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Thread: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

  1. #1

    Default Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    Iím curious how folks tackle playing melodies on Mandola. Iíve dabbled, but always get frustrated by not having a high E string (and then play mandolin or OM). Are folks transposing down an octave? Iíd really like to know what to do since there are so few resources.

  2. #2
    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    I often transpose down an octave if the tune will allow it (and if I can play it that way). The sixth fret is a lot farther away from the nut on a mandola, so it does require some pinkie stretch and dexterity in those sharp keys that are so common for fiddle tunes. I figure the main reason to have a mandola is to be able to play lower than a mandolin, so why duplicate the same notes as the mandolin.
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    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    I'm not sure there is a formula and to me some melodies do not fly so naturally, I do see a lot of playing the low courses up high with open strings in the mix.
    Not something I'm necessarily good it ...
    I find myself using my pinkey a lot on mandola, although my understanding is you should use the same classical left hand ( first 3 fingers mostly)
    Trying to play mandolin parts in closed position ( 7th fret and up) on the A and D courses is challenging to me, but sometimes I find myself going there.
    Of course I am always getting the chord shapes confused ( in the middle of the song) at times and use more "power chords" on mandola
    Great thing is you can find that low F# and E, the mando just can't do, which can change the "feel" of a tune significantly
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  6. #4

    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    Iíve also though about tuning D-A-E-B or D-A-E-A, and playing mostly on the 3 low strings. To demo I used a capo to avoid stressing the neck. I missed having the low G but didnít need to play up the neck on high notes.

  7. #5
    Registered User DougC's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    In classical music the viola does the harmonies and often the rhythms with the cellos. And in singing, the alto has the supportive middle voice. This has been developed over a few hundred years. So I think that the mandola has a similar role and that it was never intended for lead - melody work.

    Like you however, I do melodies on the mandola and have to make a plan as to 'solving the problem'. And it is not a problem, just a challenge. Just having a mandola shows that you've grown musically.

    One tip is to play D major in a closed position starting on the low string.

    Like guitar, the mandola does very well with chord 'back up'. You just have to learn the chords.
    (Power chords are great!) And I now try to work out 'inner voice' parts in group situations as well as 'chord-melody' stuff.

    The fret spacing up the neck is the same size as a mandolin and with some patience, playing there becomes more natural.

    Accept the challenge and 'hang in there'. You'll get better and happier too. (Mandola is very cool.)
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    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    Doug C- I just realized I have 2 mandolins and 4 mandolas.........seems I have a fever .....
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    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    Quote Originally Posted by tmsweeney View Post
    Doug C- I just realized I have 2 mandolins and 4 mandolas.........seems I have a fever .....
    It's not an illness, ha, ha. It is a point of reference. Do you know the joke about mandolin /violin soloists? They seem to have a big head in relation to their instrument.
    Decipit exemplar vitiis imitabile

  11. #8

    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    I think if you spend time with the mandola you'll find your way into it. It's kind of versatile. It can be played like a big mando but it doesn't have to be.

    I got really interested in Brian McDonah of Dervish and how he accompanies tunes and songs. I ended up tuning it CGDG almost like a mini bouzouki but it has a different character and lends itself to more counter melody and doublestops. With this tuning I don't mind using a capo.

    Spend time with the mandola and I don't think you'll regret it!

    (and if you look at my signature, it's the Stuart Mandola that I'm talking about. The Nordic mandola is a whole different beast and I'm still trying to find my way in!)
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  13. #9

    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    For Irish Trad, I drop the B part of the tunes down an octave.

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    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    It is perfectly acceptable to use the pinky at the 6th fret, especially on the "C" string.

    Larry Rice use to tune his mandola down to A-E-A-E. Andy Irvine used the Irish bouzouki tuning but at C-G-D-G a lot which gives you nice chord voicings and fingerings. Before he went to playing OM almost exclusively, he'd use some other open tunings (C-G-C-G etc.) as well as a capo.

    I don't like the octave down (from mandolin) tuning on mandola because the bass strings become too flabby and extra heavy strings to compensate are on the dead side.. It starts to get more acceptable sonically if you've got a 19" scale, but most Gibsons were 16" and the Webers were 17".

    Peter Rowan would string the bottom course in octaves, like a 12-string guitar. Don't know if he still does that.

    There are some examples of tunes in alternate tunings in http://https://www.elderly.com/products/the-mandola-sampler

    Niles H

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    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    I played a tune recently on the mandola that ranged all the way down to a B note, half a step lower than the low string on a mandola. Just for fun, I double tracked it on a video. One track played only the B notes on a mandola tuned a half step low. The other track played everything else. Not recommended, but it was a hoot.
    Last edited by HonketyHank; Dec-30-2019 at 5:15pm.
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  18. #12

    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    It is perfectly acceptable to use the pinky at the 6th fret, especially on the "C" string.
    I second that, to the point where the technique seems to have transferred over to my normal mandolin playing.

