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Thread: Mando Back up for Solo Singing

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    Do any of you use your mandolin as the back up for your singing instead of a guitar?

    Just curious. #I bet Don Stiernberg wouldn't be thwarted from doing this. His incredible style and easy, entertaining confidence makes him a joy to watch and listento. #I have heard several songs on his albums and Kaufman Kamp Koncert albums with his wonderful renditions of jazz standards usually with beautiful S.K. guitar work included. #These are a joy to listen to. He is really funny to see in person. Don't miss the chance. ...

    So..... the question remains. Would you use..or have you.. or have you heard... the mandolin used sucessfully as the sole back up? #THanks@!!
    Pat




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    Yes, I do. Works great. Audiences like it. Very different from guitar. I do many songs that I used to do on guitar. More expressive, especially on the instrumental lead parts.

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    I've only been playing and singing mostly BG tunes for about a year, and I always revert back to guitar when I can. BUT this weekend myself on guitar and a guy on bass found a quiet corner at a jam, sang about 10-15 tunes back to back. It was amazing how much easier the bass made the singing come together.
    Your post makes me wonder how the mando and bass would have done.
    2001 Flatiron F5

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    I've only been playing and singing mostly BG tunes for about a year, and I always revert back to guitar when I can. BUT this weekend myself on guitar and a guy on bass found a quiet corner at a jam, sang about 10-15 tunes back to back. It was amazing how much easier the bass made the singing come together.
    Your post makes me wonder how the mando and bass would have done.
    2001 Flatiron F5

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    Registered User 8ch(pl)'s Avatar
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    I normally do this. My musical ability is more from my voice than my mandolin playing. I have learned scads of chord so I can perform in most keys. i do not play guitar, in fact I refuse to.

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    Registered User Dan Adams's Avatar
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    Orrin Starr uses mandolin as a back-up and sings solo. #He also gives workshops that he covers his technique. #He fills in quite nicely with the mandolin.

    Pick and click, Dan



    Play em like you know em!

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    Registered User Tom C's Avatar
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    Sam Bush does pretty good with tunes like Sittin on Top of the World and Cross Roads.

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    Wo wow Wow! # great info!!!
    Well, mnormand, I have played bass mando sets in private and one on stage with a beginner. #We were waiting for a second student band to come up there and join us after a short set. #Sooooo I looked over at Kathy and asked What do you know... "Salt Creek..... Slowly,,,,," Boy did that sound neat! #It changed the song... so much seasoned players asked What was that(in a good way hahah)? #The one guy said, "I knew it but it drove me nuts cuz I could not figure out what it was.."
    Now singing is different. #So DO we have any albums to possibly buy for good examples? #like Orrin or Sam?




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    this was kinda trendy in the late 18th c. I don't know how common it was for mandolinists to accompany themselves singing (I suspect not too uncommon), but it certainly was common for a sole mandolin to accompany singers. Mozart himself wrote two songs for mandolin accompaniment; I play these with some frequency. A section of the Denis and Leone methods were committed to song accompaniment. In a modern classical/art-music vein, Terry Pender wrote a song trilogy, "Three Places I've Never Been," as did Neil Gladd, "Three Songs After Thomas Campion." I haven't tried to play them, but I really like the sound of Neil's songs.

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    Registered User ira's Avatar
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    i too would love to hear- if anyone knows of any jazz, blues, folk, bg, etc... recordings/downloads of someone who is just playin mando and singing as a solo enterprise. i've thought about doing a few songs this way, but wasn't sure what it would sound like.

    please throw out some recorded tunes for us to explore if you know em.

    thanks,
    ira

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    Ry Cooder starts out doing Billy The Kid (from Into The Purple Valley) with just mandolin then guitar is added.
    Cabin Fever String Band

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    I do a few songs, coverted over from guitar chords. Some slow, some just using chop chords. Am trying some finger picking stuff, but it is going slow. I like to slowly trill quarter and /or 8th notes on a 5th in jams on some songs to help certain harmony singers stay on course.

