Results 1 to 17 of 17

Thread: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

  1. #1

    Default Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    Hey superstars. I know we've talked long and deep about RSI and technique. My question is related but hopefully not redundant.

    I'm having an effin' blast playing my little Octave Mando. Coolest thing ever. I hardly show up to work any more.

    Trouble is, I've got these pitiful Frodo Baggins hands and this mando has frets that sit in different time zones. As a result my left hand has abandoned my normal straight-wrist, light-touch technique in favor of a kind of gruesome hook-handed death-grip.

    As you can imagine, tendons in my wrist have started to ping loose and I think I've got bones wandering around in my hand trying to get themselves the hell out of this situation. Now I'm on my second "take six weeks off" in two years. Plus, just between us, I weep day and night,#tears of jagged broken glass.

    My question is this: Have any of you level 1000 Mando Mages come up with ways to wrangle this big beastie that don't involve grinding your left hand into a gooey pile of bone dust?

    Case in point....when I venture away from the nut, playing any major scale requires one of two compromises. I can:

    1) Bend my wrist at a 400į angle and crack my fingers out in all directions like a baby giraffe dropped on ice. Or....

    2) Use 7 position shifts to play a major scale.

    Is that how y'all are getting around, just shifting around like mad? Or d'yall just capo-to-key and hang about in open position? Should I just cop to my comically diminutive stature and get a Mandola?

    Super grateful for any ideas/thoughts.

  2. The following members say thank you to thievingseas for this post:


  3. #2

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    I have no constructive thoughts to offer, except that the image of the baby giraffe dropped on ice will live with me forever

  4. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to NDO For This Useful Post:


  5. #3

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    HAHAHA! Thanks, NDO. Yeah, the struggle is real! Here's me playing an Fmaj7

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Screen Shot 2021-06-26 at 9.13.56 PM.png 
Views:	36 
Size:	3.70 MB 
ID:	194896

  6. #4
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Location
    Washington State
    Posts
    3,214

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    I have pretty large hands, but I don't try and play all the same chord shapes on my 21.5" octave or my 26" mandocello as I do on mandolin. Three things:

    1. Hand strength, coordination and flexibility. I went to a John Moore mandolin workshop several years ago and we spent some time on hand/finger exercises. You should too.

    2. Don't get hung up on playing full four-string chords. You can do a lot with 3 and even 2 finger chords.

    3. Watch Sarah Jarosz and Sierra Hull play monster octave mandolin with their smaller than average, yet mighty hands. I know so many stringed instrument players who roll over and give up, blaming their hands/fingers.

  7. The following members say thank you to Mandobart for this post:


  8. #5
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
    Location
    South of France
    Posts
    1,378

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    Welcome to MandolinCafe.

    Can you post a photo of the octave mandolin that you have?

  9. #6
    Registered User Aaron Bohnen's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2019
    Location
    Vancouver, BC
    Posts
    87

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    I'm no expert but my Octar has a 24" scale and I have just medium-sized hands so I've had to come up with some coping strategies! Bart's given a ton of good advice already. May I add a few more ideas? (can't promise they're as good as what's already been offered though!)

    4. Be ready to move your left hand around and expect the pinky to do quite a bit of work. Bowed cello players more their hands plenty, and it's necessary on the mandocello too so that's a good hint.

    5. Try to avoid the baby-giraffe-on-ice situation by avoiding a guitar-type hand position. It's easy to take a guitar-type grip to the neck of the OM because it's about the size of a small guitar. But that can be the start of the end. Instead I try to keep my left forearm and for that matter, fingers, more parallel to the neck than perpendicular. A less exaggerated version of the typical violin player's left hand approach, which seems to be more helpful the longer the scale becomes.

    6. Bart's right on about everything, and particularly reduced chords. I've found the middle positions on the neck and some of the inversions available there to be a lot of fun, and easier to play. Some of those shapes can be punchier too so they're great to explore. So try smaller chords a bit higher up the neck?

    7. Don't be scared of a capo! They're often tut-tutted over on the mandolin but an OM is different. Speaking of Sarah Jarosz, she and others regularly use capos to great effect.

    8. Shorten the scale length. This is easy with a capo - you can always tune the OM down and capo back up if you want to stay at standard pitch. It's easy to try. Lighter and easier on your fingers to start, and easier on the instrument too since the string tension is less.

    9. I adapted this last one from Mike Marshall - he says on a mandocello it's not necessary to do so much all the time. Since I took that advice on the mandocello I also started thinking similarly on the OM. Mine has a long scale so I figure it's permission to do a bit less there too! Three-course chords, less high-speed chicanery requiring lots of rapid position shifting, etc. This approach makes the OM easier to live with. We're used to blasting along on the mandolin but we don't necessarily have to try to do that with the OM. So maybe thinking of it differently than the mandolin can be useful, and bring some new ideas or insights along the way.

    Best of luck!
    Gavin Baird F4 & F5, Weber Octar, Gibson K-1, Guild D50, Martin D35, Yairi DY-84, etc...

