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Thread: Does this guitar speed picking technique work for mando?

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    Default Does this guitar speed picking technique work for mando?

    I'm getting a bit stuck with improving my picking speed for fast fiddle tunes etc. I've tried a number of conventional picking patterns, and find some logical and natural and some illogical and awkward. For example, 'jig picking' - I'm not sure why you'd attempt to play two fast downstrokes one after the other, with lots of wasted movement, when you could play a bar of 6/8 on the same string as down/up/down/up/down/up, and learn to accent an upstroke (note 4) when required? I just watched a guitar speed picking vid which suggests practising (initially slowly) like this:

    * Picking on the same string is all done from the wrist, with a static hand shape (soft pick grip, no flexing the fingers).
    * String changes are practised from the elbow with a static wrist position and no shoulder movement, mostly with glide strokes - i.e. picking twice (or maybe more?) consecutively in the same direction, which is towards the new string.

    Does that work OK on mando?

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    Registered User Scotter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does this guitar speed picking technique work for mando?

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    I'm getting a bit stuck with improving my picking speed for fast fiddle tunes etc. I've tried a number of conventional picking patterns, and find some logical and natural and some illogical and awkward. For example, 'jig picking' - I'm not sure why you'd attempt to play two fast downstrokes one after the other, with lots of wasted movement, when you could play a bar of 6/8 on the same string as down/up/down/up/down/up, and learn to accent an upstroke (note 4) when required? I just watched a guitar speed picking vid which suggests practising (initially slowly) like this:

    * Picking on the same string is all done from the wrist, with a static hand shape (soft pick grip, no flexing the fingers).
    * String changes are practised from the elbow with a static wrist position and no shoulder movement, mostly with glide strokes - i.e. picking twice (or maybe more?) consecutively in the same direction, which is towards the new string.

    Does that work OK on mando?
    I'm not sure that I completely understand the question, but, as a general rule, if you're having trouble getting fiddle tunes up to speed it's most likely an issue with pick direction. The general rule for 4/4 tunes is down strokes on the down beat and up strokes for everything else. Keep the pick swinging in this manner whether or not the notation calls for a note to be picked. If you're tapping your foot down on the down beat then you're pick is up in the air when your foot is off the ground. When first learning a fiddle tune I practice this very very slowly until I'm sure that I've got all the melody notes being played with the right pick direction. Only then do I try to bring it up to speed.

    Having said that, in class last night, Matt Flinner, taught a Howard Armstrong picking technique for a ragtime tune that is similar to what you describe above. It's similar to the flat picking rest strokes that Gypsy Jazz pickers employ and is also similar to the speed picking technique employed by electric guitarists. I'm going to concentrate on learning the Howard Armstrong tune using both techniques so that my alternate picking habits stay strong but I really want to challenge myself with the Howard Armstrong picking technique because it just sounds so cool. Sometimes its good to break "the rules" so to speak.

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    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Does this guitar speed picking technique work for mando?

    Some of the picking patterns used are not about speed, but about sound. The down down up pattern sounds different than the down up down pattern. So that's part of what is going on.
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    Default Re: Does this guitar speed picking technique work for mando?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Sheets View Post
    The down down up pattern sounds different than the down up down pattern. So that's part of what is going on.
    I've read that quoted in one or two instructor books, but I'm wondering how true is it, does it matter, and if it does, is it harder to change the sound than to play a pattern that's much easier directionally? Classical violinists used to be widely taught that any accented note must be played on a down bow. We now know you can play accents perfectly well on an up bow - in fact violists and some folk fiddlers have been doing it forever, even I can do it on fiddle. I expect some mandolinists can play identical down and up picked notes that most of us can't identify by listening - and I have one well know classical mando book where 'reversed' up/down picking is advocated in some circumstances. The implication in that book is that the result can sound as good as the 'conventional' down/up picking pattern but is a lot more convenient.

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does this guitar speed picking technique work for mando?

    “Does it matter?” Maybe not to you, you decide.
    “Is it harder …?” Again, this will depend on you, you have to decide.

