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Thread: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

  1. #1
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    Default Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    Hello!

    I am new to the Cafe and was hoping to get some ideas on how to branch out stylistically. I am classically trained and have been playing mandolin for 8 years now. I've never really jammed with others outside of my classical ensembles and I am looking to learn more about bluegrass etiquette and playing. It seems like such a huge world of music though and I'm intimidated with where I should start. Being from Southern California, there isn't a huge bluegrass scene so finding others to jam with and learn how to improvise has been tricky. Is it possible to do solo?

    Where to start? Is there an easy bluegrass book I should get?

    Thanks!
    Emily

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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    One of the Pete Wernick Jam classes might be a good start. He also has some jam along DVDs

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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    As an Italian and somewhat classically trained mandolinist that has seen and heard many fine Bluegrass players, the best thing you can do is begin listening to lots of Bluegrass and learn to play it as much as possible by ear. It's more of an aural genre, with some TAB support, and even staff notation at times, but if you look, it's hard to find a BG band with a music stand in front.

    It's all by ear, like playing in a rock band on that level.

    What you have going for you is technique and ear training. It's up to you to use it.

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  7. #4

    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    Another one I imagine (I haven’t yet been to one) would be some sort of big Bluegrass music camp, or OldTime. It’s probably just a case of just meeting a couple of people first, even other types of musician. Isn’t there a Bluegrass club in San Diego?
    Open mike nights is another place you could meet people, the slow sessions that Irish Trad crowd have before they really get up to speed.
    https://www.yelp.com/search?find_des...an+Diego%2C+CA

    Or find a guitarist/singer, and if you like to sing, or are motivated to learn then you could quite soon be paid to perform. Could be a lot of fun.
    Good luck!
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  8. #5

    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    Fiddle tunes are a good place to start because the key doesn't change. Get off the page and try to learn some basic melodies by ear. There is enough SoCal bluegrass to find a jam.

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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    Quote Originally Posted by dadsaster View Post
    Fiddle tunes are a good place to start because the key doesn't change. Get off the page and try to learn some basic melodies by ear. There is enough SoCal bluegrass to find a jam.
    +1. You only mention bluegrass as another genre. I assume, though, that you are aware of plenty of other styles of music you might explore. I would even suggest going to one of the West Coast camps for festivals and see what your ears may like. I live in the East but I have excellent things about Lark in the Morning Camp and Fiddle Tunes. Sort of a smorgasbord of folk genres you can listen and dip into.

    Playing bluegrass could be wonderful, assuming you love the music and want to play improvised solos in a group (or even sing). Consider also:
    • Old time music: no need to solo and you can even stay in the background in a larger jam and listen and play along if you like
    • Contradance: pretty much meant for accmpanying dancers so the need for a steady and strong rhythms but a wonderful repertoire of tunes.
    • Irish Traditional or Celtic (Scottish and the like): Lovely music with rare solos but rhythmic and requires a bit of technique including specific bowing and ornamentation
    • Quebecois (French Canadian): Similar to the ITM though with a fondness for extra beats and off-kilter rhythms
    • Swedish and Norwegian: A whole 'nother repertoire of beautiful haunting tunes.


    And there are lots of others and some of the above overlap in repertoire.

    Also I would suggest above all to listen to recordings or videos of any of the genres you decide to play. Most classical players can read rings around us folkies but they never get the authentic feel of the music right off the paper hence learning by ear and listening a lot.

    Good luck on your quest. Lots of great music out there and wonderful folks playing it.
    Jim

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  11. #7

    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    +1 to Jim's suggestions, especially Irish/Celtic. It's quite challenging enough and has some really interesting melodies and progressions, almost baroque in many ways. I think old Johann Sebastian would have gotten along great in an Irish session, with his penchant for ornamentation. My violin teacher used to remind me, tongue in cheek but with a point, that Bach was a fiddle player, and he wouldn't have played things exactly as written.

