Do you practice the up and down picking a lot?

  1. Marlkw
    I am new to playing the mandolin. I have a few pages of picking practice and I find it really hard to do the picking as they say DOWN then UP. Not too bad going from say G string to D string. But picking down on the A then up on the D is SOOOOO hard for me. I make a mess. I practice it a lot then when I start to play a tune I go right back to picking down on everything. I feel like a can do eighth notes FASTER going down and down.

    Is it really essential to learn to pick the way "they" say? Or does it take a lot (more) practice? I have been playing about 6 weeks.

    Thanks for advice, help, encouragement, chastisement...
  2. HonketyHank
    I am pretty sure that DUDUDUDU is the highly recommended pattern if you want to get any speed at all. I know it is for me. Yeah, some string crossings seem clumsy at first, but there are lots of picking pattern exercises out there aimed at just that complication. Repeated down strokes can be a neat effect - Bill Monroe used that a lot - but down up will be your meat and potatoes method (and Monroe had a lot of practice under his belt ). Basically if you can play using only down strokes, you could, with practice, expect to almost double your picking speed by learning alternating picking. So do practice it. It will get easier and easier.

    Oh, and just to be sure, the down stroke is almost always on the beat and up stroke is on the "and".
  3. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    Yes, it is really important to have the right up and down picking pattern right. This is going to be absolutely crucial when you try to increase your speed. It is also crucial for being able to get some tricky timing things right, such as when you "ghost" a note to keep in time, such as in Angeline the Baker.

    Anyway, yes this is a skill I would encourage you to continue to practice. I keep working on it. I'm personally pretty lousy at doing any sort of picking exercises and almost exclusively work on skills by finding songs that emphasize that skill (so I would work on Angeline or maybe Clinch Mountain Backstep to work on the up-down pattern). I'm not defending that as good practice, its just what I do.
  4. JeffLearman
    Hank is right. Down-up is "bluegrass canon." Once you have mastered down-up (quite a few years from now, and only if you're serious), you can try "efficient picking" which is what many people do intuitively but is (I believe) a bad way to start. Learning down-up first helps to get timing tight. Once it's mastered you can use the same timing discipline with efficient picking (where whether you go up or down depends on which string is next, avoiding what you're tripping on now.) But without the discipline deeply ingrained my guess is it would lead to sloppy timing.

    You're talking about down-down, though. You'll never get the necessary speed that way, so really, just keep plugging at the alternating style (down-up, with down always on the downbeat, not necessarily the first note.)

    I got off to an even worse start: I always picked UP. In addition, I held the pick with thumb and two fingers, and I did this for at least 6 years before someone pointed out I was doing it wrong. It took a lot of time and work to correct my bad habits! I still sometimes slip into up-up when improvising, and I learned better over 40 years ago. Arrgh!

    If you find yourself slipping into down-down while you're playing (not just practicing) don't worry: keep the tune going (especially when playing with others.) But when practicing, drill the alternating style into instinct. You'll be glad you did. Initial difficulty with this is pretty common. I'm confident that you'll get over it.
  5. JeffLearman
    > I'm not defending that as good practice, its just what I do.

    I'll go on record as saying it's really good practice! I don't have any evidence to back it up, but (a) anything that gets you to practice the right stuff is good, and (b) playing actual music is generally better than unmusical drills.

    For those of you who read music, reading and playing long drills with lots of variation is probably even better. Regardless, playing songs is a great way to learn, and you get the extra benefit of learning those songs! Nobody wants to hear us play drills.
  6. JeffLearman
    I just noticed "6 weeks". You're just a baby! Take your time, have patience, and focus on the goal, not on perfection. If you're half-decent at this in 2 years you'll be doing quite well, frankly.

    IMHO, the most important things for a beginner are to stay motivated and avoid forming bad habits. The first is more important than the second! So, whatever you do, make sure it pushes whatever button keeps you coming back.

    Also, it REALLY helps to get a teacher and/or find a friend who you can play with regularly and provide mentorship. (Says the guy who never had a teacher and played alone most of the time for the first 8 or 10 years. Learn from my mistakes!)

    BTW, I'm a newbie at mandolin. My experience of over 50 years is on guitar & keyboards. Those skills really helped on the mando. If you ever decide to pick up the guitar it'll be a lot easier thanks to the skills you're developing now.
  7. Marlkw
    Thanks to everyone who replied!! I bow to your wisdom and will continue practicing and TRYING to do the down-up picking. I go to a acoustic jam once a week if I can and it motivates me to keep practicing. I can barely keep up just playing chords but it forces to me to play and change chords more quickly than I do while "woodshedding" so all good.

    I appreciate the advice very much. Yes, still a baby at mandolin but having lots of fun.

  8. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    > I'm not defending that as good practice, its just what I do.

    >I'll go on record as saying it's really good practice! I don't have any evidence to back it up, but (a) anything that gets you to practice the right stuff is good, and (b) >playing actual music is generally better than unmusical drills.

    Jeff, I appreciate your vote of confidence. I have an idea that dedicated skills practice is probably a more efficient way at least to BEGIN working on skills than playing songs. I just can't force myself to do the kinds of picking exercises though. This whole thing is supposed to be fun and I can't find picking exercises fun, no matter how hard I try.

