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Thread: When to Play the E on the A String?

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    Default When to Play the E on the A String?

    Hey, learner still, but chugging along. Done some sessions, but with the forced isolation, I'm refining, refining, refining.

    For a while now, I've been replacing the high 'E' for a lot of standards with the E on the A string. I just did this because a ringing E didn't sound right with a lot of tunes. With other tunes, it's fine, but like, whiskey before breakfast - at least in the version I learned, and that my group uses (used - they disbanded recently), the E on the A sounds right. It's a bit of an adjustment sometimes, but a good workout for the pinky, and once I get used to it, it's not a huge deal.

    I wonder if there is some "rule" I stumbled across that I was not made aware of. No one in my group seemed to notice, or care, but it's mostly violin, guitars and flutes in my sessions, so I wonder if I'm being OCD, or if this is a mandolin thing and a "rule" I should have known about for a while around Celtic music and I'm a dummy here behind the curve.

    Thanks!

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    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    I like to play it there because you can hit the open E at the same time and double. It sounds especially nice when you slide into the A-string E and do that.
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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    Phillipe, you have worked out a very important idea about note finding. Ask your fiddle-playing pals when they would use the fretted (fingered on fiddle) note rather than the open string. You are already using your pinkie, you say, so well ahead of the field there! I would say that your discovery of the tonal differences is one of the main reasons for using the two different notes. The open string will ring while the fingered one can be allowed to ring or can be cut off as you wish. You may also find it is easier sometimes to play a run on the one string. I know nothing about flute playing, but guitarists also will use both positions in their playing, depending on the actual tune being played and where on the fingerboard they are playing it - either using open strings or in closed positions. Have a look at the vast amount of material available covering ffcp (four finger closed position) playing. When you used closed position playing it means you can easily play a tune in different keys just by moving up or down your fingerboard while retaining the same finger patterns, no open strings being used. I would say that you are the final judge of whether you want the note open or fretted.

    Also the point RobP makes above is very valid - playing the same note on the two strings. He posted his comment while I was typing this answer.

    Hope this is of help to you, and good luck with your playing progress.
    Last edited by John Kelly; Apr-07-2020 at 1:02pm. Reason: Addition to text
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    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    There is no hard rule here, just conventions; many Mandolin players playing fiddle tunes and Celtic tunes will tend to use mostly open strings in my experience. The choice between the 7th fret E on the A string, the open E, or even the E on the 14th fret (D string) is your own choice. There is a different sound quality to each of these, as youíve heard, so whichever sounds best to you and works with your fingering is the way to go.

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    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    This video by fiddler Jenna Reid breaking down her playing of "Colgrave Soond" phrase by phrase at different speeds show the effectiveness of sliding up to the 7th fret E alongside the open E in the second part and is pretty much how I play it on mandolin (in my dreams!)

    It's all fiddle but every mandolinists can learn from it.

    And enjoy it! It's a great wee tune.

    Bren

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    There may not be many "hard rules" when it comes to mandolin fingering, but if you're talking about Irish/Scottish trad, then I think it makes sense to look at what the fiddlers do. It's almost the same instrument, and they figured out how to finger this stuff long ago.

    Doubling a note where you could get it with an open string might be useful as an occasional special effect, but I think for efficiency and speed, you're better off staying in first position and using the open E when it comes up in a tune. That's the only way I can keep up with the "Alpha fiddlers" in local Irish and Scottish sessions. Fingering efficiency is important when you're working these tunes up to session tempos.

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    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    Cool idea about doubling the E RobP! Thanks for the tip!

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    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    Thanks for the recommendation Foldedpath. You make a good point, but with a few exceptions, that little move is pretty simple to do at speed, I think... at least I haven't had to go back to using the open E once I've re-trained the move.

    It is interesting to see how rigorously rule-driven violin/fiddle players have been trained in contrast to mando players who just say, "yeah, whatever, wing it."

    Right now, I'm grinding on a fiddle tune called "Bill Sullivan's". I'm in the process of accumulating as many session/Celtic tunes as I can. I'm at a point where I can pick up a new tune in a couple days and start grinding at session speed by the third day, but on this tune, I'm trying to stick to being true to the notation, so using hammer ons and pull offs for the slurs. It means I have to shift to the second position in the second bar of the B part real quick and back to first for the third bar to hit the hammer on B. That little part is holding me up on this tune quite a bit. Mainly the pull off is harsh and doesn't sound right unless I hit it exactly right. I haven't had to practice this slow, and grind so much on a little session tune for a LOONG time!

    Thanks for the feedback guys!

    p

  10. #9

    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    Thanks for the video Bren. The video made me remember that I often wonder if the large number of brutal and tortured violin teachers out there made violin people who they are, or if them being who they are drove them to endure the brutal training required to learn violin.

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    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    Fiddlers are psychopaths.

    Trust me, I know many.

    But seriously, or more seriously, the quotient of self-taught among mandolinists is enormous compared to fiddlers. Around here, pretty much all fiddlers have had lessons since a young age.

