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Playing mandolin as a second instrument

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Sep 30, 2020 - 1:42:09 PM

cunparis

France

132 posts since 11/4/2012

Hey guys,

A few weeks ago I put Aquila 30U GDAE strings on my soprano uke that wasn't getting played and I've been playing it daily since. A little to the detriment of the fiddle. I've had a lot of fun with it and I'm considering buying a mandolin. The only thing that is making me hesitate is the double course steel strings. I've heard they're hard on the fingers, that it takes a while to build up finger strength, and it's painful until you get calluses. It seems a bit opposite of the fiddle where I try to apply the minimum pressure possible.

Is the mandolin an instrument that would require near daily practice to develop the finger strength and maintain the calluses? The good thing about the uke with nylon strings is it's easy on the fingers.

Another reason I'm interested in the mandolin is because I haven't made as much progress on the fiddle as I would like (after 7 years of private lessons). So I thought the mandolin would be a good choice and would help me learning tunes and such with the left hand.

I'd love to hear from others who play mandolin as a second instrument.

Thanks

Sep 30, 2020 - 1:53:44 PM

284 posts since 6/21/2007

I started on the mando a few years ago and really enjoy it. Admittedly, I’ve already had calluses from decades of banjo playing. If you’re really worried calluses that you can just string it with a single strings for the first few months and add the second strings when you’re ready. The fiddle is a demanding mistress. Your mandolin practice time needs to be in addition to your fiddle practice time, else your fiddle playing will decline. Good luck.

Sep 30, 2020 - 3:03:49 PM

61 posts since 9/16/2017

After playing guitar since the stone age I picked up a mando and just couldn't put it down came really natural and taught me a lot about picking since I had always finger picked more. Wish I would have got one sooner. then it led to fiddle playing ...

Sep 30, 2020 - 4:45:48 PM
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2287 posts since 10/1/2008

Well ... mandolin was my gateway drug to fiddling. The dexterity to play either and the noting / chording do pass back and forth. So something learned is squared. A bow is not a pick and a fingerboard is not a fretboard and each needs to be played as much daily as one is able. I hear my fiddle calling.....

Sep 30, 2020 - 5:48:59 PM

1672 posts since 12/11/2008

The thing is just too tough on my fretting fingers. I'm far from being a big guy, but the size of the instrument and the way it must be held makes me scrunch. I like the sound the instrument makes but I truly wish it could sustain a note. It doesn't so much sing as plink.

Sep 30, 2020 - 6:02:59 PM

210 posts since 6/11/2019

Mandolin is a bonus for a fiddle player. If you know a tune on fiddle, you can just about play it with the same proficiency on mandolin. The difference, of course, is the right hand picking. Thank goodness, though, it's easier to learn smooth picking than smooth bowing.

Regarding left hand, there IS a distinction between violin and mandolin. Pressure to stop strings comes to mind. Angle of hand. I've found positioning the mandolin slightly away from my body to the left (like aiming a rifle from the hip) helps blend common fiddle/mandolin action.

I don't think you need to practice mandolin daily if you play violin daily. I don't. Maybe twice a week.

I miss France, beautiful country.

Edited by - Flat_the_3rd_n7th on 09/30/2020 18:04:29

Sep 30, 2020 - 8:05:18 PM

LukeF

USA

65 posts since 10/15/2019

You mentioned that the steel strings can be hard on the fingers. Yes, that is true for a beginner, but there are two things you can do to mitigate the problem. You can use a light gauge set of strings, and you can have the action lowered by the store where you will purchase your mandolin.

Sep 30, 2020 - 8:08:21 PM
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2072 posts since 10/22/2007

I'll go as far as to say it requires different muscle groups for each. It sorta hurts for awhile when i pick up a mandolin. As lazy as i am, that means the mandolin sits more than the fiddle, guitar, banjer, bass, or piano.

