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Thread: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

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    Default mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    I'm definitely a bluegrass mandolin player (as much as I can call myself a "mandolin player") but I attended an Old Time session recently. (too) Many fiddles and several banjos, one guitar and one mandolin (other than mine). The mandolin player (a regular) played individual notes, presumably the melody. (remember, too many fiddles and banjos, so who could hear a mandolin?).
    So I'm wondering: would playing chop chords on the off-beat be appreciated by Old Timers? I could ask this bunch if I ever went back, but what about general responses from Old Timers? I am curious, yellow....

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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    I wouldn’t think that many OT devotees would want much chop in the accompaniment, though there are adventurers among them. Listen to a bunch of OT recordings to hear what’s characteristic of mandolin in OT music.
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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    Typically the mandolin plays the melody along with the fiddles in Old Time.

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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    No, chop chords are NOT appreciated in an OT jam. Play the melody. Maybe an octave below the fiddles when possible (always possible on my 10 string 'dola).

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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    Yeah, OldTime is normally unison melody on mandolin with the fiddles and banjos, similar to Irish/Scottish traditional music (and actually a gateway drug into that music). There is enough of the Guitar Army present in most OldTime jams to provide chordal backup.
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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    I was at a session one time where a well respected guy turned up with a little mandola-length guitar tuned DADGAD (or maybe GDGCDG).
    He sat down, and with a grand gesture lifted the end of a cable to the light to carefully inspect it. Then he carefully plugged it into his backpack that was hidden under the table.
    There was a whole herd of frisky fiddlers there, snorting and sniffing, and I heard later that one of them had strayed into jazz at the previous session.
    So with the electric fence, so to speak, in place I could see that the other instrumentalists were alert to a possible stampede.

    He asked if anyone liked jazz… no?
    Then he played really well, sparingly with muffled bass double-stops like Bluegrass backup but without the sevenths, and mostly on the 1 and 3 beats.
    He shut the thing off about a third of the way through the evening.

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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    Jamming, in the strictest sense on a melody repetitively is just not my thing. For those that love the groove well and good. The other side of that coin being if you want to learn a bunch of fiddle tunes go listen and play along with each one eight or ten times. You will have gotten a good grip on those tunes then. R/
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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    In my younger musical days there was a tall strongly-built wall between old time and Bluegrass and few players crossed the line. However the lines have become more blurred in more recent years and in know some excellent musicians who play in both genres. I know at least two banjo players including one ex-Bluegrass Boy who transitioned to also play claw hammer. And there is a movement in the Berklee crowd to include elements of old time into their playing largely influenced by musicians Dr like Bruce Molsky.

    As far as mandolin in old time jams there is usually no problem but like in any jam in any genre it is always good to sit back and observe how things go and even better to inquire. I ran and old time jam for over 13 years and primarily kept it loose inviting all levels of players and acoustic instruments. I did bring my National RM-1 one time and was able to compete with the fiddles but I don’t think I sound be doing that too any times. OTOH except in smaller sessions I find it difficult to play mandolin at a large session. Besides I am much deeper into fiddle these days.

    As for the chop, I don’t generally do that anyway though I might play counter melodies, harmonies, and double stops. Come to think of it at our last jam we had a excellent mandolin-banjoist who it right in.
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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    Heck I play melody, countermelodies, chords strummed, chopped, arpeggios, whatever adds to the music. I met Kenny Hall in the late 60's or early 70's and that got me liking old time mandolin. Add what you like to the music. Fiddle tunes are fun, but a mandolin will also shine on songs and waltzes are a favorite to play IMHO.

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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    I've started going to a few "BG" jams again when I have a free evening, and honestly the music is all over the map: BG, OT, country, gospel, more contemporary, polka-ish... and the format is more "performance" than jam. Usually if the bass player can hit the one and three to make it sound a little like BG, it might change the flavor of the song but nobody complains. I've observed a whole interesting set of dynamics between the accomplished musicians and the novices, with a kind of house band that everyone defers to. Most of the time it works, but it can be tough for a mandolin player to rise above the noise. I started standing in the back and throwing in a discreet lick during a quiet passage that turned a few heads. Eventually I get waved up to take a break.
    The point being, I'm just not seeing a lot of rules, other than trying not to step on anyone else, being respectful, and having fun.
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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    I've recently been listening to a lot of The Foghorn String Band, which was Caleb Clauder and Reeb Willm's group a few years back, and they are definitely an OT group. Caleb plays a sort of modified chop or strum with that group; I've heard it referred to as a "Clawhammer Mandolin" .... look here https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/c...uder-Interview ... he also plays a lot of melody along with the fiddle player. They are an awesome group and I think Caleb's style would be a great thing to emulate walking into an OT jam.