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    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    As Doug C says, 'enjoy the challenge". He is correct that it can be a challenge due to very little in the way of written material. Compared to guitar, mandolin, prior to the internet, I thought had little. But, mandola, that is a whole new world of little written material. Almost none.Learning C cleff will open a few windows.
    But do enjoy the challenge as it can be oh so rewarding.
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    mando-evangelist August Watters's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    If there is a mandolin orchestra near you, you might have access to a great quantity of written music for mandola -- early Gibson promoted the CGDA mandola (then called "tenor mandola") through its orchestras, and there was an absolute mountain of mandolin orchestra music written, including tenor mandola parts. Here's a photo of the Dayton Mandolin Orchestra, 1909:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    The music was rarely in alto clef, though; usually it was in transposing treble clef, meaning the low C string was notated as middle C.
    Exploring Classical Mandolin (Berklee Press, 2015)
    Progressive Melodies for Mandocello (Amazon, 2019)
    New Solos for Classical Mandolin (Hal Leonard Press, 2020)

  22. #15

    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    Taking advantage of the necrobump to add...

    There is actually a huge amount of written material and instructional material applicable for CGDA instruments, originally developed for the tenor banjo. It's not bluegrass fiddle music, but instead centered on popular music and jazz

    My biggest piece of advice is to really learn the mandola, including playing from standard notation. I recommend you learn from any of the numerous tenor banjo methods, including the free ones available online. Myself, I learned from the Mel Bay Complete Tenor Banjo Method, and then from the Mel Bay Tenor Banjo Melody Chord Playing System.

    Whatever the path chosen by the OP or later readers, good luck!

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    I've been playing a recently-acquired Stahl 19-teens mandola a lot recently; I've played a Sobell instrument tuned CGDA for years in a Celtic band, and also for accompaniment on klezmer/Jewish material.

    One thing: I've never hesitated to use a capo on my mandolas. This can facilitate playing certain tunes: for example, a tune in the key of G on the mandolin, would call for "key of D" fingerings on the mandola. However, capo at the 2nd fret, and you can use "key of C" fingerings, which are the same as "key of G" mandolin fingerings, just "moved over" one string to produce melody an octave lower than the mandolin. That is, a melody that started on the 2nd "A" string of the mandolin, would start on the 3rd string of the mandola, if it's capo-ed up two frets. You can then use the same melodic patterns without having to transpose "G patterns" into "D patterns" as you would if you tried to play the key of G melody un-capo-ed on the mandola.

    I've not encountered the "capo police" who eagle-eye mandolin players, when I'm playing mandola or octave mandolin. Guess there's a higher level of tolerance.

    I'll apologize in advance for multiple postings of this MP3 of my band Innisfree, but it does illustrate using the mandola to play harmonies and counter-melodies around a mandolin -- in this case a mandolin-banjo played by my bandmate Mark Deprez. The tunes are jigs: Irish Washerwoman, Swallowtail Jig, Saddle the Pony. I'm playing the Sobell, and I put the capo on between the first and second tunes. Other musicians are Barbara Jablonski on hammered dulcimer, and Kathleen Cappon on guitar. (Apologies for fluctuating levels; it was recorded live "off the board" in concert.)

    Jig Medley
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

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  26. #17

    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    Very nice! Thanks for sharing the tunes.

    Where do you find the Klezmer and Jewish material?

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  28. #18
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    I've been working since 1991 with Bonnie Abrams, a singer-songwriter who does a good deal of Jewish material. For awhile we were in a klezmer band, then had a trio with a fiddler called Love & Knishes. There's a good deal of klezmer material available in standard notation, and I was hanging around some musicians who know tunes, and taught me the freygish scale (see Hava Nagila).

    If you can stand another MP3, here's a Yiddish tune Love & Knishes did. I'm on mandolin ('teens Gibson F-2); Bonnie vocals & guitar, Glenna Chance violin. It's in standard minor mode, not freygish.

    De Grine Kuzine

    And here's the standard Yiddish song Tumbalalayke with double-tracked mandolin and mandola (I think I even added another track toward the end; can't remember). Lotsa tremolo!



    Note: please excuse the fact that the YouTube vid goes on to another song we recorded, Second Fiddle. No mandolin content, but I do play a bit of Dobro...
    Last edited by allenhopkins; Jan-12-2020 at 5:22pm.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  29. #19

    Default Re: Playing Mandola - Tips & Tricks

    freygish scale is awesome! Iím learned a few tunes that use it and it is lots of fun.

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