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Thread: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

  1. #1
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    Default Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    I've dabbled with playing the mandolin on and off over the years, never really getting past the beginner phase. I've recently come back to it with a focus on trying to learn Monroe style playing. My question is, is how you hold the mandolin and grip the pick an integral part of the style itself? I notice that the majority of the players that I enjoy that play the Monroe style seem to have their strap over just the shoulder, and the mandolin more parallel to the ground than the more modern style players. I'm not sure about the pick grip, but I'm thinking that there's probably some similarity between them. Should these postures be mimicked in order to achieve that particular sound, or are the similarities between these players just coincidence?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    A lot of that is just coincidence. Mandolin position, strap location etc will not give you an authentic Monroe sound.

    Pick hold is more relevant.. strive for a closed fist (no pinky planting), and play from the wrist with little to no elbow movement. The standard pick hold works well (make a fist, close your thumb onto the index finger near the knuckle. The pick goes in between the thumb and index finger, pointing to the left). Watch a video of Danny Roberts of the Grascals… his wrist motion / right hand technique is great.

    You’ll need a relatively stiff pick to sound like Monroe. A triangular Blue Chip like a TAD 40 or 50 or a CT 55 is perfect.

    Most Monroe players will tell you that the RIGHT hand is the basis of the Monroe sound. You’ll need a fast, fluid right hand technique to mimic the speed and syncopation of Monroe.

    A lot of Monroe tunes must be played relatively fast and with a certain rhythm / syncopation / “swing” to sound anything like Monroe.

    Many people say that Mike Compton is the foremost Monroe-style player today. Listening to Mike’s videos and copying his style would be a good place to start. He also gives lessons.

    Personally, I prefer Chris Henry’s on-line lessons. He breaks down Monroe songs note by note and really explains how to get that Monroe song. His video lessons are usually $10-20 per song, but I’ve never found a better resource for learning Monroe songs as they are meant to be played.
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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    Thanks for the reply. I guess I knew that the actual angle at which you hold the mandolin wouldn't make you sound like Monroe, I was thinking more along the lines of the angle that you hold the mandolin at would affect the angle that the pick hits the strings. And to be clear, I have no delusion that I'll be sounding anything even remotely close to Monroe any time soon. I just though that if that's the sound I was working toward, I wanted to sort out all of the variables that could help me get close and ingrain them as habit while I'm still relatively new to playing.

    Watching Mike Compton was one of the main things that raised the question. The difference in posture between him and someone like Mike Marshall are pretty stark, as is their sound. I wasn't sure how much the two things were related. I've also watched some of Chris's videos on YouTube, and he is great at breaking things down. I haven't purchased any of his videos yet purely because I wasn't sure if I was at a point to really pursue Monroe tunes. I guess I always thought of them as more intermediate/advance territory. So far I've just been stickling to fiddle tunes to try to build good technique before moving on, although I'm not sure if this is the right path or not.

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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    Those are all good thoughts in your last post, I agree.

    Start with some easier tunes like Roanoke or Big Mon. Don’t go too fast at first!! If you can’t play it cleanly, slow down and keep working until it’s clean… then you can slowly increase your speed.

    Watch your right hand in a mirror to check that you’re really playing from the wrist, not the elbow.

    Make sure you have the correct “bounce” or syncopation…. A lot of newer players play the tunes “straight” (especially people who grew up playing classical music) which sounds odd and not at all like Monroe.

    It took me 10 years of dedicated practice to play hard Monroe tunes like Old Ebenezer Scrooge, Old Dangierfield, Road to Columbus, etc (up to speed, with the right bounce). Hopefully you’ll learn a little more quickly than I did!

    Enjoy the journey… I found that learning to play Monroe tunes helped me to play all styles of music better.
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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    Unless you’re wearing a cowboy hat, shouldn’t need the single shoulder strap trick.

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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    Monroe wore his strap on one shoulder, so thatís why that is more common with Monroe pickersÖ

    A good baseline for where the pick strikes the string is having it sit flat on the string midway between the bridge and end of the fingerboard. This will give you a loud percussive tone. More modern players often suggest tilting and using the bevel to give a softer tone. Monroe would sometimes pick closer to the bridge but it is good to have a baseline of how/where you are striking the string.