    For me personally, learning the “jig picking pattern” of DUDDUD was worth the effort. I fall into it automatically it seems when picking a series of blues triplets as well as when picking jigs, and can play that pattern up to speed.

    If it is illogical to you, or you’re convinced it will hold you back, then it’s your prerogative to go another route. You won’t be alone in your thinking, I’ve heard others expressing similar opinions.
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    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Does this guitar speed picking technique work for mando?

    I'd have to agree that that down-down-up is not a particularly efficient pattern. If you can get the sound you want on a tune using more efficient picking, then I"m all for that! My comment was just to point out that some would claim there is a different sound to different picking patterns, at least in their own playing, thus a reason for some of these patterns, not necessarily related to picking efficiency.

    I'm all in favor of trying these things for yourself and deciding if it matters or not to you. Record the same tune with different picking patterns, listen to it and decide what you think.

    What worked for me in getting myself playing faster is to play a piece over and over with a metronome, slowing increasing the metronome speed, and trying to stay "loose", not tensing my muscles up. I don't mean to tell anybody what to do, that's just a tactic that worked for me.

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Does this guitar speed picking technique work for mando?

    A 6/8 jig has a rhythm analogous to two downbeats triplets. A 12/8 one has a rhythm analogous to 4 down beat triplets. DUDDUD puts a downstroke on each of the perceived downbeats, as does DUDDUDDUDDUD in 12/8. That’s the beauty and the logic of this odd pattern, and it can easily become second nature for many players.

    It is also possible to play simple alternating DUDUDU and emphisize the proper D and U as you describe, and you won’t be arrested for it if you choose to do that and learn to do it well.
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    Default Re: Does this guitar speed picking technique work for mando?

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    I've read that quoted in one or two instructor books, but I'm wondering how true is it, does it matter, and if it does, is it harder to change the sound than to play a pattern that's much easier directionally? Classical violinists used to be widely taught that any accented note must be played on a down bow. We now know you can play accents perfectly well on an up bow - in fact violists and some folk fiddlers have been doing it forever, even I can do it on fiddle. I expect some mandolinists can play identical down and up picked notes that most of us can't identify by listening - and I have one well know classical mando book where 'reversed' up/down picking is advocated in some circumstances. The implication in that book is that the result can sound as good as the 'conventional' down/up picking pattern but is a lot more convenient.
    Certainly "the rules" exist for a reason but there's nothing wrong with breaking them if the results are good. For instance, in the Howard Armstrong thing that I mentioned, you can play the notes in either standard alternate picking or in the Armstrong style but the end result sounds very different depending on which technique you use.

    As mentioned previously, I plan to learn to learn the solos that Matt taught using both techniques but, if I'm first learning a new fiddle tune I will almost always slow it down and map out the pick strokes so that the melody notes are occurring in the right place (foot up or down) and that the pick is going in the right direction. This makes things so much easier when increasing the tempo up to performance speed and also makes switching between melody playing and chordal accompaniment so much easier.

    I say all of the above as a long suffering guitarist who, like most other guitarists, had a hodge podge of lazy and bad flat picking habits (like always starting a melody with a down stroke regardless of where it occurred within the beat). If mandolin didn't really require a flat pick, maybe I'd still have most of those bad habits but, damn, I wish I adhered to proper flat picking technique sooner. I feel like I'm making up for lost time.

    To summarize: I strongly suggest learning "the rules" first. Later, you'll know where they need to be broken.

    -Scotty
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    Default Re: Does this guitar speed picking technique work for mando?

    If it gets you the sound you want then the technique is valid.

    But trying it as a kind of shortcut because you are having difficulty getting up to speed is not a good idea. Speed is an issue of getting mechanics perfect. Minimizing excess movement, staying in the plane of the strings, not digging in too deeply and coordination between the right and left hands are usually the culprits. Sometimes small changes in posture or how you hold the instrument have a big effect. It is a matter of degree. Tiny things that are not a problem when playing normal; speeds become a problem when you go faster. It comes down to time behind the box and focusing on those things. I am still not entirely there yet but have seen significant improvement over several years.