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    I just did a solo set at an outdoor event. I played "I'll Fly Away" with just vocal and mando. I wasn't sure how it would turn out. I guess I still don't know how it did turn out, but,what the heck, I did it anyway.

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    Registered User ira's Avatar
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    bgboy- did you change anything about the way you play the song to do it solo?

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    Well, I didn't really change anything specifically. I just recently started playing this song with my partner on guitar. I pretty much played the same thing I play when accompanied by guitar, but I probably had to fill in the holes a bit more. Does that make sense? In other words, what I play is not set in stone. I just respond to what I think the song needs. When just mando and vocal, the mando needed to do a bit more work.

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    Registered User ira's Avatar
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    hey folks- don't let this topic die. it is fascinating, and one that i have wondered about (and i'm sure others have as well), for a while. is the mando a viable instrument for a folkie or someone else to get up to a mic and just sing along and play their little axe? stories? other performers/recordings/live shows you've seen?

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    ira,pattro etc.
    Not the hottest topic of the month, but, yes, of interest.
    Just some more info for you as means of encouragement.
    I keep a repetoire of about 100 songs for solo. Is ever evolving/changing as I add and subtract as I evolve. I do about half these on the mandolin at this point. Sometimes I keep the whole gig just mandolin.
    (Would do more songs, but as I play bands, I must fill my head with hundreds of other songs so I try to keep my solo act manageable.)
    What are my preferred solo numbers? Carter Family to Del McCourey, with some focus on early Chet's Nashville productions and Buddy/Waylon era TX., with excursions into really old (traditional) material, hooky pop standards of the last 100 years, and originals.
    The mandolin has (obviously) a different voicing, and the phrasing therefore is different. That often is the determining factor on my instrument choice. I will go the mile to arrange for mandolin where I can, but for example, I (at the moment) still prefer 6 strings for 'Crazy' and 'Who's Sorry Now?'.
    If you're hesitating, don't. Dive in, adapt and let 'er rip. Think Tim O'Brien, or Welsh/Rawlings and revel in the opportunity to take chances.
    Feel free to contact me with other questions.
    And above all, sharpen your improv skills, as I find this very helpful when called upon to deliver the goods on mandolin - either on a solo gig or in a group situation. And I don't mean noodling. I DO mean develop your own style and get comfortable with it. That's what's gonna make it or break it.

    rasa

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    Registered User ira's Avatar
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    rasa, thanks for jumping in. though i'm generally not the worried type (started playing out just 5 mos after starting mando and never played a string instrument in my life before)., but for some reason, i'm worried that the mando won't fill the background for the singing without an accompanying instrument.

    do you actually do solos when you solo? in other words, if just your voice and a mando, do you take the break in the song? wow! any recordings that you've done (just your own or pro recording)?. i'd love to hear them.

    thanks again.

    peace,
    ira

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    Below is a long response post to the co-mando list in 2002 about a Chicago area mandolin player who does a solo gig on the streets on a regular basis. #The bracketed comments are someone's initial comments about Gary's playing and then Gary's comments are interspersed. #He has some valuable observations about playing mandolin solo and keeping it interesting.

    MDW

    ____

    Hi Gary,


    > As I sat on a bench (doing the male wait while my wife and 3 daughters
    > spend all my money sit there and wait routine) on the south side of
    > the old Water Tower on Michigan Ave in Chicago I hear a
    > mandolin....played through a set of speakers.....hmm that sound like
    > Wheel Hoss....,it is!! a stylistic version played with a non bluegrass
    > influence...but it's Wheel Hoss alright.....then came Bonapart's
    > Retreat and Norwegan (SP?)Wood and a few other varied tunes.


    Though I know 90% of the tunes at BG festival jams,
    I've never once considered myself a true bluegrass
    musician. Truth of the matter is there are myriads of
    that have shaped my choice of notes.

