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Mandolin Lessons: The Right Hand

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All right,
let's talk about the right hand.
The right hand is everything, folks.
I can't say enough about it.
I've worked my whole life on it and, every
day I examine it and see what's going on.
And when I think of the greatest players I
know, I think about their right hands.
And the tone they get.
And the, all your sound comes from your
right hand.
We'll often see a lot of mandolin players,
all of us do it,
where we're totally focused on the left
And there's some little problem in a
musical line.
More times than not it's the right hand
that's, that's causing the problems or
is not quite negotiating, in and out of
the strings properly.
Also it's your voice, it's, it's the
rhythm, too.
If you're in time or you're not in time
probably because of the right hand,
hitting at the wrong time.
So, I encourage you to spend as much time
as you can staring at that
rather than at that.
So, I've, I've, I'm gonna break it down
now in to as many bits as I can.
So that you can get a sense of, of what
I'm doing.
Going back to our basic posture because it
affects how,
how the right hand hits, how the pick hits
the string.
Again, remember to get the headstock of
the mandolin up slightly.
I'm using a footstool, as I said in a
previous video,
to get this leg up so that the mandolin
sets at an angle.
And the reason for that is so that the
pick hits the string at an angle.
You want the pick to hit, the front edge
of the pick should hit the string first,
as opposed to the back of the pick.
You'll see some players with the pick
angled backwards like this,
and that's, I'm not such a big fan of
There's some good players out there that
manage to get a sound that way.
But I will encourage you to think about
the front edge of the pick forward.
And then, just briefly how to hold the
What I tell folks is, put your hand and
just let if fall upside down like this,
like somebody was throwing change in your
And, let the fingers curl in a very
natural way.
And then, place the pick on the index
finger, curled naturally like that.
And, then the thumb on top of it.
And, that's pretty much it.
There's not a lot of tension in it, that's
the key,
is that you don't want any tension in your
right hand.
Cuz, you're gonna have to manipulate all
kinds of ways, in and
out of those pairs of strings.
And so, any tension, whether it's in the
thumb, it's gonna reveal itself
in the wrist, and, and start shooting all
the way up into your shoulder.
So the whole deal is to stay relaxed and,
and, and keep tension away.
Then the issue becomes, okay, where do I,
where do I touch the strings or
the mandolin, when I've got my hand in
this position?
And I, you might notice that I've got this
little green spot appearing [LAUGH] here
on this part.
Because I'm letting that part of my hand
Slightly on the strings back behind the
bridge, but
I'm just letting it graze there.
And I'm also touching right here on this
part of the hand,
on the, on the bridge, the upper part of
the bridge, it's grazing there.
It's not resting, nothing is ever fixed,
everything has a lot of mobility in it.
And it's all, it's always available to
move around.
The other thing I, I tell people is a
no-no is mounting the,
the fingers on the, on the fingerbo, on
the face of the mandolin.
Because that, to me, creates rigidity.
The upstroke is never gonna be fluid.
The, the downstroke might be strong, but
it's hard to get, to get back up because
of, of fixing that.
As soon as you unfix, you have this
freedom now to, to float.
But you don't want to be floating in
You're gonna need some place to touch,
just so that get a tiny bit of,
of, of just, you just need to know where
you are on the,
on the instrument.
So that's pretty much it.
Make sure the front edge of the pick is
And now, we're going to talk about just,
just simple plucking,
the, all four strings.
And one thing you begin to notice is that
there's a big difference between playing
the E string and playing the G string.
The hand has to actually move up.
And so you want this feeling of the hand
crossing from the G string to the E
You don't wanna be reaching down for the E
and up for the G.
You don't want to change your wrist
position that much, so
by sliding across to the arm, the whole
arm almost changes
position from the the E string to the G
Then, the next thing to think about is how
hard do you grip the pick.
We're usually encouraging people to, to go
pretty light on that pick,
that pick should have some flop in it.
It, it shouldn't be rigid.
Because if it's rigid.
[SOUND] It's, it's again, it's gonna cause
If you, if you're grabbing the pick too
hard, you,
you'll probably get some tension in that,
in that first knuckle,
which then tightens up this knuckle and
before you know it,
your wrist is tense and, and everything's
just tense, not moving.
Not moving, not moving good and smooth.
[SOUND] Then, be careful that these
fingers don't want to s,
s, splay out like that.
You, you want to keep these fingers curled
I'm not sure what that creates.
It creates like a fan that, that just,
creates weight down there,
that wants to pull your hand away from the
By curling them up, not, again, not in a
Not, not like this, cuz again,
as soon as I do that the knuckles start to
get white and you start seeing tension.
Just dangling ever so lightly, okay.
Then, the next thing to be just conscious
is that you're really playing both of the
pairs of strings.
