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Thread: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

  1. #26

    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    There are only so many movements we can make on the instrument. Break them down and practice each movement to the point you can't mess it up even if you try. This focus on micro-details of playing will tighten your playing up extremely quickly.

  2. #27
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Sep 2006
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    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    OK so the advice above is all great. Spot on. What helped and helps me on this specific issue is this.

    I grab something I can play, scales I think are the best, but any moderately complex fiddle tune will do. I play it slowly and as clean and smooth as possible. Like I was trying to convince a beautiful romantic music fan that mandolin was legit.

    Then I up the speed until I can't play smoothly. I actually do this the other way, go fast enough that I can't play smoothly, and then slow it down incrementally till I can. But no matter. I am searching for that transition point where faster can't be done smooth.

    I then work right there, over and over, trying to suss out what gets in the way and fixing them or managing them.

    That transition speed has moved much higher in speed over the years, but there is still a transition point, and always will be.
    Life is short, play hard. Life is really really short, play really really hard.

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  4. #28
    Registered User WJF's Avatar
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    Apr 2003
    Warwick, NY

    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    There is some good advice here but I'll add my two bits ... If you aren't video recording yourself periodically during practice, you're flying blind. Think about all the things that go into playing just two or three notes: what pitch am I supposed to play? Where is it located on my instrument? how much time value is assigned to it? Is it a down-stroke or an up-stroke? Is my finger close enough to the fret to get the sound cleanly or is it too far away (buzz) or too close (choked)? Am I leaving my fingers down from one note to the next or am I allowing them to fly? Am I carrying speed-killing tension anywhere in my hands, arms or shoulders? I could go on, but hopefully, you get the point. If you aren't actively looking for these little things, you WILL miss something!

    Combine this with the fact that the brain is very good and efficient at learning new things and not so great at unlearning them, and if you aren't recording and catching the little things that could potentially become big obstacles in your playing down the road you really are flying blind.

    I encourage all of my students to periodically record themselves during practice ... just 30 seconds or so at the beginning and end of each session (noting of course, that if they want to record longer chunks, there's nothing wrong with that at all). Then review each recording multiple times looking for different things each time - because again, the human brain does not multi-task well. So the first time, maybe look for flaws in what's happening with your right hand, view it again, and focus on what's happening with your left hand, view it again and listen for overall timing, tone-production, etc.

    The students I have who embrace recording on a regular basis, flat out get down the musical path faster. And the ones that don't? ... Well, I still love them and gently prod them towards this strategy

    Give it a try ... just 30 seconds to start. You'll be amazed at the things you discover and how helpful it is!!
    Bluegrass ... "It's Folk Music With An Overbite" (Robert Shelton)

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  6. #29
    Registered User
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    May 2016
    Houston TX

    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    I don't tap that hard, so neighbors would not be a consideration. I don't use a metronome but I believe that it is better, because if I come to a hard passage I tend to change the rhythm to accommodate, and that is not helping.

  7. #30
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Apr 2014
    South of Cleburne, North of Hillsboro, Texas

    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Best way to keep time on mandolin & guitar - in my opinion - is by developing the groove in your right hand, rather than foot tapping. But there’s nothing wrong with having your whole body involved if you have that groove in your strumming/picking hand. Bang your head, tap your foot, dance or sway, whatever floats your boat. But if you can’t find the groove in that hand, it’s all for naught.

    BTW it’s why at 68 I can’t play really fast. Lose the groove in the right hand :so sad:
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  9. #31

    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    There is lot's of good advice here. I played for contra dances years ago and speed as well as precision are both required. We , dance musicians that is, recommend getting the tune under your fingers cleanly at the speed with which you are comfortable and then gradually increasing the speed with your metronome. I find the metronome an indispensable part of my practice routine. Attention to the phrasing within the beats will help keep your playing clean
    .I have heard many try to rip off a tune at warp speed and can tell when the foundation has not been laid. Execution of eighth and sixteenth notes is uneven and it detracts from the performance. Basically, do not rush your process. Have fun.