Oct 1, 2020 - 5:41:06 AM

davyb

USA

3 posts since 8/14/2009

One possible way to reduce finger soreness would be to start with a 4-string electric mandolin. In addition to fewer strings, these mandolins tend to use lighter gauge strings than acoustics. Gold Tone currently offers an electric 4 string, as does Eastwood. Both come in at around $400. Both have current listings on Reverb.com. Of course, going with an electric requires amplification. Any inexpensive guitar amp works just fine.

Oct 1, 2020 - 8:46:43 AM
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4861 posts since 9/26/2008

The lower quality the mandolin, the harder it is to fret. Also, Light strings will make it more plunky and less sustaing on the cheaper ones. You'll need to spend a bit for one that is satisfying to play. As farmerjones said, different muscles (and more of them) needed. I personally find my fiddle intonation suffers when I switch between the two instruments and I tend to press way too hard on the fiddle strings after some time on mando.

Not sure where you 'want to be' after 7 years or where you are in your journey, but I'm not sure how getting a mandolin will help other than add time to gain the callouses and the proficiency needed to use a plectrum (pick) at speed. If you want to get "fingering" down, the uke should do that. You'll still have to adjust for intonation differences. If jamming is in your goals, I have a friend who strung up a banjo uke like a fiddle and plays that at the jam when there are "too many fiddles" (as if there could be too many fiddles). It works great and blends nicely in that banjo sort of way. 

Edited by - ChickenMan on 10/01/2020 08:49:00

Oct 1, 2020 - 12:06:13 PM
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59 posts since 11/19/2019

I'm a mandolin player and guitarist that is coming back to fiddle after many years away. I think I've got a different take on it than some.

The two aspects that do transfer over is the fact that they're both tuned in fifths and many of the same songs that you might learn at first on a fiddle, you would learn on a mandolin and vice-versa. So there are some mental things that help- a song I learn on mandolin is relatively easy for me to move to the fiddle or in the reverse. I really don't find a lot about the playing that is similar however.

Fingerings are not the same in effect. I use different fingering patterns on a mandolin and a fiddle. You can do the same, but I don't. Additionally, the fact that the mandolin is a fretted instrument gives leaway on finger placement versus the exacting nature of the fretless fiddle and staying in tune. This probably causes me more problems going back and forth than anything.

As for calluses on fingers while playing the mandolin, lighter stings can help somewhat, but a proper setup is more important than anything. Fret size will also make a difference. Mandolins with oversize frets tend to feel more painful to many people. Smaller frets prevent you from crushing your fingertips into the strings as hard (fingertips as they wrap around the string hit the fretboard earlier) and this will improve the feeling.

Oct 1, 2020 - 12:09:02 PM

RB-1

Netherlands

3 posts since 9/28/2020

Mandolin (sort of) was my first instrument.

I must have been 6 or7 years old when discovering my dad's mandolin-banjo and that's how I got started. Figuring it all out by ear with trial and error.

At 14, I was given a violin that spent had decades in a closet. Same process, trial and error. More error than trial this time, so it never took off like the mandolin did for me...

I vividly remember me trying to imitate the sound of Earl Scruggs' banjo after watching The Beverly Hillbillies (yes, even in Europe). That obviously didn't work on a mandolin-banjo, but at least I caught a glimpse of Earl's banjo, making me want to play that instrument instead.

At 20 I finally got myself a 5string and within 2 years I actually found myself playing Bluegrass.

A few years later, when hearing people playing Old Time for the first time, I assumed they were trying to play Bluegrass, but somehow never really managed. Later again, I learned, in spite of Old Time being an important ingredient of early Bluegrass, what exactly it was lacking, thereby making it not as appealing as Bluegrass to me.

Fast forward another 40 years, meanwhile I mastered the other Bluegrass instruments (except fiddle) but mandolin always remained very important to me.

And now, finally, after decades of trying and putting it away again, I’ve got a bow that fits what I’d been trying all these years and I start hearing myself playing music on the fiddle I only heard in my head before.

So in coming back on the topic starters question: Yes, you can play mandolin, it’s way easier than fiddle….


