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Thread: Octave Mandolin Tips

  1. #1

    Default Octave Mandolin Tips

    Hello everyone! I'm so excited to be a part of this community!

    I am super new to the Octave Mandolin. It is my first string instrument ever and I am absolutely in love with this instrument! However, I would love some advice from veteran players on exercises to practice reach. I am a woman with small hands and have some troubles playing certain cords because of this. I want to learn and improve, but I first need to tackle this hurdle. I am having some trouble finding information on this topic (Iím actually having trouble finding info and lessons on the octave mandolin in general). I am tuning it GDAE and I would love some advice!

    Thanks in advance!

    ~Kyra
    She/Her/Hers

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  3. #2
    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Tips

    Kyra, with your small hands I would suggest that you learn to play using guitar fingering rather than mandolin fingering for your fretting hand. At the risk of sounding patronising (you say it is your first stringed instrument ever) the frets are the bars across the fingerboard which make the notes, and each fret gives you a half tone difference. On mandolin, each of your fretting fingers will be used to cover two frets, while on the octave each finger covers only one fret. I have fairly big hands and a good stretch so I can play using mandolin fingering, but I more regularly use guitar one-finger-per-fret fingering.

    As well as learning chords you should practise exercises to allow your fingers to develop a feel for the fret spacing. Scales are a fine exercise and as the instrument is tuned in 5ths intervals (GDAE) the scale patterns repeat. If you start on the low G, then your scale, G Major, will be G (open G string), A (2nd fret, G string), B (4th fret G string), C (5th fret G string) D (open D string), E (2nd fret D string), F# (4th fret D string) and G (5th fret D string). Start on the open D and play the same pattern on the D and A strings and your are playing scale of D major; start on the open A and play same pattern on the A and E strings and you have scale of A Major! Three major scales all with same fingering over a single octave.

    There are lots of chords which can be played with only two fretted notes and two open strings and they would be a good start for you. In your DGAE tuning D major can be played 2-0-0-2 (where the numbers are the frets, "0" being open string and the pattern going from the low G to the high E across the strings. G major is 0-0-2-3, A major is 2-2-0-0, and so on.

    This is just to get you started. There are lots of places to find chord shapes and any mandolin chord patterns can be used as the tuning you are using is simply standard mandolin lowered by one octave. A caution - there are lots of chord patterns using four fretted notes, and especially in Bluegrass playing and if you try to emulate those shapes on octave you will have great trouble with the stretches involved.

    Have a look at my YT channel in my signatur below as I have lots of tunes there using my octave.

    Hope this is of some use to you, and good luck with your musical journey!
    I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. - Eric Morecambe

    http://www.youtube.com/user/TheOldBores

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Tips

    Dreamer21 welcome to the dark side! The late John McGann did publish an octave mandolin book, I haven't seen it but did go to one of his workshops and he was no slouch, pretty sure he was Sierra Hull's ( check her out for octave - Old Dangerfield) teacher at Berkeley.
    I think some of the online instructors will work with you on octave Don Julin comes to mind.
    As for chords and the reach -for me on the octave we want to use open strings where possible, double stops ( 2 note chords) are also quite useful.
    There are multiple ways to play any chord but sometimes having the root not at the bottom looses emphasis.
    I find I bar a lot on the upper frets ( 5th and above) but you lose the open string sound.
    where the pinky isn't used so much in classical mandolin on octave you will use the pinky almost all the time.
    can you do C G D chords in normal position yet?
    "Mean Old Timer, He's got grey hair, Mean Old Timer he just don't care
    Got no compassion, thinks its a sin
    All he does is sit around an play the Mandolin"

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  6. #4
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Tips

    See if you can find lessons online from Sarah Jarosz or Sierra Hull. Both women are fantastic OM players and Sierra at least has pretty small hands.

    Also look at stretching/flexibility exercises. I used to play music with a petite woman who could span just as many keys on the piano as I could with my size 11's due to her dexterity and flexibility.

  7. #5
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Tips

    Even males with larger hands find some octave mandolin chords difficult; the wide separation of the frets makes it a much different instrument from the standard mandolin.

    As you work on chording, consider at times using "partial" chords -- not fretting all the strings -- especially when you need to make more rapid changes. Sometimes only two notes, or even a single note from the chord, will be enough to suggest the chord and give you the sound you want.

    Get a capo, and use it to "shorten" the neck and decrease the fret spacing. You can work out some fretting-hand positions with the capo on, then take the capo off and see if you can adapt them to the lower, more widely-spaced frets.

    Your "pinky" finger will be very important; many of us use ours sparingly when chording our mandolins, then realize how vital it is when playing the octave mandolin. Also, you won't be able to "anchor" your fretting hand in first position on the neck, as you can with mandolin, and to some extent, with first-position chording on the guitar. Be prepared to slide the fretting hand around to pick up some notes not reachable from first position.

    Have fun; OM's a great instrument.
    Allen Hopkins
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  9. #6

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Tips

    I will have to look into getting the book! And yes, I have been doing pretty well with the C G and D chords on my octave mandolin. I found a great teacher who has me doing exercises on both my mandolin and octave mandolin so that I get used to playing them both.

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  11. #7
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Tips

    "I have been doing pretty well with the C G and D chords on my octave mandolin"

    Great now take the C shape and move it up 2 frets, you have a D ( actually a D add 9 chord if you leave the E string open)
    "Mean Old Timer, He's got grey hair, Mean Old Timer he just don't care
    Got no compassion, thinks its a sin
    All he does is sit around an play the Mandolin"

  12. #8

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Tips

    Hey - Excited to hear about your passion for the octave! I’ve learned some great stuff from Emory Lester about how to work with the octave, and I highly recommend you contact him. Even just taking a lesson here and there would be fantastic. Look him up on google. You can see his skills here:

    https://youtu.be/GrD8NARhilk
    Apitius Vanguard F5 Custom Mandolin 2019
    Sumi Sullivan F-5 Mandolin 2003
    Weber Diamondback Octave F-Style Mandolin 2014
    Flatiron Cadet ďArmy-NavyĒ Flat Top Mandolin 1987
    Martin HD-28V Guitar 2004

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