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Thread: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

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    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    I’ve searched the threads on this question but cannot locate an answer. Many musicians emphasize using a metronome to develop tremolo technique with emphasis on hearing the first beat in every series of 8/32 notes etc. This is illustrated very well on Don Julin’s videos as well as others. Less often I hear/read people saying that tremolo should not have that metered perfect beat sound. Rather, they describe tremolo as “singing” or a “free form” tremolo based on “this sounds right”. I believe they are saying “free” tremolo sounds more musical.
    I would like to hear, particularly from classical musicians, your thoughts on these two different approaches. Does developing tremolo through use of a metronome eventually help you gain the freedom of a “singing” less mechanical sounding tremolo? Thank you and I apologize if I have missed a thread about this topic.
    PS looks like I misspelled tremolo in the subject line - but does not appear that I can edit it.

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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    It depends on what a player's sense of phrasing, what the music, seems to call for. Of course, duo-style passages will require some degree of metering to keep the bass notes synchronized.

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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    Although this is in the classical section i wanted to post that Chris Henry talks about the way Monroe used tremolo on tunes. He did a lesson on Watson’s Blues and discussed it. I’m sure there’s a more specific explanation but for me free tremolo would be in the moment in the tune, could be fast or slow, even or not maybe your hand is ahead or behind, etc. Metered would be an evenly distributed tone over a set number of beats.
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    mando-evangelist August Watters's Avatar
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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    "Tremolo should never be counted as a subdivision of the pulse." -- William Place
    I came across the above quotation recently in a 100-odd-year-old Crescendo magazine. It illustrates a way of thinking about tremolo: that it may be played at different speeds, but it is not a subdivision of the underlying pulse. I don't think of it that way; I would have said tremolo can be metered or unmetered, but this quotation might account for some comments I have occasionally heard from veteran mandolin orchestra members, saying that playing fast repeated notes as a subdivision of the beat is not an example of tremolo at all -- and those videos promising to help you play fast, clean tremolos (by playing ever smaller subdivisions of the beat) are not talking about tremolo, at least not in the more traditional sense. Most people won't care what was said in a 100-year old quotation, but since that was an era of great achievement (as well as popularity), I think it's helpful to reexamine.

    Part of the interpretation of the classical mandolin repertoire is figuring out how to use tremolo to create the illusion, as much as possible, of a sustained note. That may involve pushing ahead of the beat, or slowing down behind it. Or it might involve speeding up and slowing down, without relation to the underlying pulse. Here is an example of a classical tremolo using all these ideas, creating a lovely sense of phrasing that adds much to the dramatic tension of the music. Thanks to Shu-Mi Huang.

    In my view, those divide-the-beat-ever-smaller approaches can be great technical exercises in preparation for metered tremolo, or right hand technical development in general. But perhaps a more direct route to tremolo playing is to focus on the physical sensation of the hand playing repeated notes, as they change from slow to fast and back. Tremolo doesn't have to be fast, after all; sometimes it's even more effective, played slowly.
    Last edited by August Watters; Jan-04-2020 at 3:33pm.
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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    Evan Marshall had something very musical to say about this in a workshop I attended a few years back. Singers (that's my people) have a technique called messa di voce, a swelling and diminishing as in < > on a sustained note. Evan noted that a beautiful tremolo should imitate the human voice that way, beginning gently, growing, then ending as it began. Of course that would depend as always on the musical context; if a sfz is marked, or a sustained pp, that takes precedence. I think he was talking not just about volume, though, but of the speed of the tremolo as well, varying just enough to give it a human quality, and probably not strictly measured.
    Hey August, we're on a break with the OMO so I can devote more time to your book. And I have a great musical item to send you, forwarding a message from Fabio Giudice with your Perpetual Blue.

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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    Of course, dynamic variability through a sustained tremolo is a pretty common technique going back as far as tremolo has been discussed/notated. Emulating the human voice has been a commonly discussed ideal of instrumental music since the renaissance.

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    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    Quote Originally Posted by August Watters View Post
    I came across the above quotation recently in a 100-odd-year-old Crescendo magazine. It illustrates a way of thinking about tremolo: that it may be played at different speeds, but it is not a subdivision of the underlying pulse. I don't think of it that way; I would have said tremolo can be metered or unmetered, but this quotation might account for some comments I have occasionally heard from veteran mandolin orchestra members, saying that playing fast repeated notes as a subdivision of the beat is not an example of tremolo at all -- and those videos promising to help you play fast, clean tremolos (by playing ever smaller subdivisions of the beat) are not talking about tremolo, at least not in the more traditional sense. Most people won't care what was said in a 100-year old quotation, but since that was an era of great achievement (as well as popularity), I think it's helpful to reexamine.

