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Thread: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

  1. #1
    Registered User man dough nollij's Avatar
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    Default Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    Like a lot of us Cafe dwellers (I gather), I spend all my playing time alone. I went the route of trying to build up a repertoir of songs by learning them one by one from books and DVDs.

    Lately, I find myself with a limited time to play (as most of us do), and I find I spend quite a bit of time in mindless noodling.

    I don't come from a musical background, and don't have a firm grounding in theory. Yeah, yeah, circle of fifths. Yeah. I've gotten deep enough into it to understand what a major, minor, flat, and sharp key is. I'm a long way from seeing a sheet of notation in a weird (Fdim7?) key and knowing what that would mean on the fretboard.

    I know there are a ton of folks out there who are light years above me in terms of theory. I may get there someday, but I'm still stuck in learning elementary fiddle tunes.

    I do spend a fair amount of time just noodling up and down unfamiliar scales. If I hit a "sour" note, I back off, using only my untrained musical ear for what is "sour".

    I imagine there are a lot of aspiring musicians like me who don't have a deep training in musical theory, but have an idea what sounds "right" to them. I can pick up a mandolin and do a little run that sounds "jazzy", but I have no idea what a jazzy sound is.

    I'd like to know more about this, and would really like to understand more about it, without a lot of droning music theory courses.

    I know a lot of us come from high school band classes, where we were taught to play song XYZ in B flat.

    That's not my story-- I'm willing to learn the theory, but I'm more interested in tone, happiness, and the sound of making music.

    Because of some lifestyle choices (e.g., moving to Antarctica), I've eliminated some normal means of advancing (i.e., lessons).

    Am I doomed?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    Am I doomed?
    Yes.

  3. #3
    Registered User man dough nollij's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    Damn. I thought it would generate a page or two before I was a goner. Time to take up the kazoo, I supose...

  4. #4
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    I grew up in a musical background (both parents were pros), but that has not helped me to understand music theory - so rest assured you didn't miss out.

    The way I am wired it took an experiment in physics to turn on the light: every single tone we hear is a composite of a basic frequency plus integer multiples of that frequency (aka overtones). Two tones sound good together if their overtones match, "sour" if they don't. The overtones correspond with known intervals if divided down into the first octave (basic frequency x 2 = octave, x 3 (->3/2) = fifth and so on). Understanding is much easier for me once there is one mathematically simple rule. Musicians were often not able to give me that, because they have a view based on their instrument (e.g. the piano). Music theory should not be just left to musicians.

    Playing alone is not doom, but company definitely has its advantages. In your situation, I'd go with some multitrack recording software and play along with myself, thereby learning how to keep time, play melody in variations and how to accompany. The situation may change (e.g. global warming might enable a good jam session near you ), and then you are prepared.

    Bertram
    the world is better off without bad ideas, good ideas are better off without the world

  5. #5

    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    The "play along" CDs and DVDs (where they alternate between playing the melody and the rhythm) might help, especially getting fiddle tunes down for real. As for the scales and noodling, some advice that helped me:

    1. You have to spend some time noodling the scales so that playing “sounds like music” and not just running scales. There’s plenty of “right note against the right chord” theory stuff to work out, but if it sounds like music, one could jam the G Pentatonic over 16 bars and make it sound good

    2. Get a transcription book and learn a bunch of tunes/leads by your favorite players (Monroe, Grisman, whatever). You’ll a lot by example this way as you see how they’ve put things together. And it’s fun to play along with their recordings when you know the parts

    3. Try picking out melodies with those scales. Like “Happy Birthday” or “She’ll be coming around the mountain.” Train your ear to do that well and you’ll be far ahead of a lot “lick” players out there

    4. Try an internet based lesson via webcam, such as Mike Compton offers (assuming you’ve got the infrastructure at your location).

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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    "I imagine there are a lot of aspiring musicians like me who don't have a deep training in musical theory, but have an idea what sounds "right" to them. I can pick up a mandolin and do a little run that sounds "jazzy", but I have no idea what a jazzy sound is.

    I'd like to know more about this, and would really like to understand more about it, without a lot of droning music theory courses."

    I think it's more important to get it (tones, not theory) in your head than to understand why it works. That can come later.

