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Thread: Octave Mandolin Fingering

  1. #1

    Default Octave Mandolin Fingering

    This will sound like a dumb question from a rank amateur, and it is!

    I completely understand and am comfortable with playing scales and melodies on regular mandolin, but my fingers just won’t stretch that far on the Octave.

    Can anyone recommend good fingering exercises for the OM that I can use to increase my reach and dexterity?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Fingering

    I have the book “The BIG BOOK of Octave Mandolin Chords: An In-Depth Exploration of G-D-A-E Tuning”. You can get it on Amazon. NFI
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    harvester of clams Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Fingering

    Playing FFCP scales from up the neck toward the nut is a simple way to work on increasing reach.
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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Fingering

    I have a 20.5 inch scale and that’s about the limit for me with mandolin-style fingering. Any longer and it’s guitar style.

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Fingering

    You may find as others have, that you need to adjust your mandolin two-fret-per-finger approach for playing octave mandolin. At least for first position where the fret stretch is widest. That's where the following comments are directed because I play mostly "fiddle tunes" (Irish/Scottish trad) where the majority of the action is in first position.

    I play a 22" scale Weber octave mandolin. I don't go all the way to guitar fingering, but I do modify my fingering to substitute the pinky for many notes where I'd normally use my 3rd finger. I have fairly large hands so that works for me, and keeps my hands static over first position for better speed and ability to use hammer-ons and pull-offs without shifting my hand around.

    I do still need to shift my whole hand to reach the B note on the E course in a fiddle tune with my pinky, but that's the only time I have to shift my hand out of first position on a fiddle tune, unless it's something like an O'Carolan piece that has more notes up the neck. It took a while to build up enough strength in my pinky for this approach, but that also has benefits for mandolin playing.

    It does feel a little weird to use a slightly modified mandolin fingering on OM and then go back to normal fingering on mandolin, but I eventually got used to it.

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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Fingering

    Matt Flinner's Octave mandolin class covered exactly that, I'm sure the Joe K Walsh octave course on Peghead does too, so probably worth the investment.

    I know I use the pinky a lot even in first position, you can always shift your left hand as needed, best to find preset left hand shifts that work for you, either fret based or
    dot based, or just eyeballing the back of the neck.
    I would start by moving first position chords like C or A up and back down the neck to get a feel for where your hand is comfortable.
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    Registered User j4music's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Fingering

    As other OM aficionados have mentioned, my pinky gets used a lot, much more than on mando or guitar.

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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Fingering

    My two octaves I play at present (both built by me) are 510mm and 520mm scales and I find that I generally play the 510mm using mandolin fingering (2 frets per finger) whereas on the 520mm scale I tend to revert to guitar fingering and the pinkie gets a lot more use. I have quite large hands and can get a good finger spread after many years of guitar playing including spells on bass guitar. Like foldedpath above my main playing is traditional so a lot of first position playing which requires the biggest finger spreads.
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Fingering

    In my experience, "tough" stretches on the small mandolin are "mission impossible" stretches on CBOMs.

    Examples: E to G# to A on the D string (Flower of Mandragore in Amaj) or G to Bf (D string 5th fret to A string 1st fret) (Anne Lacey's in Gm).

    My solution is to move the hand and/or shift positions. For each "difficult" tune it only takes a few tries to figure out an effective fingering pattern.

    For example, I tend to play the first bars of Anne Lacey's on the D string (hand rooted at the 3rd and 5th frets for easy F-G-A-Bf runs). As a bonus, several string crossings go away, a good thing for fast playing. Even for key of D and key of G tunes, even on the small mandolin, I now tend to shift positions and avoid string crossings.

    So far, I have not seen anybody teach this in a systematic way. (The already mentioned excellent Matt Flinner's octave mandolin class does touch on this. +1 recommended).

    If you watch cello players play "fiddle tunes", you see them shift positions all the time. I suspect they have a systematic way of doing it (and teaching it). Of course this is only important for fast playing. Unless you try the tune Exploding Bow (the reel, not the jig).

    Anne Lacey's (Gm) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVj1yWJhbS4
    Exploding Bow (Bm, 1st tune) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gw-TQ1dYWmk

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Fingering

    I should mention that although I play most Irish/Scottish trad tunes in first position, I do use a capo for a few tunes. Not so much for the easier fingering, but to allow the use of open strings and partial chords in certain keys and modes. For example:

    • Capo 2nd fret for "Farewell to Nigg" in B Minor.
    • Capo 3rd fret for "Galway Bay" in G Dorian, using a modified capo to let the bottom string remain in open G as a drone.
    • Capo 4th fret for "The J.B. Reel" in F# Dorian.

    These are slower tunes (at least the way I play them) arranged with more of a chord-melody approach than most of the tunes I play on OM that sit happily in first position as single line melodies.

  12. #11

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Fingering

    Quote Originally Posted by MandoBetsy View Post
    This will sound like a dumb question from a rank amateur, and it is!

    I completely understand and am comfortable with playing scales and melodies on regular mandolin, but my fingers just won’t stretch that far on the Octave.

    Can anyone recommend good fingering exercises for the OM that I can use to increase my reach and dexterity?
    If using mandolin fingerings on OM, you'll need to move your entire hand to enable the reach (similar to the position shifts in cello, et al). Scale exercises are excellent for building technique.

    Guitarists, cellists, bassists, have an advantage in that we can employ those fingerings on CBOM as well, enabling more fingering choices, as well as being accustomed to position shifts.

  13. #12
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Fingering

    One finger scale exercises are good too.

    Example. (And it’s personal).
    Stay on second string only, use first finger only and play C major scale (and arpeggios) slowly with metronome.
    Use fast moves from each note to the next.
    Make sure the finger comes down for each note after the hand has stopped moving while hand maintains pretty much the same shape -though the other fingers have shifted in the air to be hovering over their respective frets.

    Slow, slow, slow.

  14. #13
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Fingering

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    You may find as others have, that you need to adjust your mandolin two-fret-per-finger approach for playing octave mandolin.
    Definitely. The octave mandolin may just be chromatically fingered instrument. Certainly the mandocello seems to be.
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Fingering

    I think there may be a parallel here with violin and cello fingering. On violin/mandolin, typical fingering of e.g. a one octave G major scale (using the available open strings) would be 0 1 2 3 0 1 2 3. The same scale on cello/octave Mando could comfortably be fingered 0 1 3 4 0 1 3 4. Where you need a whole tone/two half step gap, the smaller instruments generally enable you to play it with the next free finger. The larger instruments often require you to skip a free finger to play this interval. So, as previous posts indicate, you find yourself playing 1 3 4 or 1 2 4 for comfort on the longer scales instead of 1 2 3 on the shorter instruments. Hope that makes sense.

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  17. #15

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Fingering

    Hello I am beginner. I just purchased a 20" Octave and looking for lessons. Can I use regular mandolin lessons with the shorter scale for fingerings etc or do i look for octave specific lessons which are few?

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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Octave Mandolin Fingering

    Check for videos explaining irish tenor banjo fingering. Same same.

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