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Thread: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

  1. #1

    Default Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    Many people play guitar first and then start playing mandolin. This tends to lead to approaching the mandolin with a guitar-playing mindset and subconscious guitar expectations. For example:

    Expecting guitar-like sustain.

    Trying to play "big", powerful, fundamental, open chords. (often easy on guitar, eg 079900 where you get 4 E notes, or a cowboy G chord).

    Trying to play phrases that work well on guitar.

    Expecting to be able to play relatively quietly and still be heard in a group.

    If you were a guitar player before coming to mandolin, how do you change you mindset and approach when playing mandolin?
    (either solo or in a group setting)

  2. #2
    Registered User Billy Packard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    I realized it is a completely different instrument. IOW it isn't a guitar so don't even go there! IK,IK, it has frets!!! You use a pick!!! The mandolin is a completely different instrument.

    My first approach was to think of the music in terms of voice leading. I do play multiple voice groups (you might be tempted to call it a chord) but only as an adjunct to melody. Focus on melody.

    Also the right hand is very different. Have your movement at the wrist not the elbow.

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  3. #3

    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    What helped me in the transition was focusing on bluegrass songs (fiddle tunes) that didn't even suggest sustain similar to guitar. After 3 years I'm now getting into songs where I strum, backing up my singing. I am also learning a variety of rhythm patters along with those (non-bluegrass) songs.

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    🎶 Play Pretty 🎶 Greg Connor's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    I’m a guitar player who has recently taken up the mandolin & Irish tenor banjo. For myself, I just turn the guitar brain off and start noodling on the mandolin. The two instruments are more complimentary than distracting.

    I can chop a few chords and then break into a lead riff, or add fills in between the chord changes. I’m gradually getting to the point where I can keep up in most settings. The mandolin has actually opened up my guitar playing.

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    Registered User Lucas's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    If playing bluegrass, learn to chop your chords rather than strumming it. Let the guitar player provide the rhythm, and you provide the percussion.

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    I'm a long time guitar player, but I also started playing the tenor banjo prior to picking up the mandolin way back when, so I think that helped ensure that I never approached it from a guitar mindset - discovering the the cafe early on was also helpful as there was so much access to information regarding holding the instrument, pick grip etc. Oh, and lessons help too! I was incredibly lucky in that I'd moved to the SF Bay Area and discovered that Marla Fibish lived there too! I was able to take a few in person lessons with her and they were a great foundation for getting off on the right foot with the mandolin.
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    Play on FredK's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    I started taking guitar lessons in my teens from a gentleman whose primary genre was country. He provided the basics and encouragement. After that phase was through, all my learning was self-taught. When I purchased my first mandolin at 59, I knew it was a different instrument that needed to be approached differently; so, I went into it with a clean slate mindset - starting from the ground up. Mike Marshall's lessons on ArtistWorks fit the bill since his lessons start with the assumption that the student has little or no experience at all. That paid off and made the learning curve much easier. Later, I followed up with Sharon Gilchrist on Peghead Nation to get a feel for learning from a different instructor.

    Now, it's all self-learning. But, that is much easier now than when I was growing up thanks to all of the free and paid media platforms available for us to watch and listen to great performers and online instructors. And, you can't beat listening and learning from the collective wisdom of the good group of musicians from around the globe found on Mandolin Cafe.
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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    What helped me starting on mandolin after 30+ years as a guitar player was just abandoning most things I knew, and thinking of it like a fretted fiddle.

    Different left hand position. Not freaking out about the narrow string spacing, because there are things you can do like fretting two adjacent string courses with a fingertip, for a doublestop or partial chord. Fiddle technique.

    It probably helped that I started playing "fiddle tunes" while learning the instrument along with my Significant Other, who was just starting to get back into fiddle playing after many years away from it. We started playing in local OldTime jams, and later I was invited to be in a band led by another fiddler playing Irish traditional tunes. That's an alien world of music for people like me who played guitar in Americana styles like Blues, but thinking of the mandolin like a fretted fiddle helped as an entry point to the music.

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    What helped me starting on mandolin after 30+ years as a guitar player was just abandoning most things I knew, and thinking of it like a fretted fiddle.

    Different left hand position. Not freaking out about the narrow string spacing, because there are things you can do like fretting two adjacent string courses with a fingertip, for a doublestop or partial chord. Fiddle technique.

    It probably helped that I started playing "fiddle tunes" while learning the instrument
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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    Remember also that the cops aren’t going to come around to your house if you play your mandolin like a guitar.

    Fiddle tunes, learn and record about thirty Fiddle tunes (no improv, rock steady, pulsing rhythm) and you’re set for life.
    Last edited by Simon DS; Oct-16-2021 at 1:33pm.

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    This recent thread is worth a review.
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    In the other thread allenhopkins linked to I was commenting that I naturally think more like a mandolin player and have to re-jigger my thinking to make it suit the guitar. Not the other way 'round.
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    Registered User Dave Hicks's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    Melody (mando) vs. chords (guitar).

    D.H.

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Hicks View Post
    Melody (mando) vs. chords (guitar).

    D.H.
    Yup. I had stopped really flatpicking for about a decade before taking up mandolin. Was playing rhythm either in old time or Nordic music. So going to mandolin this time was easier.