A lot of times you'll see people, when a
downstroke, they're playing one
of the pairs, and on the upstroke they're
playing the, the other of the pairs.
[LAUGH] And so they're getting half as
much sound out of that string.
You wanna get both pairs, really
[SOUND] You can, you can watch the string
see whether they're both really singing,
you get twice as much sound out of your
mandolin just by being conscious of that.
have a series of exercises that I'll send
you through.
Just playing the G-string, with a
And the D-string with an upstroke.
Simple little exercise.
But again, just make sure that you're
getting both pairs to sing.
[SOUND] Think about the back of the
mandolin, is it really resonating?
Is the whole instrument really singing, or
are you just playing the strings?
So, once you get a good tone,
then play the G and the A.
Okay, then play the G and the E.
Notice how far your hand has to move, to
play those outside pairs of strings,
it's a, it's a pretty big leap really.
then we're gonna use the D string as the
pivot note.
D and A.
D and E.
Now here's the hard one, D and G.
Notice how you're playing down on this
string, but your pick's going away from
the G.
And now you've gotta go get the G.
So this is the weirdest move for any
plucked string instrument.
And again, in order to play, to get both
pairs of strings to sound really evenly,
there's a tiny bit of figure eight motions
I'm gonna exaggerate it here.
[SOUND] When you come up on the G string,
you're almost laying the, the pick flat.
As a way of getting both of those strings
to, to sing.
Otherwise if you leave your pick right in
the middle of the pairs,
you're probably gonna be just getting one
of the Ds and one of the Gs.
But as soon as you give this tiny bit of,
almost a figure eight, like the motion of
a fan.
Then you're gonna get both of the strings
to sing.
So again, getting back to that exercise,
D, A, D, E, D, G.
Now we use the A string as the pivot.
A, and E, A and D.
Now here's the weird one, A and G.
That is the weirdest one, because you've
gotta go,
you've gotta leap over the D string, and
do the G string with an upstroke.
So you really need to exaggerate this
figure 8 in order to get
in and out of those.
This, now the really hard stuff.
Down on the E, up on the A.
Down on the E, up on the D.
Down on the E, up on the G.
That's the craziest one.
But what you've essentially done now,
is you've played every possible
combination of string.
Down on one, up on the other.
And that's pretty much it.
If you're gonna play alternating down and
ups, those are the only combinations you
have with four strings.
So I encourage you to play those exercises
that I'll include as a, as a warm up.
Sometimes I do them just to, just to see
if things are working, and
I hope they help you and
this brings a little bit of just
conscience building to your right hand.
Good luck.
I'd like
now to talk a little bit about different
colors that you can get on the mandolin.
There's a full range of sounds obviously
and I encourage you even from
the first time you pick up the instrument
to really begin to explore, what's all,
what is there, and what is possible, and
not get too fixated on,
playing the mandolin at one part of the
string, with one volume level,
to start exploring various, dynamics.
The basic position, I taught in the,
in the last exercise was, letting the pick
rest right there,
where it feels very natural for your thumb
to sit.
And that puts my pick, based on the size
of my hand,
right at the end of the fingerboard, is
where, my, my pick tends to hit.
We're at the, at the end of the, they call
it the Florida, I guess.
[LAUGH] Me being from Florida, that makes
And that's sort of my me, my medium tone.
But of course as soon as I go back by the,
there's this whole other sound back by the
It's real edgy and bright.
And when I think about Monroe,
that's where you get that sound.
But the sweet spot is over, right over
that Florida, sometimes I'll even find
myself going way over the fingerboard for
super-quiet, delicate passages.
the main part is right at that center,
center zone.
The other thing to, be very conscious of
is how hard are you gripping the pick.
Especially, once we
get into playing tremolo.
But even for single string playing.
You want the pick to flop a little bit.
You wanna make sure that there's a little
flex in the pick, so
that it acts almost like a shock absorber.
So that each time you hit the string, you,
is a recovery time where the pick springs
But there are times when you get really
really loud and really hard and
particularly if you're playing something
slow and bluesy,
where you want that pick, you're grabbing
that pick pretty tense.
I'm, I'm holding it tighter now.
And back by the bridge.
But still there is a little flex in it.
It's never rigid, the,
the hand never clamps down, and, and
these, these knuckles never come together.
They're always a little bit open.
And then, as we get into tremolo,
I don't see any reason why you shouldn't
be exploring tremolo.
It's the classic mandolin sound.
But again, let that pick, let that pick
flop as you do it.
It should have some give.
There's a brighter, harder tremolo back by
the bridge.
there's a sweet spot, right over the
even, the quieter I get, there are times
when I'm,
getting down to where I am purposely
playing only one of the pairs of strings.
This is after you've learned to play both,
of course.
But for a super-quiet sound, you can get
this thing of just playing one, one of the
But it's a special effect,
it shouldn't be the way you're playing
normally all the time.