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Thread: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

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    Default Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    Hello all --- this is a subject that I suspect may have been discussed in the past but here goes --- I play mandolin in a small string band that plays Celtic music and also old-time tunes. This group has been in existence for quite a few years and for a long time was just myself on mandolin, a rhythm guitar player, and a fiddle player (the group leader). Recently the fiddle-playing leader has invited another fiddle player into the group. It's become very difficult for my to hear myself over the two. For both Celtic and old-time tunes I've been playing the melody along with the fiddles but am drowned out pretty much. Would it perhaps me more effective given Celtic and old-time tunes for me to play rhythm-style and chop, strum, etc.? Thanks in advance for any ideas!

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    Don't chop.
    Life is short, play hard. Life is really really short, play really really hard.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    The fiddles could certainly hand off the fiddle tunes to you back and forth now and then. The plucked string sounds great in Celtic.
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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    This is definitely a problem that many of us have. I'm a fiddler and mandolin player who wears hearing aids, and has given up on taking my mandolin to sessions, thereby adding one more loud fiddle. When you say a 'band," do you play out in the world? amplified or unamplified? With a little more detail, others may be able to give advice. I'm a mite concerned about one person in a band inviting another to join without consulting you, unless he or she is paying you a good salary. Have you talked with the "leader" about the fact that you can no longer hear your mandolin?
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    It could be worse, they could be banjos! (sorry, couldn't resist)
    I love playing Celtic music on the mandolin also. Alas, you're a victim of the genre. In both Irish and Old Timey, it's the norm for everyone to play simultaneously on top of each other. One of the things I love about bluegrass is that players take turns and they listen to each other, so there's musical communication going on. You also get to improvise and harmonize beyond the notes on the page.

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    "Chopping" isn't really a thing when playing "celtic" tunes, and strumming on a mandolin might be less than ideal due to the sonic range mandolin inhabits - - you'll still probably be drowned out by the fiddle players, better to strum on an octave mandolin or bouzouki. If your group plays live performances (as opposed to a session) what about getting a pick-up installed and playing through an amp or PA? Resonator mandolins are loud, I've certainly heard of folks holding their own at large sessions with a resonator mandolin.
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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    You should listen to some Foghorn Stringband and see how Caleb Klauder fits in the mix or better yet reach out for a lesson. I know he often will alternate between playing melody lines and playing 2 and 3 finger chords or double stops to support the overall melody and groove.

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    1. Investigate getting a lower-range mando-family instrument -- mandola or octave mandolin. You can double the melody an octave lower, once you figure out the fingerings, and you can chord without being in the range of either the fiddles or the guitar. You can also --

    B. Work out harmonies and counter-melodies. I'm assuming the fiddles are playing unison melody and the guitar's playing chords. Gives you a lot of room to add a different voice, and you can more easily do this on a lower-range instrument, though it can be done on mandolin as well. Or, you could always --

    iii. Get a mandolin-banjo, and annoy the hell out of the other band members, as well as the audience! Actually, I'm being unfair; a well-played "banjolin" can be an asset, and give your group a unique texture.

    Mandolin and single fiddle can work together in real synergy; I was in a "klezmer lite" trio, guitar, fiddle, and I on mandolin, mandola, banjo and concertina (not all at once!), and that worked out fine. Playing against twin fiddles is something else, though, so try to find a way not to be playing "against" them.
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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    Hi. If you'll forgive me for prying ever so gently, I see you've been a member for 18 years, yet this is your first post. That seems to indicate you're much more willing to go along with what others are saying or doing than speaking up for yourself. Being cooperative is all good and well, and lord knows more people being that way would help society in many ways, but standing up for oneself also has its place, and you should be willing to do so, even be adamant about it.

    I like that you are looking for ways to cope with the situation, to adjust your behavior to accommodate the others', but as a member in long standing in your group, you have rights, and your needs, wants, and happiness should be valued and accommodated. It sounds like the leader is taking you and your accommodating nature for granted; this seems to indicate a lack of consideration, even respect. I think you should discuss your issue with him, without getting too deep into the weeds. After all, this has upset you enough to step out of lurking and speak up here. It could well be better for you to continue in that direction. If this leads to your leaving the group, that'll be sad, but not as much as trying to make a go of it and soldiering on while biting your tongue.

    I'm sorry if I sound like the harbinger of gloom and doom, but it does seem a decision was made that affects you materially without your input, and meekly accepting it is not going to lead to happiness for you. Who knows? Telling the leader how you feel may work out for the better. Sometimes people don't think things all the way through, and input from others may help them change their minds and do the right thing after all. Good luck!
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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    Check with the rest of the band and see if they can hear you. If they can't, maybe nicely suggest they play a touch quieter to allow yourself to be heard. If they can, then it could be your instrument just has a tone where the fiddle covers it up well to your ears, but maybe not to others.

    On a related note, maybe have the band do a quick recording on a phone or digital camera. That might also help see if you really are being drowned out.

