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Thread: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

  1. #1
    Registered User Uncle Brad's Avatar
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    Default Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

    I’ve played the acoustic guitar on the praise team for the past six years but decided to switch to the mandolin. The praise team (without me) consists of one acoustic guitar, bass guitar, piano and keyboard. I doubled the preexisting guitar so much that I decided to switch to the mandolin to provide something unique.

    I’ve been studying the mandolin from several sources and it's giving me a fairly well-rounded study. Most of it is generally bluegrass focused. Mike Marshall does add other material in the mix.

    I can play through most of the lesson music and exercises as written albeit slower and not perfect as I learn. I’ve been experimenting with playing the weekly music for the church praise team, which includes both contemporary and traditional songs. Generally it’s the lead vocal lines or SATB, and sometimes chords are written on the staff. Hymnal music, however, is just piano and SATB. Their are no mandolin parts at all; I have to make it up on my own.

    I’m struggling with what I could do on the mandolin that will allow me to contribute musically to the collective performance. Playing the melody, strumming/chop chords, inserting tremolos, and perhaps adding pentatonic notes seems worthy. When, where and how or anything else is unclear.

    I’m wondering if there is some secret for how I should approach this music (a.k.a making up parts) that all of you experienced players do. Any advice and guidance to help get me started would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks!!

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

    Well, you've got the basic bag of tricks there ... now experiment with it and see what sounds good.

    Tremolo is one thing none of those other instruments can do. It can be lovely if used tastefully on a slow song. Play chord tones and move with the chord changes while people are singing; simple 8th-note riffs between verses can be effective. If you're comfortable going up the neck, there's nothing like high tremolo.

    Every chord has at least three tones. The bass will play the root; try not to double the bass if you can avoid it. The melody will be either the root or another chord tone; try to avoid doubling the melody. That leaves you one or two chord tones to choose from. Favor stepwise movement or small intervals over large ones, for the most part; that means that occasionally you step through a melody tone or root, but that's OK if you keep stepping out the other side.

    Pentatonic and/or chord-tone arpeggios with an occasional passing tone will work on medium-tempo or faster stuff.

    I used to write a mandolin column for Worship Musician magazine, but it's been a few years. These days, if you're able to get together with other musicians to play without compromising your health and safety, consider yourself blessed.
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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

    Small phrases between the vocal lines can work very well if played at a tasteful volume to blend with the other accompaniment. During the vocals, you can play a little harmony more softly - sometimes tremolo, some times harmony fills, or chord brushing or chopping. But softly during vocals, and a little up volume to be heard but not show out between the vocal lines.

    One way to get started is to sing a hymn (even if only mentally) and add in fills between the lines either mentally or vocally. Then, try to play the lines you thought of on the mandolin.

    As an example, I take a song like Bringing In The Sheaves and mentally sing it in time, incorporating little eighth note triplety fills between each vocal phrase, like Bringing In The Sheaves (fill notes) Bringing In The Sheaves (fill notes) We shall come rejoicing, Bringing In The Sheaves (turnaround fill), etc.

    There are lots of ways to go, hopefully that suggestion can help you on some of it.
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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

    I have played mandolin with church praise groups for most of the last 28 years. I played guitar in praise groups for about 10 years before that. I can only say what I have done that seems to work, in no particular priority:
    • Play the melody, with fills. If the singers are singing, I go light on the melody notes, but heavier on the fills. Fills can include tremolo, crosspicking chords, repeating the last bar of the melody when there is a measure-long rest, etc. You get a feel for what works.
    • Playing a harmony part no one else is doing. Sometimes the sheet music will have that. Sometimes it is the top notes of what the piano is playing.
    • Play open chords, either stummed or crosspicked. If I strum, I try to keep the volume down overall, and especially go light on the treble strings.
    • This is a big one: Get an octave mandolin and play rhythm on it. OM sounds great with church music and it provides a nice counterpart to the guitar, because the chords are generally very different inversions and the tone is so different.
    • I have actually done chop chords on upbeat, spiritual sounding music.
    • Whatever you are capable of doing, do a little less of it than you think you can. Don't overreach.

    And here is a big hint that will challenge your ego: Record your performances and listen to them afterwards. It will keep you humble and help you learn what works, and what doesn't. Also, playing where you can hear yourself in a monitor is practically a must.