  10. The Following 4 Users Say Thank You to Aaron Bohnen For This Useful Post:


  11. #7
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
    Location
    South of France
    Posts
    1,378

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    One short cut for a small handed beginner, but it’s not easy, is to learn very fast and precise position changes with guitar style technique. If you do these exercises then you may not even need the pinky
    -it’s not easy but you can reap rewards, it’s a bit like the huge learning curve for tremolo technique.
    For inspiration, check out Greek bouzouki players on YouTube.

  12. #8
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Location
    Westchester, NY
    Posts
    28,630

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    I agree with Simon DS above. Approach using guitar technique and that may also include thumb behind the neck positioning and one fret per finger fingering. And make sure your OM is set up properly with low action. Use open string chords and a capo. Very different technique than mandolin. Very different instrument.
    Jim

    My Stream on Soundcloud
    Facebook
    19th Century Tunes
    Playing lately:
    2018 Campanella A-5 -- 2007 Brentrup A4C -- 1915 Frank Merwin Ashley violin -- Huss & Dalton DS -- 1923 Gibson A2 black snakehead -- '83 Flatiron A5-2 -- 1939 Gibson L-00 -- 1936 Epiphone Deluxe -- 1928 Gibson L-5 -- ca. 1890s Fairbanks Senator Banjo -- ca. 1923 Vega Style M tenor banjo -- ca. 1920 Weymann Style 25 Mandolin-Banjo -- National RM-1

  13. The following members say thank you to Jim Garber for this post:


  14. #9
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Pacific Northwest, USA
    Posts
    5,104

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    To add to the good advice above, here's a few more thoughts from someone who has played a 22" scale OM for a while. My hands are on the large side, but I'm getting up in years (68) so I don't have the finger flexibility I once had as a guitarist years ago.

    As mentioned above, make sure your pinky is getting into the action. Some mandolin players get by without much use of the pinky on mandolin, but it's fairly essential on OM if you're using a modified mandolin fingering. I'll often use my pinky for notes I'd play with my ring finger on mandolin.

    A good setup can make a big difference in ease of fingering. I was doing okay with my OM bought secondhand years ago, but then I recently had it tuned up by the builder -- Bruce Weber at his Montana Lutherie shop. New frets, fretboard planed, some tweaks to the nut depth and saddle. It plays like butter now, as the saying goes. Fiddle tunes played out of first position are noticeably easier on my left hand. So if you haven't had your OM tuned up recently, or ever since buying it, that might help.

    Use a capo if it makes sense for a tune. I don't advise using it as a crutch to completely avoid first position open strings, but if a tune fits better with a capo then I'll use one.

    There are a couple of fiddle tunes in Bm (B dorian) where I'll put a capo on the second fret and play out of what would be Am chords/scales without a capo. Same thing with a couple of fiddle tunes in Gm (G dorian) with a capo on the third fret. I still play more tunes on my OM without a capo than with one, but when it makes sense and the fingering is easier, I'll use one.

  15. The following members say thank you to foldedpath for this post:


  16. #10
    Teacher, luthier
    Join Date
    Oct 2017
    Location
    Southeast Tennessee
    Posts
    2,557

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    Using mandolin/violin fingering technique on an octave mandolin will turn anybody's hand into a claw.

    On a mandolin, we use four fingers to cover the notes on 7 frets.
    But the distance between the frets on an octave mandolin is close to twice the distance of that on a mandolin.
    If you try to cover the greater amount of space on the octave mando fingering it the same way that you would on a mandolin, you will hurt yourself, possibly permanently.
    This would be true even if you had large hands and long fingers.

    To play an octave mandolin, guitar, mandocello, or cello, it is best to use 4 fingers to cover 4, or at the most, 5 frets and shift position as necessary.

  17. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to rcc56 For This Useful Post:


  18. #11

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    Holy wow. I'm flat-out stunned by the talent on this board. Thanks everyone for the help!!

    Bart, thanks a lot. Super helpful. And thanks for the names John Moore, Sierra Hull, Sarah Jarosz! I see on youtube Ms. Hull looks like she's the same size as her f-style Weber octave and going to town on that thing! I'll study up on her and Ms. Jarosz's approach to playing. I see what you mean about making good use of 2 and 3 finger chords. Awesome!

    Also, not to worry. I don't have a roll-over-and-give-up bone in my body....... That sounded cooler in my head.

    Simon. Thanks for the nudge on fast, precise shifting. I felt like if I was shifting so much, I might be looking at this riddle wrong. I'll lean into it! Also, mama says I can't commission a custom Andy Manson octave unless I can pay for it with gig money, not rent money. She's weirdly obsessed with paying rent? I'm playing a lovely Eastman MDO305, which I believe has a 21" scale. :D

    Aaron, wow. Thanks for adding all this. Really appreciate the tips. You drawing a line to cello fingerings is a lightning strike for me. That's a 480 year treasure trove of insight on this exact problem I never even thought to look into. Actually, I can already see that, if I hold my left arm a bit more parallel to the neck, the fingers fall at an angle down to the frets, and while it changes the point of contact on the finger just a tiny bit, it gives me a lot more reach without my wrist bending. Huge help.

