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Thread: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

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    Default Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    I have been with Mandolin for about 6 months, I would like to learn to play more cleanly and smoothly. Anyone have suggestions for learning, better technique?

  2. #2
    harvester of clams Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Practice more cleanly and smoothly. That typically means slower. Pay attention to your dynamics, playing more quietly can help that.
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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    I transitioned to the mandolin from the violin more than five years ago. For me, playing slower, with greater care, helped. I primarily play melodies and I initially found that approaching my pick like a violin bow really improved my sound. For instance, I put a lot of time into how I held my pick, what angle I approached the courses and I slid across the strings instead of attacking them. The advice about watching your dynamics will also help. I also took it easy with my left hand. Rushing ahead of your fingers sounds sloppy. Take your time to get your fingers in the right place every time. Speed comes later when your fingers know where to land. I found that slow and patient really helped me. Nowadays, I have much better command of the instrument, and still most of my practice time is relatively quiet, very deliberate and gentle. The mandolin is a great instrument. I wish you great success!
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    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Scales and scales and scales and scales.

    Practice right hand technique on open strings, alternate picking four notes per string up and down the courses until you can do it without looking. Then practice your dynamics, regular one cycle, louder the next cycle, softer the next, until you can pick consistently with your intended dynamics every time, all without looking.

    Then practice your scales. Closed major scale, because that exercises your pinky. Do it over and over until you can hit the sweet spot every time without looking at either hand.

    Then run the scales experimenting with how lightly you can finger the notes and still get good tone.

    Slow and clean is better than fast and sloppy.

    Then do your dynamics exercises with the lightly fingered notes until you can lightly finger the notes with a full range of dynamics. Without looking at your hands.

    Then break out your metronome. I'll tell you in advance, with the metronome clicking away both your hands will immediately forget everything they have ever learned. Set the metronome to Stupid Slow, and start all these exercised all over again with the metronome clicking away until you can do them all in perfect time with the metronome and without looking at your hands. THEN you can start clicking up the tempo.

    I'll tell you another thing: What took me ten minutes to write and you 30 seconds to read takes about a YEAR to make real on the fretboard. And you won't be anywhere near Bill Monroe speed after ONLY ONE year.

    Some one else on the forum said it best - In order to sound like you've been playing mandolin for a decade takes you about ten years of daily practice.
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    Registered User Pete Martin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Practice SLOWLY with a metronome. Do this over a few months. When you see how much this benefits you, it will become a regular part of your practice.
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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Lots of good advice above.
    If you can stand this, try setting your metronome so that you hear two or even four clicks or drumbeats for every time you have to play a very slow eighth note in a scale. That way you won't be surprised later after each quarter note and have a sort of juddering movement where are you regain focus.

    Avoid at all costs the urge to speed up when you reach part of the tune that you know very well. Stay in the groove.

    Left and right hand coordination are important. Try using an electric mandolin and do exercises of fret hand tapping. Then do isolated pick hand exercises, fret hand just damps the strings.

    Gospel Group singing lessons where you have to move your whole body.
    Rock 'n' roll dance lessons.

    Metronome almost all the time, and always play with feeling.
    Foot tapping feeling.

    Strict Pick direction and while practising scales always play at least one note heavier than the others in each group of four notes, often on the first or the third beats per measure.
    example measure: 1234 5678. This will help you to think or rather feel in a groups-of-four rhythm.
    Have fun!
    Last edited by Simon DS; Nov-20-2022 at 5:18am.

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    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    I had a friend who, God help us all, was learning banjo. He had a beginners book, probably a Mel Bay thing. On page 8, a box at the bottom said:

    How do you get that clean, fast sound?
    Answer: Page 24.

    A box at the bottom of 24 said:

    Practice!
    Gibson A-Junior snakehead (Keep on pluckin'!)

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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Close your eyes

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    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Quote Originally Posted by Joed View Post
    Close your eyes
    I stare at the ceiling while I play.

