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Thread: Damping vs. letting notes ring

  1. #1

    Default Damping vs. letting notes ring

    A little question has arisen when I'm playing fiddle tunes on a mandolin: how do players usually decide when to damp or mute a previously plucked string instead of letting it ring when another string is plucked? So for example if you first play a note on the E string and then play a note on the A string you have a choice of either letting the E string ring all the while the A string is ringing too or you can silence the E string so that only the A string vibrates.

    Do you as a rule mute the previous string or maybe usually let it ring? Or is this even something that people think about or do they just play however feels natural?

    Also I'm interested in good left hand damping techniques. On the guitar (which is what I'm accustomed to) you can most of the time damp the strings by letting your fretting finger lightly touch the next string to it but on a mandolin this results only in damping one of the strings of the course (at least if you want to fret with only the tip of your finger which is what I'm aiming at). How do you do left hand damping?

    Edit: In the last paragraph I'm talking about damping an open string

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  3. #2

    Default Re: Damping vs. letting notes ring

    I try to leave all notes ringing as much as possible, unless for phrasing or if there is a change of key such that the note would sound dissonant.
    But in some phrases, you might mute every note a little bit to get a more staccato tone, or avoid muting as much as possible to play up a little bit of a "reverb" effect.
    Of all the big-name players, Grisman does the most extreme variation of his tone, I think - sometimes playing down by the bridge, sometimes way up the neck at the 15th fret, sometimes very legato, sometimes very mellow-ly staccato.

  4. #3
    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Damping vs. letting notes ring

    As to technique, I damp with both left and right hand. Sometimes it is the heel of right hand, sometimes, the side of my thumb. With left hand it is sometimes fingers damping the adjacent strings, and sometimes just allowing the lingering fingers to damp as I go to the next string. For controlling duration, making sight separation, it would be left hand fingers.

    That said, I usually don't try to damp strings unless playing electric. For expression in jazz a clean line is usually the goal, and if distortion is involved of course I need to damp for clarity.

    On acoustic, I more often want ringing. Bach benefits from this, as does choro. Brazilian 10-string player Dudu Maia made the point that he tries for maximum string-crossing and overlapping ringing. It makes a bigger sound, filling the spectrum.

    Playing a lively bluegrass solo it is kind of moot, just bang away, but again like choro, some players try for lots of string crossing and ringing.
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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Damping vs. letting notes ring

    For fiddle tunes (all I play are Irish and Scottish trad tunes), I never damp with my right hand. I never damp with my left hand on the fast tunes like jigs and reels.

    On the slower tunes like marches and "slow reels", I will sometimes briefly touch a ringing string with one fingertip of my fretting hand to damp it, if the ringing note is dissonant against the current melody notes. That doesn't happen often, but it happens once in a while. A brief damping touch with a finger that's not doing anything else, and it's gone.

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  7. #5

    Default Re: Damping vs. letting notes ring

    I sometimes avoid an open string ringing on too long by playing the note on fret 7 of the adjacent lower string instead. Then all I need to do to silence that note is lift my finger. I get a cleaner sound that way and donít have to worry about the note clashing with the notes that follow.

  8. #6
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Damping vs. letting notes ring

    You have several good questions here, Knoppa.

    Quote Originally Posted by Knoppa View Post
    1. How do players usually decide when to damp or mute a previously plucked string instead of letting it ring when another string is plucked?

    2. Do you as a rule mute the previous string or maybe usually let it ring?

    3. Is this even something that people think about or do they just play however feels natural?

    4. How do you do left hand damping?
    1. This can be decided by a number of factors, understand that all players will develop their own style and so you can get different answers, for instance Marty writes that his basic approach (mindset) is to leave notes ringing as much as possible; Tom writes that he prefers ringing notes on acoustic and less so on electric, and foldedpath is not concerned with any damping techniques at higher speeds but uses some in slower tunes. For me, I prefer the ringing tones when they are consonant ... like Marty, I generally want notes to ring as much as possible, but use staccato effect on purpose when fitting, and usually damp ringing strings that are not consonant. In your example of ringing open E against the open A: This for me is a beautiful effect especially in the context of an A chord, since the A is root and E the fifth of A and Am. So my answer is that it depends on context. If the ringing note will be dissonant, I tend to mute it but if consonant, I generally prefer to let it ring. I make the decision based on the sound I want, and this becomes learned behavior, eventually somewhat second nature.

    2. There may be different camps on preference here, but as stated in #1 above, my preference is generally to let ring as long as possible the consonant notes. So let ring when consonant, mute when dissonant, and mute for staccato effect when desirable.

    3. It is something that many players eventually think about in their quest to play musically. I began a couple years ago to concentrate on holding notes as long as possible, working on my fingerings to that end, in order to get as much ringing of consonant notes as possible.

    4. As foldedpath mentioned, a brief light touch with a finger does the trick, similar to the trick we use on guitar which you mention ... the pairs of a course are pretty close together, so it doesn't require much of a microadjustment in your technique to mute them with a brief touch, and will become second nature with a little practice.
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  10. #7
    Registered User Chris Bowsman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Damping vs. letting notes ring

    I spent a lot of years playing heavily distorted electric guitars, so muting with both hands is second nature. Most of that time was heavy metal rhythm guitar, which is extremely tight and percussive. I've noticed lately that I have a really hard time not resting the heel of my right hand on the bridge, and will often palm mute fast lines on the G strings.

    It's been a very long time since I consciously worked on muting technique, so any decisions I make now would be simply what sounds best for the part.
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  11. #8
    Registered User archerscreek's Avatar
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    Default Re: Damping vs. letting notes ring

    I might let another note ring out if it harmonizes with the main one Iím playing and it fits the chord being played. In my mind Iím going from a single note to playing a double stop, though, in that instance. So the two notes together are purposeful. If I want to fatten the sound up Iíll play a double stop. However, even if two consecutive notes fit/harmonize, Iíd purposefully dampen the previous note if I wanted the new note to pierce the music or be emphasized.

    I generally dampen with my fretting hand.

  12. #9
    Registered User archerscreek's Avatar
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    Default Re: Damping vs. letting notes ring

    Playing through my fiddle tunes I found that I often let an open string ring like a drone while playing lines underneath it. I also found myself thinking and analyzing what and how I was playing (given this question coming up) which of course led to a lot of mistakes. So thanks for that. Haha

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