Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Poor White Folks

I just wanted to link some good things together: here's Bill Monroe playing "Poor White Folks" and here's a link to John Bird's tab and intro in the CoMando archives.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sliding exercises

Adam Steffey is one of the great sliders, and this exercise is inspired by his style. It's a whole break in G, but it's mostly just repeating licks to get your fingers into shape for Steffey-style sliding. Listen to him doing something like East Tennessee Blues, or just about anything really. Notice how I vary the note order slightly over the G chords to add interest. Experiment with sliding or not sliding wherever it's possible to get different effects.

Note how I use the open E string to facilitate the movement up the fretboard for the D position towards the end of the 4th measure - but there are other ways to do that, equally valid. It ends with a classic bluesy, sliding G lick. Get this up to around 240 bpm and you can wow the crowds.

I try to work these kind of new licks into just about all my breaks for a few weeks until I really get them solidly under my fingers - after that I try to pull them out only when they will actually sound tasteful.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Study technique

As a follow up to the last post, I've found it was a really good idea to follow a planned approach to developing my technique. I've only really been able to actually improve my playing by studying and repeatedly working on technique exercises. While it's a lot of fun and useful to work on music theory and add new pieces and licks to my repertoire, without a strong foundation of technique I found playing the mandolin to be hard work.

And when I get out there under the lights (when they have lights), the only thing that stands between me and miserable failure is technique. A while ago I bought a DVD that I didn't have high expectations from, this one:

Mike Marshall's Mandolin Fundamentals For All Players #1-Building Technique Through Exercises and Melodic Studies

I hadn't done much technique work previously, but I followed Mike's advice carefully and persevered diligently for several months, and it has made a huge difference to my playing. The main difference is that I actually enjoy playing a lot more now, knowing that I'm capable of making those licks and runs under pressure, and I have some technical expertise left over for improvisational flourishes and unexpected situations. Thank you, Mr Marshall.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Work that pinky

My little finger really wants to do what the other fingers do, but it has special needs. I've been working on exercises like this one for about 3 months now, and it's getting better. I expect to have to work on it for at least another 9 months before it shows the kind of improvement it aspires to.

In this exercise, use only your third and fourth finger. Your third finger plays the notes at the fifth fret, and your pinky handles all the others. Repeat the exercise for as long as you can stand it, but don't overstress your fingers. Watch that your first and second fingers stay hovering just above the strings and don't start to pull away, and also watch your general hand and thumb position, make sure everything stays where you normally want it.

At the same time, try make each note ring clear and true, and make sure your pick follows through on every stroke. Go as slowly as you need to, speed will come - this is a long-term investment.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Walking in Jerusalem - just like John Duffey

Speaking of awesome pickers, what about John Duffey. People talk about his great vocal range, but what most impresses me about his work is the tone and taste of his mandolin playing.

Here's his intro to "Walking In Jerusalem" from when he was with The Country Gentlemen in the 60's. Ricky Skaggs uses almost the exact same licks in his Boone Creek version of the same tune. Maybe they both got it from Bill Monroe, of course, I don't know because the version I have by Bill, he doesn't even bother to get out his mandolin (Anthology).

Anyway, here's the tab, the tune is in A.

Here's a YouTube of me trying to play it:

Just a note to say I finally figured out where Duffey got the idea from: it's basically the second half of Monroe's break from Uncle Pen - wouldn't you know it.

Play with great pickers - if you can

Yesterday I had the pleasure of picking alongside Joe Johnson on stage - every time you pick with someone who has really studied the music and their instrument, you learn something new. Here's a link to Joe's myspace page. If you get the chance to see him play the banjo, take it. What a nice guy.

Oh, what I learned was, when you're on stage with a great banjo picker, tone down your mandolin so they can hear him.