    I personally don't see any problem playing a chop in an Old Time setting, so long as its not a heavy duty BARK style of chop. It can add rhythm and chord to a tune IMO, but I suppose in the end it's a matter of what's accepted or preferred by the folks who frequent the session.
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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    IMO I think it depends very much on who you're playing with. For a lot of players, as long as you're grooving to the OT repertoire, they don't care about the instrumentation or the specific part you're playing on that instrument. For example, at this past Fiddle Hell, Judy Hyman and Jeff Claus of the The Horseflies were leading an OT jam. Jeff Claus was playing Banjo Uke. He was doing a very percussive, mandolin-chop-like thing. It sounded good, he knew the tunes (obviously), he knew how to make it sound good.. so no one cared :-).

    I've been told there are players who are much more picky. My personal take is that "traditional OT" music of today actually sounds nothing like the OT music of past, so I think the traditionalists are out of place trying to prevent certain instruments or ways of playing from being included. If we consistently applied this standard of preservation, we wouldn't have assigned chords to the songs we now play and we wouldn't have let Guitars and Bass enter the genre.

    So I'd say:
    * Learn the tunes. Whether that be the chords, the melody, or both.
    * Learn how to groove. That means having good timing and understanding where the pocket is. OT is more laid than bluegrass back wrt to the beat.
    * Whatever you choose to play, just make sure it doesn't clash with what other players are doing.

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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    I do not have a vast repertoire of tunes, but love fiddle&banjo/old time music. I have successfully integrated myself/mandolin into OT sessions playing rhythm, much as described above about Caleb Klauder...not too loud or ring-y as to be redundant with the guitar, and definitely no "bluegrass chop", but with a measured emphasis on the backbeat. Naturally, on tunes I know, I play the melody, but I tremendously enjoy being in the rhythm section in every type of music I play, as much as enjoy being in on the melodic.
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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    Thanks for all the replies, which pretty much confirm my suspicions. I've often passed this OT group playing and liked what I heard, but much prefer the role of the mandolin in BG. When I first started playing mandolin, I played a lot in Celtic sessions, and again, while I liked the music, I didn't like the role of the mandolin. If I mastered triplets and cuts and every other Celtic ornament, I could only hear them when I was at home by myself! So guess I'm sticking with BG (or maybe a bit of jazz on my own time . Thanks again.

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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    I know at least two banjo players including one ex-Bluegrass Boy who transitioned to also play claw hammer. And there is a movement in the Berklee crowd to include elements of old time into their playing largely influenced by musicians Dr like Bruce Molsky.

    .
    I was delighted to be introduced to Steve Arkin (whom I presume you reference above) at a music party a coupla years back, and pestered him mercilessly with questions about his BG Boy days, which he good-naturedly allowed. Some bluegrass was starting up and I asked if he wanted to pick, and he, a little distractedly said "Yes, but first..." and pointed to the door leading from the backyard to the house we were at. I presumed he was indicating the bathroom, but he was gone... Later, I went inside and found him DEEP into a session with a coupla fiddlers, him frailing away! We did eventually pick some bluegrass on a coupla occasions and, sadly, it was not long after that I heard of his passing... And certainly, Molsky's alluring charm has resulted in the conversion of many a bluegrasser. There's not a young Berklee-type I know that doesn't have an open back banjo or isn't choking up their bow-grip.
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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    I've mainly played fiddle at all of the OT sessions I've been to over the years, but occasionally will play some tunes on mando. I don't chop, but I've found that veering of strictly playing the melody notes is quite welcome as long as it fits the groove. I will play a lot of rhythmic elements, still adhering to the melody. Of course fiddlers do this as well. Playing melody notes only isn't a line in the sand with OT, as it is with Irish grad for example. But, it should "fit". Poor explanation really but hopefully you get the idea. It's not so much that chopping sounds "bad" per se, but it does alter the groove of OT to the extent that (IMO) that it becomes something else, which isn't really what OT players want. Much like soloing over another's break messes up the BG vibe. Personally, I find it more fun to keep my BG playing style confined to BG sessions and vice versa.

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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    No matter what I do or how much I study I feel like a bull in a china shop at many old time jams. At one jam a "wise elder" told me that mandolins simply have no place in the genre. Whatcha gonna do. Step one is finding a group with an open mind.
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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amanda Gregg View Post
    No matter what I do or how much I study I feel like a bull in a china shop at many old time jams. At one jam a "wise elder" told me that mandolins simply have no place in the genre. Whatcha gonna do. Step one is finding a group with an open mind.
    Now, that's "high school girl" behavior, and rude. Music is supposed to be inclusive, not exclusive. We have a nearby jam, where as long as you can play in tune and in time, you are welcome. We play mostly old time, fiddle tunes, but whatever kind of music you want to play, and you can lead the tune or the song, we will play along. But the rule for everyone is- "be nice."

    The one thing that I will say is that if you have ten folks playing chords and two playing melody, it drowns the melody line out, so, I can see where playing chords on mandolin might create some cacophony. If I don't know a tune I will try and figure out the melody line as the others play it. Generally by the fourth time around I've got it down pretty well.
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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amanda Gregg View Post
    At one jam a "wise elder" told me that mandolins simply have no place in the genre. Whatcha gonna do.
    I saw a copy of a copy of an old newspaper clipping, complaining about the invasion of fretted instruments (guitars) into traditional music. (It was taken as an attempt to apply "German" discipline as to what are and are not notes you should play.)