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    Default Re: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

    I’m the “adult supervision” for our youth praise band, and, given the “herding stray cats” nature, am also the utility guy, choosing instruments based on the songs and which of the younglings will be there (and what they’re playing). I’ve used Guitar, bass, mando, OM, uke, and even banjo a couple of times, though mostly mando or OM whenever possible. I’ve used my Mandobird to play lead guitar parts and some rockin’ rhythm, have taken the approaches discussed above with acoustic mando and OM, and used to love to pull out the RM-1 to drive the raucous rhythm for a couple of songs (like “Build Your Kingdom Here,” by Rend Collective) when the guitar player didn’t practice or just couldn’t hold it down. There’s no universally accepted way to work in the , just LISTEN, and think about the songs and the mix, what they need to sound good, and where you fit into them. Working with youth to whom I try to give a lot of freedom to add their own ideas to the music, the band rarely sounds like what I have in my head before rehearsal. Sometimes that’s great, sometimes not so much, but it always seems to work out in the end.

    You can do this!
    Chuck

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

    Also do a forum search here on "worship" or "praise" ... the topic comes up from time to time and there are a bunch of old threads.
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    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

    Fills at the end of vocal lines are great on the mandolin, however, don’t be in competition with the piano. Only one instrument should play the fills otherwise it will sound muddy. The arrangement is something the pianist and you could work on. That sounds like fun!

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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Hall View Post
    Fills at the end of vocal lines are great on the mandolin, however, don’t be in competition with the piano. Only one instrument should play the fills otherwise it will sound muddy. The arrangement is something the pianist and you could work on. That sounds like fun!
    Right. You know the difference between a praise pianist and a terrorist?

    You can negotiate with a terrorist...

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  11. #9
    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

    I've played mandolin with Praise teams for many years... not as many as Mr. Flynn, I'm impressed John!

    A couple things I've learned for contemporary Worship music;

    •Keep your playing as simple as possible. In the end it will sound better in the mix if you're not overplaying.

    •Cross picking and tremolo are a good go to for softer sections when others are carrying most of the music.

    •Work on playing by ear since most recordings don't have mandolin parts. Listen, feel, and make up your own!

    •Be patient with your sound people. Most of them have never mixed mandolins.

    Have fun using your giftings!

    Bonus tip!!!! Get a capo. Piano players like sharp/flat keys.

  12. #10
    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

    Quote Originally Posted by Zach Wilson View Post
    I've played mandolin with Praise teams for many years... not as many as Mr. Flynn, I'm impressed John!

    A couple things I've learned for contemporary Worship music;

    •Keep your playing as simple as possible. In the end it will sound better in the mix if you're not overplaying.

    •Cross picking and tremolo are a good go to for softer sections when others are carrying most of the music.

    •Work on playing by ear since most recordings don't have mandolin parts. Listen, feel, and make up your own!

    •Be patient with your sound people. Most of them have never mixed mandolins.

    Have fun using your giftings!

    Bonus tip!!!! Get a capo. Piano players like sharp/flat keys.
    Great tips. I forgot the capo thing. It was a necessity for my first 15 years or so because of the weird keys. I still need one on the OM. On the mandolin, I have learned to do double stops even in weird keys, but it took a long time.

    I agree about playing by ear, which has always been my primary, but I had to teach myself to read notation to do church music. Now I kind of do both at the same time. I can read the notes, but I still have to "hear" the tune in my head.

    One thing I really wish I had worked on more is arpeggios. I think if you know all the arpeggios of the chords in a piece, there is a lot of great improvising one can do. I can kind of do it by ear and of course by crosspicking, but a better knowledge of where all the chord notes are would be helpful. This is especially true in church music because of the variety of chords. Like if I had the arpeggios for chords like "A minor, major seventh, flat 5" in muscle memory, I could have rocked it!

    Oh, one other thing. I learned this from a Praise recording artist at a seminar. A lot of published church music has errors in the chord notations. A common one is like A9 versus A add9, but there are others. It is good to ask the pianist what he or she is playing, or double check with the chord notes in the notation. Even easier, just play double stops of two notes you know are in the chord and don't worry about the extensions.

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

    If you learn your chord theory it will help you pick the right note to play over an altered or extended chord — i.e., the note that makes the chord different. For example, on an Asus chord you should absolutely be grabbing the D (the suspended fourth) and if it resolves to an A, you move to the C#. On an A7 chord you should grab the G (the 7th), or even play a tritone C#/G double stop if you can manage it.

