Mandolin Diary – Week 4

24th -30th August 2020

6 minute read

As the month draws to a close, so ends my August challenge to play my mandolin every day. With an unbroken record from 1st August I am definitely going to see how long I can go without breaking my streak! Read on to find out how I got on in the final week of August and to hear my plans going forward.

Tuning update

I can’t help but get the opening of Chris Izaak’s Wicked Game in my head whenever I tune my mandolin. I may just need a new set of strings, but they do seem particularly tricky to get right: I can spend ages meticulously tuning the open strings only to find that most of the fingered notes are out! The most reliable method seems to be checking the open strings with a tuner app, then double-checking each open string with the fingered note an octave above and making any necessary adjustments. This has thankfully fixed most of my problems, but every now and then I find a piece in which I need to sacrifice the tuning of an open string in order to make a prominent fingered note passable!

Technique

I have kept up my daily scale and technical exercise practice and feel I’ve really got to grips with them: the exercises in particular are really helping me get comfortable using the plectrum. I also came up with an exercise to start working on tremolo, which I repeat on each string:

This week’s many videos!

As I hope to start looking at Grade 2 pieces in September, I got busy this week recording the remaining Grade 1 pieces in my possession.

Andante Mosso by Branzoli

This piece was a real challenge!! It is a technical study designed to develop wrist flexibility and evenness of semiquavers and will probably feature in my practice routine for some time whilst I continue to improve these skills. Published in London Music Press’s Mandolin Supplement, it has fewer editorial details than the other books I have been using. This gave me an excellent opportunity to choose mandolinistic fingerings myself, drawing on my observations of the types of fingerings suggested in other pieces I have played this month. For the violinists out there, examples include playing notes which are a fifth apart (i.e. opposite each other on the fingerboard) with two different fingers instead of placing one finger to stop both notes, and using half position much more than usual.

When learning this piece I often had the section from 00:51 stuck in my head on a never-ending loop that just kept rising and rising….. it reminded me of an illusion called the Shepard tone (learn more about that here).

Allegretto by Pietrapertosa

On the next page of the Mandolin Supplement is a piece from Pietrapertosa’s Methode de Mandoline. Despite being written by a French composer, I love how Neapolitan it sounds! Although the melody is Grade 1 standard I found the accompaniment part pretty challenging, so please try to focus on the tune instead as you listen!!

Mysterious Night Dance by Pommerenke-Steel

On first glance I was a bit surprised that this piece was only Grade 1. It contains some tricky musical elements which would prove challenging for a musical novice, such as changeable and unusual time signatures. But for someone like me with previous musical experience it was extremely satisfying and I love how different it is from all the other Grade 1 pieces!

It also contains directions to play near the bridge for a more nasal sound and over the fingerboard for a softer tone. These techniques are also common in violin music, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how early they are introduced into the mandolin repertoire. They are invaluable tools for changing tone and dynamic and introducing them early encourages more three-dimensional thinking when preparing a piece.

Chiming In by Boyde

This piece has built my confidence in string crossing as it requires the player to move the plectrum over to catch the lower strings without disturbing the melody line above. The lower notes are intended to ring, evoking the sound of bells, but my G strings seem to like ringing for a bit too long: if you look carefully, you’ll see I had to use my 3rd finger to dampen the lower strings every now and then as they kept interfering with the next harmony!

When playing the violin I tend to absorb dynamics (loud and quiet directions) peripherally as I go. I realised when practicing this piece that, as I am not as comfortable on the mandolin, I was ignoring them completely! I tried to remember to scan the piece through before playing to almost memorise the geography. This will be a tip I can pass onto my violin and viola students!

As with the Microjazz for Mandolin book (see week 3’s diary), I really enjoyed warming up with the pieces at the start of Astute Music’s book First Images before practicing this piece each day.

You can find all my previous (and future!) videos on my YouTube channel or on my Mandolin Videos page.

Reflections on my August challenge

The eagle-eyed among you will notice that my Grade 1 videos document the British summer perfectly, starting the month in shorts and no sleeves and ending it in a woolen dress with a scarf draped over my shoulders!

Positives

I no longer feel guilty about having a mandolin and not playing it, and it turns out the sound makes me (and fortunately my husband) really happy! At a time when we are all feeling a little lost with increased time at home and changing routines, it has been fantastic to have this daily goal on my agenda.

I also know that the best way to keep teaching at a high standard is to keep learning myself, so it ticks that box too!

Going forward

September is always a busy time and there are always new projects I’d like to try so I won’t be posting weekly anymore. However I’d love to keep up my playing, so if you’d like to keep following along, you can:

I have loved this month of mandolining and am excited to see how far my plectrum will take me.

If you liked this, you might like…

Mandolinspiration
Mandolin Diary – Week 1
Mandolin Videos
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