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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    I'm also a classically trained violinist. I took up bluegrass fiddle as a teen with lessons that were 100% watch, listen, play, repeat. Some 40 years later when I took up mandolin those fiddle tunes came right back to my fingers.

    The parking lot pickers book (Dix Bruce) and better Fiddlers Fake book have reasonable approximations of lots of great tunes. I know there is a local chapter of the national Old Time Fiddlers club within an hour of wherever you are in SoCal. Find them and jam with them.

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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    Start thinking in intervals, find a phrase you like, analyze it, play it in all keys, repeat.

  14. #10

    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    Take some of the catchier Classical tunes you know and transpose them all into the key of G major... on the fly. Played by ear only.
    Then same thing starting on G at 3rd string 5th fret.

    Listen to bluegrass tunes slowed down by YouTube to 50% speed. Play along, thinking about the main notes in the tune, not every note.
    Try to play only half of the notes you hear, do not replicate, just enough notes to give a sketch of the tune. When in doubt just play single notes or arpeggios of the main chords, G major, C major and Dmajor, and maybe much later, A minor and E minor.


    IMPORTANT: look around your home and remove ALL pencils, pens and paper, cardboard... well basically remove anything you may be tempted to write notes on.
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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    You only mention bluegrass as another genre. I assume, though, that you are aware of plenty of other styles of music you might explore. I would even suggest going to one of the West Coast camps for festivals and see what your ears may like. I live in the East but I have excellent things about Lark in the Morning Camp and Fiddle Tunes. Sort of a smorgasbord of folk genres you can listen and dip into.

    Playing bluegrass could be wonderful, assuming you love the music and want to play improvised solos in a group (or even sing). Consider also:
    • Old time music: no need to solo and you can even stay in the background in a larger jam and listen and play along if you like
    • Contradance: pretty much meant for accmpanying dancers so the need for a steady and strong rhythms but a wonderful repertoire of tunes.
    • Irish Traditional or Celtic (Scottish and the like): Lovely music with rare solos but rhythmic and requires a bit of technique including specific bowing and ornamentation
    • Quebecois (French Canadian): Similar to the ITM though with a fondness for extra beats and off-kilter rhythms
    • Swedish and Norwegian: A whole 'nother repertoire of beautiful haunting tunes.


    And there are lots of others and some of the above overlap in repertoire.

    Also I would suggest above all to listen to recordings or videos of any of the genres you decide to play. Most classical players can read rings around us folkies but they never get the authentic feel of the music right off the paper hence learning by ear and listening a lot.

    Good luck on your quest. Lots of great music out there and wonderful folks playing it.


    Wow. Almost exactly my intended response. There are mandolin players thoroughly enmeshed in many of these other traditions, who are neither classically trained or bluegrass inclined.

    The pool is huge. Jump in where ever your heart desires, swim around a bit and see whats what. There really is no front door. Listen a lot to everything, and see what makes your hands tingle to play along.
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  17. #12

    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    I don't know where you are in Southern CA, but here are some resources for the area.
    http://socalbluegrass.org/
    http://sandiegobluegrass.org/
    http://www.northcountybluegrass.org/link/SDBS

    Going to jam sessions is fun and a good social activity, and you can learn from what the other players are doing. But you can also get together with just one other musician and learn a lot from that. You get less input from other players, but more opportunities for breaks. Look to some of the great duos like Doc Watson and David Grisman, Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, Chris Thiele and Michael Daves, Blood Orange, The Monroe Brothers, Bill Monroe and Doc Watson for inspiration.

    Here is a Bluegrass book I like.
    https://www.amazon.com/Mandolin-Pick...0374556&sr=8-1

    I have some thoughts on improvisational genres...

    My kids went to a conservatory high school. One is in a conservatory college now and at 19 just played a gig with Bennie Maupin from Miles Davis' and Herbie Hancock's bands. Both learned to improvise very quickly and started playing with pros in high school. I have thought a lot about what allowed them to progress so rapidly.

