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Thread: Pick depth

  1. #1

    Default Pick depth

    Iíve been really working lately on my right hand attack to produce the most fluid playing I can. Iíve noticed that when I consciously try to just ďgrazeĒ the strings - as opposed to really digging in - I get a much more even tone with smoother phrasing.

    Is this something that most of you are intentional about? It seems too easy to let that pick dip down too far below the string on mandolin versus guitar (my first instrument). Anyone have any instances of pros saying that they try to be conscious of a ďgrazingĒ stroke when they play?

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    Registered User Cobalt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pick depth

    There must be lots of variations here, much depending on personal preference. I was thinking a little about the mechanics of this. I usually think of the process of plucking a string as pulling it to one side and then releasing it, like an archer drawing the string on a bow, then letting go, to send the stored energy into the arrow. We want that stored energy to result in vibration of the string, and subsequently through the bridge to set to top vibrating and produce the sound.

    That would be more or less true if the plectrum is soft and somewhat flexible. I do like that type myself. The string gets pulled to one side until the plectrum bends and releases the string. But if a harder pick is used, it won't bend much, if at all. That means the string must bend downwards, towards the body of the mandolin, until eventually it slips off and results in a lot of vertical rather than side-to-side motion. At least initially.

    Regarding the grazing technique, here, most of the motion will be side-to-side rather than up and down. The sound produced is certainly different. However it won't be very loud. In many ways it's going to depend on the situation. In real-world terms, often the main consideration is generating adequate volume, and that will mean digging in deeper, grazing over the strings would be too soft to be heard.

    I find it makes most difference in playing tremolo, the effect on the sound there is distinctive. With single-picked notes, maybe not so much.

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    Registered User mingusb1's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pick depth

    I've been thinking about this recently. I'm finding that on a mandolin that has a lot of power I don't need to dig in as hard to get volume and tone. I think this also corresponds with a shallower pick depth and has allowed me to increase speed on some of the tunes I'm playing.

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    Registered User BoxCarJoe's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pick depth

    The lighter I play the better I sound.
    I can even get some subtlety in there once in a while.
    But it's a fight for me. The desire to hit it hard is always there.

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    Default Re: Pick depth

    I think this is a very interesting question and in the absence of high speed photographic analysis quite difficult to answer. I’ve heard pros say they grab 1/8” depth, which, to me, suggests a great deal of looseness to allow the pick to glide over the strings. And looseness is frequently as a good thing for playing. But I don’t think folks actually grab 1/8” depth and float over the strings, probably half that just because of the string tension and typical pick stiffness.

    But like running horses, until you actually see in slow motion what is happening, it’s a lot of speculation.
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    Registered User mandomurph's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pick depth

    Mike Compton uses a lot of tremolo in his playing. He refers to it as "rubbing" the strings. He's able to maintain plenty of volume with a loose wrist, loose grip, and a light touch,
    mandomurph

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pick depth

    Quote Originally Posted by mingusb1 View Post
    I'm finding that on a mandolin that has a lot of power I don't need to dig in as hard to get volume and tone. I think this also corresponds with a shallower pick depth and has allowed me to increase speed on some of the tunes I'm playing.
    This! It depends on the instrument and the volume being pursued. On my RM-1 for example, I get a regular volume with grazing, and can play much faster. If I need some volume, for expressive reasons, I can dig in a bit more.

    This is the beauty of an instrument capable of some power - not so much that you can play loud, one can often play faster at normal volume levels, and have the full dynamic range for expressiveness.
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    Default Re: Pick depth

    I took a lesson from Frank Solivan and I wanted to focus on my right hand, and what he pointed out was I was changing the way I gripped the pick - excessively.
    Most of the encouragement I have ever gotten in general was to "dig in" more. I think I do get better tone digging in but it also slows me down.
    So a consistent grip and distance from the string, to me seem like important things to focus on in early playing development.
    Once you have a grip and distance that work for you, you can then experiment with alternatives for various tone affects.
    Just watching different non-professional people pick (my favorite thing about this web site) shows that there is a lot of successful variation in right hand technique.
    I agree with Jeff D the higher end instruments do seem to require less "effort" to achieve good tone, but I do believe the right hand technique should only be slightly modified for different instruments and the more consistent the better.
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  10. #9

    Default Re: Pick depth

    As others have pointed out, there are a lot of variables to consider, like pick thickness and how loose a grip you have. Generally speaking, at least for me, digging in ONLY affects volume positively, and I canít play as fast or accurately. Instead, I find that I get about the same volume increase just loosening my grip, not changing my depth at all, with the bonus of not losing speed, control, or getting clacks of the pick hitting the strings. I will say, it is much different and more subtle technique than playing guitar. I think mainly due to not having double string courses involved. I find ďpowering throughĒ on guitar is much more effective with less negative results to speed and control. But thatís my experience, YMMV.