    Try getting a 'Slowdown' application and start picking apart the material you like. Take parts of the material and try to "plug it in" different places to see how it fits. If there is a phrase that is difficult to play, turn it into an exercise. Get a good understanding of the chords and melody and how they work together.

    To me, the theory/playing thing is kind of like the chicken/egg thing and for me the sounds come first and the theory (understanding why) comes after but everyone learns differently.

    Good luck. If the weather down there hasn't "doomed" you the music part should be a breeze.

  7. #7
    write more songs Bob Wiegers's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    why worry about doom and gloom? embrace the music you can make and enjoy it for what it is.
    Original acoustic music - Solo Octave Mandolin - Original Folk Music

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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    If you enjoy learning from books as your post seems to suggest and you really want to know more about theory (I struggle with it as well), I found "Edly's Music Theory for Practical People" by Ed Roseman to be very helpful and even entertaining. The excercises (in notation) are voiced in such a way as most of them can be easily played on the mandolin (not always the case with piano-oriented materials). I also found " The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Theory" to be only slightly less accessible-- the bonus with that book being that it comes with a CD by which you can actually hear some of the concepts discussed in the book.

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    Registered User Bill Auld's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    I'm pretty much in the same boat as you are ... I understand enough about theory to know I know very little about it - both in technical and practical terms. It's good (and fun ...) to know theory, but I doubt many great tunes were ever generated from just theory. Theory expands your vocabulary and horizons, but I'll bet far, far more tunes are come up with through just plain old noodling. Having said that, whenever I come up with something interesting while noodling, I often wonder why, in theory, it works (so I can use it again!). There are alot of great comments in the other posts to this thread about the value of hearing the tones (sans theory) - like 250sc is saying.

    In the end, I agree with Bob - continue to learn and enjoy the ride!

  10. #10

    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    you've summed it up perfectly ... me too. i'm surprised there are no guitar/fiddle/ ... bagpipe players ... down there with you, however.

    currently, with the help of youtube, i've "doomed" myself to playing an enormous repertoire of very enjoyable, motown-type music. what's surprising is that sometimes, behind very elaborate arrangements, some of these songs are very simple indeed; very do-able ... even to the theoretically challenged.

    thanks to mindless noodling ... what i've found is that when presented with an impossible chord, i simply start moving my fingers around till i find something that works - call it what you will. i'm sure - positive - there's tremendous joy in understanding how it all fits together but it's just one way of enjoying music ... weighty, cerebral comprehension to ... tapping toes.

    - bill*

  11. #11
    mandolin slinger Steve Ostrander's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    I am entirely self-taught by a below-average teacher.

    Actually my story is very similar: 3 years of cornet in midlle school. A couple of guitar lessons. The rest learned by jamming, practicing, reading, listening, etc. Pretty much the hard way. But I enjoy it, and that's the important thing.

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    Registered User man dough nollij's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Wiegers View Post
    why worry about doom and gloom? embrace the music you can make and enjoy it for what it is.
    There was no seriousness in the "doomed" comment.

    I'm just a little frustrated that I'm not advancing at all. I had a similar problem when I was working 60 hours a week and going to grad school full time. I had so little down time for playing that I would only pick it up once a week or less. Any playing I did at that point was just trying to get my calluses back, which never happened. Basically retained the same five fiddle tunes for three years, and that was it.

    Here, I have a lot more down time than that, but I have found it very hard to get into any structured practice, like new scales, FFCP, etc. I do enjoy the random noodling, though. I feel like I'm at a learning plateau... If I really knew more scales, and could introduce more arpeggios (if I'm understanding that term...), my noodling would then be improvization.

    I appreciate the suggestions above-- lots of good ones. Another thing I think might help is to bring the mando to work, and have "noodle breaks". I've been playing mostly late at night after a long, incredibly tedious day at work, so I'm not too sharp at that time. I really need two mandolins. It's cold enough here that I don't think it'd be a good thing to be shuttling one back and forth from the dorm to work. Hmmm. I'll work something out.


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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    "If I really knew more scales, and could introduce more arpeggios (if I'm understanding that term...), my noodling would then be improvization."

    LOL. Maybe, but will it be good improvization? Scales and argeggios are great tools but they are not music.

