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Thread: Still cant play a break!

  1. #1

    Default Still cant play a break!

    Been playing mandolin a half a year solid now, trying to practice almost everyday and I still can't play a break! I played mandolin off and on growing up and was around bluegrass and bluegrass gospel my whole life. I guess i just need time but it just annoy's me.

    I do practice scales, arpeggio's, ect and watch video's and so forth

    When will it come?
    I have a musical ear. I sing by ear and play by ear but I just cant do it yet!
    Matthew Morgan
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  2. #2
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    Quote Originally Posted by MMorgan9812 View Post
    ...When will it come?...
    It'll come when it comes. Don't pressure yourself, or set too high a standard for yourself. Practice playing melodies that you can play -- whether it's Twinkle Little Star, You Are My Sunshine, or Raw Hide -- at tempos you can handle. When you have one of them nailed down, improvise around it a bit, add a bit of ornamentation, based on what you've heard or observed from more experienced players. Remember: the melody is the core of any break, and you can play a break to a slow waltz or a ballad-tempo vocal, as well as to Dixie Breakdown.

    I'd also advise to hang out with other musicians -- those better than you -- when COVID-19 permits. Listen, watch, figure out what they're doing; if you're uncertain, ask them to show you. Doesn't have to be other mandolinists, just other pickers who take solos. You learn a lot by rubbing shoulders (observing social distancing) with more experienced players.

    And, again, relax; you'll get there faster if you avoid anxiety.
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    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    I had to spend years hacking before I could shred...

    Still hacking sometimes
    I should be pickin' rather than postin'

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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    I hear you. I started in March, but without the lifelong exposure and off and on playing. This is my first serious string instrument. I'm so impatient! Yesterday, though, after a hiatus in that kind of practice (been focusing on scales, exercises and so forth), I fired up Mandolessons and was playing the new tune in much less time than the last time I tried one. So that was encouraging.

    Sue

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    Are you trying to play other people's "breaks" (solos to us jazz players) or improvise your own?

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  10. #6
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    Just keep it simple. You don't have to be Bill Monroe, Mike Compton, Chris Thile, etc. Just play the basic melody and maybe build on it. I also agree with Allen above to play with some other musicians when possible. They don't even have to be that much better than yourself. In fact get a group together of friends at the same musical level and trade breaks at a moderate speed. Maybe work on them together and assemble on a regular basis. I don't now if you only play alone or at big jam sessions who pay a break neck speed or not.
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    NY Naturalist BradKlein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    Have you taken a look at this video? It was made for the Cafe's profile of Michael Daves who teaches Bluegrass Vocals for ArtistWorks, but it's a great guide to building a bluegrass mandolin solo.

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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    Does playing a break mean improvising or playing a melody with some variation from the
    tune? Both are valid, and you can always create your own variation. Try doing it for your
    favorite song. One way to start is to invent something unique for only the last two bars of the melody.
    Its a standard way of beginning to depart from the melody.

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  16. #9
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    Do you mean in a jam session, or alone in your practice space? The way you phrase this, I assume you mean in a jam setting. Whatever song you’re working on, make sure you have the chord progression down really well. Work out your solo in the practice room bit by bit, and once it’s together, try it at the jam or with your backing track. Odds are, in a jam session, you’ll flub it up the first time or few. But don’t give in to discouragement or frustration. Keep on truckin’ and give yourself more time than 6 months.

    BTW that Michael Daves vid that BradKlein shares is a classic round here, great stuff.
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    Kelley Mandolins Skip Kelley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    Matt, my advice is, since you have a good ear, learn some breaks to songs that you would like play. Pick it out by ear and practice till you have it down. It will increase your musical vocabulary. The more breaks you learn, the better you’ll feel about it.

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  20. #11

    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    I have trouble just finding the basic melody sometimes. I will know the song, I can sing it, hum it, even chop or play rhythm to it but I just can't pick out the melody yet.

    I listen to other people and watch video's all the time and I play with some great pickers in jams and at church every time the door is open.

    I am sure it will come just gets frustrating. Thanks for all the help everyone I will just keep on pushing thru

  21. #12
    Hands of Pot Metal
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    Teach your ear by starting with the classics, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, 3 Blind Mice, Happy Birthday, etc. You’ll realize the almost all BG songs start on either the 1, 3 or 5 of the starting chord. They go up, down or stay on the same note and then move following the scale or chord tones.

    It’s hard to be born full grown so be patient with yourself.
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  23. #13
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    Quote Originally Posted by MMorgan9812 View Post
    Been playing mandolin a half a year solid now, trying to practice almost everyday and I still can't play a break! I played mandolin off and on growing up and was around bluegrass and bluegrass gospel my whole life. I guess i just need time but it just annoy's me.