    Bluegrass though has some of the nicest people that
    play & follow it. I love the festivals and consider many
    there to be my closest friends. I love to pick with them
    but I really have to concentrate to stick to the format &
    make the jam as a whole sound better. BG hasn't been
    a great "teacher" for me but essence of the tunes have
    so much soul they're part of my musical psyche.

    I've made it a conscious effort to absolutely not sound
    like someone else on any tune. Not that cloning
    someone's lick(s) is wrong in any manner whatsoever
    but the reason their lick is so familiar is they had a
    unique sound and that is what people respect them for.
    For better or worse, my licks are my own & except back
    in the mid-later 70's when I slowed down tapes of Doc
    Watson to even hear the notes he was playing, I've
    never learned anyones licks note for note. Since I can't
    (won't) learn to read standard notation or use tab, I
    have never learned tunes this way.

    What I play is the way I think the tune should sound
    were I to have written it.


    > I finally investigated and there sat a fellow on the west side of the
    > building....a chair...an umbrella, a sound system and a big plywood
    > box on wheels....a street musician by the name of Gary Smith...playing
    > his Dawg model Kentucky....lives in Indiana and drives in to the city
    > each day and makes a living playing.....good musician....good skills
    > and a real nice fellow.


    Heh, you're probably too kind but thanks. There are
    several women I can think of who would challenge that
    last part...


    > I contributed to his pot and say back and listened some more.....not
    > many people even looked and even fewer knew what instrument he was
    > playing but with the thousands walking by, every once in a while
    > someone would stop and put some money in or comment or ask a
    > question....interesting life ...interesting setting.....


    It's funny but I get hundreds of positive comments every
    time I play from people who listen to the music but then
    pass on by. Seems like people don't have the idea that
    tipping a musician who is obviously out there to make
    money & who they are impressed by, is the proper thing
    to do.

    There was a moslem family that came by the same day
    Gary stopped by. All were middle eastern; the women
    wore the hajib & the men the familiar cotton robes. They
    stopped to listen for 2-3 minutes & then they crowded
    around the front where I had my new CD out on display
    (America The Beautiful). The father asked me to play
    America the Beautiful & when I did they all applauded
    and said thank you. They left no tip but the request and
    applause was far more welcome than any tip they might
    have left.

    It is an interesting life but it doesn't pay well.


    > His mandolin style is a very flowing and lyrical style ...a lot of up
    > and down strokes and no down picking but it all flowed nicely and made
    > for great listening.....


    Music to me is flowing, it has to be for me to get lost in
    the tune. Timing is important but keeping a steady beat
    can be monotonous. As a result I crosspick which is the
    most flowing approach I've found and then I fill in the
    "rhythm & bass" with the off beats with the crosspicking.
    I can play triplets & doublets as fast as the best but
    when it comes to sheer speed of beats per measure, I
    fall behind because I inherently try to play notes that to
    me, belong in the tune but it slows down the tune so I
    have to struggle. (another reason I'm not a bluegrass
    player & don't have that sound). Actually, to play solo &
    try to have a bluegrass sound & use bluegrass licks with
    no accompaniment, I'm not sure how good that would
    really sound to the listener.

    Gary Smith

    http://musician.dyndns.org

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    excellent post. thanks, i went on the site and sent gary an email to pick his brain. doesn't mention singing- did he sing along with the mando?

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    I'm an actor and computer geek by trade (I know, strange combination, but something has to pay the bills) who took up the mandolin as part of a role in a play a several years ago. I had an audition lately where I wanted to impress upon the producer that I wasn't only suited to traditional musicals but could "break out" in a non-traditional way. He knows me pretty well and has pretty much typecast me over the last five year or so. So, I brought in my mando, sat down and sang Tom Waits' "Ruby's Arms." It completely changed his mind about me and he has cast me in a show against his normal pattern of casting. Unfortunately, it's an original musical and I'll be called upon to play the damned thing in public. I'm nothing short of a hack and diletante, so now I have to buckle down over the next 10 months or so. Any tips on pop-rock-blues style?!
    \"Try again, fail again, fail better\" - Samuel Becket

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    Saw Todd Snider recently in Ft. Madison, IA and he broke out a Mando to do John Prines "Fish and Whistle" for an Encore......it was good.....

