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Thread: Mandolin Positioning When Sitting

  1. #1
    Registered User mandrian's Avatar
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    Default Mandolin Positioning When Sitting

    Hi,

    Question for the teachers and/or advanced players. I’ll try to explain as best I can.

    I always sit when playing. If practising or playing properly (as opposed to sitting on the sofa watching TV and noodling) how should you position the mandolin in terms of to your body? Assume I’m sitting on a proper chair.

    When I look across to my left hand, what I see is the the neck, but also the fretboard sloping away from me at a steep angle, but still giving me clear sight of all strings. My question is whether I should position the mandolin so that the fretboard is more parallel with my chest, thus facing more forwards rather than up. When I do this I would only see the side of the neck, the fretboard markers on the binding, the G string, but not the other strings (hidden behind the G string) or the face of the fretboard.

    I’ve been diving back into Ted Eschliman’s Getting Into Jazz Mandolin recently and when practising FFCP exercises struggle to keep my fingers down as much as proper technique says I should. I’m wondering if changing the position of the mandolin described would make it more easy to use my left hand effectively. It seems to let me stretch better.

    Hope I’ve described this properly.

    Regards,

  2. #2
    Registered User Martin Ohrt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Positioning When Sitting

    If you turn the fretboard "up" so that you can see your fingers (which many beginners do, i guess), you need to contort your wrist more, as you need to bend it "around" the neck. For better visualization: Assume the extreme and imagine holding your mandolin horizontally. Then, your arm/wrist/fingers would go underneath the neck, upwards, and back across strings towards you, which is nearly impossible. And every degree you rotate the instrument away from being held completely vertically brings you closer to this position, therefore I would recommend holding it vertically. Which is also why I love those fret markers on the binding (not every instrument has them).
    Of course, sometimes one has to watch his or her hands, and then it's fully okay to rotate the instrument slightly or to bend over to have a look at the fretboard, but generally I'd recommend that you'll try (and practise) holding it vertically. As you already mentioned, this makes fingering much easier.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Positioning When Sitting

    I agree with Martin Ohrt's approach. In fact, in your practice I would suggest not looking at the fretboard. A goal to get to is to get the muscles in your fretting hand to the point where they know where to go. Play in the dark with the lights out sometime and see if you can do it. Players who read from sheet music cannot look in both laces at once so, by necessity, have to look away from the fretboard at least part of the time. Folk musicians may not read sheet music but it still helps to play without visual cues.
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    Registered User Chris Bowsman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Positioning When Sitting

    I’m going to recommend a simpler approach. If your wrists start feeling sore, change your positioning until they don’t.

    As far as looking at the fingerboard goes, I get the idea of not doing it, but there sure are a lot of phenomenal players who watch their left hand an awful lot. I *think* I don’t look at it when I’m playing rhythm, but for a lead or a fiddle tune melody, I certainly do.
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    Registered User mandrian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Positioning When Sitting

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Bowsman View Post
    I’m going to recommend a simpler approach. If your wrists start feeling sore, change your positioning until they don’t.

    As far as looking at the fingerboard goes, I get the idea of not doing it, but there sure are a lot of phenomenal players who watch their left hand an awful lot. I *think* I don’t look at it when I’m playing rhythm, but for a lead or a fiddle tune melody, I certainly do.
    Hi,

    My wrists have never felt sore even although I play for several hours every day. I am interested, however, in finding a technique that will let me maximise my chances of becoming a better player. I have practised/played for a few hours most days over approaching 25 years, and feel that my technique is holding me back from ever, what I would describe as being a decent player, hence the reason for my question. It might come naturally to some folks, but not to me.

    I know some will say find a teacher, but that is easier said than done and most seem happier to teach tunes rather than technique. And let’s face it, only face to face lessons are likely to be optimum in addressing technique issues.

    End of rant.

    Regards,

    Regards,

  8. #6
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Positioning When Sitting

    FWIW these days learning remotely via video can allow you to find the best teachers who can give you feedback on technique. Even one lesson might give you the path to take to improve your playing. Good luck on your search.
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    Registered User Erin M's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Positioning When Sitting

    Is there an advantage to practicing while sitting?

