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Thread: Position playing or shifting?

  1. #1
    Registered User Rickker's Avatar
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    Default Position playing or shifting?

    Let me start this topic by saying that I have been playing the mandolin for over 50 years and consider myself at the Intermediate or better level, but certainly not advanced level.
    I do a lot of practicing. Scale patterns, arpeggios, and FFcP exercises. I often transpose fiddle tunes and play them up the neck, using FFcP fingering. In so doing, I have become comfortable using the 4th finger, staying in the FFcP position, and not moving up and down the fingerboard. It is usually possible to get two full octaves and more without shifting the left hand.

    But, in watching videos of top players, this does not seem common. Many of them shift up and down the neck, and often do not even use the 4th finger. Is this because it is easier to play fast when not using the 4th finger? Am I wasting my time with all of these exercises? Don't get me wrong, I do play lots of tunes in the first position, and sometimes it is desirable to use open strings. For sure in crosspicking.

    Is is necessary to master 4th finger usage to be an advanced player?

    Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to get some comments on this subject.

    ....Rickker

  2. #2

    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    Interesting observation. I think part of it is related to hand size, some players can reach a long way without using a pinky and therefore don't develop a lot of dexterity and strength there. But I think its easier and faster to play if you can use all fingers, and I believe Jethro was quoted, after observing a player who didn't use his pinky, if he could have it since it wasn't being used.

    Look at Aaron Weinstein for what can be done with 4 fingers, no way to play like that with only 3.

    I use all I have and it mostly isn't enough
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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    Wow, that's a lot of questions

    Don't hope for black & white, definitive answers ... you're inviting comment, so here goes.

    It is usually possible to get two full octaves and more without shifting the left hand. But, in watching videos of top players, this does not seem common. Many of them shift up and down the neck, and often do not even use the 4th finger.
    Lots of reasons to shift positions. Just to name a few (1) Two octaves not enough, (2) get a different feeling, different dynamic (3) get a different fingering in that range for what you're playing ... and that's just to name a few. I recently worked out a Buck White mandolin solo that he played on a recording where he went from the B (2 on A string) using the G arpeggio to go down to the B (4 on G string) and back up to the B (7 on E string) ... two octaves were not enough. And consider that when you play something like an arpeggio you'll eat up two octaves in an instant!

    ... and often do not even use the 4th finger. Is this because it is easier to play fast when not using the 4th finger?
    Not necessarily. Beware of generalizing based on watching a few videos.

    Am I wasting my time with all of these exercises?
    No. I mean, I doubt it very seriously, unless your practice is really flawed.

    Is is necessary to master 4th finger usage to be an advanced player?
    No. I mean, I can conceive of someone being advanced without "mastering" the pinky. Ever heard of Django Reinhardt?

    BUT, I think it's important to work on mastery of ALL your fretting digits. I think most advanced players are in that camp, and would agree.
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  5. #4

    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    Well, since you asked I have been hearing from pros that while the pinky and playing up the neck is an option they prefer to shift and hit the notes with the stronger fingers...I know, someone will jump in and say ďmy pinky is strongĒ Iím talking in generalities here...generally the ring finger is going to be stronger than the pinky.

    Also, more than one pro has said that whenever possible itís desirable to use open strings for the best sound. Again, someone will jump in and say closed stings sound good too and I would mostly agree, I think itís just that if one can use an open string itís more desirable.

    Now, I think what you are doing is great, not wrong or bad or a waste of time for sure. I think we all develop tendencies...heck Bill Monroe played mostly out of chop position, some mando players use capos...yes, they do - so I think itís all in what YOU think is good, right, best, cool, etc...

    I always struggle with what defines an advanced player...is it speed, knowledge of tunes/theory/fretboard, amount of time spent playing...I would guess itís all of it.