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    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Once a year (or every other year), I'll do a Rhythm Mando Boot Camp or workshop. The last one was in May 2004, so it won't be until 2005 that I do this particular course again.

    But elements of this stuff do crop up in other workshops, i.e. "Blues Mando" or "Clawhammer Mando" etc. #I've just gotten some dates for workshops at the Northern VA 4-H Center in Front Royal, VA.

    Sept 19-22, 2004: Beginner Mandolin (must have at least 6 months playing experience.)

    Oct. 3-6, 2004: Adv Beginner & Low Intermediate

    <span style='color:red'>Dec. 3-5, 2004: Crosspicking, "Clawhammer" Mandolin, and other across-the-strings approaches
    </span> (intermediate and up level)

    No. VA 4-H Center

    Niles Hokkanen

    Mandocrucian tracks on SoundCloud

    CoMando Guest of the Week 2003 interview of Niles

    "I could be wrong now, but I don't think so!." - Randy Newman ("It's A Jungle Out There")

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    Registered User ira's Avatar
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    hey folks, i decided to email gary smith (the mandosinging dude from chicago) re: his style- and here is his response (with his permission)
    Hi Ira,


    &gt; there is a thread on the mandolincafe about singing
    &gt; and playing mandolin
    &gt; solo, and someone posted an old comando page about
    &gt; you playing in chicago


    Ya, that woulda been me.


    &gt; (he included your website). in it you mention a cd.
    &gt; do you have any clips
    &gt; you could share.


    Not really, I haven't any mp3's at the moment & that would be the only thing worth putting up there to download. They were'nt gramy quality CDs but rather some live stuff made available so people who couldn't believe music could be so bastardized could buy the CD & take it home to send to NPR's Annoying Music Show or give them to those they are in divorce proceedings with.


    &gt; i have a guitarist partner,with
    &gt; whom i play a regular gig,
    &gt; but if he isn't available, i have been considering
    &gt; doing a solo rather than
    &gt; getting a guest which we've done in the past.


    Makes sense to me, the less musicians the thicker the cut you take home.


    any
    &gt; insights you can give me
    &gt; would be helpful.


    Well, since you mentioned the mandolin cafe then I assume you're talking about doing the mandolin solo. The liability of the mandolin is that the sustain even on the best mandos is quite short. Your playing has to be with recognition of this "feature". If you let the sustain dwindle you will have pocky music kinda like the analogous pocked face of a teenager & simply too many bumps to be pretty.


    I can sing with the mando as a solo instrument but rather than try and do a Tim O'brien approach of crosspicking while I sing, I've decided to go the instrumental route and fill in the blank spots with fluff. As I have never been in a true band I have to cover all aspects of a tune myself. I've developed a quite smooth syncopation much like listening to a banjo player doing fingerpicking. I fill in the spaces with regular patterns and have a back-beat series of recurring crosspicking patterns that goes around the lead. I find this fun & it's been a lifetime quest to improve. I do try to include all the notes a singer would sing though, that's simply required when doing what I do.


    What that does is require the right hand technique to be much less standard bluegrass mandolin style leads & more of a dobro/banjo kind of sound & more like banjo. instead of requiring so much tremolo as mando players traditionally use, I fill in the "solid note" (the singing portion AKA the melody line) with a series of hard plucks on the specific note and quieter "picks" on the notes around it.


    I do pretty much the same on the guitar but as the guitar has far more sustain, less "busy" picking is needed to fill in the dead spots in the sound with the guitar.


    Not being terribly creative I tend to use this approach frequently and it's given me a pretty distinctive sound as most people are interested in flatpicked leads with a tremolo sustain a'la Bill Monroe. What I do isn't considered quite as desirable I think at least as far as bluegrass bands go..


    &gt; thanks so much.


    Glad you asked, hope my answers help you.


    Cheers,


    Gary

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