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Old 10-08-2018, 12:07 PM
Mr. Jelly Mr. Jelly is offline
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Default Mandolin Question

I love the sound of mandolin especially playing the blues. Though I haven't heard much of bit. (Suggestions?) I am mandolin ignorant so bear with me if this is an ignorant question. What's the explanation about mandolins playing in the key of E? I play a fair amount of blues in E and I am wondering how uncommon and/or difficult is it for a mandolin player to play in E. I know they like G and D. Could they detune or get a bigger mandolin and detune? Whatever. I don't want to capo the guitar to G so there is no need for that discussion. Thanks
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Old 10-08-2018, 12:31 PM
Wade Hampton Wade Hampton is online now
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Mr. Jelly, the mandolin can certainly be played in E but it's not as instinctively easy as it is to play it in G, C, D and A. You'll also find that horn players don't much like jamming in E, either, because it's a sharp key. Horn players prefer keys with a lot of flats in them rather than a lot of sharps.

As with any musician you happen to meet, a great deal is going to depend on the skill level and musical knowledge of the mandolin players in question. But if you're around mostly bluegrass players (and, in the US, mandolin players tend to be bluegrass-oriented, almost by definition,) they prefer to avoid the key of E major unless it's where a singer has to sing a song.

That's when the capos come out.

In bluegrass circles, for some reason, capos are considered essential for guitar and banjo, but are sneered at when mandolinists use them (says the voice of personal experience.) It's probably equal parts the fact that Bill Monroe never used a capo AND because of their short scale, double strings and high tension, mandolins are more difficult to capo without knocking out of tune than either guitars and banjos.

Whatever the reason, capoing up a mandolin is definitely looked down upon among bluegrass musicians.

But they won't sneer if you capo up your guitar to play with them. So you might want to experiment with practicing some of your blues arrangements capoed up into keys where the bluegrassers can play along more happily.

Just a thought.

Hope this helps.


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Old 10-08-2018, 01:19 PM
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posternutbag posternutbag is offline
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I play a lot of blues, and I play a lot of mandolin, but I don't play much blues mandolin. The main problem with the mandolin is that although it excels as a lead instrument, it isn't very expressive. That is to say it doesn't have the keening, vocal qualities of a harmonica or a guitar. It is hard to bend notes, and it is hard to add vibrato.

That isn't to say you can't play blues on a mandolin. Yank Rachell is undoubtedly the most famous blues mandolin player. Jim Richter has some cool blues rock on solo mandolin:



I don't think E is a bad key on mandolin, particularly if you learn to play four finger closed positions.
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Old 10-08-2018, 01:55 PM
Silly Moustache Silly Moustache is offline
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I used to play mando in bluegrass bands, but haven't done so for some years.

Wade is right capos on mandos are definitely punishable by death in the bluegrass fraternity, but needn't be an issue.

When I was recruited into two bands in '75, there was no internet, or lessons, so I learnt by listening to records, and mentally turning my mando into an upside down guitar (EADG).

As I started playing guitar playing (a kind of) blues, I'd developed a sort of pentatonic scale mindset and so adapted it to mando.

Playing in E means that you still have E,A and B7 in1st positions, plus E in a C shape, and A and B in the G shape. 7chords are quite easy using the root notes on the 3rd or 4th courses (a bit like jazz guitar).

As already stated Yank Rachel and Steve James has resurrected a lot of Yank's styles.

I used to see/meet Steve quite regularly when he toured Europe and the UK but we had a difference and I don't se him anymore but he is a good tutor.

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Old 10-08-2018, 02:17 PM
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I've tried to take a more disciplined approach to mandolin than I did with guitar, so I started playing scales in all the keys. Since there are quite a few with no open notes, though harder, you can move them to play in whatever key you want. If you know that is going to be a common key, practice it like crazy, especially the pentatonic blues scale.

More important if you jump into this wonderful new world, the rule of thumb is double the guitar price for equal quality mandolin, and add some more for a scroll.
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Old 10-08-2018, 02:42 PM
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Mandolin can be played in any key. Since standard tuning calls for open strings G, D, A and E, and the key of E has F#, C#, G# and D#, you can see you don't get away with many open string drones in E. In blues, however, we almost always flat the 3rd (G in the key of E) and often flat the 7 (D in the key of E). So E Blues can work very well on mando. Check out Rich Delgrosso and Gerry Hundt for some great mando blues. Even Bill Monroe did a lot of blues - Walls of Time and Watson's Blues for example.

Capos on mandos don't make much sense - you have such a short neck to start with. Put a capo on the 5th fret or higher and it just sounds like your plucking the strings below the bridge or above the nut. Bluegrass guitars do it so they can still play the key of C or G shapes and do those fun bass runs and hammer-ons. Banjos and dobros need them as they're typically tuned to open G. Most mandolin players are smart enough not to need the cheater clamp anyway. ;-)

Last edited by Mandobart; 10-08-2018 at 02:47 PM.
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Old 10-08-2018, 03:11 PM
frankmcr frankmcr is offline
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As a matter of fact, Yank Rachell usually tuned his mandolin down, mostly to:

E B F# C#

low to high.