    I have also watched a lot of classical musicians try to dip into improvisational forms. As classical musicians tend to be perfectionists, improvising at a beginner level can be very psychologically challenging for them.

    The key to rapidly learning to improvise is to spend a lot of time improvising. (Shocking!) I say this because many classical players will look for non-improvisational things to "master" before they feel like they are "ready" for improvising. It can be a form of procrastination to avoid the scary part of sounding like a child again. Learning scale and arpeggio studies isn't improvising. Learning someone else's break, from the page or by ear, isn't improvising. They can provide you with tools and techniques, but they are not creative. Learning to create is hard and you will initially be bad at it.

    Instead, learn a few improvisational concepts and improvise the heck out them. Just one pentatonic scale offers infinite melodic options. When you can use one tool fluently, integrate a new tool into your playing. The hard part for you will be learning to create compelling lines; devote the majority of your time to that. You will need to adjust to sounding crappy, at first, but that is what will free you.

    The good part is that, as a classical player, you already have solid technique and a brain full of music to draw on. Have fun!
    Last edited by JonZ; Oct-06-2019 at 12:19pm.

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  19. #13

    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    I have also watched a lot of classical musicians try to dip into improvisational forms. As classical musicians tend to be perfectionists, improvising at a beginner level can be very psychologically challenging for them.

    The key to learning to improvise rapidly is to spend a lot of time improvising. (Shocking!) I say this because many classical players will look for non-improvisational things to "master" before they feel like they are "ready" for improvising. It can be a form of procrastination to avoid the scary part of sounding like a child again. Learning scales and arpeggio studies isn't improvising. Learning someone else's break, from the page or by ear, isn't improvising. They can provide you with tools and techniques, but they are not creative. Learning to create is hard and you will initially be bad at it.
    I was a Suzuki kid. Not one of the good ones, though I had great teachers... learning to improvise was very difficult, but has helped my overall musicianship immensely.
    Anyone who's a really good classical musician can definitely improvise, but I think the fear you mention, as well as a general view of improvisational genres as "casual" or less valuable keeps a lot of them from really getting into it.

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  21. #14
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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    ... classical musicians tend to be perfectionists, improvising at a beginner level can be very psychologically challenging for them.
    As a former rock and 'round-the-campfire (more like 'round-the-6pack?) musician who's lately playing in a mandolin orchestra, I heartily agree. We're all amateurs, and about evenly split between the classically-trained and more casual rock & folk backgrounds. Few of our classical players who are comfortable in a bluegrass jam. BUT ...

    One MAJOR difference seems to be that most of the "classical" people have rarely concerned themselves with chords, chord progressions, or most any form of musical structure. "Structure" is what the composer or arrange does to get the dots on paper, and we-all just follow the music as written. But more casual forms like rock, jazz, and folk just don't work that way, where most have to think in terms of chord progressions and single-key harmonics (which, BTW, can be totally separate from whatever key you're actually playing in).

    If I were advising a "classically-trained" friend, I'd ask them to get familiar with to the "looser" forms of music by looking up such basic terms as: 12-bar blues, Nashville numbering, relative major & minor chords, classic rock progression I-IV-V, doo-wop progression I-vi-IV-V, 16-bar blues, jazz progression ii-V-I ... not that any of them are the MUSIC one might want to learn or improvise over, but they are all examples of the STRUCTURES that improvised music hangs on.

    Maybe think of such topics as the "shoulders" and "hangers" that one should be passingly familiar with before attempting to design clothing!
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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    I was a Suzuki kid. Not one of the good ones, though I had great teachers... learning to improvise was very difficult, but has helped my overall musicianship immensely.
    Anyone who's a really good classical musician can definitely improvise, but I think the fear you mention, as well as a general view of improvisational genres as "casual" or less valuable keeps a lot of them from really getting into it.
    Starting young and having a gentle, nurturing teacher is a big plus. When a little kid does a crappy solo, they still get a standing ovation. When an adult does it, it's... awkward.