    Iíd say keep doing what you like to do and donít worry about what anyone else thinks.
    Northfield F5M #268, AT02 #7

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rickker View Post
    Is is necessary to master 4th finger usage to be an advanced player?
    Much of this depends on the style you're playing. If I was a Jazz, Bluegrass, or Classical player, I'd be using my 4th finger in every position from first (open) to every position climbing up the neck, just for the flexibility in reaching different chord and scale positions. But I could probably fake it with just 3 fingers if I mostly played up the neck, because the distance between frets is shorter.

    As it happens, I'm not that kind of player. I play almost exclusively Irish and Scottish traditional music, almost always in first position because that facilitates open string drones and ornaments. My 4th finger is essential in playing this music, because many of these "fiddle tunes" have a high B on the E string course as the highest note in a tune, which requires a reach with my 4th finger out of first position. I need that note to ring out as strong as every other note in the tune, so it's something I spend a lot of time practicing.

    It's fiddle technique, basically. We're playing a fretted fiddle in terms of the 5ths tuning and scale length, and fiddlers figured all this out a long time ago. You won't see a good fiddler who doesn't use their 4th finger.

    If you practice hitting that B note on the E string course in first position, you can play anything higher up the neck with your 4th finger.

  7. #6

    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    A strong pinky and accurate shifting are both desirable skills worth acquiring. If playing a lick one way makes as much sense as playing it the other way, the obvious-to-me strategy is to practice it both ways Ė doubles my practice material, doubles my skill-set.

    If you want to commit to one or the other (say, working out the fingering for a classical piece, where you'll want to finger it the same way every time), having both skills equally down makes for a more informed decision.

    So,
    Quote Originally Posted by Rickker View Post
    Is is necessary to master 4th finger usage to be an advanced player?
    I'd say yes, of course, but that doesn't mean that shifting to avoid using it is wrong.

  8. #7

    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    I have always admired how the fiddle players shift and use their 4th finger so well, it’s a good skill to have.
    Northfield F5M #268, AT02 #7

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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rickker View Post
    Is is necessary to master 4th finger usage to be an advanced player?
    I canít imagine an advanced player who canít master the 4th finger, though maybe bouzouki players would fit into this category?

    I play mainly the octave mandolin and started out using the 4th as much as I could. Now I tend to shift and arrive on the other fingers instead. Itís nice to use the 4th when descending in the middle of the fretboard but again my pinky doesnít feel strong enough to be able to do that in a fluid motion. So Iíve been practicing triplets and fast shifts without the pinky. Arpeggios on two octaves is up next so Iíll get some pinky practice there.

    Thereís a Grisman arpeggio exercise doing the circle of fifths but going round in fourths here on the Cafe thatís a favourite. A Tabledit file. Thanks again!

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    Registered User Tom Sanderson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    Grisman and Thile use their 4th finger all the time. Iíd say that they are ďadvancedĒ players.

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    Registered User T.D.Nydn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    It's to your benefit to use all of your fingers,I don't know how that can be argued,,some pros might have really high action,which explains using only your stronger fingers up the neck,,I think it's harder to play with all open strings,all scales,then it is with ffcp..but once you have it all down,the choice of 1st position or working up or down the neck is really just how creative you are,where your going,what you want say,,

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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    I just never can see categorically discounting a potentially useful tool from your toolbox. If you have a pinky, and its not deformed, atrophied, damaged, etc. why not explore using it? What's the worst that could happen?

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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    The answer, I believe, is yes. The answer answer to any mandolin question that starts: "Is it necessary to master..." is yes. Because it gives one the option to use that technique where and when it is needed.

    What the world's top mandolinners do, or don't do, doesn't apply to me, at all, as I am not, and will never be, a world's top mandolinner.

    For me the use of any particular technique, (and use the pinky or shift being an excellent example,) is based on the particular passage on which I am working, and on how to make it sound more beautiful, not necessarily fast, and not necessarily easiest. My up the neck playing, a combination of FFcP and learning the positions, is entirely in the hands of my mandolin teacher/coach with whom I meet weekly via Skype, and who diagnoses and prescribes for me from a direct knowledge of what I am struggling with.