    Mary Spender, a guitar player/singer/songwriter/Youtuber blogger, practices her guitar playing in a dark room with the lights off & the door closed so she CAN'T cheat & look at her hands no matter how badly she's tempted.
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    And still saving my nickles & dimes & bottle caps & breakfast cereal box tops for my lifetime mandolin.

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    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Quote Originally Posted by Simon DS View Post
    Foot tapping feeling.
    ALWAYS tap your foot while you play.

    That should be the first line in every method book.
    Eastman MD-514 (F body, Sitka & maple, oval hole)
    Kentucky KM-250 (A body, spruce & maple, f holes)

    And still saving my nickles & dimes & bottle caps & breakfast cereal box tops for my lifetime mandolin.

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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Thanks for the great responses, they all make sense and I off to try them all

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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    To learn to play fast, practice slowly.

    Many years ago I took classical guitar lessons and practicing slowly was held to be essential. A vital detail that’s usually left out of the “practice slowly” advice is that even if the tempo is slow, your movements should be made quickly. The goal is to snap quickly and cleanly from note to note, whatever you’re playing (scales, arpeggios, etudes, tunes, et al.). To begin with, slow tempo gives you more time to make the move so move slowly and accurately from note to note.

    Once you can play it cleanly at slow tempo you’re ready to up the tempo a bit, using the same snappy note-to-note movement. Slow tempo, quick and clean movement.
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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    whatever you do, DO NOT tap your foot. use a metronome instead. more accurate and does not disturb your downstairs neighbors.

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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    I think it’s important to work on one thing at a time. What really helped me was playing a lot of right hand exercises, with a metronome.

    The hardest thing about mandolin, for me anyway, is playing up and down strokes evenly. I know that seems obvious, but I believe it’s the biggest obstacle to playing cleanly.


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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    I have spent a long time trying to pick cleanly. When I first started playing, many years ago, I wanted to learn lots of tunes and play them fast. But, then I realized everything I was playing sounded sloppy. So, as painful as it was, I slowed way down and concentrated on just a couple of fiddle tunes to work out my tone - and I played basically just those tunes for months until I got so I could play them with the tone I was looking for. Some practice sessions, I would just work on a single phrase, over and over and over. Then i branched out and started learning more tunes and breaks for the songs in my band. I still don't play at lightning speed, but I am happy with the tone I am getting, a situation I would rather have than playing fast and sloppy. YMMV - good luck!

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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Quote Originally Posted by lowtone2 View Post
    I think itís important to work on one thing at a time.
    Excellent point. Thereís a method called Principles of Rotating Attention (PORA). Bass teacher Ariane Cap espouses a form of this.

    Select a part of a song (a couple measures). Something familiar is good.
    Pick just three technique items you feel you need to work on. e.g. Choose from these: How you hold the pick; RH position; keeping your LH fingers close to the fretboard; how hard you press the strings; consistency of tempo; how you wear or hold the mandolin; posture; playing relaxed; et al.
    At a slow, relaxed tempo play the two measures three or four times, focusing only on the first thing that needs work, then repeat the two measures, focusing on the second thing, and finally on the third thing, focusing as before. Do this a few times focusing on one thing at a time.
    Now pause for a few seconds and evaluate how you did.
    Repeat the exercise up to another four times, evaluating each time.

    Stick to the same three focus items during each session. You can do this with an etude or scale or anything short and musical. Donít overdo it by going at it too long. Five to ten minutes daily will let you improve much faster than a weekly marathon.
    Hereís a link to the PORA page on Ariís site: https://arisbassblog.com/pora-for-you/

    HTH
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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    One thing that helped with clean sound almost more than any other for me was to make sure each note rings into the next note following it. Do not lift your finger till the next note is played. My guitar teacher first clued me into this. He told about one of his students who did not understand why his playing did not sound like Doc Watson's. The student recorded himself. He slowed his recording way down and a couple recordings of Doc. He heard little gaps between the notes when he played while Doc's all rang into the next note.

    The other big gain for me was paying close, close attention to left hand finger placement. The fingers should be just behind the fret, not on it and not halfway between. If they are on the fret that is a prime cause of buzzes and rattles. If they are in the middle it will pull notes slightly out of tune.