  10. #32

    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    I hate to say it but, sheer hours. I know because my chops fell apart. I drifted to other instruments. I won't say "pros," but I will call them good pickers. They practice not enough to play it right, but enough so they can't play it wrong. This threshold changes the more hours one plays. That's sort of the difference between rehearsal and practice. There's tune learning mode. Then there's repetitions, and making a tune into a package/unit. Essentially, knowing a tune, like you know how to tie your shoes, or brush your teeth. I know personally, if I committed to learning half dozen mandolin tunes, I could get my chops back. But I have different irons in the fire, musically.

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  12. #33

    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Thanks to all the contributors - I find myself in the same boat so thanks to OP for posing the question as well. Had a few additional questions: 1) Did you all hit certain barriers where you felt you weren’t improving much despite daily practice? 2) How much do the veteran players here practice (frequency per week and time per day)? 3) How long did it take before you felt competent enough to join a jam with others at bluegrass speeds?

    Not trying to take any shortcuts, just want to know if I’m a lost cause haha

  13. #34
    Registered User Rick Jones's Avatar
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    Apr 2007
    Rochester Hills, MI

    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Quote Originally Posted by bmfsfan615 View Post
    Had a few additional questions: 1) Did you all hit certain barriers where you felt you weren’t improving much despite daily practice?
    I've never felt there were barriers, but sometimes progress is slow. For me, it very often works like this: I practice something like crazy, and I don't see any incremental improvement. I keep at it anyway, and all of a sudden one day I can just do it.
    "I don't want to get technical or anything, but according to chemistry, alcohol actually IS a solution."

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  15. #35

    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Early on I collected fiddle tunes, and figured out new melodies because they were similar to a tune I knew. I felt like chords were in another part of my brain. My efforts in merging my work on melody and harmony( chords) helped me considerably. I started tune by tune, first playing the melody, then playing the chords. Just as one would do in a jam or combo. Listen to the radio like audio flashcards. Find the key. Find the first change. Find the second change, if there is one. If it's a four chord tune, try a minor vi, or ii. Better yet go to jams. If you know the key, it'll either go the the V, or IV chord. Most folks I know don't know Nashville numbering, but they do know C&D go with G(key), and G&A go with D(key). Same thing. I wish I could play 3-4 hours a day. But I go a couple days without playing sometimes.

  16. #36
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Feb 2016
    Octave Mandolin

    Default Re: Best way to learn to play Smooth and Clean (not sloppy)?

    Here is some ideas, in no particular order. (apologies if this sounds rule-based, I just use these rules of myself !)

    Learn tremolo. It took me four days to get it and my speed improved immediately.

    Record your playing. You'll find after a practice session you're exhausted - it's because you focus.

    If you haven't tried this, Play at your maximum volume, just before the strings buzz. Think about every note.

    Practice Chunking. It's where you stop completely and then play two or four (but no more than that) notes suddenly, as fast as you can. Then you STOP. Prepare, and do it again starting on a metronome beat, about 8 seconds later. If it isn't clean, drop the number of notes. (extremely important).

    Work on finger flow and the jumps between places on the fretboard (Notes). Play a tune, and each time you find a part that is difficult, technically, be happy, joyful even! Know that once you have ironed this out you're playing will improve. Don't be afraid to just dump the tune altogether, Play other tunes and wait until your technique for that particular finger flow improves. Yes you will come back to that tune and magically, you will be able to play it. (if you practice).

    (This is a personal one because there is a lot of variation in hand size, shape etc. but also personal vitality and type of instrument).
    Spread your fingers out as much as possible so that they just drop onto the fretboard.

    Relax as much as possible so that the energy you use is only directed into the movement that is necessary to play the note (this energy begins with the Earth beneath your feet until it reaches the fretboard, and beyond.

    General health is very important, and regular aerobic exercise especially as we get older. (I go hiking in the hills which seems to help)
    A lot of your improvement in playing the mandolin will occur while you think, eat and sleep (!).

    I think being sloppy comes from a loss of intention. You have to intend to improve and make changes in your behaviour that will move you in an improvement direction.
    Last edited by Simon DS; Apr-19-2023 at 2:17am.

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