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Mandolin Lessons: The Mandolin's Place in the Band

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What about the Mandolin's role in a band,
in a Bluegrass band.
And, and how, how do you function in the
group in this,
in this beautiful chamber group that is
it's classic Bluegrass band.
We're you've got everyone on a different
guitar, banjo, fiddle, bass, mandolin,
maybe a Dobro.
And the, I think the beautiful thing about
that context,
that format of playing music is that
there's super defined roles for
each player, much like chamber music in
classical music.
It's, it's always the, the role of each
person to occupy a different
sonic space and a different rhythmic
And this is what jazz groups are all
about, piano and bass, drums, saxophone.
Each person is doing a very different
So in a Bluegrass band, you've got, you
know, obviously the mandolin,
we have this 100 year tradition now of, of
the mandolin as rhythm instrument.
And backing up being the back beat in a
And if you look at some of the early, old
time mandolin styles,
you have a real open chord [NOISE] style
[NOISE] where things were really ringing.
And that way, what was because probably in
some of those other bands, were just a lot
of duets and trios.
Sometimes, just a fiddle and a banjo and a
So, the banjo's role would be more active
in a situation like that.
And I go into this in more detail in my
duo presentation of with Darol Anger.
Where I'm showing the mandolin is trying
to cover a lot of bases.
But in the context of a band, it limits
down and
your role is really to play the back beats
in a really solid way and
be functioning with the bass as a, as a
real team.
And of course, don't forget the guitar and
the banjo and the fiddle.
The most important thing to keep in mind
about playing in a band is that
your job is to really be aware of
everything that's going on around you.
And know the music well enough so that you
can have your radar kinda
out to all the other players, you know,
it's a little bit like playing basketball.
You know, [LAUGH] you have to know where
everybody is so you can pass to them.
You can't just grab the ball and think,
you know, solecistically.
I'm gonna go shoot.
You know, [LAUGH] those are the teams that
The best ones are the ones that pass off.
And and do it subtly so no one can see.
But this is, this is what you have to
develop a, as you get your roll down.
And you get to where you can change
chords and, and the chords of the song are
not a big deal.
The tempo's not a big deal.
You got the music down.
It's gonna come.
It's way in the back part of your brain.
You're not having to think about your job
too much.
Then you start thinking, gee am I really
locking with the bass player?
You know, he's kinda pushing a little bit
I'm playing in this super laid back way.
Maybe I bring where I'm putting these back
beats a little more forward.
So that we, we create a real lock, you
And then same with the banjo, you know,
banjos play on all the 16th notes with
that roll.
And are my back beats.
Really locking in with all those.
These are the kinda things you should be
thinking about.
And the guitar, of coarse, is playing open
chords and playing bass runs.
So, you wanna make sure that you don't
find yourself [NOISE] going
into too much open chord playing.
Ringing style playing.
Because it's gonna potentially
make a mess with his, if he's doing that.
So keep your roll.
Nice and tight and out of the way of him.
Always think about tone.
Always think about am I,
am I getting the best sound out of my
[SOUND] And that doesn't necessarily mean
playing louder.
It often means playing quieter.
To get your instrument to really sing.
And then, of course, being in tune, you
I remember having that revelation with,
with playing with somebody like Tony Rice
whose not a super loud player.
But his guitar is always is so in tune.
[LAUGH] And he's so playing rhythmically
That those things will propel your sound
across the room.
When you think about it.
Sound has to travel through space.
So, if the guitar and
the mandolin are out of tune, it's not
gonna be as loud across the room.
As soon as that stuff gets in tune it just
takes off.
And same can be said about rhythmic
That if you're playing in time and things
are synchronized and swinging just right,
you know, there's not gonna be this kind
of sonic thing happening.
It's gonna sync up and that's also gonna
sail it across the room.
So, a lot of times we struggle with the
volume and not
being able to hear ourselves and, and, and
all these problems, especially on stage.
But if we bring the music into a super
tight place a lot of times those,
those issues will go away.
So these are just some of the things to,
to think about as you,
as you jam with people.
Good luck.