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Thread: To look at the mando or not?

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    Default To look at the mando or not?

    Being a fiddle player first, my tendency is not to look at whatever I'm playing - probably because with fiddle it does you no good anyway. What do you do on mandolin - look, try not to look, and why please?

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    Barn Cat Mandolins Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    Sometimes when playing out, I will need to sight read a piece of music, make eye contact with another musician, or interact with the crowd. For these reasons, my fingers need to know where the frets are well enough that I don't have to look at my mandolin. If my fingers know where to go, I don't need to look at the mandolin. But that still leaves me the freedom to look at the mandolin when I want to (i.e. someone sitting right in front is rocking their body completely out of time with the music. . .drives me nuts).
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    Well said, Bob!

    Let's be realistic: If you MUST look at your instrument, you're either a beginner (as were we all) or haven't progressed far from being a beginner.

    From the opposite view: Being "relatively" new to orchestral playing (5 yrs.), a personal problem is that some sheet music, especially a new-to-me piece, can look similar across many of the lines, making it possible / probable / inevitable that I'm gonna get lost if I look away, skippping or repeating a line... yuck. Fine-tip multi-colored marker pens are my good friends!
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    I will from time to time look at the instrument. Not always to make sure my fingers are going in the right spot. Sometimes when playing a gig, I need to focus better and traditionally have picked a spot on the stage, dance floor or the instrument to look at. For me, it helps. Started doing it when playing guitar over 20 years ago. It's a habit that's held on since then.
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    Agree. I have always been taught to engage with the audience, making eye contact (or at least appearing to), smiling, etc. Itís hard to do that if youíre constantly looking at your hands. Our praise band usually has lead sheets, at least 1 new song a week (well, pre-COVID when we could get together), and limited practice time, so Iíll admit to not memorizing everything we play, though I try. Do I check out my right hand occasionally if Iím playing something new/unfamiliar, difficult chord shapes, or big jumps up/down the fretboard? Absolutely, but I try to keep it brief. That said, Iím almost never the lead guy, so I can get away with looking down, and it does help a little with nerves until I get into the music. Of course, Iím barely on the musical side of a hack, more like a trainable monkey than a musician, so thereís that, lol.

    Does it bother me when I see a performer look at the fretboard during difficult passages or when theyíre really into the music? Not at all, actually. Chris Thile rarely looks at the FB, but when heís really into a tough passage heíll often get a stank face or thousand mile stare of concentration going. I know it drives some people crazy, but it doesnít bother me at all. Iím just thankful for the amazing music. Same for many others, he is just the example that popped into my head.

    So, try to practice not looking at your hands. The muscle memory will come.
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    Having started at “0” I looked down to watch my hands from the start, eventually reaching a point of finding basic chords without constantly looking. When practicing scales and melodic lines, I close my eyes once my fingers know where to go. Playing and repetition seem to be the secret.
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    I like looking around when playing... except at people's faces, which overwhelms me occasionally. Actually, I like looking around all the time (this scares my wife in the car, so she drives most of the time) . But I do suffer from ADHD and sometimes I have to decide to concentrate and looking at the fingerboard helps.

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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    I look if I have to, usually when moving 7 frets or more up and down the fretboard.

    "Skating" by Vince Guaraldi, "Somewhere over the Rainbow," "'Round Midnight" by Thelonius Monk, and "Pure Imagination" immediately spring to mind as pieces I know well in full chord-melody style, and yet the large leaps from one end of the fingerboard to the other still are helped by having large side markers. Apparently by the standards of some in this topic, despite a few decades at it, and advanced repertoire, I'm not far from being a beginner. *laugh*

    Still, that's okay.

    For those interested in playing under gigging conditions, where one has to nail the position/notes, I highly recommend FretGlo dots, which I buy off Etsy. The smallest dots are bigger than the average side marker, and can be unobtrusively charged by a UV/blacklight penlight for playing even in complete darkness.

    I'm not staring at my instrument, and normally only see the side of the neck instead of bending over to see the fretboard. That took practice, and looking at the audience is a boon to engagement. Still, hard and fast statements and rules can be silly on occasion.

    Incidentally, I know a bass player who has gobs of duct tape to give him a tactile reference at large gigs. He's making a living, and has for a long time, but what does *he* know about playing and performing?

    *laugh*

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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    I don't think it's a reflection of how "good" a player is; or that the player is a "beginner"; or anything else. Like picks; like pick grip; like strings; like mandolins - it's individual preference. What works, what is comfortable, what is relaxing, what allows you to enjoy and learn - whatever that is - that's what's "right" in my limited experience. Closing your eyes altogether is sometimes a great feeling. Here is Mike Marshall pretty intensely focused on his fretboard. With other venues, performers, music, and musicians he will not be looking at the fretboard :-).

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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    I look when I shift positions by several frets. If you look at where you want to shift to it becomes easier to hit that spot. If you play enough you don't have to look anymore that shows a serious commitment of years. R/
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    Another trick used by the late Danny Gatton was to drill out the fret markers on the side of his Telecaster and replace them with cubic zirconia. He'd leave them a bit above the edge of the neck. That way the stage light could catch and glitter and he had little bumps for his thumb.
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    I have seen/heard some very good mandolin players who watch their fingers pick the mandolin !

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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    My favorite; in the middle of a tune or a song, a listener walks up and starts a conversation? Then it’s time for your lead. You learn over time to trust your practice and instincts.
    Play em like you know em!

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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    Sometimes I look at the fretboard, sometimes I don't. I do find that if I want to remember a tune I need to play it a couple of times with my eyes closed and that really helps embed it.
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jill McAuley View Post
    Sometimes I look at the fretboard, sometimes I don't. I do find that if I want to remember a tune I need to play it a couple of times with my eyes closed and that really helps embed it.
    At home I can smile and not look at fretboard but at a performance ( okay nursing homes ! ) I don't smile much and eyes on fretboard !!

