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Mandolin Lessons: Tremolos with Mike Marshall

"When it comes to tremolos, as a mandolin player, you need to have a variety of speeds, styles and range."  -Mike Marshall

Ah, the tremolo... those rapid, repeated striking of the strings which imitate the effect of a violin bow.  Such a nice sound when done correctly.  Tremolos are among the many ways to expand your mandolin technique and can add a lot of depth and emotion to your playing.  In this video from Mike Marshall's mandolin lessons, we explore the entire mandolin using tremolos. 

The key to good tremolos is doing it smoothly and cleanly, because you are imitating a bow being drawn across violin strings.  The striking of the mandolin strings should not be heard and you should be able to vary your speed and range for good effect.  

 

Watch Mike's Free Mandolin Lessons

A common problem amongst beginner mandolin players is to hold the pick too hard between the index finger and thumb.  It's just going to get stuck on the string and resist it.  To avoid this, think about how deep you're digging into the string. You want it to go across the string and still come back easily. 

So why do Mike's mandolin tremolos have such finesse?  It starts with good mandolin position by holding the instrument at an angle so that the pick doesn't strike the string(s) at a hard angle, creating an aggressive or loud sound.  This angled position also creates less resistance for the pick, allowing for more agility and control over your sound.  Likewise, Mike uses a light grip on the pick so that he grazes the string rather than digs into it.  In fact, the faster he plays, the lighter and looser his mandolin pick grip gets, to the point where he almost and often does, drop the pick.

The external mandolin strings allow for a less refined tremolo technique because you have more space for hand and pick movement.  But with the internal strings, some tremolo practice is required to improve your smoothness, shorten your stroke and vary your mandolin playing style.  Mike suggests a simple progressive exercise to improve your tremolo chops.  Try starting on one string and using 16th notes, gradually increase your speed, being mindful of the sound your pick might be making and the smoothness of the tremolo.  The faster you go and the louder you play, the higher the potential hand tension.  Loosen the grip on the pick as you increase your speed and volume to the point where you almost drop the pick.  Remember, stay loose!

Mike suggests practicing this with a simple tune around one string, use all four fingers and experience the full range of color on just one string.  Then try the same gradual increase exercise on two strings, taking care to not reach beyond just one pair of mandolin strings, especially if you're playing on internal strings.  When you progress to three strings, your pick should be very free and loose. 

If you can progress to four strings, practice shifting between chords and keep your hand far from the bridge - don't use your pinky as an anchor. 

As Mike says: "You should be floating above the mandolin".  That's finesse.

Related Blogs on Mandolin Lessons:

mandolin lessons with mike marshall

 

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