    I'm new to mandolin, but an old hand at bass (which I usually practice standing or on a tall stool). It seems to me that when you're actually performing, more often than not, you'll be standing (unless in an orchestra or similar). So doesn't it make more sense to practice standing up, at least some of the time? It all feels a bit different when I stand since I'm not able to brace the instrument on my leg, so that's why I ask.
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    Registered User Chris Bowsman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Positioning When Sitting

    I usually sit when I practice, but still use a strap. The instrument is in the same position as when I stand, and I haven’t noticed any real difference when I play either way.
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    Benjamin Gieseke flymolo0's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Positioning When Sitting

    I second Chris Bowsman and Erin M's comments above. I was taught that whether you sit or stand your instrument should remain in the same position, so your technique does not change. For mandolin this likely means wearing a strap, unless you are only ever going to be playing sitting down. Wearing a strap also relieves your left hand of some of the burden of supporting the neck, which means more relaxed, cleaner, playing and shifting.

    As it pertains to the OP's question, if you are standing and playing with a strap, when you sit down the angle of the fretboard relative to your body shouldn't change. My guess is this will mean it is more or less parallel to your chest. I also second not looking at the fretboard most of the time, the times to look at it are when changing positions (if you can shift without looking even better!) or when you need to monitor something complex.

    Your specific situation/needs may vary of course. I'm coming from a background/training in violin/guitar for context as well.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Positioning When Sitting

    I hold it pretty much the way Mike Marshall says in his iconic "on mandolin tips" video.

    I have tried slanting the instrument a little forward as well, and that makes a great difference. I was blown away when I discovered that one.
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  16. #11
    Registered User mandrian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Positioning When Sitting

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I hold it pretty much the way Mike Marshall says in his iconic "on mandolin tips" video.

    I have tried slanting the instrument a little forward as well, and that makes a great difference. I was blown away when I discovered that one.
    Hi Jeff,

    So did you find that the fretboard should face directly forwards to best facilitate best left hand technique rather than the fretboard facing skywards to some extent, which seems to be the more likely position for the less accomplished player to adopt? I suspect that is the case from studying expert players playing in performance situations, but don’t really see it specified by them in instruction.

    Regards,

    Regards

  17. #12

    Default Re: Mandolin Positioning When Sitting

    Even though positioning in a different way might help most people, there are a few of us out there who it won't help. If there is significant arthritis in the thumb joint, then positioning won't help much. It's mostly the use of the thumb on the back of the neck that is the culprit (in my opinion). I just have to manage it with anti inflammatories, heat and rest.

  18. #13
    Registered User keme's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Positioning When Sitting

    If you practice a lot, you should definitely keep your instrument vertical and with the neck fairly high so your wrist remains fairly straight. A constantly cocked wrist is bad. Finger muscles work in extreme positions (max contraction or max elongation) and tendons must pass around the corner of your wrist.

    When you start to feel soreness in your wrist or forearm, you may already have developed RSI. You don't want that.

  19. #14
    Registered User mandrian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin Positioning When Sitting

    Quote Originally Posted by keme View Post
    If you practice a lot, you should definitely keep your instrument vertical and with the neck fairly high so your wrist remains fairly straight. A constantly cocked wrist is bad. Finger muscles work in extreme positions (max contraction or max elongation) and tendons must pass around the corner of your wrist.

    When you start to feel soreness in your wrist or forearm, you may already have developed RSI. You don't want that.

    Hi,

    Thanks for the feedback. I’ve definitely always worked on keeping my forearm/wrist/back of hand straight as that seems commonly advocated. Opinion seems to differ on how high you should hold the neck, but I’ve adopted the Mike Marshall approach as that seems the most common although players like Reischman and Compton seem to hold it pretty parallel to the ground. Never really experienced any pain other than occasional slight back pain if I play more more than twenty minutes or so without getting up or relaxing.

    Regards,


    Regards
    Last edited by mandrian; Jul-12-2020 at 12:39pm.

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