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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by yankees1 View Post
    At home I can smile and not look at fretboard but at a performance I don't smile much and eyes on fretboard !!
    I'm pretty much the opposite. At home, with no one else to impress nor influence me, ie, interact with, I'll watch what I'm doing all the time. In this context all that matters is accuracy, not appearances. At a gig, interacting with band members and people in the audience is very important, so I tend to keep my eyes up and out. I'll look down if I've reached a difficult passage, a point in the lead where I want to make sure I hit it right.

    I'm pretty much in the Jerry Garcia school of stage presence - just stand there and play. To me, the music is vastly more important than presentation. (Curse you, MTV, for making showboating so important! ) If stage presence is sacrificed for the cause of music, so be it. Now, I've been taken to task by band members for doing this, actually been ordered to move more, to act up. I've seen photos and videos, and I generally agree - it's not very entertaining to look at someone standing still, whose eyes are cast downward, not connecting with the audience. (Curse you, MTV, for making the video portion of the presentation more important than the audio portion! ) So I made a conscious effort to adjust, to look up more, as much as I could. I also got pretty good at holding my head up but still keeping the fretboard in the corner of my eye, so a quick glance now and then to make sure all was well wouldn't be so noticeable.

    Ultimately, I have no problem with watching what you're doing. If it helps you play as error-free as possible, that's just fine. Also, if you're playing just amazingly, you don't want to miss any of it. You want to make sure you can see how this fantastic music is being made. You're definitely forgiven for these instances of diminished stagecraft in the interest of witnessing true brilliance in the moment of its creation.
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    I'm pretty much the opposite. At home, with no one else to impress nor influence me, ie, interact with, I'll watch what I'm doing all the time. In this context all that matters is accuracy, not appearances. At a gig, interacting with band members and people in the audience is very important, so I tend to keep my eyes up and out. I'll look down if I've reached a difficult passage, a point in the lead where I want to make sure I hit it right.

    I'm pretty much in the Jerry Garcia school of stage presence - just stand there and play. To me, the music is vastly more important than presentation. (Curse you, MTV, for making showboating so important! ) If stage presence is sacrificed for the cause of music, so be it. Now, I've been taken to task by band members for doing this, actually been ordered to move more, to act up. I've seen photos and videos, and I generally agree - it's not very entertaining to look at someone standing still, whose eyes are cast downward, not connecting with the audience. (Curse you, MTV, for making the video portion of the presentation more important than the audio portion! ) So I made a conscious effort to adjust, to look up more, as much as I could. I also got pretty good at holding my head up but still keeping the fretboard in the corner of my eye, so a quick glance now and then to make sure all was well wouldn't be so noticeable.

    Ultimately, I have no problem with watching what you're doing. If it helps you play as error-free as possible, that's just fine. Also, if you are playing just amazingly, you don't want to miss any of it. You want to make sure you can see how this fantastic music is being made. You are most definitely forgiven for these instances of witnessing true brilliance in themoment of its creations.
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    It may not be that big of a deal, depending on the audience. I imagine nursing home audiences have lower expectations than the scene I have to deal with here. Here, if people have whatever issue with a band at one venue, they can take their drinks in a plastic to-go cup and go down the street to another bar. No cover charges, no prohibition (so to speak) of bringing drinks from another place. So it is indeed important to do all you can to keep people entertained and drinking where you're playing, as drink sales are the main source of income for the venue. And believe you me, the bars keep an eye on the bottom line, keeping track of which acts bring in the business. They will make decisions on your employment in a cold-hearted cutthroat manner, regardless of how good a relationship you have with them and their staff, nor how long you've had the gig there. So, yeah, it motivates you to be a bit of a dancing monkey. C'est la vie!
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    Yep, I know what audience my playing is fitted for !! Nursing home audience is very forgiving !!

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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    reading through this some of this, Yes, it makes a huge difference if you engage the audience while performing, its ok to look at the instrument just don't stay glued to it, I had a bad habit of not looking up while performing, had nothing to do with having to look at the instrument to play it, but everything to do with averting my eyes.
    I do intentionally try to practice with my eyes closed, my wife thinks I'm being over dramatic, but for me it is about finding a musical center. Also switching so many instruments all the time its important not to have to think too much about it, although I frequently am playing mandola chords on mandolins and vice versa.
    So look at your instrument, but listen as well, one single tone can really speak volumes. Most importantly be comfortable and at ease wile playing.
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by tmsweeney View Post
    So look at your instrument, but listen as well
    Yes, good point - and I think, often overlooked. I find myself listening to myself playing, and how it fits with the other players, all the time. I mean, music is played to be heard, not just played, after all. And that's where the final product exists - in the ears of the listeners. I know it sounds obvious, but it's good to keep it in mind. Just don't lose your place. Keep up!
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    I look like I'm looking but my eyes are mostly closed. I will look though, if making a move to higher ground, and once there go to sleep again. Whatever works for you is what to do, often.

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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    I look all the time, especially when shifting. I don't look continuously, but I visually check in very frequently.

    I don't think it matters much. There is no harm in looking, and no virtue in avoiding it.
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    Well ... There IS some virtue in avoiding looking down, although it has nothing much to do with playing, in general. In performance situations, as has been noted, it doesn't look good, or it seems to work against connecting with the audience. But yes, from a pure playing position, it ain't no part of nothing.
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    Default Re: To look at the mando or not?

    I remember when I was a kid somebody asked me if I could yoke (or yolk?) the guitar. They said that means to play without watching your hands. Anybody here ever heard that term?
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