 


 

 

Oct 1, 2020 - 1:31:32 PM

4861 posts since 9/26/2008

Michael "see you in Paris" cunparis,
the above mentioned friend plays Irish as well as old time music and plays the banjo uke in sessions too. I just noticed that seemed to be the type of instruments you listed in your profile.

Edited by - ChickenMan on 10/01/2020 13:32:03

Oct 2, 2020 - 12:50:26 AM
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cunparis

France

132 posts since 11/4/2012

Thanks everyone for the replies. It's good to get feedback from fiddle players. At mandolin café they all recommend getting a mandolin. :)

stumpkicker - You have a good point that the mandolin practice will take away fiddle practice time. I didn't really say it in my original post but part of me is thinking I should switch from fiddle to mandolin. I stopped taking violin lessons. If mandolin is easier why struggle with the fiddle? But deep inside the violin is my favorite instrument. I just wish I could play it better.

Lonesome Fiddler - I too wish the mandolin had more sustain. I thought of getting a nylon strung mandolin-like instrument. The Mandolele from Griffin looks really nice but too expensive for my budget. I like the mandolin sound when playing melody but not so much when strumming or chording. It's great for chops but for example accompanying myself singing, not as good as a guitar.

Flat_the_3rd_n7th - I hope you are able to come back for a visit. When this quarantine virus stuff is over I'd like to visit the US again.

LukeF - I will ask about light strings if I buy one. I wouldn't need to play loud. But I read light strings can be more floppy and then the action has to be raised.

farmerjones - this is my fear, that if i don't play often it will hurt and then I will play less often.

davyb - an electric mandolin would be easier but I'm not into electric instruments. I love the natural sound of acoustic and being more portable.

ChickenMan - You really summed up the devil's advocate side. I think the mandolin would be a trial to see if I enjoy it as much or more than fiddle, and if so, possibly switch. And I updated my profile which was way out of date. Thanks for a reminder. :)


Reading all these replies motivates me to not give up on the fiddle. Thanks everyone for the feedback. Since decent used mandolins are hard to find in France, I'll be patient and keep playing with the GDAE uke for now. But when I find a decent used one I think I won't resist. :)

Oct 2, 2020 - 4:02:56 AM
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4861 posts since 9/26/2008

I'll add, the mandolin is not the fiddle, or a fiddle substitute. I don't play much mandolin any more because of arthritis, but I played the heck out of it in a bluegrass band for several years and recently played some for a recording session. It never calls to me from its case saying, "play me," like the fiddle does if I neglect it for a few days.

Oct 2, 2020 - 5:27:50 AM

141 posts since 12/30/2008

quote:
Originally posted by ChickenMan

 I don't play much mandolin any more because of arthritis, 


I'm the opposite; I've gone back to mandolin because holding a pick isn't as painful as holding a bow.

Oct 3, 2020 - 5:33:59 PM

571 posts since 8/10/2017

You don't need an expensive mandolin. A cheap mandolin set up well will serve you well. But consider an octave mandolin. Because the strings are looser, it takes a lot less pressure to press them down. The stretch can be gotten used to. I got an octave banjolin and have tuned it down three half steps and put a capo on 3 so that it's not as big a stretch for my hands. I actually find it easier to play than my mandolin because my hand isn't all cramped up from applying pressure. My hand is more loose and nimble.

Oct 4, 2020 - 12:18:27 PM

cunparis

France

132 posts since 11/4/2012

When you play octave mandolin, do you use 1 finger per fret like a guitar or 1 finger for 2 frets like on a mandolin? I read the chords are different because some of the mandolin chords aren't reachable with the bigger scale length.

Oct 4, 2020 - 12:48:37 PM
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1819 posts since 8/27/2008

It's not 1 finger for 2 frets on mandolin. It's one finger per diatonic scale note. as it is for fiddle. You're right it's harder to do that on an octave mandolin. I haven't played octave a lot but I generally keep that rule but have to shift my hand to accomodate it.

