2245 A chord is cool, any voicing is cool I guess, but you can do most of your damage with only two voicings. For G it would be 7-5-2-3. For D it's 7-4-5-2. To get your hand loose for chopping in general, switch between those two voicings ad infinitum, insisting on clean and full sound every time. One thing that helps here is to leave down the finger common to both chords and don't allow your fingers to get too high off the board. Once you can trade between these voicings at a good steady tempo a few hundred times, shifting from key to key will seem like the proverbial piece of cake.

    I'm pretty sure that when Sam or Chris or Dawg or Barry et al start throwing in more interesting rhythms, upstrokes are being used. The thing to remember is a downstroke is supposed to be stronger and why not--all that weight from your strong hand dropping on the strings. Certainly downbeats, or things you want to emphasize, will be downstrokes pre-dominantly. The upstrokes work nice for the lighter stuff, filligree, goo-ga--cool stuff between the expected stuff.One of my favorite examples is a bit of a hiccup in Sam's chop---one-TWO-three-A-FOUR. Check out the green Starday Newgrass Revival album. Golden.

    I feel swing rhythm works the same way, but with different voicings of course, and a different rhythmic concept. But the technique for making a short chord sound is the same. No chopping on the swing, Thank you Very Much!

    I've seen some pickers grab the bottom two strings and kinda mute them with the right(pick) hand. That's not happening to my ears. Let the pick travel freely over the strings, vibrate them all, then shorten it back down by when your left(fretting) hand is lifted off the board.

    Finally, to beat chopper's fatigue, watch the position of the left hand. If your thumb is up too high or over the fretboard, you'll flatten your fingers out and produce inaccurate sounds. If your shoulder is hiked up because your wrist is flat against the back of the neck, you'll get pain somewhere between the second and third tune. One little catch phrase that has helped students in this predicament is "drop your watch to the floor". This helps avoid what the fiddle players call "pancake hand".

  19. #18
    mandolin slinger Steve Ostrander's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    I'll sometimes upstroke on a chop but it's always in between downstrokes. In other words, the major chop is on the beat, where the snare drum would play, and the upstroke is just a rhythmic variation--a sub-chop, so to speak.
    Never say "bouzouki" to a TSA agent...

  20. #19
    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    One little catch phrase that has helped students in this predicament is "drop your watch to the floor". This helps avoid what the fiddle players call "pancake hand".
    That reminds me of a comment I saw last week somewhere on this board (can't find the thread now) where a couple of people were complaining that their middle fingers wouldn't bend tight enough to play the bottom string in a chop chord. As I was playing around with it, I had a similar issue until I did exactly what you just described. I brought the palm of my hand away from the neck and got my thumb under the neck, essentially lowering my wrist. And suddenly the middle finger problem went away.

  21. #20
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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    It seems to me that the up "chop" is more like a "skank" in reggae terms. On the 2 and 4 with more of a swing feel. From what I have read; bear in mind I am still new to mando-land, the bass is the 1 and the 3 (kick drum) and the mandolin is the 2 and 4 (snare). From what I have been listening to that seems to hold true. So an up chop would provide more high-end tone, not unlike a snare.

    Again, new and taking it all in...

    Ran$ome

  22. #21
    Registered User pickloser's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    There is excellent advice on chopping here. For beginners, this is how my teacher got my chop going:

    Tap your foot or nod you head or use a metronome to mark 4 steady beats to the measure. Place your left hand fingers in the chop chord position, but don't press the strings much, such that if you strummed you would just get a "chunk" sound. Relax. Then get your right hand swinging through all four courses up and down in eighth notes, lightly “chunking” on the strings, two chunks to every beat, one chunk stroking down, one chunk stroking up. "Chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk"--really steady, getting all the chunks to sound fairly uniform. After you’ve got that, press down the chop chord on the third chunk of each set of four strums, and you'll get a measure of "chunk (down), chunk (up), chop (down stroke-pressing down with the chord and almost immediately lifting off), chunk (up); chunk, chunk, chop, chunk" which for the right hand is a steady down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up. That puts in a lot of extra "chunk" noises, but allows you to get a metronomic motion going with your right hand. The "chop" sound will land squarely on the second and fourth beats. As you get this, and it won't take long, start emphasizing the "chops" and
    de-emphasizing the "chunks." Chunk chunk CHOP chunk, chunk, chunk CHOP chunk. Eventually you can drop the chunks altogether or use them for rhythmic emphasis, on the up or downstroke. Anyway, it worked for me.
    Happy pickin'

  23. #22
    Registered User Jim DeSalvio's Avatar
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    Default Re: Chop Questions

    Good thread here! I am forging new ground also, and this information if very consistent with what I have been reading and watching on some instructional DVD's.

    I am still struggling with the "traditional" G shape, but I understand that will come in time................
    Jim D

  24. #23

    Default Re: Chop Questions

    Quote Originally Posted by man dough nollij View Post
    I hate to admit that I don't know the answer to this, but I'm willing to expose my ignorance to become more knowledgeable.

    I don't have access to a real mandolin teacher here, or even a fake one. I had a few lessons when I started mandolin playing a few years ago, before I got Shanghai'ed by grad school. No chopping content there. Not much practice for a couple o'years there...

    I've heard chop chords played on some dealer's web sites that sounded like a cleanly fretted chord, released at the last moment (A, G, etc.).

    When I watch videos of people performing bluegrass, it sounds more like they're touching down on all positions, but not really fretting all notes. Almost like you do a harmonic-- just dragging the fingertips on the notes of the chord, then letting off to make the chop chord.

    I've tried it both ways, and it sound better when I just kind of touch on the notes-- it gives that nice CHOP, CHOP sound. It's not very loud, but it's not real loud when I hear others do it on recordings.

    I know this is hard to do in words, but I'm curious how you all Cafe experts describe your chop techniques.

    Eh?
    ..."chopping" should be taken very seriously !...a bluegrass mandolinist's playing should consist of about 85% chop to 15% pick !....always use a 4-fingered chop when possible, never less than 3 !....learn to chop the 1,2,4,and 5 chords in all 12 keys....I like for my chops to have a good musical ring to them,...not just a 'click' or a 'thump' !...-example-if you wish...google up MAPLE VALLEY BOYS .

  25. #24

    Default Re: Chop Questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Ostrander View Post
    I'll sometimes upstroke on a chop but it's always in between downstrokes. In other words, the major chop is on the beat, where the snare drum would play, and the upstroke is just a rhythmic variation--a sub-chop, so to speak.
    ...you don't mean the "major chop is on the (down) beat" do you ? The proper chop is on beats 2 and 4 , in 4/4 time, and on beats 2 and 3 in 3/4 time !...and for the record....-NEVER chop "up" !

  26. #25

    Default Re: Chop Questions

    I generally leave out the E-string entirely when I'm chopping (and for most chords). To my ear, it doesn't add anything worth keeping and increases hand strain a fair amount. YMMV

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