    The right hand piece is crucial. If you have not practiced getting down/up picking in time down that is going to be an important foundation as Monroe will break that pattern and play all downstrokes, sycopate his playing etc, so it is helpful to have a good sense of time with your hand before breaking it and playing Monroe style.

    Here is a free video Chris put out starting with just a basic Monroe song melody and building it up to add some Monroe elements. This is a good way to work on building your skills. Find a Monroe song you like. Learn to play the melody straight with correct timing/pick direction and then listen to Monroeís solo and try to slow it down and learn some elements or the way he plays it. https://youtu.be/EurNvbE2ihc

    Finally, if you can afford itís Chrisís workshops with David McGlaughlin are a great way to step your game up quickly. I have done it for 2 years and seen beginner players advance quite quickly. Chris, David and the other students ar e great at meeting people where they are at and it also includes a 30 minute lesson with Chris. It will get you in Monroe mode quickly and is a lot of fun/ great community.

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  12. #7

    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    Monroe Mandolin Camp is coming up the end of September in Abingdon, VA. www.monroemandolincamp.com If you want to learn Monroe style, it's hard to beat this camp.
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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    Lauren Price is another teaches Monroe style, often with Chris Henry or Mike Compton, but also teaches privately.


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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    Mike Compton is a great resource for Monroe's style. He holds camps periodically. Check him out.

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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    I'm not a Monroe style guy but I would watch out for the single should strap.... really great way to mess up your back and shoulder IMO. I know a few players that ended up with some problems with their right shoulder (for right handed pickers) because their shoulders would move up as they picked. Aside from that, it will cause you to support the mandolin with your arms more - which will slow down your left hand significantly.

    Unless there's a need to take the mandolin off quickly and you're wearing a big hat that makes that tricky, the style of the single shoulder strap isn't worth the potential issues longer term IMO.

    As others said here, focus on the right hand technique - that's where the money is for Bill's sound Well, that and a Lloyd Loar that was bashed in and repaired beautifully haha.
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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    Quote Originally Posted by mbruno View Post
    I'm not a Monroe style guy but I would watch out for the single should strap.... really great way to mess up your back and shoulder IMO. I know a few players that ended up with some problems with their right shoulder (for right handed pickers) because their shoulders would move up as they picked. Aside from that, it will cause you to support the mandolin with your arms more - which will slow down your left hand significantly.

    Unless there's a need to take the mandolin off quickly and you're wearing a big hat that makes that tricky, the style of the single shoulder strap isn't worth the potential issues longer term IMO.

    As others said here, focus on the right hand technique - that's where the money is for Bill's sound Well, that and a Lloyd Loar that was bashed in and repaired beautifully haha.
    I will relay that info to Mike Compton in WV in a couple of weeks. Wouldn't want him to develop shoulder problems!

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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    Oops
    Last edited by lowtone2; Jul-05-2022 at 1:33pm. Reason: oops

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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    The Homespun video series with Monroe showing his style and playing tunes on part one, and Sam Bush dissecting the tunes and the style on part two, is a worthwhile investment IMO whether you think you are ready or not. The video series is yours to keep and use for a lifetime, so you get what you can out of it now, and return to it later as you progress, and do this as often as you wish in your musical journey.
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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    Quote Originally Posted by lowtone2 View Post
    I will relay that info to Mike Compton in WV in a couple of weeks. Wouldn't want him to develop shoulder problems!
    Haha - I'd be interested to hear what he says about it. I know when I did it back when I first started, I definitely started having some shoulder issues - though I was also playing a 5 string electric bass that was pretty heavy and rock climbing a lot more then - so who knows haha.
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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    No matter what flavor of strap you use (or no strap, for that matter) you should be aware of any tightening of muscles anywhere while you play. Shoulder, neck, back, arms, hands, fingers, jaw, eyes (yep, frowning or squinting) … then address it immediately! Even in the middle of a song! Stay alert to that! I’m a mandolin rookie, i.e. less than a year but I’ve played several other instruments through the years and the relaxing awareness mantra is common to all.