    By the way, the most religious chord is Gsus, but the most harmless chord is B9.
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    Be Wild Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

    Quote Originally Posted by mrmando View Post
    By the way, the most religious chord is Gsus, but the most harmless chord is B9.
    I'm glad you told that Joke. If I did, it would Bb.




    C, Eb and G walk into a bar...

    "Sorry," the Bartender says to Eb, "we don't serve minors here."

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    Registered User Uncle Brad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

    First I want to say thanks to all who responded. This is all great guidance – all of it!

    I requested to participate with the praise team this morning and our worship leader responded yes with a happy face so I did. In general I say it went well. Mostly basic stuff, but I participated! After practice our worship leader asked me to perform with them during the service and I did. Again, I think it went well.

    Below are some specific responses to your posts.

    Martin. Today we performed I Surrender All. During the chorus, I played tremolo during the words “I surrender all” both times. As you said, no other instruments will be doing it. I soloed during those three words, and I believe it blended well during those quieter moments. You said to get together with other musicians so I did! Of course not just other musicians, but the ones I would be performing with and on the same music. I didn’t know it would happen that quickly. We have lots of room to social distance.

    Mark. Your suggestion for chord brushing or chopping was right on (as we used to say back in the 70s). I did a lot of that. During my practice at home I sang the hymn mentally to help me understand where I’m going. It worked well.

    John. I made use of tremolos and crosspicking chords where possible. This is definitely a skill I want to expand on. I took your suggestion to heart when you said to do a little less of it than you think you can. I reflected upon the golden rule of “less is more.” That’s gold! I don’t want to try and be a hero. During my performance at home last week, I recorded myself playing the basic guitar rhythm to the songs for Sunday just so I had “something” to practice against on the Mandolin (YouTube music is usually in a different key). It worked. I plan to expand that to include the mandolin to get a critical review of what I’m doing.

    Chuck. I guess it’s the fact that there is no universally accepted way to work in the mandolin that makes it a bit difficult for the beginner and for me to say, “now what am I supposed to do!?!?” I did just what you said and listened to what was going on with the other instruments and tried to find something of my own that would blend and contribute to the performance.

    Jon. You are so right about competition with the piano. We have strong pianists in church including our worship leader. I don’t want to get my toes stepped on!!

    Zach. I truly did try to keep my playing as simple and clear as possible. I think that was the fundamental reason I was asked to perform with the praise team during the service. I’m not trying to be a big shot. As mentioned earlier, cross picking and tremolos for softer sections worked well for me and I plan to continue looking for those opportunities. You are definitely right about the lack of mandolin parts and that’s true in our case as well. I will continue internalizing the music as best as possible and create thoughtful contributions.

    Many thanks to all of you who provided me with this solid guidance as I begin my journey on the mandolin.

    Sincerely,
    Brad Hardin

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    Registered User JH Murray's Avatar
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    Default Re: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

    Many of the old hymns have descants written for the sopranos to take flight on. There are also many descants written for trumpet. Most are in the public domain. Lots to have fun with.

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    Default Re: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

    I’m glad your first experience was good! I play mandolin in my church band. We play all contemporary praise songs and we have drums, bass, electric guitars, acoustic and piano. My take is that all the musicians support the vocals, that is, the message. So all of the suggestions in this thread are great when they are appropriate to the message. In contemporary songs, emphasis to certain lyrics are sometimes made by being quiet and allowing space in the soundstage, and sometimes by the entire band driving hard. So fills when appropriate, silence sometimes, and hard chordal driving at times. The mandolin can provide texture as needed. When the whole band is driving, playing first position chords will be unable to compete with pianos and guitars, so in those situations, I try to find chord positions up the neck. A helpful website for me is the Mando Mode Explorer at jazzcittern.com. There are lots of fun chord shapes that I can use to play the mandolin at a higher pitch than the other instruments and so not be lost sonically. I find add 9 chords in particular are easy to play and sound good over the base major chords. I’m probably committing music theory heresy, but it works and can really add to the music. It becomes an adventure for me in the week before I play to try different shapes and see how I can add to the worship uniquely.

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    Default Re: Playing Mandolin with the Church Praise Team

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