    Others here also have put forth great suggestions, too. Hopefully things can get resolved to everyone's satisfaction.
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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    I would do one of two things. I would either get a mandolin-banjo or install a pick up and use a small amp to bring your volume up to the level of the other instruments.

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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    Banjo mandolin .. or a National RM-1?
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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    Turn your body away from the fiddles if you can, don't be afraid to change your seat so they're not right in your ear. Any audience can probably hear you perfectly well, but it's miserable when you can't hear yourself. Also, consider a round hole Mandolin, they're easier to hear.

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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    It’s been a problem in parts of the UK where I’ve found that fiddle players tend to breed like rabbits and they all play the tune over and over and over ‘til one of them decides they’ve had enough. Playing backup on a mandolin or guitar only seems to encourage them so one answer I’ve found that works a treat is to find another session with other dissatisfied musicians for a while and some of the fiddle players will tend to go away.

    A more enjoyable solution, as mandroid has hinted, is to buy (or borrow) an RM-1. A few judicious off beat notes or chops can disrupt their flow and annoy the pants off them! Fortunately, I also have a Kimble which is just as loud.

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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    Many thanks to all for the great thoughts and suggestions! The second fiddle player came about maybe two years ago when I was out of town quite a bit. The lead fiddle decided the sound was getting a bit thin with just him and the guitar player. And yes, a clawhammer-style banjo player was brought into the group at that time as well! The group plays public most of the time -- on staff at an historic park where we play on weekends (umamplified) and then play various gigs around town where we are amplified. I think I'm just whining at my lack of assertiveness, as has been gently pointed out, LoL. Perhaps being heard is overrated as I do truly love to play the mandolin regardless! Resonator sounds good, though, and would feed my mandolin acquisition syndrome.

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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    Forgot to mention a banjo! Well, That may show some strong willfulness indeed to be able to tune that out.

    A resonator might well be loud enough, but the tone might not be quite right for the genres you play. Still, worth a shot. And even if not, you will have a fine new toy to play with. I wanted one very badly when I was playing in a jug band, and there was even one hanging on the wall at my luthier's - but not for sale. But he also had a Triolian steel resonator tenor guitar - tuned like a mandola - and it worked just great. Never had to put a pickup on it.
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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    Also, don't forget that a louder mandolin might be an option. There's definite differences in different models.

    Previous mando, my wife would often tell me to play louder because...well, fiddle. That thing was like hitting the gas on a 25 yo Honda Civic.
    Current mando is ready to jump off the line, even when it's already going 70. Held it's own in practice right up to the point where electric guitars began the race up Loud Mountain
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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    There is a reason why the Tenor banjo is so normal in sessions , set up GDAE to be an octave under the fiddles not in the same one..
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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    I had the same problem of feeling drowned out, being at a sonic disadvantage versus the multiple fiddles. It was an easy solution to get an amplifier and set it up behind myself as my personal monitor. The vibe is still all acoustic, and it beats playing by sense-of-feel. To minimize any hassles to others I would arrive early to get an advantageous seat near an outlet so nobody had to trip over cords. (This was in my Vermont days with larger sessions; I haven't had to resort to the amp in New Hampshire, or have brought an octave mandolin for fall-back.) -- Paul
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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    You could try bringing a piano accordion, then nobody would hear what they're playing...

    However - is there affordable in - ear monitoring the OP could use? The trouble with amplifiers is they can lead to competitive amplification, and that's miserable.

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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    I should add that my wife, a non-musician, avoids coming to sessions with me if ther are likely to be severall fiddles. As for using an amp in purely acoustic sessions, I used to play with a bass fiddle player who said that he had used one, when a particular conductor was prone to asking for more bass, and that was with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    The bodhran can be a wonderful instrument for such music. Also within the genre would be the banjo and certain accordions. And then there's the washtub bass, washboard, jug, and harmonica, all for a minimal investment.

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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    Dan, in my mind I can see one of those one man hurdy gurdy guys with the little drum and cymbals and bells, etc. If that doesn't drive away all your musician friends you bring along the little monkey with the tip cup and really annoy everyone!
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    Default Re: Help! Drowned out by fiddles!

    Before we get too carried away with our flights of fancy, I think it behooves us to recall the OP is looking for a way to fit in and be heard in the group, not disrupt the proceedings. But by all means, do carry on! It's fun reading, if nothing else.

    Quote Originally Posted by mandroid View Post
    There is a reason why the Tenor banjo is so normal in sessions , set up GDAE to be an octave under the fiddles not in the same one..
    I've always thought tenor banjos used mandola tuning, one fifth lower, not an octave lower. But I see that, according to Deering's website: "standard tuning for a tenor banjo is tuned the same as a viola/mandola (C, G, D, A). Irish players often tune their tenor banjos also in fifths, but one octave below a violin/mandolin (G, D, A, E)." Either way will put it in a different register, and not get so overwhelmed by the fiddles.
    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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