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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Playing fiddle with mandolinists is exhausting!

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Snafu - Posted - 07/29/2021:  06:13:55

I play fiddle and have post-covid been venturing out and playing with others. Maybe it’s from doing all my playing solo but I have noticed that I don’t play nice when instruments without any sustaining power like mandolins join the mix - especially in old time and sometimes Irish tunes. Bluegrass is ok, the singers and upright bass force them to adhere to the tempo.

I find (maybe perceive is a better description) that mandolinist in old time, playing melody seem to always want to rush the tempo. No tune with a mandolin playing along is allowed to breath and stay mellow for long. Even waltzes are sped up if a mando joins in. Is this because mandolins don’t have any sustaining power and players feel the need to fill the sound void? I love the sound of a mando but the constant push to increase the tempo to warp speed becomes tiring to the ear and the jam loses its enjoyment. A fiddle can play fast but there reaches a point where it all mushes together sound wise and it becomes physically exhausting to bow at warp speed. That’s when I drop out. For whatever reason, banjos rolling along on chords don’t produce this same effect unless it’s a banjo centered tunes and then I get the desire to speed up and play along.

I guess what I really want is a jam with fiddles, guitar, bass, banjo and maybe a flute or whistle. Maybe a mando chopping chords but leave the individual melody note playing to the fiddles. Is it just me?

Edited by - Snafu on 07/30/2021 13:16:51

DougD - Posted - 07/29/2021:  06:39:33

It might be just you, but it sounds like it might be the people you're playing with. The people I like to play with know how to leave some breathing space in the music, so it doesn't feel rushed, even if the tempos are pretty quick.
Here's an example, with two mandolins:

Mobob - Posted - 07/29/2021:  07:09:03

not the car, its the driver.

farmerjones - Posted - 07/29/2021:  07:47:40

It is the operator. Not that it's easy to keep from speeding. I know one or two that have played for decades, and still . . . But it's a jam situation.
They need to pick up a fiddle. Walk in the other guy's moccasins. I play a little mandolin every week, so I can sing a song or two. Good for the soul.

rosinhead - Posted - 07/29/2021:  07:49:40

I agree with Bob and Doug.  I can think of two mandolinist that do it very well.  Caleb Klauder (Foghorn String Band) and Mike Bing (The Bing Brother).

Can't blame the tempo or timing on the instrument.  Are they increasing tempo while playing or just starting the tune out too fast for you?



doryman - Posted - 07/29/2021:  09:14:31

I mando player with a good chop is welcome into my jam anytime!

Brian Wood - Posted - 07/29/2021:  09:58:49

I agree with others that it's not the instrument but the player when the tempo is speeding up. And speeding up can be a real problem. It's perhaps the main jam buster for me. When someone is speeding up it tends to ruin the playing of others because the groove is lost. I'll just stop playing if somebody starts rushing. Not out of spite, but because my sense of place in the tune is gone. I played in a bluegrass band for awhile, and a couple of the members would tend to speed up when they got nervous. These were guys who actually wanted the tunes slower than I did so they could play them, so it would end up a mess. I liken it to running downhill and starting to fall forward, then you're running faster to keep from falling on your face. It doesn't work.

Edited by - Brian Wood on 07/29/2021 10:00:15

ChickenMan - Posted - 07/29/2021:  15:15:24

If there is a guitar and bass (and banjo too, frankly), it's their job to hold the tempo steady. If they don't or can't, then they are the problem. 

sbhikes2 - Posted - 07/30/2021:  07:57:58

Well, a mandolin is much easier to play fast and it's more fun to play fast so I think that is what happens. I notice this a lot. I started to do it once I got pretty proficient but people complained so I paid better attention to the tempo people started with. You can easily play slowly if that's what people want to do, you just have to be considerate.

So I agree with the others, it's not the mandolin, it's the player.

By the way there is something about proficient fiddle players wanting to speed up notey tunes to lightening speed. I don't get it. Why can't they play those kinds of tunes at a normal speed?