    I’d read awhile back that Monroe wanted his band to use the one-shoulder strap method so they could don and doff their instruments without taking their hats off; it could be true, it could be myth. I most often use a standard style strap but I got a Dawg Leash (one-sided) strap as an experiment. We’ll see in a year or two how it goes.
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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    How are you liking the dawg leash? How balanced is the mandolin? Where does it hang on an F style?

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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    It’s a great idea that’ll call for acclimatizing to it. I take it a few days at a time then go back to my Lakota Leathers strap (recommended!) for a week or two. As to how the mandolin hangs, it’s just like a standard strap, looping around the scroll but with nothing on the end pin. If you move your right arm away the tuning head seeks your left leg or the floor. It’s as adjustable as any other good strap.

    One thing good about the Dawg Leash is its penchant for calling my attention to the least bit of tensing up. It also damps my tendency to try holding the neck instead of the body in front of my chest. Lord, there’s a lot to learn about this thing!
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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    So after studying Monroe style for 2 years now it turns out I just needed a shoelace...
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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    Monroe style playing centers around a few specific techniques,first as mentioned before , is his use of syncnapation like the way he plays the B parts in Salt creek and Kentucky mandolin.he adds that drop note makes it sound backwoods…second is his double note picking..on YouTube “msm staggered 16 ths,Chris Henry”…once you grasp these concepts your well on your way…

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  32. #20
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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    The bill Monroe homespun courses, with Sam bush and Monroe will help. Strap position and angle are about as impacting as gouging out Gibson from the headstock. The trap many fall into is trying to copy exactly. Use the style. But realise you’ll find your own voice.
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  34. #21
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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    In my BG period, about 1961-1969, most mandolin players, like Monroe, Osborne and McReynolds had the strap over just one shoulder. Not just the older guys but also, e.g., Doyle Lawson (who is 4 months older than I). That may have resulted from playing and singing into one single mic, raising the mandolin to the mic when soloing and shoving it to the hip on group vocals. One big exception was John Duffey who had the mando slung around his neck. One of his favorite ploys (I saw him twice, subbing for Gaudreau in the Gentlemen) was to just drop the mandolin after a solo.



    (Although I did play a few Monroe numbers I never tried to copy his style or rhythmic conception -- I figure that's an important part of one's own musical identity. My main inspiration was the fiddle tunes I copied from Howdy Forrester's Fancy Fiddlin' Country Style with lots of melodic and rhythmic detail and almost no repeated notes. From Monroe I took the unaccompanied intro to BG Part 1, realizing that it combined a modal and a harmonic approach (superimposing the blues scale and outlining the chords) and started toying around with that idea, and other blues ideas from different genres. I also tried to get away from Monroe's strict observation of bar lines and periods. Frankly, some of his stuff is pretty square to my ears.)

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  36. #22
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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    My thoughts entirely, I take full responsibility.

    No matter how much I play, study, emulate, copy, and mimic Bill Monroe, I am never, ever going to play in a way that anyone would confuse with Bill. I am always going to have my own limitations, effects, idiosyncrasies, and style points to contend with.

    That said, my strategy would be to hold the instrument the way that maximizes my ability to play, and then just do my best.

    I won't come close, but i won't come any closer wearing a cowboy hat and holding it Bill's way.
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    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    You want approximately a right angle in your picking arm so that your arm/hand is parallel to the strings. This also means your mandolin neck should be parallel-ish with the ground. This lessens the tension in the system and gives your picking hand easy access to all 4 courses for double stops and brushstrokes.

    For many this is easier to accomplish with the single shoulder strap method. This method also allows you to keep the back of the mandolin further off of your body for better tone instead of using those ridiculous metal tone "guard" contraptions. Below is a video example of what I'm talking about. I did another lengthy post on this in another Monroe thread but I'm not sure which one...


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  40. #24

    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    Quote Originally Posted by lowtone2 View Post
    Unless you’re wearing a cowboy hat, shouldn’t need the single shoulder strap trick.
    I never wear a cowboy hat and always use the single shoulder strap. It puts the mandolin in a better place to play it.

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  42. #25

    Default Re: Monroe Style Mandolin Question

    I have played with the strap over one shoulder and with the strap around my neck and I never had any problems either way. I slightly prefer to wear the strap around my neck but I donít really notice much difference. I too recommend the Monroe Mandolin Camp for anyone who wants to learn about Billís style.

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