Oct 10, 2020 - 2:08:33 PM

Petimar

USA

141 posts since 9/13/2007

Mando is a GREAT second instrument with fiddle. It can REALLY help learn things in hoigher positions because you can see where to put your fingers and it helps take the guess work out of it for some fiddlers. Plus it is just a different sound (not that loud squeaky right next to your ear sound) that many enjoy :-)

Oct 11, 2020 - 6:03:29 AM

2072 posts since 10/22/2007

Seems once the frets are on an instrument, the discussions move from technique to the tone of the instrument itself. Serious guitar people have many guitars. Enthralled by the tone each individual guitar makes. I, myself have lusted after a mandolin after playing a certain one. Just the other night i got done playing and stopped to ponder the great tone of a guitar. That doesn't seem to happen, for me, as much if at all with a fiddle. In fact i can never seem to be happy with the way i sound on a fiddle. So be warned! Playing fretted instruments can lead to Happiness, and contentment!

Oct 11, 2020 - 7:56:57 AM
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Earworm

USA

139 posts since 1/30/2018

Like you, @cunparis, I took on mandolin as as second instrument to my fiddle, partly with the curious notion that it would be an "easy" transition to make. I guess I wanted to experiment with its different voice, and found myself thinking about it enough, that I figured why not? I found it interesting to try to learn about a new instrument, but it really does feel like an entirely different instrument (it is), not just a fiddle-stand-in.

What I did begin to learn better by playing mandolin was in the area of chording.  This was actually the first time I started to ask better questions about what chords belong in which key, and why. It did lead me to try some of the same ideas out on guitar after a while, and all of it works in synchrony - each benefits the other.

However in my case, after I'd learned some stuff on the "new" instruments I always reach for my fiddle because I consult it for all things important. I'm still glad I have my mandolin & guitar, and I'm sure they still have some more to teach me, but I will (almost) always reach for fiddle when I need to actually play.

But I wouldn't wait too long to get one if I were you - this is not the sort of thing that logic alone should dictate - if you need something the mandolin can give you, just try it.

Edited by - Earworm on 10/11/2020 08:01:34

Oct 11, 2020 - 12:41:43 PM

571 posts since 8/10/2017

I use my mandolin and various mandolin-like instruments to suss out new tunes. But I'll tell you that if I learn a tune on a mandolin I don't automatically know how to play it on a fiddle. Even the fingers don't seem to know what to do. But it helps to at least work out a melody in your brain which is kind of where the tunes have to start.

Oct 11, 2020 - 2:13:07 PM
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1819 posts since 8/27/2008

Mandolin was my main instrument for a long time. When I took up fiddle I already knew a lot of tunes and that helped me. After many years of fiddle being my main instrument I learn new tunes on it, and find it doesn't automatically mean I know how to play it on mandolin. In many ways fiddle is easier to play.

Oct 11, 2020 - 4:15:16 PM
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2232 posts since 8/23/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Brian Wood

Mandolin was my main instrument for a long time. When I took up fiddle I already knew a lot of tunes and that helped me. After many years of fiddle being my main instrument I learn new tunes on it, and find it doesn't automatically mean I know how to play it on mandolin. In many ways fiddle is easier to play.


I relate to this completely. Recently I became unwell and couldn't play fiddle, but I could do some playing on the mando. However, it wouldn't be long before my finger tips began to hurt because I am used to the very light finger pressure required for fiddle which is not adequate to produce a decent sound on the mando.  I reduced the double course to one string which didn't make much difference to the pressure required. I am not prepared to develop the required callus because I'm afraid that would ruin my fiddle technique. So, the mando is only useful to me for very short periods. Maybe a well set up, top grade instrument would make all the difference but not prepared to fork out that kinda dough. 

For me the fiddle is much easier to play, in every aspect, due to the fact It has been my main instrument for decades. The mando did give me a head start but that was awhile before playing fiddle. At the beginning of my fiddle playing I did continue to play mando and the classical guitar until eventually I dedicated all practice time to fiddle. I never set progress goals, but gave myself all the time I needed. And I don't think I will ever be satisfied with my progress, because there is never an end to what can be learnt. 

Oct 11, 2020 - 6:15:13 PM

1819 posts since 8/27/2008

Get well, Henry!

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