    It is also important to realize that a couple of sequential downstrokes that may be more economical for two or three notes can trip you up later in the line. Styles that use these techniques like shred or gypsy jazz are focused on arpeggios, essentially crosspicking off a more or less fixed set of chord shapes.

    Tony Rice is famous on guitar for using a bunch of different pick directions in pursuit of economy of motion. He also spent countless thousands of hours developing it and ended up with serious hand problems to the point where he could not play anymore. Roland White's book on Clarence White's guitar focuses a lot on DDU picking. It was a critical part of Clarence's sound.

    For most of us concentrating on more of less standard approaches and getting the mechanics perfected is the best use of our time. If you want to be Yngvie Malmsteen then leather pants and shred technique is the way to go. If you want to play Irish Trad or Bluegrass or something like that then a good foundation of alternate picking topped off with the standard jig technique for jigs and down up up for McReynold's crosspicking is the best place to spend your time. Once you have that worked through as best you can then trying other approaches may have value.

    Steve Kaufmann is famous for being an absolutist about strict alternate picking for guitar and mandolin, sometimes to the point of getting heated about it. He would say do your jigs with dududu. He also is a bluegrass player first and not an Irish Trad player. I am not that rigid. However I have seen so much benefit from focusing on more or less standard approaches on guitar and mandolin that it is hard to ignore. That is after several years looking for shortcuts and thinking "Hey, it might be easier if I do this or that". Till you have complete control over the mechanics, thinking about fiddling dynamics while using trick pick direction schemes is fruitless. It depends where you are at in your journey.

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    Default Re: Does this guitar speed picking technique work for mando?

    One final note: If you want to practice DUDDUD I’d suggest taking a good jig, maybe a very well known one like Irish Washerwoman and start slowly then bring it up to speed once you’re used to playing the pattern. Another one I really love is Jefferson and Liberty … I used both those when I was working on DUDDUD and it worked out well for me. I also am a proponent of using ho/po often when playing triplets, and it’s important to keep whichever pattern you use kept true when skipping picked notes to hammer or pull. Here is an example from four years ago when I was still quite a mandolin newbie and I was practicing to learn DUDDUD

    https://youtu.be/ycdiThpRRws

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    Default Re: Does this guitar speed picking technique work for mando?

    I would also add that Irish trad doesn't really follow time signatures perfectly. Meaning that a jig isn't 6/8 with six equally spaced 8th notes with the first and fourth accented. When ITM gets scored, it is with the understanding that this is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It works, but only if you know the idiomatic language of the music and can read between the literal and figurative lines. When this is in, say, a reel, it is often called swing and is added to varying degrees depending upon the tune/musician/region/instrument/etc... Jigs have their own "jig time" which is a bit separate from true 6/8. DUDDUD helps with that necessary timing difference between classical and folk music timing.
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    Default Re: Does this guitar speed picking technique work for mando?

    Thanks all for all that info!

    Nultylynch: my experience with jigs is that there are distinct regional styles. In some places they're played even, with an accent on the 1st beat of the bar and sometimes a smaller one on the 4th- 'Dadada Dadada'. In others they're syncopated, or dotted, or swung - 'Daadda Daadda'. I played with an Irish accordionist (Dublin area) who led a Scottish ceilidh dance band, and he played each jig note dead even like a machine gun. He said that's the way they were played where he came from. Another Scottish ceilidh dance band leader (originally from the Western Isles of Scotland) pulled the 'dotted' notes (1st of each group of three) out to swing them just as long as he could, and a third (originally from Aberdeenshire) played them even like the Irish player. In Scotland this seems to be an East/West style divide, is there the same thing in Ireland?

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    Default Re: Does this guitar speed picking technique work for mando?

    Quote Originally Posted by maxr View Post
    In Scotland this seems to be an East/West style divide, is there the same thing in Ireland?
    I've found that it certainly is regional. Many ceili players are a bit more machine gun playing...in order to drive the dancing. I've been influenced by players (who are influenced by Clare and Donnegal players) who seem to swing their jigs.
    Both my girls are serious sean-nos dancers. They often prefer jigs to swing. It gives them more space to have a conversation with the music while they're dancing.
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