    Been there. Done that.

    Play for your family, who will love you no matter what. Or play in church, where all sins are forgiven.
    Last edited by JonZ; Oct-06-2019 at 12:17pm.
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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    An easier genre to enter as a classical reader is choro, which uses written charts and is optimized these days for mandolin.

    But you might look into playing English Country Dance. There is a San Diego group I used to play for that meets Sunday evenings, and there is likely plenty of opportunity. When I played we had only a handful of players.

    You might contact pianist Steve Maranto, at spaul54@sbcglobal.net and tell him I said Hi. The tunes are written out, many taken from
    Purcell or Telemann and other old sources, along with new tunes. Simple improvisation or embellishment is welcome and helps on multiple repeats.

    Here’s an example:
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8nl6RJvezmI&t=3s
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    I think that Emily (the OP) has forgotten us. She hasn't posted anything in these forums since here initial post. Hopefully she will remember at some point.
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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Jacobson View Post
    I was a Suzuki kid. Not one of the good ones, though I had great teachers... learning to improvise was very difficult, but has helped my overall musicianship immensely.
    Anyone who's a really good classical musician can definitely improvise, but I think the fear you mention, as well as a general view of improvisational genres as "casual" or less valuable keeps a lot of them from really getting into it.
    I started as a Suzuki kid as well. My first introduction to music with mandolin in it was Punch Brothers, and I instantly fell in love. It’s difficult to have such high expectations as much of theirs and Thile’s music in general is at a much greater difficulty than I am. I am able to learn songs by ear, and I do it a lot.
    I guess my problem now is a “collaboration block.” I am in need of new people to jam with who will nudge me in a non-classical direction.

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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    There is a great deal of good advice above. Fiddle tunes are the etudes, haytueds I name them, of OT and Grass pickin. Here's an idea for your practice of learning to jam along and pick .... tune into a radio station or a streaming site that plays 'grass or OT or Irish trad and start picking up how to play along. That allows you to crash and burn in private while teaching your ear to pick up chords and melodies on the fly. While you are at it listen to some Kenneth " Jethro " Burns to hear some jazz variations on those melodies. Be patient the journey is the destination ….. R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

  30. #20
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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    Quote Originally Posted by mle.w View Post
    I guess my problem now is a “collaboration block.” I am in need of new people to jam with who will nudge me in a non-classical direction.
    Welcome back, Emily. We thought you forgot about us. You say above that you live in southern California and I know that is a large amorphous area you are describing but I am sure that there are quite a few Cafe members who live in or near you or within a reasonable distance.

    Otherwise I would advise checking into various workshops and music camps that specialize in the type(s) of music you want to play.
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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    Two books and CDs I found beneficial were 1) Steve Kaufman's Four-Hour Bluegrass Workout For All Instruments and 2) Bluegrass Jamming on Mandolin: Tips, Tunes & Techniques, by Wayne Erbsen.

    There's also a lot of free info on the internet about bluegrass jamming as well. And while most bluegrass played in public is done in a band context, or perhaps in a duo with a guitar and mandolin, sometimes artists do play alone.

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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    Listen, listen and then do some more listening. There are plenty of great bluegrass CD's out there. Get a couple and try to play along with them. That's what I did when starting out and it really helped me a lot. Good luck.

  33. #23

    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    Quote Originally Posted by Denny Gies View Post
    Listen, listen and then do some more listening. There are plenty of great bluegrass CD's out there. Get a couple and try to play along with them. That's what I did when starting out and it really helped me a lot. Good luck.
    Go to school on Bill Monroe. Watch as many videos as you can of him playing the same song. You'll find a lot of variation. Classical players tend to want order. Not so in the improvising styles of music. Learn to love controlled chaos.
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    Default Re: Classically Trained, wanting to expand

    And well she should. Several interesting and enlightening comments here. Thanks to Emily for triggering it.

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