    IMHO opinion YMMV etc.
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    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    Is it necessary to master 4th finger usage to be an advanced player?
    NO, but it wouldn't hurt to be able to use it.

    As far as shifting, to what degree of shifting skill are you talking about? How about scales and scale patterns on one string? And there are numerous fingering options (0-1-2-3--1-2-3-4; 1-2=1=2=1-2-3, ) and that's without sliding a finger from one fret to another for moving up or down the neck. Double-stops (in 3rds) scales up and down the neck. Shifting may seem hard, but once you get used to and don't have always look at the neck, you can play as fast as if you stayed in one spot with all four fingers.

    Locking into one position up the neck FFCP style and staying there, is OK. But really if you are doing a tune that way, you should work it starting on a different finger each time , which means you play it in four different positions. It's "practice", and it doesn't mean that your tune is going to sound better than if you played it in open.

    But shifting, or closed FFCP boxes, you are missing half the game if you've ignored other technques - sluring (hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, double hammer-ons, double pull-offs, hammer-pulloff etc, etc,). If you can't separate the two hands from HAVING TO play every note with a pick-stroke, you're tunes will never fully "breathe" (the way they do when a fiddle, flute, plays them). Then there is left-hand vibrato, some string bending. All that can be a factor of where you do this on the neck and with which fingers you do it with. Then there is the tone aspect - will the lick sound "better" up the neck, or will it sound better in open.

    Just watch any really good guitarist, especially electric players - they are moving up and down the neck, moving from one position to another, or working licks up or down the neck on a couple of strings. "Positions" are just an interim stage; you want to go past that to where there are NO POSITIONS (or, positions are almost irrelevant) ...just the whole neck, and where you begin or end is only determined by the moment.

    But if you are really going to exploit the neck, you need to have the articulation skills to put those positions to full musical use. Every-note-with-the pick just eliminates a lot of what you might have otherwise done.

    That's my view. but then, I'm not enamored of the "every-note-with-a-pickstroke" sound. (to me, it's like a fiddle player who plays with nothing but saw strokes.)

    Here are a couple solo mando things on soundcloud. I'm all over the neck, but it's to put put finger-English on the notes, or get the tone, or the phrasing/articulation. Listen or not; make up you mind if there's a valid basis to this post or not, or if it's anything that applies to the way you want to play/sound.

    https://soundcloud.com/user-64352297...-solo-mandolin

    https://soundcloud.com/user-64352297...ts/mando-stuff

    Niles H

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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    Not to over-simplify things here but basically, if you have 4 working fingers on your left hand, makes sense to use em.

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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    Much of this depends on the style you're playing. If I was a Jazz, Bluegrass, or Classical player, I'd be using my 4th finger in every position from first (open) to every position climbing up the neck, just for the flexibility in reaching different chord and scale positions. But I could probably fake it with just 3 fingers if I mostly played up the neck, because the distance between frets is shorter.

    As it happens, I'm not that kind of player. I play almost exclusively Irish and Scottish traditional music, almost always in first position because that facilitates open string drones and ornaments. My 4th finger is essential in playing this music, because many of these "fiddle tunes" have a high B on the E string course as the highest note in a tune, which requires a reach with my 4th finger out of first position. I need that note to ring out as strong as every other note in the tune, so it's something I spend a lot of time practicing.

    It's fiddle technique, basically. We're playing a fretted fiddle in terms of the 5ths tuning and scale length, and fiddlers figured all this out a long time ago. You won't see a good fiddler who doesn't use their 4th finger.

    If you practice hitting that B note on the E string course in first position, you can play anything higher up the neck with your 4th finger.
    Good points all round.

    I also mainly play Scottish and Irish.

    In regard to using the pinky to reach the high B, Foldedpath is absolutely correct.
    Most of the sessions I go to tend to stick with mainly the keys of D, G, A, Am, Em, and Bm, and within that it is principally the high B you really only need your 4th finger for, and maybe C# on the fourth string.

