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Thread: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

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    Default Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    I'm a newbie--builder and player. I've messed around with guitars in the past but am not what you would call "fluent" in playing them. So with the smaller form factor of the mandolin I'm trying to figure out how the best hand position. At the same time, I'm trying to figure out the best way to wear the strap so that as much weight as possible is taken off the mandolin. I've watched a bunch of videos, and they all seem different. Here is my current approach:

    I grasp the neck with my left hand and rest it pretty firmly in my palm. My thumb raps up the back of the neck and curls over it, almost touching the top string, the G. I do not press my thumb against the back of the neck. This is largely because it's nearly impossible, with the weight of the neck in my palm. With my thumb wrapping up behind and over the neck, my smallest fingers have to reach the farthest to contact the strings (if that makes any sense).

    As for a strap...right now I'm just using a piece of rawhide twine. I'm looking at buying a "real" strap, preferably an adjustable one. My mandolin is an F5, so one end of the strap is wrapped around the scroll, and the other is on the endpin. I hang it from my right shoulder (the same arm with the hand that holds the pick, obviously). When I let the mandolin hang, however, the peghead slumps toward the floor. So to prevent this I have to heft the weight of the neck with my left hand. This makes moving the left hand up and down the neck somewhat difficult.

    Appreciate any tips you can offer. Thanks.

    -Mark

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    Registered User Carl23's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    I've seen 2 very different hand positions. 1 for Classical (not unlike a classical guitar position) and another for just about everything else.
    within these, there are differences as well.

    my advice is to work with a teacher if at all possible, go to youtube or other videos (easier for me than just pictures)
    For classical there are a lot of resources online for older books.

    after that, keep trying until you find one you like and works for you hand shape.
    (I need to reiterate that working with a teacher will help you avoid the worst habits)

    The ability to stay loose and play quickly without stress is a good sign.

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    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    Mike Marshall, Chris Thile and Pete Martin, among others, have excellent videos for hand position on YouTube. Mandolins are not analogous to guitars, but rather, to fiddles.

    Chording breaks the rules, especially as the chords get more complex, ie, more notes and longer stretches.

    But not squeezing the neck is a basic good practice.
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    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    Mike Marshall, Chris Thile and Pete Martin, among others, have excellent videos for hand position on YouTube. Mandolins are not analogous to guitars, but rather, to fiddles.

    Chording breaks the rules, especially as the chords get more complex, ie, more notes and longer stretches.

    But not squeezing the neck is a basic good practice.
    I strongly recommend Marshall's d'Addario video.

    Mandolins analogous to violins? How do you use yor chin and shoulder when playing the mandolin?

    My approach to the mandolin is exactly the same as to the guitar. Do not grasp the neck, don't palm it and don't wrap your thumb over the fretboard. Secure the instrument in place (watch how Marshall does it), then bring your left hand to the fretboard and start playing. The thumb lands where it lands. In my case mostly on the side of the neck, but lower than most (because of its severely restriced mobility). Keep the wrist almost straight.

    The infamous g chop chord will probably force a slight backward arch, barre chords a slight forward arch (with the thumb sliding in below the fretboard). But that's automatic. Your fingers will meet the fretboard at an angle on the mando, and parallel to the frets on the guitar. Again, that's automatic - on the mando you're concerned with reach along the strings, on the guitar across them.

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    Registered User Carl23's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    I am with you on the guitar side. However, that seems to be a predominantly classical approach. Considering the development of the mandolin, that makes sense to me.

    What I have noticed is that the folk technique seems to be similar to the folk fiddle/violin technique. folk fiddle is not held the same way as classical violin.

    That's why I recommended working with a teacher and go with what works with your hand shape, focus on relaxation and speed. (with chords as well as melody)

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    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    Quote Originally Posted by Carl23 View Post
    I am with you on the guitar side. However, that seems to be a predominantly classical approach. Considering the development of the mandolin, that makes sense to me.

    What I have noticed is that the folk technique seems to be similar to the folk fiddle/violin technique. folk fiddle is not held the same way as classical violin.

    That's why I recommended working with a teacher and go with what works with your hand shape, focus on relaxation and speed. (with chords as well as melody)

    Carl
    I don't understand your first sentence at all, e.g., what tour two "that"'s refer to. Nor do I understand this: "I've seen 2 very different hand positions. 1 for Classical (not unlike a classical guitar position) and another for just about everything else.
    within these, there are differences as well." In what sense does the "classical" position on mandolin resemble that on guitar? Note that I'm talking about "approach", and I believe my approach is universal. The resulting differences are automatic, e.g., a classical guitar (which I don't play at all) has a wider neck than a steelstring, and a flat fretboard.

    I never consulted a teacher but if the TS does I suggest he look for a teacher who is a gigging musician.

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    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    I recommend putting the strap all the way over your head, vs. the over the right shoulder method. It stabilizes the mandolin and puts it in a better playing position. It just works better. I tend to do that even when I’m sitting in the kitchen, practicing. It makes it easier on my left hand. Some old-school players prefer the right-shoulder method, but Marshall, Thile and other technique-focused players say over the head.
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    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    The mandolin neck should not be palmed. It should rest in the area right at the base of the first finger. Sort of the padded area of the hand right below the first finger. Also, you should not use your left hand to hold the mandolin up. That will make it difficult to shift positions with the left hand. It takes some figuring, and everyone is different, but you should use the positioning of the right arm and the body to keep the mandolin in place and keep the head from falling towards the floor (when standing). When seated, the horn on the bottom side (treble side) of the mandolin towards the neck will sit on your left leg and hold the mandolin up. There are other ways to hold the mandolin when seated as well.