    Learning plateaus can be overcome by picking apart and internalizing new "musical" material. Scales may help you understand note intervals and exercise your hands but they always just sound like scales.

    There is so much great music available. You should be able to find something that will open doors for you if you work on it a bit.

    Good luck.

  14. #14

    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    Kinda similar, i have a working knowledge of music theory, but i'm a Zen player.
    I did recorded myself (nasea).
    I've recorded tracks to play along with. (Only slightly better)
    I play along with a metronome about half the time. (good metronomes are a good thing)
    I learn tunes that challenge and appeal to me. Not just different tunes for the sake of increasing a "count" but different types of tunes. If a tune is a cousin of another, it's not enough.
    But all that doesn't fully prepare for a jam like a jam. There's enough randomness to a jam for true improvisation. I won't to make up licks to pretend to improv by myself. I guess i could play along with the radio more.
    If i get bored with a mandolin, i grab a guitar, or a banjo, or a fiddle.

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    Keith
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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    I'm no great player by anybody's imagination, but I find mindless noodling to be quite productive. It doesn't help me with theory, but sitting down in front of the speakers with some good music playing and either trying to play what I hear or making up something else to go along with it is a heck of alot of fun, especially after a hard day.

    Actually, I can't tell you for sure how productive it is. But, I find it very fun and very relaxing, and it's a way for me to enjoy playing music when I can't play with others. So, my mindless noodling keeps me playing. Thats good. I'm a little bit better today than a year ago. Why? I don't know, but I'm happy to attribute part of it to my mindless noodling (of course, plenty of time with more mindful playing is ideal as well).

    I'm no Dead-head at all, but I remember someone on this forum talking about Jerry Garcia playing scales for hours on end while watching TV and annoying everyone around him. Didn't work out too badly for him, at least if you concentrate on his music and not his other less-healthy addictions.

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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    Quote Originally Posted by man dough nollij View Post
    That's not my story-- I'm willing to learn the theory, but I'm more interested in tone, happiness, and the sound of making music.
    If you can take advantage of the numerous method books mentioned here on the list, you can learn the theory and this can only enhance your tone, happiness and the sound of making music. We have to put in the effort, there is no magic bullet. The so called mindless noodling is very useful in the exploration of what you learn through the study of the theoretical material. And above all, have fun with it.
    Last edited by Mike Bunting; Mar-10-2009 at 9:17pm.

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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    You're doomed.



    (See next post...)
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    Just kidding, man. I know what you're feeling, because I'm in a similar place right now...feel like I need either some lessons or some people to play with who are better than me. The one guy (guitar player) I routinely play with is an awesome guy and tons of fun to play with, but he's not technically very good, even compared to a hack like me...I love our little "jam sessions," if you can call them that, and always come away with a drive to get better, learn the songs we're playing better, etc, but I don't learn anything from him...

    Unfortunately I usually temporize these feelings by either switching to one of my other instruments for a while or buying a new book or instrument (now have a few guitars, mandos, and a banjo, none of which I can really play and all of which are cheapos but I make a joyful noise. I guess part of my problem is my schedule is random enough to make regular lessons tough to make, and I don't feel like I could just walk into a real jam and begin to hold my own...

    I don't know exactly what to tell you, because I haven't figured it out myself. But I sympathize, man, I do...maybe try finding some youtube to "jam" with...there's a ton of guitar chords out there you can convert over, and you can find somebody playing pretty much anything on there...may help you break out of the rut...

    At any rate, keep the faith...the joy will return!
    Chuck

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    write more songs Bob Wiegers's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    I have the solution: get an octave. it opened up a whole 'nother world for me.

    (I realize this may not be practical in your situation, but still...)
    Original acoustic music - Solo Octave Mandolin - Original Folk Music

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    Mandolin Botherer Shelagh Moore's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    45 years of mindless noodling has made me the player I am today!

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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    I have to jump in and defend "mindless noodling". I'm completely self-taught (so far) and am lucky enough to play regularly with some awesome musicians who are far above me in both skill and theory knowledge. All the same, my biggest "A-HA!" moments have come while mindlessly noodling. I've made up my own scales, my own chords, little runs, how to walk one chord into another. So much fun! And all from noodling!