    BUT, if you move into the flat keys (and there are a lot of Scots tunes in flat keys - check out William Marshall etc) then it's different. You will certainly be able to play them better if you have good use of your pinky. So when I practise I make sure I do something where I need my pinky. I also find certain phrases are easier to play if you get out of the first position, so I think you will be a much better player if you BOTH learn to use your pinky more and get to know your way around out of the first position.
    David A. Gordon

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  25. #16
    Registered User Rickker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    NO, but it wouldn't hurt to be able to use it.

    As far as shifting, to what degree of shifting skill are you talking about? How about scales and scale patterns on one string? And there are numerous fingering options (0-1-2-3--1-2-3-4; 1-2=1=2=1-2-3, ) and that's without sliding a finger from one fret to another for moving up or down the neck. Double-stops (in 3rds) scales up and down the neck. Shifting may seem hard, but once you get used to and don't have always look at the neck, you can play as fast as if you stayed in one spot with all four fingers.

    Locking into one position up the neck FFCP style and staying there, is OK. But really if you are doing a tune that way, you should work it starting on a different finger each time , which means you play it in four different positions. It's "practice", and it doesn't mean that your tune is going to sound better than if you played it in open.

    But shifting, or closed FFCP boxes, you are missing half the game if you've ignored other technques - sluring (hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, double hammer-ons, double pull-offs, hammer-pulloff etc, etc,). If you can't separate the two hands from HAVING TO play every note with a pick-stroke, you're tunes will never fully "breathe" (the way they do when a fiddle, flute, plays them). Then there is left-hand vibrato, some string bending. All that can be a factor of where you do this on the neck and with which fingers you do it with. Then there is the tone aspect - will the lick sound "better" up the neck, or will it sound better in open.

    Just watch any really good guitarist, especially electric players - they are moving up and down the neck, moving from one position to another, or working licks up or down the neck on a couple of strings. "Positions" are just an interim stage; you want to go past that to where there are NO POSITIONS (or, positions are almost irrelevant) ...just the whole neck, and where you begin or end is only determined by the moment.

    But if you are really going to exploit the neck, you need to have the articulation skills to put those positions to full musical use. Every-note-with-the pick just eliminates a lot of what you might have otherwise done.

    That's my view. but then, I'm not enamored of the "every-note-with-a-pickstroke" sound. (to me, it's like a fiddle player who plays with nothing but saw strokes.)

    Here are a couple solo mando things on soundcloud. I'm all over the neck, but it's to put put finger-English on the notes, or get the tone, or the phrasing/articulation. Listen or not; make up you mind if there's a valid basis to this post or not, or if it's anything that applies to the way you want to play/sound.

    https://soundcloud.com/user-64352297...-solo-mandolin

    https://soundcloud.com/user-64352297...ts/mando-stuff

    Niles H

    Hey Niles, thanks for your comments and insight! I agree that picking a constant stream of FFcp notes is pretty mechanical. I liked the soundcloud tracks.

    Also, thanks for the great publications that I received from you by snailmail in the early 1980s, starting with "The Pentatonic Mandolin" and most of the following ones. They were a great help to me when such material was scarce. I owe a lot to Mandolin World News, your booklets and those of John Baldry from the U.K.
    ....Rickker

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  27. #17
    Registered User Rickker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    Quote Originally Posted by AaronWeinstein View Post
    Not to over-simplify things here but basically, if you have 4 working fingers on your left hand, makes sense to use em.
    Yes, and you certainly use yours very well! Have enjoyed your videos and admire your technique. Also like your bowties...

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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rickker View Post
    Yes, and you certainly use yours very well! Have enjoyed your videos and admire your technique. Also like your bowties...
    Thanks! But seriously, I canít imagine proclaiming that the use of pinky or not is ďgoodĒ or ďbadĒ. I think whatever allows you to play what youíre trying to play and sound good doing it is, ďgood technique.Ē Itís very difficult to make an overarching comment about it as every musical situation is so specific. And Iím not even talking in terms of genre. I mean, phrase to phrase.