  17. #15

    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    Pick a whole new set of songs to play/learn instead of trying to "convert" ones you already know to the mandolin. They can still be strummers (Back in the High Life, Losing My religion, Battle of Evermore, etc.). Pick up some Bach (Cello Suites are particularly amenable).

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  19. #16

    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    M19, I really appreciate your suggestions above. Another type of song I'm adding to your list of strummers is "Early Morning Rain" by Gordon Lightfoot. Check out this link, you can almost hear the mandolin parts implied by the guitar strumming.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pqttl9aWm0

    I kind of disagree with the OP's mandolin vs. guitar mindset premise because I think it overlooks the capacity of the mind/body to blend the two together. Knowing which roles each instrument plays at certain points in a piece of music doesn't relegate it to that role for an entire piece of music. The roles can be traded off, guitars can play medody, mandolins can play rhythm (or percussion) and then move back. Being well versed in each of the roles as we (beginning as) guitarists switching to mandolin, we can more easily change from one to the the other (depending what instrument we have in our hands). Listen to this!!

    Len B.
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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    And another thing. While you’re learning your thirty fiddle tunes, always have a metronome running and occasionally but not always a backing track. This will make you ‘think melody’ and get you used to playing with someone else (probably a guitarist) who lays down the harmony/percussion.
    Get some trust in the rhythm player, then you can give the melody all you’ve got.

    Personally I think that being able to play with someone who has a very good rhythm (Mr. Metronome) is a v. important skill.
    Sliding is another.
    Tremolo another.
    Being able to play a tight melody and then jump out for a few heavy, pulsing strumming double stops then back to melody is another...
    Pick hand damping too... a lot of these skills transfer from other stringed instruments, it’s just that your centres of focus will be different.

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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    There are some guitar players thay play melody.. like fiddle tunes, too..
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    Registered User Dave Hicks's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Hicks View Post
    Melody (mando) vs. chords (guitar).

    D.H.
    Oh, I didn't mean to say that I play only melody on one and only chords on the other, just that if I sit down with an instrument and play without thinking much, this is what comes out.

    D.H.

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Hicks View Post
    Oh, I didn't mean to say that I play only melody on one and only chords on the other, just that if I sit down with an instrument and play without thinking much, this is what comes out.
    I think of it the same way in general terms, however the cool thing about a mandolin in the music I mostly play -- Irish and Scottish "fiddle" tunes -- is that it's one of the few instruments in that tradition that can throw in some partial harmony while playing a melody line.

    I'll often use doublestops or dyads (two-note implied "chords"), sometimes even full three note chords to emphasize certain parts of the melody. Not too often, just scattered here and there within in the tune, the way you'd hear an occasional harmony on the bass side of an accordion in Irish trad, or the way regulator drones are used with Uilleann pipes.

    In recent years I've been moving more of my trad tunes onto "Irish" flute, but this harmonic ability keeps me coming back to mandolin for certain tunes. I miss hearing a bit of harmony when playing a strictly linear melody instrument like flute.

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  25. #21

    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    ...I miss hearing a bit of harmony when playing a strictly linear melody instrument like flute.
    I do too. Strings (and accordion) players are a polyphonically spoiled lot Fiddle and cello too - I got on hdgfl and it's very hard to live without lush harmonies, and the rest.

    Re the OP: I seemed to never conflate the two - mndln and gtr. Banjo however has a lot of crossover with gtr (I even tuned my plectrum DGBE). But, we're talking mandolins. The two are so different - in physiognomy - that it seemed different in all aspects, from the start; I don't think I ever tried a guitar concept on mndln. CBOMs, on the other hand, may call for a bit of guitaristics in approach, cello too - simply by virtue of the scale length and fingering.

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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Packard View Post
    I realized it is a completely different instrument. IOW it isn't a guitar so don't even go there! IK,IK, it has frets!!! You use a pick!!! The mandolin is a completely different instrument.

    My first approach was to think of the music in terms of voice leading. I do play multiple voice groups (you might be tempted to call it a chord) but only as an adjunct to melody. Focus on melody.

    Also the right hand is very different. Have your movement at the wrist not the elbow.

    Billy

    Very different? I perceive very little difference, if any, in singlestring work. In chording, the right hand will often cover a larger angle on the guitar forcing, maybe,
    some movement at the elbow. But no one really plays with an entirely stiff wrist. That would be extremely impractical.

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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    Different left hand position. Not freaking out about the narrow string spacing, because there are things you can do like fretting two adjacent string courses with a fingertip, for a doublestop or partial chord. Fiddle technique.
    Yes, Guitar neck in one case, mandolin neck in the other. But my general left hand approach is exactly the same in either case.

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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    Yes, Guitar neck in one case, mandolin neck in the other. But my general left hand approach is exactly the same in either case.
    Do you place your thumb in the middle of the back of the neck on both mandolin and guitar? That's what I do on guitar, but I shift to a more fiddle-like hold with the thumb on the side with mandolin.

    There is no official right or wrong about that, but I believe that's what many mandolin players do. Here's the Mike Marshall video on the subject that helped me understand the differences:


  29. #25

    Default Re: Mandolin playing mindset vs guitar playing mindset

    I play guitar for the ladies. I play mandolin for the nerds.

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