    I've been working on tremelo a lot recently, I'm just picking out a song and trying to tremelo my whole way through it. Rather than working on tremelo exercises.
  9. NDO
    I find that practice drills just don’t keep my interest. At all. My entire learning process has been based on just learning songs I like and want to memorize.
    I am NOT advocating that this is a good idea. Just my reality. To keep having fun and progressing, I learn about a new song every week, and every day I’ll sit down and play and sing for anywhere from a half hour to a few hours.
    Some of the biggest breakthroughs came when advancing from DDDD to DUDU strumming a month or two into it… and then when I learned additional strum patterns that fit specific songs and discovered how radically they can change the feel of a song.
    It’s interesting now to go back and look at some of the songs I earlier avoided as being too difficult, and finding that I can play them easily. But there are still some that are a struggle, and there are a LOT of techniques and skills that I’m barely scratching the surface of. I have decades of learning left to do, but the important thing to me is that I’m having a blast doing it. And now that I’m rotating between fifty or so songs my wife no longer complains about constantly hearing the same songs
  10. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    Just one additional thing, since NDO mentions strum patterns...the down-up picking motion will also be important to stay in time when playing chords. Not particularly in bluegrass where you use a boom-chuck for almost everything (but even there adding some upstrokes sounds good), but if your are, for example, playing a lot of rock music where you might be using a D-DU-UDU pattern. That just isn't going to sound right or stay in time as well if you just try to play it as a series of downstrokes, even if you can get it up to speed. So you need it for chords as well as picking. Same skill, though.
  11. jhfiddler
    @marlkw - I saw your issue with picking faster. I am not good at it either, but I ran across a video by musicmoose (not sure how I found it), but it was how to cross pick on mandolin. It was a simple tune "Bile Them Cabbage Down". I tried it & it is amazing how it helped with the faster picking.
  12. jhfiddler
    @marlkw - I have now found the YouTube of this crosspicking on mando by Anthony Hannigan of crosspicking. I just did a google search for crosspicking on mandolin for "Bile Them Cabbage Down.
    Hope you can find it also....jhfiddler
  13. HonketyHank
    Crosspicking is an exception to the DUDU... "rule" -- I would actually call it a relatively advanced technique. I haven't tried to tackle it.
  14. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    If you want to do tremolo, it's (very) fast down-up picking.
  15. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    >>Crosspicking is an exception to the DUDU... "rule" -- I would actually call it a relatively advanced technique. I haven't tried to tackle it.

    Hank, I haven't really explored cross-picking too much, but best I understand it you can usually think of it as being in 3/4 time or probably even better as 12/8 time, from what I understand. So it isn't so much the cross-picking as it is the 3/4 or 12/8 time signature the differentiates it from the DUDU rule, right? I don't usually play waltzes in DUDU. Just trying to keep things straight.
  16. HonketyHank
    Well, Southern Man, you done went and opened up a #10-size tin can of worms. All I can do is grab a worm and see where it leads me.

    Mr. Moose seems to imply that the DUU is a tripletty kind of thing. It is and it isn't. If we are talking about 1/8 notes in 4/4 time, the DUU does sound like a triplet with an emphasis on the D and less on the U's, but it takes a beat and a half to execute. A 1/8 note triplet would take only one full beat to execute. So how do you use that? One common way would be to play DUU,DUU,DU to give you a full measure in 4/4. Or maybe DUU,DU,DUU. Or DU,DUU,DUU. In any of these you end up with some Down strokes on the "and" and some Up strokes on the beat, which takes some getting used to if you are accustomed to straight DUDUDUDU.

    I suspect that Jesse McReynolds developed this crosspicking technique in emulation of the syncopated rolls that are the hallmark of Earl Scruggs style bluegrass banjo picking. Lesson #1 in Scruggs' picking is that there are 8 equal length notes in a basic roll and they are organized in two groups of three notes plus one group of two notes. So a basic bluegrass banjo roll could be counted as 123,123,12 (which could be DUU,DUU,DU in mandolin-speak). And the 1's would have a bit of extra emphasis, which is provided on the mandolin by being played with a down pick stroke.

    So I guess I would say that crosspicking uses groups of three notes to create syncopation while 3/4 and other 3-based time signatures (like 6/8, 9/8, 12/8) tend to use groups of three notes to establish (or conform to) the beat.

    If I was playing a waltz (3/4 time) I would probably play the three 1/4 notes as DDD and maybe emphasize the first D. A waltz is slow enough to allow me to use any picking pattern I feel like. But if I am playing a 3-based time signature at a relatively fast tempo, like 6/8, 9/8, 12/8, then I would shift over to jig-style triplets, DUDDUDDUD. (Some folks advocate using plain old alternate picking for faster triplet style picking - whatever, as long as you emphasize the "1" and "4" and "7", etc. with a strong stroke.)

    Bottom line for me (or the end of this worm) is that crosspicking can generate some really interesting syncopated "drive" to a tune but it has seemed even more difficult for me to learn than DUDDUD jig picking. I haven't been tempted to practice it enough to say I can do it. I can say that I can do DUDDUD jig picking without thinking about it. But I mostly stick with DUDUDUDU except for jigs (quadriles).

    Incidentally, I have seen a couple of musicmoose's videos and I like them. One thing that tickles me is that he does not appear to use his left hand pinkie finger and he does nicely without it.
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