    One final one is extremely light touch. You should be pressing hard enough to make the note sound cleanly with no buzzes but not any more than that. It takes less pressure to make a clean note than most people realize. More pressure will pull things out of tune and make it harder for you to execute clean movements between notes.

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    bon vivant jaycat's Avatar
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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Quote Originally Posted by CarlM View Post
    He told about one of his students who did not understand why his playing did not sound like Doc Watson's.
    I've been wondering about this myself.
    "The paths of experimentation twist and turn through mountains of miscalculations, and often lose themselves in error and darkness!"
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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    There's lots of good advice here which I've heard often before on a number of instruments - slow it down, listen, play with a metronome, etc. General opinion seems that this saves you a lot of time in the long run, however that's not my personal experience. Some individuals (like me) seem to learn in light bulb flashes rather than a (more general?) smooth upward trajectory. What works for me on any new instrument seems to be initially banging away till I get some tunes down, THEN taking it apart, slowing it down, tidying it up, and bringing it back to speed. Same with technique items I find hard - I seem to progress faster by trying to play things I really can't do at first, then achieving them sloppily, then cleaning them up. I'm not suggesting this as a general scheme, just it seems to work for me. Anyone else find this works for them?

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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    I’m with you, maxr… right or wrong, my music journey is more about learning songs and making music than “learning to play the mandolin”. Techniques only make sense to me in context. So I’m more prone to do as you say, bang through the song and then go back and work on fixing the rough spots, and also go back to add embellishments or ornaments as my ear/brain decides they are missing in various places. I’m sure I’m doing it wrong but also sure I’m having fun and making good progress, even though at some point I’ll probably have to spend more time fixing bad habits.

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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    A lot of good advice here! I will add my 2 cents worth.
    I am not a mandolin player. I pick guitar but I have found that I am much smoother when I am playing looser.
    When my right hand and forearm etc begins to tighten up I find that I sound choppier.

    Just a thought.

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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Playing softer and playing on the tips of my fretting hand fingers and, of course, practicing slowly have all helped me.

    Another thing about practicing I believe it takes a while to learn -- and seems obvious -- is to consciously, verbally, identify the specific trouble or mistake, and note which finger, fret, etc. needs correcting. Before learning to do that, I'd just repeat the spot over and over -- or, worse, just start over from the beginning and inevitably make the same mistake on the next ten repeats.

    So, now I say to myself something like; "ring finger is flubbing on third-string "G" and needs to come down straight on the fingertip". I'd isolate that and practice it slowly until I could execute it well. After having done that, when I take it from the top, I am more likely to remember the correction and avoid the flub. And so on for the many other imperfections in my playing of any of several instruments.
    Last edited by rwhitney; Dec-22-2022 at 4:22am.

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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan in NH View Post
    ALWAYS tap your foot while you play.

    That should be the first line in every method book.
    Not to be contrarian, but I tapped my foot while playing for like 50 years until watching an interview with Sarah Jarosz, whose musicianship I greatly admire, said she was told to not tap her foot and just feel the rhythm. Since following her lead, my playing has become more expressive, musical and, surprisingly, even more rhythmically consistent. I now regard tapping the foot to be more of a distraction than a rhythmic aid. Of course, YMMV.

    I do still play occasionally with a metronome or click track when recording, I hasten to add.

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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Thanks to the OP and all the responders for this great thread. I am currently rehabbing from a moderate severity stroke suffered last month. I initially thought I would nver play again. I have been doing most of the above and I am encouraged by the results, I do still have a way to go, though. BTW, my occupational therapy guy strongly encourages me along the same lines ( he plays bass and has worked with real musicians).
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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Quote Originally Posted by HonketyHank View Post
    Thanks to the OP and all the responders for this great thread. I am currently rehabbing from a moderate severity stroke suffered last month. I initially thought I would nver play again. I have been doing most of the above and I am encouraged by the results, I do still have a way to go, though. BTW, my occupational therapy guy strongly encourages me along the same lines ( he plays bass and has worked with real musicians).
    Sorry to hear that. Hope it gets better for you. Have a Merry Christmas.

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