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    Mark Evans mandozilla's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    Hi man dough nollij

    There's nothing wrong with noodling but don't let it be a substitute for practicing scales, chords and tunes. And for heavens sake, later when you do get to attend jams don't feverishly noodle between songs...most seem to find it annoying. There's three things that I think will help you out in your situation...stalled in Antarctica.

    1.) Definately get 'slowdowner' software. Choose a tune you want to improve or expand on and play along at 1/2 speed. You'll pick that tune up in a short time. Then Play along and speed it up, step by step, until you can play along at full speed...this worked well for me and I'm completely self taught...

    2.) Since you obviously can't attend jams in you present location, get yourself some play along jam DVD's/CD's like the ones by Peter Wernick, Steve Kaufman, and others. May be you have them already but you can't beat them for sharpening you chops...especially the DVD ones...it's more fun to see who you are playing with....and for Petes sake , don't forget YouTube. (I assume you have Internet access).

    3.) When you can't play your mando, if it's possible, listen to your favorite mandolinists/tunes...the better you know the music, the easier it is to learn it. This is a good use of nonmando time...I have a 50 minute commute to/from work and if I'm not listening to mando music, I sing the lead and tenor parts along with the songs and this has greatly improved my vocal skills over the years.

    man dough, I wish I could hop in my car and drive down to Antarctica so I could jam with you and play rhythm guitar for you to help you out.

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    Registered User man dough nollij's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Wiegers View Post
    I have the solution: get an octave. it opened up a whole 'nother world for me.

    (I realize this may not be practical in your situation, but still...)
    I had the same experience when I got my Trinity College OM a couple of years ago. For some reason, my noodlage sounded more professional an octave lower. Unfortunately, it is a lot harder to travel with an OM. I flew from Denver to LA to Aukland to Christchurch to McMurdo with my Eastman as a carry-on, and never had a hitch. It's pretty easy to mail stuff down, but I'm pretty sure that they throw each package out of a third story window as part of the shipping process... They broke pretty much everything I sent down.

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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    It's at least getting the hand to brain connection, motor skills , to be habituated.

    My picking grew out of head tunes outlet of whistling and humming ,

    hum what you think and play what you hummed

    Song books should survive the 3rd floor window drop test..
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    Registered User Ken Olmstead's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mindless Noodling-- the Link With Real Understanding?

    Lee - just enjoy the ride! mindless noodleing is not a bad thing. In fact, your fingers and "ear" are developeing phrases that will come out in your playing when you least expect it. You are creating a vocabulary that will help you when you are improvising.

    Let the goal dictate the theory. What is it you want to do? If you want to play jazz and improvise convincinly in that genre, you are going to have to open your mind and start absorbing a bit of theory. However, take it in small bites. You don't need to know about tri-tone substitutions to play a standard beautifully (of course it is a cool nugget to know!)

    If you "just" want to play fiddle tunes, you don't need to know a bunch of theory. These are the test tunes of where you are as a musician, however. These may be relativly simple, but it takes a lot of attention to detail to make them sound fabulous. Butch Baldassari leaps to mind here. He sounds so dang good on even the simplest fiddle tune. His tone, touch, feel and timing are all highly developed when he plays. Go for that. Don't focus on just getting through your fiddle tunes but make them "breath" and have a "pulse." Make music...period.

    Grisman has said that his biggest improvement in his playing came when he stopped thinking of himself as a mandolin player and started thinking of himself as a musician. Harder to do than it sounds but I keep working on it!

    To break a plateau, I have found two ways that work for me. One, if I am playing a lot and am getting nowhere, take a week or two off. It takes a very short time to get your sea legs again and then like magic, bang, your a better player. Weird! Second, challange yourself every day with something new and hard. It makes everything else seem easier. Commit yourself to spending 5 minutes twice a day working on something new and challanging. As soon as it gets reasonably comfortable, move on to something else. Keep "cross-training."

    Of course there is nothing wrong with just playing your mandolin for fun. Unless you are hoping to quit you day job, the only person you have to please is yourself! It we are lucky, we can discover and explore our instrument for the rest of our lives!! At the end of the day, just enjoy!
    http://www.youtube.com/user/tenorbanjoguy

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