    Everyone who mentioned embracing capo as a tool, thanks. I did totally feel like#using#the capo was cheating. Think I was trying to be hardcore not using one!! Thanks for the sanity check.

    Jim, FoldedPath, Rcc56 thanks for the nudge on setup. You know, I think I've avoided a lot of position shifting in favor of hilarious stretching as a way of limiting the dreaded string scraping sound. Y'all inspired a two hour exploration of my setup. I think I'm going to try moving to Thomastik-Infeld Flatwound lights, and get it properly set up for them. I'm#hoping that a tiny bit less string tension and a lot less finger scrape will help me shift positions without tensing up around the fear of scraping. I put a K&K Twin internal mic into this mando, and when I plug into a house system, my finger scrapes are so loud I get emails about it later.


    Again, wow. Y'all rock. Cheers!
    Last edited by thievingseas; Jun-27-2021 at 2:42pm.

  19. #12
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    NC
    Posts
    4,184

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    I used to have a Weber 22.5 inch scale OM that was a bear for me to play because of the scale length; set up was excellent. It was a rhythm beast, but lead/melody work was a struggle. I played a 20 inch Girouard GBOM on a visit to TME in Boston a couple of years ago, and it was a revelation for me. I now play a 20 inch scale OM (also a Weber) that I love. I use Mandela strings on it, which takes care of the G string floppiness that can occur with the shorter scale length. So, maybe consider that option when you go for your custom build.

    In the meantime, lots of great advice above!

  20. The following members say thank you to CES for this post:


  21. #13

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    Iíve never played a mandolin and I picked up an octave mandolin just a month ago. My background is electric bass (mostly) and woodwinds. My mandolin expertise is not open to question, there simply is none. So why am I responding at all to a thread thatís been quiet for two months? Well, itís my hope that the OP hasnít thrown his hands up and moved on to something else.

    I chose octave mandolin first because Iím happiest being a sideman, an accompanist. Before committing to the OM I talked with a lot of people in the know, i.e. mandolin pros, both performers and teachers, even a luthier and what Iíve learned is that youíll get nowhere trying to play an OM as if itís a low-pitched mandolin. Treat it like a different instrument and you are far more likely to find pleasing results. Thereís not an awful lot of OM pedagogy (books, methods, song collections, etudes) on the market but whatís available is sufficient to keep me and likely you progressing. Most of the videos with OM are solo performances that leave me in the dust but you know, Iím able to extract etudes from them that will help me make my way forward. Any duets I find are bonus and there are quite a few of them! There are more than enough guitarists around here for me to find someone to play with but I hope to find players of other instruments who are open to my ďdifferentĒ instrument.

    Anyway, I hope the two quiet months in this thread have you finding your way.
    Play on!

  22. #14
    Stop the chop!
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    europe
    Posts
    1,471
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    Using mandolin/violin fingering technique on an octave mandolin will turn anybody's hand into a claw.

    On a mandolin, we use four fingers to cover the notes on 7 frets.
    But the distance between the frets on an octave mandolin is close to twice the distance of that on a mandolin.
    "close to twice the distance"?????

  23. #15
    Stop the chop!
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    europe
    Posts
    1,471
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    On amazon.com you can peek into John McGann’s book on octave mandolin. On one of the first pages he suggests, and discusses, two different fingering schemes. That may be useful for some of you. However, what he describes as the normal or violin fingering on mandolin in first position differs from mine, except in “easy” keys, so if I were to try the octave I would have to devise my own scheme(s). Luckily I’m not attracted to that instrument at all (even the mandola is too difficult for my small hands).

    However, this discussion loses me completely: On the one hand: “Approach using guitar technique and that may also include thumb behind the neck positioning “. On the other: “Try to avoid the baby-giraffe-on-ice situation by avoiding a guitar-type hand position. It's easy to take a guitar-type grip to the neck of the OM because it's about the size of a small guitar”.

    I took up the mandolin 54 years ago, after 10 years of guitar. My approach to the two instruments has always been the same, as regards left hand technique. I hold them the same way, namely not at all. I use the same grip on both, namely none. And I place my left thumb the same on both, i.e., I don’t place it at all (it lands wherever it lands).

    Check out Mike Marshall’s d’Addario video on Youtube. Notice how the mando rests stably and comfortably while he’s talking and moving his hands around.

  24. #16
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    SD
    Posts
    3,379

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    This gets good and close, so watch carefully!
    https://youtu.be/6EqVC20WdI0
    My avatar is of my OldWave Oval A

    Creativity is just doing something wierd and finding out others like it.

  25. #17
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    SD
    Posts
    3,379

    Default Re: Octave Mandolin | Technique Nightmare

    My avatar is of my OldWave Oval A

    Creativity is just doing something wierd and finding out others like it.

Tags for this Thread

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •