Cross-training on Mandolin!


View on the Cracking the Code Platform:


My girlfriend is a violinist who has been self-teaching mandolin the past couple years. So we have a very nice-sounding bowlback classical mandolin sitting in the living room which I will pick up once in a while, maybe every couple weeks. And it does seem to be coming along despite very little specific focus on it. Here’s a section of the presto from Bach’s first violin sonata in G minor:

Why does this work? Well, the two instrument are certainly similar. This is especially true at the level of the motions themselves. So it’s really just the size of the box and aspects of the setup that are different. In fact, when we spoke to Pietro Mazzoni in the motor learning lab at Columbia, one thing he did mention is that learned motions have the ability to scale, without necessarily re-learning the entire motion. This makes a mandolin in some respects like a tiny guitar, I think. And it’s just different enough in feel to maybe cause you to do something differently than you would by hacking away at the same gear with the same form, day-in, day-out.

That’s my hypothesis anyway!


I like it. I have a mandolin lying around my studio room - I hacked together plausible-enough sounding mandolin parts on one my uncle bought for a recording project we were working on (that he ALSO didn’t know how to play, lol) that my dad bought me a starter mandolin for Christmas that year. It’s kind of fun - I should spend more time on it.


And since you have purportedly a double-escape style pickstroke to begin with then maybe single-note stuff might just “work”. Give it a shot and show us footage!


Jeez, the whole 5ths tuning thing throws me so much I;d be embarrassed to share anything just yet! Maybe I’ll start working through some of Andy Woods’ examples though - if I have a mandolin, why not?


Cool playing! I’m going to grab some sheet music for that Bach piece!

You mentioned the great Steve Kaufman,what book of his would you recommend to someone who wanted to read about cross picking from a different authority on the subject.


He’s got zillions of products - books, videos, you name it. I’ve only ever watched “Picking up Speed”, which is a video instructional. I re-watched parts of it again not too long ago and I don’t actually think mentions the curved trajectory of the pickstroke in that video. If you read between the lines that would have to be the case, of course, since he talks about making an intentionally large picking motion, and putting power into it. It’s kind of the exact opposite of every shred-style instructional video in that respect, which is hilarious. To be honest I’m not 100% sure he’s always doing the motion correctly when he slows down and enters “demonstration of individual pickstrokes mode”. But that’s true of many instructional videos, and probably even some of our own!

Someone emailed us a snippet from one of his books where he does specifically mention the pick trajectory. He describes it as six motions, or something to that effect. Like, phase one, you go down. Then you go across the string to play the note, the you go up. Then you reverse and do those three backwards for the upstroke. I think that’s how he describes it. I can’t seem to find the example it in our email so I can’t give you a reference for the book but it’s out there somewhere!


I play a little mandolin. I haven’t for several months (I practice more piano than anything else.) But I agree, the motions are very similar. I find it slightly more difficult to play, mainly because I don’t play it as much, so it’s obviously more unfamiliar. But the double strings and tiny scale length (I’m a big guy!) make it a little more tricky. But I love it as an instrument, Sierra Hull is one of my favourite musicians so I’m very inspired by a lot of the blue grass stuff.

I actually recorded a mandolin video a few years ago. Maybe I’ll try another one at some point. I still have the magnet and the extender pads so it might be quite fun to try it!


Nice work! Completely different technique than your shreddy stuff, and certainly different than your elbow motion. This looks to be a supinated crosspicking technique, which is what Sierra uses. Did you work on that specifically?


Speaking of rock guitar and mandolin, if you look around on youtube, there are videos of Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades performing gigs under the banner “Shaw Blades” that include Damn Yankees songs arranged for acoustic guitar and mandolin.


Thank you!
Yes I did, I watched most of your cross picking videos and got a decent grasp on it. I’m still kind of slow, and it’s not something I’ve worked on that recently.
I recorded a few Neo classical cross picking examples at the start of this year for guitar. If you search ‘Crosspicking Chopin’ there’s a few examples of me doing this, with magnet, on guitar, if you’re interested!