This made it a lot easier for him to play with blues guitarists, who favor tunes in E and A.
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Old 10-08-2018, 03:35 PM
Mr. Jelly Mr. Jelly is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by frankmcr View Post
As a matter of fact, Yank Rachell usually tuned his mandolin down, mostly to:

E B F# C#

low to high.

This made it a lot easier for him to play with blues guitarists, who favor tunes in E and A.
We have a weiner!

So it's turned down a step. In this way a person may play it the same as they are used to but in E instead of G. Right? Now I have to talk to my mandolin playing buddies to see if they are up for it. Thanks
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Old 10-08-2018, 04:05 PM
frankmcr frankmcr is offline
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Highly recommended:

Blues Mandolin Man The Life and Music of Yank Rachell, by Richard Congress, University Press of Mississippi 2001, ISBN 1-57806-334-5

It's pronounced "Ruh-SHELL", by the way.
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Old 10-09-2018, 09:12 AM
Wade Hampton Wade Hampton is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Jelly View Post
We have a weiner!

So it's turned down a step. In this way a person may play it the same as they are used to but in E instead of G. Right? Now I have to talk to my mandolin playing buddies to see if they are up for it. Thanks
Well, good luck getting a mandolinist to tune down a step. Again, mandolin is quite different from guitar in this regard - itís under such great tension, and everything is so small that the tolerances are more minute. Tuning a step low would almost certainly affect the intonation and knock everything out of alignment.

I can tell you straight out that if a guitarist was to ask me to tune down a step I would flat refuse.

Seriously, Mr. Jelly, thatís a non-starter. Instead of trying to come up with ways to get mandolinists to adapt to your playing, you should be thinking of ways to modify your own approach, whether itís by using a capo or by learning some blues songs in keys like G. You might also benefit by getting a mandolin and learning enough on it to be able to show your mandolin-playing friends ways to play the tunes.

Thatís how I started on guitar, actually. I was playing mountain dulcimer and was playing in keys that guitarists could follow easily enough, but the dulcimer was strange to them and they would often stare uncomprehendingly as I called out the chords.

So I learned the basic guitar chords so I could borrow their guitars long enough to show them the chord progression. Then theyíd get it, Iíd hand them back their guitars, and weíd go ahead and play the song.

You could do the same thing. Itís really not that difficult - mandolin is actually a pretty easy instrument once you already know how to hold a pick and keep time.

Just a thought.


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Old 10-09-2018, 02:30 PM
BobbyBadd BobbyBadd is offline
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If you remember your theory, E blues scale is the same as the G major scale, just starts and ends on the E.

So E is actually a real easy key to do blues on mandolin, you can play a lot of your G licks.

Happy Pickin'
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Old 10-09-2018, 02:44 PM
Mandobart Mandobart is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Jelly View Post
We have a weiner!

So it's turned down a step. In this way a person may play it the same as they are used to but in E instead of G. Right? Now I have to talk to my mandolin playing buddies to see if they are up for it. Thanks
No that would be tuned down two steps. Learning to play mandolin tuned down 2 steps so you can focus only on blues in E is a short-sighted goal that will likely be a problem if you ever decide you actually want to learn to play in standard tuning. One important point - not all blues tunes are done in E! Yank Rachel did a few different tunings. He was a self-taught player about 100 years ago, who had almost none of the opportunities we do today. Too often we hear one aspect of a somewhat successful or influential artist's style and think "that's what I need to do!" sort of like "Paul McCartney never learned to read music and look how well he's done - reading music is a waste of time!"

I've only been playing mandolin 10 years. I've played guitar about 40 years and violin about 45. I play bluegrass, classical, Americana, C&W, jazz, gypsy jazz, klezmer, Irish trad and blues on mandolin. I play all these genres in standard tuning. I recommend you learn to play correctly first, then experiment.
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Old 10-09-2018, 04:50 PM
Mr. Jelly Mr. Jelly is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wade Hampton View Post
Seriously, Mr. Jelly, thatís a non-starter. Instead of trying to come up with ways to get mandolinists to adapt to your playing, you should be thinking of ways to modify your own approach, whether itís by using a capo or by learning some blues songs in keys like G.
I really do appreciate the information. I'm not sure why but when a person asks a question people assume allot. Yes I play blues in all keys though I don't sing well in all keys. Capo up to G is a different sound than playing in E. I did learn to play mandolin once but I got over that pretty quickly. I gave it to my grandson. If you say it doesn't work then it doesn't work for the work a day mandolinist. I worked with a guy that would play harp on E songs and mandolin of other songs. I found myself trying to play more songs in G or whatever and then I started not liking my repertoire. That's my issue I know. Thanks for the come backs though guys.
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Old 10-10-2018, 10:50 AM
Frogstar Frogstar is offline
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When I was taking up mando, one of the guys in the jam played a lot of blues in E. So I learned an E blues scale on mando. Seems to satisfy folks at the jam well enough.
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Old 10-13-2018, 02:36 PM
Wade Hampton Wade Hampton is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frogstar View Post
When I was taking up mando, one of the guys in the jam played a lot of blues in E. So I learned an E blues scale on mando. Seems to satisfy folks at the jam well enough.
I play mandolin in the key of E, as well, though it's admittedly not my favorite key to try to get loose and creative in.


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