    It has always been this way, its almost in the name "traditional" music, not "leading edge innovative" music. I don't think anyone longs for the days of fiddle and fretless banjo, but sometimes I would not be surprised LOL.

    By the way, if you have ever heard a duet of fiddle and fretless banjo, you are in for one gigantic treat. I am serious, and while it doesn't justify segregation, the sound is without a doubt something you would feel protective of. The fretless banjo supplying everything the fiddle lacks, and the fiddle doing what a banjo can't, it really is, as once described to me, the perfect little old time machine. "And ask yourself as you step up, what do you think you are going to improve with your mandolin?"

    Old Time is, it seems to me, is more about the music itself, and trying to evoke what is in the tune, as opposed to showing your chops. To get all zen about it, it is to lose your "self" in the ensemble, and let the magic of the tune drive itself.

    I think, in most cases, a mandolinner respectful of the genre and the traditions it contains, will be made welcome. One cannot go wrong being the bunny, with large ears and a tiny mouth, versus the gator, with huge mouth and tiny ears.

    I have found that I sometimes get easier access to an old time jam with a bowl back mandolin, because it immediately assuages fears that "this stranger is gonna bluegrass all over the tune.".
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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I saw a copy of a copy of an old newspaper clipping, complaining about the invasion of fretted instruments (guitars) into traditional music. (It was taken as an attempt to apply "German" discipline as to what are and are not notes you should play.)

    It has always been this way, its almost in the name "traditional" music, not "leading edge innovative" music. I don't think anyone longs for the days of fiddle and fretless banjo, but sometimes I would not be surprised LOL.

    By the way, if you have ever heard a duet of fiddle and fretless banjo, you are in for one gigantic treat. I am serious, and while it doesn't justify segregation, the sound is without a doubt something you would feel protective of. The fretless banjo supplying everything the fiddle lacks, and the fiddle doing what a banjo can't, it really is, as once described to me, the perfect little old time machine. "And ask yourself as you step up, what do you think you are going to improve with your mandolin?"

    Old Time is, it seems to me, is more about the music itself, and trying to evoke what is in the tune, as opposed to showing your chops. To get all zen about it, it is to lose your "self" in the ensemble, and let the magic of the tune drive itself.

    I think, in most cases, a mandolinner respectful of the genre and the traditions it contains, will be made welcome. One cannot go wrong being the bunny, with large ears and a tiny mouth, versus the gator, with huge mouth and tiny ears.

    I have found that I sometimes get easier access to an old time jam with a bowl back mandolin, because it immediately assuages fears that "this stranger is gonna bluegrass all over the tune.".
    But have you heard my fretless mandolin?

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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by RickPick View Post
    But have you heard my fretless mandolin?
    Funny.
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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amanda Gregg View Post
    No matter what I do or how much I study I feel like a bull in a china shop at many old time jams. At one jam a "wise elder" told me that mandolins simply have no place in the genre. Whatcha gonna do. Step one is finding a group with an open mind.
    Perhaps you should share some of the old pictures of fellas mandolins playing with folks playing fiddles and banjos. That's a pretty bold statement of him to make.

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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    Some of you might enjoy reading the old time mandolin article I wrote for the Old Time Herald a few years ago. It's up on the mandolincafe here:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...ld-Time-Herald

    I play a lot of old time. One of the nice things about mandolin in old time is that the rules are not carved in stone. Mostly I play the melody but in a small jam that can become tiresome for others so I play rhythm about half the time. I tend to use a more constant, ukulele-style stroke. If I use a chop shape I keep my fingers down rather than actually giving it a chop sound. And sometimes,Š la Carl Jones (who I've been in quite a few jams with over the years), I'll embellish with two finger harmony/chord shapes. Every jam I go to I come away with the names of three or four tunes I don't know to learn. It took me a couple of years of learning enough tunes to really start to enjoy it. I learn from listening to fiddle versions. It's important to fit/blend in with others, something bluegrassers can have a hard time learning. It's not about standing out. Very different from bluegrass, which I also play, but just as enjoyable in it's way and more communal. Every so often one really can reach a feeling of blissful euphoria, something that for me never happens in bluegrass.
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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    Once attended a jam in Florida. They announced at the beginning we have only two rules.
    1. Name the tune and the key you are starting.
    2. Do not play HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN or WAGON WHEEL.

    When they saw my mandolin they quickly added another rule, "No chop chords if it is not Bluegrass."

    Jam turned out to be mostly classic rock and Folk with a smattering of Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country.
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    Default Re: mandolin etiquette at Old Time sessions?

    So---we now have OT snobs? I have organized open door jams--I have never been asked to minimize my participation or refine jams because of the playing of chop chords. Music is supposed to bring folks together. If the OP is getting negative feedback--it is time to seek another more liberal group. I play chop on the 2 and 4 and sing harmony. I get positive feedback and mando players who want to take breaks have told me that they appreciate my contribution because that leaves more breaks/solos for them. We jam twice a month and play Bluegrass/Newgrass/Folk/Gospel/Americana/Blues/Rock and OT.

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