JWC - Posted - 07/30/2021:  08:20:09

I was going to say the same thing. I think that the original poster is correct that some mandolin players speed up due to lack of sustain. Obviously, good and experienced mandolinists can avoid this temptation. But the temptation is there - mandolinists tend to keep the right hand perpetually in motion in order to maintain fluid speed during a song. As they do that, they can speed up a bit too much in the process (instinctively trying to fill the silence with notes quickly fade). It is the same issue with three finger picking on the banjo - the perpetual motion and lack of sustain can push a melody too fast in a bluegrass jam sometimes if the banjo player leads the pace. (For some reason, this tendency doesn’t seem to be a problem when the banjo is played Clawhammer style).

For anyone who dabbles with both guitar and mando, here is the definitive test. Try strumming a song, especially a song with altered chords that requires some closed chord positions. It is a lot harder to play the mandolin while singing if the pace is slow. The pace for strumming generally has to speed up (compared to a guitar) until the pace is at a point where the chords do not fade into silence.

But for the mandolinist, there is less of a temptation if there are more instruments than just the fiddle and mando - particularly if there is a good rhythm guitarist. it is easier to live with the space and silence (in terms of the mandolin itself, whose notes quickly decay) if a strong rhythm guitar is filling the air with sound and rhythm.

I say this as someone who has played mando for years but started to take up fiddling again a few years ago (after decades of not working on fiddle). I realized in returning to the fiddle that it was much easier to remember to play slowly when appropriate (e.g., a waltz) on the fiddle, or to leave space in between a judicious selection of notes (e.g., think of J.R. Chatwell’s famous western swing solo in ‘Sometimes,” the Cliff Bruner song that has the same melody as “Right or Wrong”).

But good mandolinists can still remember to slow down the right hand to the appropriate tempo, and even intermediate players can do this if there is a good guitarist in the ensemble to sustain the tempo.

ChickenMan - Posted - 07/30/2021:  08:21:16

Yeah, I can play way faster on the fiddle than on the mandolin, and I'm pretty quick and efficient with a plectrum.

Edited by - ChickenMan on 07/30/2021 08:21:32

UsuallyPickin - Posted - 07/30/2021:  14:15:22

Well .... some folks just can't keep time. Speed up , slow down, then speed up again, or breaking time completely. I do like to play fiddle tunes at a good fast dance clip... but I will play at what ever tempo a tune gets kicked off in...... that's the way it's supposed to be. Isn't it? Anyway I thought it was the banjo players job to speed up the tempo . . .

East Texas Fiddle - Posted - 08/07/2021:  05:50:40

There are things you can do on the mando to fill (if you must; I don't see why) the space left by a lack of sustain. Crosspicking or tremolo, for example.

Yes, it's the driver.

Peghead - Posted - 08/11/2021:  13:26:06

Off timing is not restricted to any particular instrument, it's an equal opportunity impairment! I've noticed that the tempo will speed up when there are two people who's natural tendency is to play ahead of the beat - they start to leap frogging off each other. On the other hand, there are people who play slightly behind the beat no matter how fast the tempo is. Go figure. Nobody should hang off anyone else for rhythm or it will sag. Ideally everyone should be able to hold down the groove independently. Timing is something you work on just like anything else. It helps to play with others who have good timing so that you get a visceral sense of it. Especially a band with a good base player who can hit you with those big puffs of air! There's something dynamic about it when it's good because everyone is constantly micro adjusting their speed, it's not a static thing. Listeners don't notice the tweeking that goes on to keep things even. The metronome will develop the control to do that. Someone said to play with a metronome - not like one. I think that's right.

Edited by - Peghead on 08/11/2021 13:33:41

pete_fiddle - Posted - 08/13/2021:  12:45:46

It's what gives music its energy. Like 3 Phase Electric. Rhythm,Harmony, and Melody....Ohms law, or some other trigonometry probably applies....wink

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