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Old 09-01-2017, 09:04 AM
ssjk ssjk is offline
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Default A chord kind of guy in a single note world

Would appreciate some advice here. After 50 years of guitar and 10 of mandolin, I would rate myself as an advanced intermediate. I’m primarily a singer, normally finger picking when alone and using a flat pick when in a group or when playing mando.

Here’s my problem:

I can play a decent break when fingerpicking, working within the chords that I happen to be playing at that time, and selecting a location on the neck where it fits the break I’m playing. But I can’t seem to do that with a pick, playing single notes.

It occurred to me that I’m always trying to fill in the chord structure rather than concentrating on the single note of the melody or lead. Easy when fingerpicking. Much harder when flatpicking.

So advice requested: Practice scales until I drop? Play fiddle tunes? Write out some breaks and play them as written? Find songs I like and just play along with the melody with single notes? Get an instructor?

I’ve tried all but the last with limited success. Anybody got some magic to offer?

Thanks
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Old 09-01-2017, 09:41 AM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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You're in the reverse position to many beginners - and I don't mean because of your extensive experience.

The typical beginner (these days) knows plenty of scales, but doesn't know chords well enough, or has no idea how to use scales musically.

You're in the (advantageous) position of knowing plenty of chords - I imagine you see your fretboard in terms of chord shapes. Your problem is (in a sense) how to break out of those shapes, open out into scales.

What kinds of things do you do when you play a fingerpicking break? Do you stick solidly to each chord shape? Or do you embellish them with an extra note or two here and there? Maybe a hammer-on or pull-off? If so, you're on your way; you're already using something of the strategy I'm outlining below.

What I suggest is you take the I-IV-V chords of any key, using shapes you know in the same neck position (any position). I.e., you can play all the chords within a 3 or 4 fret "box". The notes you're holding down - adding all 3 shapes together - is your scale; it should be a near complete scale, running over two octaves (if you're using all 6 strings). Whichever chord you're on, the notes in the other chords are your additional passing notes.
I.e., there is no magic to scales, nothing you don't already know. Just as chords come from a scale, so the scale comes from the chords. No new knowledge to acquire!

It's probably a good idea to use a pick, to get out of the fingerpicking habit. Just pick your way in and out of the chords. The left hand will obviously not sit on each chord shape in full (you need to release it from that task), but you still "see" the shapes there, so you can use chord tones as starting notes and target notes.

That's a fairly "vanilla" approach, because (from I-IV-V chords) you're using the diatonic scale of the key. No chromatics. If you want a bluesier or jazzier sound, that's when you call in the chromatics. Start by using notes a half-step below any chord tone: slide up to the chord tone, or hammer-on. You can really use any note at all when soloing (all 12 are up for grabs) but it's the chords that make sense of it all, where the phrases all resolve.
That's where your own real advantage lies: your chord knowledge. You will never get lost because you will know what chord you're on at all times.
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Old 09-01-2017, 10:25 AM
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Go pentatonic.
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Old 09-01-2017, 11:34 AM
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Isn't mandolin a lot of single note runs with a flatpick? What basic things would prevent the transfer of that skill to guitar?
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Old 09-01-2017, 11:43 AM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rick-slo View Post
Isn't mandolin a lot of single note runs with a flatpick? What basic things would prevent the transfer of that skill to guitar?
Good point. I play both myself and - while I do solo on both - the tuning (and the different chord shapes) makes a big difference. You can't transfer the thinking on one to the other, at least if it's based on visual patterns. On mandolin I find myself falling back on pentatonics all the time - the tuning lends itself well to that. Luckily, for the style of music I play mandolin on, major pentatonics sound right.
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Old 09-01-2017, 03:00 PM
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Thanks for the suggestions.

Jon – particularly valuable was the concept of the left hand “obviously not sitting on each chord shape” but releasing to allow me to get to the rest of the scale. In fact, sitting on the chord shape is exactly what I do when fingerpicking. I just move on to the next chord shape and hold that one for a while too, adding melody or embellishments as they occur to me. Intuitive when fingerpicking. Not so much when flatpicking. I’ll try it as you suggested.

Barry – I take your comment to mean “learn the basic pentatonic scales and use those instead of holding the chord shape”. I’ll try that too.

Derek – you’re right. But I was a guitar player long before I was a mandolin player, so the transfer has been going the other way for me. Probably to my detriment. In fact, it was realizing that I was still trying to throw in complete chords on the mandolin instead of sticking to the single notes that led me to ask the question.

I guess the bottom line is there is no substitute for time spent with the pick until the notes are as intuitive to me that way as they are with the fingers. I was afraid of that.
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Old 09-02-2017, 03:09 PM
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One word - arpeggios.
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Old 09-03-2017, 05:28 AM
Mr. Jelly Mr. Jelly is offline
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I come from the opposite direction. Without getting technical what works well especially with solo guitar are a minimal number of fill in notes. Think of it as adding grace notes to a chord. Only your hand can't do the stretch so you abandon the chord to put in a couple of notes then return to the chord. Timing will dictate what you can accomplish. To begin with I would suggest using the major and minor pentatonic scales.
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