    Part of the interpretation of the classical mandolin repertoire is figuring out how to use tremolo to create the illusion, as much as possible, of a sustained note. That may involve pushing ahead of the beat, or slowing down behind it. Or it might involve speeding up and slowing down, without relation to the underlying pulse. Here is an example of a classical tremolo using all these ideas, creating a lovely sense of phrasing that adds much to the dramatic tension of the music. Thanks to Shu-Mi Huang.

    In my view, those divide-the-beat-ever-smaller approaches can be great technical exercises in preparation for metered tremolo, or right hand technical development in general. But perhaps a more direct route to tremolo playing is to focus on the physical sensation of the hand playing repeated notes, as they change from slow to fast and back. Tremolo doesn't have to be fast, after all; sometimes it's even more effective, played slowly.
    We all learn in different ways. What enlightens one person might not even raise an eyebrow for the next. For me, I have to say that your quote, explanation, and shared link have given me a jaw dropping dose of clarity. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this answer, August. It is incredibly helpful to me. I absolutely love pulling in that quote to help create a larger perspective. I know that you are an extremely fine musician and educator - speaking to a music neophyte - and I have to tell you, somehow you figured out how this particular student learns and spoke right to me. You have made my day! Thank you!!

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    Michael Reichenbach
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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    It's easy:

    You practive with metronome until you can play (metered)
    4/beat at 160 bpm+ (or 8/beat at 80 bpm+)
    3/beat at 200 bpm+
    6/beat at 100 bpm +
    (you can also try 5/beat or 7/beat if you like)

    You should also practice groups like 4 + 1 long note, 6 + 1, 8+1

    You practice with accents first

    You practice until your hand knows how to play tremolo

    Then you concentrate on the music (and forget about counting..., free, but probably unconciously metered))

    I have made a tutorial in German about how I learned the tremolo:

    and
    http://www.gezupftes.de/?p=14194
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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    Interesting discussion! I have no comment on what is correct, only some observations:

    * Tremolo for me is a somewhat different technique from fast picking, and in a sense the 2 don't necessarily meet in the middle.
    * For some reason, my tremolo has always been metered, I do it automatically, and nothing else seems to fit.
    * If you're playing long sequences of notes in tremolo (rather than extending a single note), then it's essential for everything to be as smooth as possible IMO. You can only achieve that if the change from one note to another occurs when the pick is at the end of a stoke - which in turn means a metered tremolo because otherwise you could be half way through a stroke when the note changes.
    * That all said, I think I do sometimes go out of meter for specific emphasis - a quick flourish if you will.

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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    Jacob Reuven answered this exact question in a workshop I attended. He introduced to us a technique of unmetered tremolo where the rapidity of the tremolo parallels the volume, and gave several examples of practice routines we might try in order to ingrain the idea.

    He just about promised that romantic playing with this kind of volume-speed tremolo will win many hearts and risks lots of unwanted attention.


    My experience is that it is great fun and adds a dimension of drama to my playing. I am still waiting for the attention, though i think it might be because it is not unwanted.

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    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    JeffD - that’s a great post, thank you. Anything else you can say that might shed additional light on his technique?

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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    Quote Originally Posted by Tavy View Post
    * Tremolo for me is a somewhat different technique from fast picking, and in a sense the 2 don't necessarily meet in the middle.
    .
    Interesting. In my case, there seems to be no essential difference in the way I physically pick between very fast passages and tremolo; so for me they do meet in the middle.

    I also find myself using much more unmetered varying-speed tremolo than metered ones.

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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    I like David also see no difference in mechanics going into a tremolo. And I "try" to use tremolo as if it were vocal or dare I say violin vibrato that follows the feeling rather than the written standard. If that makes any sense.

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    Timothy Tim Logan's Avatar
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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    Just wanted to say thank you to all who are posting on this thread. All of your comments are very informative and helpful. It is interesting that each person seems to have their own individual “take” on tremolo. Great stuff!

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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    [QUOTE=JeffD;1751743]Jacob Reuven answered this exact question in a workshop I attended. He introduced to us a technique of unmetered tremolo where the rapidity of the tremolo parallels the volume, and gave several examples of practice routines we might try in order to ingrain the idea.

    That sounds a lot like the messa de voce < > I described a few posts earlier. Imitates the rise and fall of a human voice.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    I think there have been many discussions on the subject in the past. Here is one.
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    Default Re: “Free” vrs “metered” tremelo

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Logan View Post
    Just wanted to say thank you to all who are posting on this thread. All of your comments are very informative and helpful. It is interesting that each person seems to have their own individual “take” on tremolo. Great stuff!
    I also thank all the participants and their interesting comments ... being the mandolin cafe a forum on mandolin, it is obvious that the issue of tremolo has been dealt with countless times. I particularly learn a lot by reading the old and new threads, there are always new participants and interesting new points of view worthy of being taken into account.

    I suppose that one of the purposes of a forum is to constantly revive all topics, to expand and enrich them ...

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