  29. #19
    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    IF you want both simultaneous shifting and pinky practice, Paganini's Perpetual Motion (Moto Perpetuo) will give you plenty of both!

    Way back (1979-1982) I took lessons from a violinist named Nick DeCollibus who was at one time the Leopold Auer system instructor in the USA; but more importantly (to me and my brother, who was taking violin from him) was that he was a crony of Joe Venuti and could also play that stuff. Nick had me work on a lot of classical violin studies which really helped build up my technical capabilities so that I could start tackling Hendrix, Clapton and blues/rock guitar stuff on mandolin without sounding ridiculous. (And also helped prepare me for Richard Thompson and string bending. Nick also sold me his 1957 Fender mandocaster which I played back then before moving to a longer necked mini-guitar conversion in a lower 5-string tuning.)

    I never got the Moto Pepertuo anywhere near up to the frantic performance tempos, but it was a good etude, which (imo) actually is more musical when not played at full speed. Look for a violin edition (sheet music) which will provide you the shifts/ fingering in violin/mandolin tuning. It dates from the 1800's, in the public domain, so you can probably find it for free on the web instead of being gouged $10.00 for a copy from one of those sheet music publishers.



    My personal favorite version of the piece! (Red Ingle had been with Spike Jones.) Yes, nothing is sacred!



    Niles H

    Notation.....(have fun!)
    https://imslp.org/wiki/Moto_Perpetuo...nini,_NiccolÚ)

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  31. #20

    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    Thanks Mandocrucian
    Here’s Study 5 of the piano at musescore (can be played as accomp.)
    https://musescore.com/pannenberg/etu...ssible-study-5


    Here’s the fiddle part, but can’t of course vouch for it 100%
    https://musescore.com/user/12494666/scores/4858285

    It can also be exported as mandolin TAB... Have fun

  32. #21

    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    It is important to shift up the neck so the folks at the jam session see that you can shift up the neck.

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  34. #22
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    I think it might could be obvious that the more notes that are right under your fingers the faster you can play. So, placing the hand on the neck where most of the notes are makes sense, at least some sense.

    But shifting is great for keeping a phrase on the wound strings so the timbre of the notes doesn't change, or other advantages, like the "center" of a pile of notes is now in a different position on the neck.

    Shifting is not that difficult - when taught how to properly do it.

    Shifting, like FFcP, like pinky use, like learning third position - its all part of it. It all provides advantages only if you know how to do it.

    Not learning it and practicing it because those advantages are not, at present, of much value to you - I get it. I have messed with Jesse McReynolds quick picking style for example and decided the ratio of work to get it clean divided by the advantages it gives me in regular play was just not worth it. Individual decision.

    Not learning it and practicing it because its difficult. Well hmmm. That could be a play limiting decision. IMO YMMV
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  36. #23

    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    @JeffD
    yes what I really like about shifting, now that I’m beginning to learn it, is that you can play multiple groups of notes that form repeating patterns -like arpeggios which aren’t necessarily based on major or minor chords. These patterns on the fretboard change slightly because of the different spacing between individual notes in the major scale but because they are often on one string, they’re much easier to remember. One slight disadvantage is that rhythm and metronoming practice is really important in order to prevent the groups from forming their own rhythmic patterns that are based on arbitrary physical movements -unless, of course, this is the desired effect.

  37. #24

    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    Sierra Hull did this video about shifting...good way to move to a new position. Tristan Scroggins did a video of the tune Santa Claus and does this technique for the 2nd break and Wayne Benson used this on a Mandolin Mondayís tune Grey Eagle for one of the parts...Iím never sure where Iím at in Grey Eagle...

    https://reverb.com/news/video-sierra...rmup-exercises
    Northfield F5M #268, AT02 #7

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    Default Re: Position playing or shifting?

    It's hard not to also comment on the tone Sierra's Gibson has. Beautiful! Is that a Loar? But thanks bigskygirl for the link. Very clearly demonstrated.

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