    I guess they tolerate us though, so it's all good.
    Bren

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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    That is a very good point you make there, Bren. I think that all the fiddle players I know have had or are still going for formal lessons, and many of them began on violin then crossed over to fiddle style playing. I am one of the great mass of self-taught guitar and mandolin players who frequent the trad scene and am personally responsible for all the errors and heresies I commit. I have attended fiddle workshops and belonged to the Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop for three years, but my fiddle playing remains firmly a home-only pastime. I still play regularly with the group, but on guitar and mandolin! I experienced various tutors, all very knowledgeable and fine players too and have been very struck by the attention to bowing direction, fingering, when to play slurs,etc. I play a lot with various fiddlers and, as you say, we get along fine and there is a lot of mutual tolerance and respect between our two instrument choices. Long may it continue!
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    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    A fiddler will almost always assume a "correct" position before starting to play.

    We mandolinists will lounge all over the place, although I do try to assume a better position when I remember.

    A Shetlander told me about 30 years ago that he reckoned why there were so many mandolinists up there was that you could play while lying on your back in a bunk on a fishing boat!
    Bren

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    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    There may not be many "hard rules" when it comes to mandolin fingering, but if you're talking about Irish/Scottish trad, then I think it makes sense to look at what the fiddlers do. It's almost the same instrument, and they figured out how to finger this stuff long ago.

    Doubling a note where you could get it with an open string might be useful as an occasional special effect, but I think for efficiency and speed, you're better off staying in first position and using the open E when it comes up in a tune. That's the only way I can keep up with the "Alpha fiddlers" in local Irish and Scottish sessions. Fingering efficiency is important when you're working these tunes up to session tempos.
    I think the differences between mandolin and fiddle are great enough that it is more useful to find what works and sounds best for yourself as a mandolinist. One fiddler may be more confident in their use of all four fingers than they are in their string crossing with the bow, and so would tend to finger the E on the A string rather than open, another may choose otherwise. Some things are much easier with a pick than with a bow, especially crossing strings frequently. And of course an open E on the mandolin will continue to ring if there is not another note to be played on the E string soon thereafter, which is a difference in sound to consider. The line D E D D B in a jig will sound subtly different depending on whether one hits that E as open or not. That's why I think it is best for an individual mandolinist to choose the fingering that is the best compromise between efficiency and sound. Left hand considerations for fiddle and mandolin are essentially the same, but right hand ones are not. And this difference often forces fiddlers to develop more competence with their pinky than most mandolinists bother with.

    I would however tend to pay attention to violinists' fingerings when playing much more complicated music than fiddle tunes, music which switches positions all up and down the fingerboard. There are still differences worth considering, but it is there that I think the vast formal experience of humanity on the violin can really help a mandolinist (who is often self-taught as has been discussed here). But first position playing in a jig or reel should be a pretty straightforward choice for even a self-taught mandolinist in my opinion.
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    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    For greatest facility and preparing the way for branching out into jazz, practice using all fingers at many places.

    That said, for style and tone the open strings are often the preferred choice. Baroque and Renaissance music aficionados typically use the open string at every opportunity. Dudu Maia, a great Brazilian choro player, recommends the same, for the added sparkle and ringing on of the open strings.

    It is dependent on your goal. Do not depend using the open E instead of pinky finger, as this prevents getting facility and speed for other styles. But it is fine to use it in old-time and other fiddle tunes.
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    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    The idea of playing a note like the E on the A string is one for convenience in upper positions and two, especially on a fiddle, is to keep the tone of the note consistent with those coming before it. Also, because unlike violinists, we tend to play across our instruments, doubling the note provides more power to that note.

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    Registered User Tom C's Avatar
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    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    whenever you can. one can play quicker staying on the same string. I cant always as I have a lousy pinky but try to as much as possible.

  18. #17

    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bren View Post
    Fiddlers are psychopaths.

    Trust me, I know many.

    But seriously, or more seriously, the quotient of self-taught among mandolinists is enormous compared to fiddlers. Around here, pretty much all fiddlers have had lessons since a young age.

    I guess they tolerate us though, so it's all good.

    Right? And what was up with that hat. She just wears it and doesn't give any explanation about it (at least that I saw), just here I am, wearing a hat like the ones we wore when we were in marching band...

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    Default Re: When to Play the E on the A String?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Buckingham View Post
    The idea of playing a note like the E on the A string is one for convenience in upper positions and two, especially on a fiddle, is to keep the tone of the note consistent with those coming before it. Also, because unlike violinists, we tend to play across our instruments, doubling the note provides more power to that note.
    Yeah, tone consistency is what makes sense to me. There are songs where the shift to the e string makes sense. Also, the e string is distinct - the lower register of those bigger strings make ringing or non ringing notes often a non-issue I find. But that ringing little e string - boy you NOTICE that thing! So, yeah, the decision is always about whether to work the pinky on the A string or not. I don't find myself asking that question at any other string transition - at least not yet.

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