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Mandolin Lessons: Speed and Relaxation

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Okay, let's talk about speed.
Time for me to get on my soap box now, and
[LAUGH] until you how, how dangerous it
[LAUGH] But really,
Bluegrass is a very deceptive form because
it is a lot of the tunes are played fast.
And, as mandolin players, we are often
playing rhythm.
And, the difference between playing.
A simple back beat chop on a fast tune
versus playing the same thing but
playing strings of eight notes at that
Is pretty extraordinary,
how much what a variation there is in the
physical demand of those two acts.
So, Bluegrass is also a very simple
harmonic form.
And you could learn to play this chop
changing at that speed in, maybe a year of
playing the mandolin.
And you're often thrown into jam sessions
where that's the feeling of the music.
And it's exciting music, it's fun.
And that's kind of the whole deal with it.
But, when it comes time to take a break,
you know as well as I do,
how most people fall apart at those kind
of tempos.
So, this is what we're gonna attempt to
work on and
a couple of things come to mind.
I mean, first off is how in the world are
we going to play clean
at that kind of tempo and play anything
interesting or meaningful?
You know, that's going to be very
The only way we can do that is if we
simplify it.
Simplify, simplify, simplify.
The melodic and rhythmic concepts.
You know, we're probably not gonna be able
to throw in a ton of trills.
And we're probably not gonna be able to
play all up and
down the fingerboard, and jump all over
the fingerboard.
We're probably gonna stay in a very
limited range on the instrument, and we're
probably gonna use a lot of open strings
and be in a super comfortable space.
And we're gonna play a lot of simple,
repeated fragments that don't really
travel a long distance harmonically,
melodically, up and down the fingerboard.
We're gonna stay with.
I mean, that's three notes, right?
And just the act of playing those three
notes at that kind of tempo
is something you wanna practice.
Because that's gonna enable you to
So, let's start with a,
really nice and simple.
then let's see if we can bring that up.
To a fast.
Mm 'kay.
There you hit a wall.
Here goes the shoulder starts to tense up,
the arm's tensing, here goes the wrist.
Everything's gonna start seizing up.
So, what I try to do is fight that, and
the only way to fight that is to start
relaxing against it, sort of pushing
against the tension with relaxation.
And the relaxation starts at probably at
the thumb and the gripping of the pick.
You have to kinda let go of the pick and
let it flop, okay?
The problem with this, of course, is the
volume goes down.
Cause, you know, grabbing the pick really
hard gives us volume.
But there's no way that we can play really
fast and really clean and really loud.
Those, you can't have all three [LAUGH] of
those in my opinion.
You're gonna have to tradeoff something.
And so, I recommend that you just get
quieter when, if you're gonna try and
play really clean a lot of sixteenth
You're gonna have to bring the volume
down, and it is the job of
the rhythm section to come down to where
the soloist is so that he can be heard.
And that's just kind of a cardinal rule of
good, polite rhythm section playing.
[LAUGH] And so, I recommend that you, you
know, just little to the great bands.
I mean listen to Tony Rice take a solo in
any context.
And you'll hear the whole group get down
for his guitar solo, so he can be
heard and he can play in this quiet way,
so that he can play all those notes.
So, play lighter.
Grip the pick less hard.
Try to become aware of the tension.
And, get the rhythm section to play down
so that you can still be heard.
Or don't play all those darn notes ok.
[LAUGH] That's the other option.
You'll hear some mandolin players go into
a double stop, you know.
So the pick is still playing
fast at that moment.
But I'm no longer playing.
I'm playing a lot less.
I'm, playing double stops, and maybe
I'm inserting a tiny bit of sixteenths
melodic material,
but I'm punctuating it with these double
stop held notes.
Even though my hand is continuing to play
Now here comes a little run.
Now I'm back to.
A long tone.
Sixteenth notes, double stops.
Now here comes a riff.
And it's always really simple and it's
really short.
And it's one directional, it's just
straight up, not a scale, but
a simple little, melodic thing that walks
And then, you turn around.
Something again, simple, simple, simple.
Good luck.
This is the difficult thing about
It's a fun thing about Bluegrass.
But, I hope this gives you some insights
into how to get
that under control.