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    Default Re: Pick depth

    I try to play just shallowly enough to not hit the scooped extension on my Rigel. I suspect that translates to my Kelly A5 as well, as I play them both regularly, but as long as there’s no annoying pick click, I don’t think too much about it anymore...

    Jeff, my RM-1 is the most responsive mandolin I’ve ever played. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t sold it, as it’s rare that I really need that nastier tone and the extra volume, and I almost never play slide on it. But, man, it’ll go from a pretty whisper to peeling your face off in a pick stroke...
    Chuck

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pick depth

    Quote Originally Posted by CES View Post
    Jeff, my RM-1 is the most responsive mandolin Iíve ever played. Thatís one of the reasons I havenít sold it, as itís rare that I really need that nastier tone and the extra volume, and I almost never play slide on it. But, man, itíll go from a pretty whisper to peeling your face off in a pick stroke...
    Yes. The whole cool thing is that dynamic range. That one can play intimately and transition to a broadcasting ballad, and then back to intimate, and every darn where in between.

    If I were the type to name my instruments, I would name my RM-1 Adele, as they both have that ability to seduce with a whisper with one breath and proclaim from the rocks above the ocean in the next.
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    Default Re: Pick depth

    In her Peg Head video lessons, Sharon Gilchrist likes to say "feel like you're playing the top of the strings". It works for me

  14. #13
    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pick depth

    Quote Originally Posted by mandomurph View Post
    Mike Compton uses a lot of tremolo in his playing. He refers to it as "rubbing" the strings. He's able to maintain plenty of volume with a loose wrist, loose grip, and a light touch,
    I took a workshop with Mike and he said pretty much the same. He also recommended thinking of using the pick kind of like a violin bow, making it glide over the strings.

    I find it has a lot to do with angle. I think I get the best tone using Mike's advice by getting the instrument at just the optimal angle to my picking stroke. If the pick hits flat, it just doesn't work. Also if it hits at too much of an angle it is problematic. I experiment by keeping the same arm position and picking the same way, but adjusting the angle I am holding the mandolin until it sounds the best. It's almost like dialing in an EQ on an amp. There is that one point where it sounds the best.

  15. #14

    Default Re: Pick depth

    Speaking of pick angle, and not to hijack the topic, what do you find to be the optimal angle for the pick as it comes across the strings? Is the pick parallel with the string, slightly angled? Is it tipped back?

    This is something I've been experimenting with, but as yet not found the sweet spot.
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    Default Re: Pick depth

    Quote Originally Posted by mandomurph View Post
    Mike Compton uses a lot of tremolo in his playing. He refers to it as "rubbing" the strings. He's able to maintain plenty of volume with a loose wrist, loose grip, and a light touch,
    We call his playing "fanning" the strings at our house. Yes he uses a lot of tremolo.

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    Default Re: Pick depth

    Quote Originally Posted by randybrown View Post
    Speaking of pick angle, and not to hijack the topic, what do you find to be the optimal angle for the pick as it comes across the strings? Is the pick parallel with the string, slightly angled? Is it tipped back?

    This is something I've been experimenting with, but as yet not found the sweet spot.
    I find a slight angle, tipped back, gives me more speed and accuracy and some thumpier tone.

  18. #17
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Pick depth

    I think on this all the time! I have a reckless style from the onset. This I already know.

    When I'm actually thinking on the right hand, I also wonder if I'm digging in too much, if I should be on angle or parallel. When I strum, to worry if I'm getting the benefit of all the strings.

    Sometimes; however, it all seems right. I think it's just practice. . . endless practice!

    Sometimes I actually know that each course has two strings - I feel them in the pick.

    Just stuff to keep our minds busy as we play!

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