    I do practice scales, arpeggio's, ect and watch video's and so forth

    When will it come?
    I have a musical ear. I sing by ear and play by ear but I just cant do it yet!
    Begin with very simple songs and you have to get the tune in your ear/mind/head first ! It will come and don't give up !
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

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  25. #14
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    Hmmm .... It all starts with the melody. Then moving within the chord changes of the melody. I have heard that described as "making the bases". Tools to do that include learning to play closed position scales both major and minor then pentatonic , five tone 1 2 3 5 6 skipping the 4th and 7th tones, scales. Also arpeggios which are chords played one tone at a time... the 1 3 and 5 tones. When you have played those enough times and develop your ear your fingers will move through the patterns fluidly and you will be improvising a break. Be patient, play along with recordings , buy a copy of The Amazing Slowdowner software and listen to what other players are doing. It will happen.... just not as quickly as you want it to..... keep in mind that music is a language. There are repeated phrases both with and without emphasis.
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

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  27. #15
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    To me lot of playing breaks is jumping in strong and landing the finish, so start there, know the chord changes you are playing over, - if you don't have them down to almost automatic then go back and work on "knowing" and even more importantly "anticipating" chord changes
    Echoing "follow the melody" (rhythmically and tonally) as already stated here is the most practical approach, slight variations will evolve to your break.
    Relax, give yourself time.
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  29. #16
    Eschews Obfuscation mugbucket's Avatar
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    Great advice from all here. I found that if I could whistle it (the melody), and could find the 1st note on the scale it sped things up a bit. The tune has to be in your head deep enough for your fingers to "find" it. I've also referred back to the Fretboard Toolbox (NFI - https://www.fretboard-toolbox.com/mandolin.html) when I need a refresher on where the "good" notes and doublestops are.
    Despite the high cost of living, it still remains popular...

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  31. #17
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    MandoLessons has a whole bunch of play-along jams to popular BG fiddle tunes, where Baron "trades off" with you playing chords and breaks. You can slow down the tempo using the icon in the bottom right corner. Start with something simple, like Angeline The Baker, that you already have the melody line down cold. The first couple times, forget about playing the chords, just get used to coming in with the melody at the right time, and stick to the melody.

    Once you feel comfortable with that, expand to either playing chords and getting used to making the switch to the break, or expanding the notes you are playing during the break. Eventually, it will get easier, as you become less anxious when it's about to be your turn for a break.

    Something I still do is essentially forget about playing the last chord right before it's my turn for a break, so I can have a couple seconds to get my head around what I need to do to start it off (e.g., am I going to just play the melody? improv? something in between? etc.).

    Something I am also just realizing is that, while learning scales are a good thing, arpeggios are more musical and relevant. Just playing random notes from the arpeggio is a place to start. Your ear will start hearing intervals and you'll develop that sense when you are playing.

    But it takes time and repetition. Be patient with yourself and go slow.
    "Keep your hat on, we may end up miles from here..." - Kurt Vonnegut

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  33. #18

    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    Hey Matt, remember, if you can sing it or whistle it, you can find the notes on the mando. As a kid long ago when I started out, that’s how I began putting together solos. Also, YouTube is a great resource, and if you type in Bluegrass jam tracks, or Bluegrass backing tracks, you can find almost anything you want to play along with. Most times the songs are offered in a variety of tempos, but also you can hit the more options button on the player, and slow them down if you want. Perhaps you might also want to check out a youtube video where a solo is broken down note for note, and learn a few of those before you start improvising. After all, anyone has to establish a catalog of licks to pull from when improvising anyhow…
    Shawn Brock
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  35. #19
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    Matthew: as others have suggested, keep it simple by playing just the 1, 3, or 5 notes of the chord being played. You don't have to play all the notes in the melody. With practice, it will come to you. Good luck.

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  37. #20
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    From your email it is hard to figure exactly what you mean. Is it playing the tune when it comes around to you, or is it improvising something cool to play when the break comes around to you.

    I think knowing how to play the tune and knowing its chords and chord changes are the most important things to go after. No shame in playing the melody when taking a break.

    6 months? At six months i didn't even know which end of the mandolin gets hot first.

    It takes about a decade to sound like you been at it for 10 years.
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  39. #21
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Smile Re: Still cant play a break!

    Sing it in your head , play it with your fingers ..


    When will it come?
    give it 20 years or so..
    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

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  41. #22
    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    I was pretty lucky, I had a couple of really generous people around me when I started playing mandolin. I had originally thought I’d get more dates with guitar, that didn’t work. Then I went to old timey banjo, that was worse! Finally, I saw an old concert with Bill Monroe et al doing a show from an old flatcar and I was hooked. After that Bill Halsey joined a local band and that was the nail! I had to learn the mandolin, no question about it.
    From then on, I was begging people to show me pretty much anything! I watched, listened, played, prayed that one day I’d be competent, I’m still praying on that! But, playing music with the same guys for most of my life we all grew with it together, Great Lakes Grass had a fair following when we worked a lot, then life got in the way.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is simply don’t give up, learn some really simple things, once you know more about feeling where the changes come, making the notes in the melody will get easier.
    What style of music are you striving for?
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  42. #23

    Default Re: Still cant play a break!

    Quote Originally Posted by MMorgan9812 View Post
    I have trouble just finding the basic melody sometimes. I will know the song, I can sing it, hum it, even chop or play rhythm to it but I just can't pick out the melody yet.

    I listen to other people and watch video's all the time and I play with some great pickers in jams and at church every time the door is open.

    I am sure it will come just gets frustrating. Thanks for all the help everyone I will just keep on pushing thru
    Don't be afraid to crash and burn either. It'll click. Most bluegrass and gospel songs rely on very similar melodic ideas and "key notes". As you try breaks pay attention to what sounds right. Sometimes you stumble on to cool stuff. And if you play something that sounds sour, if you play it strong with confidence it'll generally still be ok.

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