    A mandolin shouldn't be held like a classical guitar where the thumb is at the back of the neck and the fingers are parallel to the frets. Rather the fingers are positioned along a diagonal - not quite parallel to the frets, and obviously not parallel to the neck.

    Watching a video by a good player will help. I know Sharon Gilchrist has some good left hand videos on Peghead Nation. Not sure if any of those are available on youtube

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    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    Here you go. This explains it all. When you're standing, you'll need to figure out something different to keep the mandolin in place, but you don't do it by holding the mandolin up with the left hand. You should be able to let go with the left hand and the mandolin should stay in place for the most part.

    As far as the strap goes, I think it's personal preference. Some people loop it over one shoulder like Bill Monroe did, some people loop it all the way over the head like a guitar strap.


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    Registered User Bob Visentin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    Some people loop it over one shoulder like Bill Monroe did, some people loop it all the way over the head like a guitar strap.

    I think Bill looped it over one shoulder because he was wearing a big hat.

  13. #11

    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    This is all really helpful and has helped shape my practice time. Previously I had to spend a number of minutes just fiddling with my instrument to get it positioned right... Thank you all very much.

    One clarifying question on the strap: I assume that if you are wearing the mandolin via the strap and you put your hands down at your sides, the mandolin should stay in position, yes? I saw a couple of comments indicating that you should not have to hold up the mandolin neck with your left hand. Using my current strap--erm, "twine"--when I let go of the mandolin the peghead immediately swings downward and the mandolin ends up hanging from my neck with the endpin pointed skyward. So I'm assuming an adjustment is necessary.

  14. #12

    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Romkey View Post
    I recommend putting the strap all the way over your head, vs. the over the right shoulder method. It stabilizes the mandolin and puts it in a better playing position. It just works better. I tend to do that even when I’m sitting in the kitchen, practicing. It makes it easier on my left hand. Some old-school players prefer the right-shoulder method, but Marshall, Thile and other technique-focused players say over the head.
    I find that the over the head strap puts the mandolin too far to the left. I like my arms and torso to be better balanced. The right shoulder style also makes it easier to keep the back of the mandolin off of your body. I would say the right shoulder works better.

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    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    I always figured that the reason so many of the folks like Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs worked with the strap over the right shoulder was because they all wore hats. The over the head strap combo is a non-starter if you wear hats and have to change instruments and what not. PITA! Even Earl used the over the right shoulder with the banjo. Kills my back!
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    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    Quote Originally Posted by putnamm View Post
    One clarifying question on the strap: I assume that if you are wearing the mandolin via the strap and you put your hands down at your sides, the mandolin should stay in position, yes? I saw a couple of comments indicating that you should not have to hold up the mandolin neck with your left hand. Using my current strap--erm, "twine"--when I let go of the mandolin the peghead immediately swings downward and the mandolin ends up hanging from my neck with the endpin pointed skyward. So I'm assuming an adjustment is necessary.
    Just a clarification, if you let go with both hands, then yes the peghead of the mandolin will drop - especially an F-style because they are heavier towards the head compared to an A-style. But you should be able to let go with the left hand only, and use the weight of your right arm on the top of the mandolin body to keep it in place. It will might move forward or backwards some, but it won't rotate downwards from the weight of the head because your right arm is keeping in in place. Hopefully that makes sense.

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    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    That makes sense, yes. Thanks, Stevo.

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    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    Just a note. I like MM's hint presentation a lot. But hand size, flexibility, genre and playing style have a lot to do with how well those hints work for people...

    If you play closed chord and/or barre chords up and down the neck a lot, you have to use your thumb as a fulcrum point on the back of the neck. Otherwise there's no way to fret the notes. This is not the same as applying pressure with the thumb, it's actually using your hand shape to leverage the strings against the frets. I play chord melody style most of the time, where the thumb is essential for the primarily barre chord work I do. The thumb can be off to the top side a bit, as suggested by MM, but it's only a bit off dead center. And yes, this is more like essential left hand posture for classical guitar or classic banjo.

    Also, if you curl your right hand index finger over in posture to hold the pick, also as suggested by MM, you're likely to get the first string stuck under your fingernail as you get older and your joints stiffen up. Be prepared, the first string under the fingernail is undoubtedly an ancient form of torture, there is blood and great anguish involved. As my fingers stiffened up, I had to re-learn how to hold the pick, with the index finger more perpendicular to the strings. Aside from avoiding this torture, it allows controlling the angle of the pick more naturally, and it makes transitioning from single picking to tremolo and back very easy and smooth.
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    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    In these videos, I show what was taught to me by a Performing Arts Medical Assn doc who helped me be able to play again after severe overuse injuries.



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    Default Re: Hand position, and proper way to wear a strap?

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    Just a note. I like MM's hint presentation a lot. But hand size, flexibility, genre and playing style have a lot to do with how well those hints work for people...

    If you play closed chord and/or barre chords up and down the neck a lot, you have to use your thumb as a fulcrum point on the back of the neck. Otherwise there's no way to fret the notes. This is not the same as applying pressure with the thumb, it's actually using your hand shape to leverage the strings against the frets. I play chord melody style most of the time, where the thumb is essential for the primarily barre chord work I do. The thumb can be off to the top side a bit, as suggested by MM, but it's only a bit off dead center. And yes, this is more like essential left hand posture for classical guitar or classic banjo.
    Yes, thanks for bringing this up. In that same Mike Marshall video (not the YouTube video but the DVD from which that is taken - which I have), Mike says that all these "rules" go out the window when it comes to chords. He says do whatever you need to do in order to get your fingers into the chord shape and get all strings properly fretted.

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