Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Up the neck (mandolin)

Hello Ben. You may have covered this topic already but If so I haven’t seen it. I would like for you to take a simple fiddle tune and play it beginning in first position and slowly progress up the neck. I have tried this on many songs but If you explained and demonstrated it I believe it would answer a lot of questions. Thanks for your help. Love you site. Your lessons are great! Thank you.

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Mandos ROCK! Thanks Jeff!

You might find an answer in here:

Excuse me for interrupting but I wonder what the purpose would be?
One might move a fiddle tune to change keys. In that case I would use a capo because covering the previously open string on the fly would be beyond my skill level.

The other reason is just to use the upper part of the neck. But fiddle tunes tend to not be improvised and have structured patterns that where really created in the first position.

I suppose any part that could move a full octave higher would work but anything else would require the melody to be altered.

An example would be Liberty which in my version starts on the E string 5th fret. There are a few notes above that but to use them the melody would change.

I could make a latteral move and start on the A string 12th fret but I don’t really gain anything. All I get is increased difficulty having to cover the open string.

I guess that the real use of playing up the neck is to either access those notes that can only be found there or to play standard riffs in other keys.

My Liberty is in the key of D and I suppose that it would be easy to noodle up there in the key and probably someone as good as Ben could improvise a new part on the fly.

@C-Stewart, I would say the purpose would be to expand ones knowledge of the fretboard, as well as being able to add variation to songs and, eventually, to come up with ones own solos both up the neck and down as well as mixed e.g. a part down, b part up, first a down, second up, third and fourth phrases up etc. If you check out Ben’s advanced arrangements, most of them have some great up the neck licks

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Oh yeah, sshhhhhh! A large amount of mandolinists consider that to be heretical


Right on, @Dragonslayer!

If learning the scales in higher positions is the goal then I would suggest that fiddle tunes are not the best vehicle.

Your average solo is different then a fiddle tune because you can just improvise and not play the melody at all. Where as in a fiddle tune you are either good enough to makeup a part on the fly which is very advanced or are just randomly noodling in the key.

Ben’s lesons are not just randomly playing at a higher position. He goes up to access double stops and slurs that are different than what is available in first position.

This is the reason I thought it might be good to clarify what the goal of the Op was.

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Hi Chris, I am sure when @BanjoBen is available he will address your query. I am pretty sure @Dragonslayer was just trying to help by offering up a suggestion.

I remember a while back Ben did a good lesson on two octave mandolin scales. I think that would be helpful for the OP’s goals. The big takeaway from that lesson for me was getting used to when you could use an open string to change positions up or down the neck. I also agree that the “unlocking” lesson would be helpful.

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Hi Chris,
Dragonslayer is right on the money about using it as a vehicle to better learn the neck of the instrument. the ability to flow from one position to the next is an integral part in advancing on the fiddle or mandolin (or any instrument for that matter.

Fiddle tunes can have as much improvisation as any other music. They are the same as any break in the respect that there are certain melody target notes, but even those are up interpretation.

If you want examples, go listen to five champion fiddlers play the same fiddle tune. They may all hold the integrity of the tune but may accomplish it in completely different ways or from different positions on the neck…

That would be akin to eating picante sauce made in New York City. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

In that case I guess I would like to see it also.
Maybe a version of that nice Blackberry Blossom you did played “up the neck”

I plan to start working on that, actually, but for banjo. Mandolin isn’t exactly my forte.

Suppose you are in a group playing and the singer can only sing the song in a key you don’t normally practice it in.

If you know how to find a melody (or improvise) in the different positions (1st, 2nd, 3rd…) it is far easier to play along.

Taking a break/tune/song and learning it out of the different positions (and finding points where you can switch positions to attain certain sounds) greatly enhances your ability to play along. It’s about more than just learning scales…As you noted yourself in another thread: "Lately I have been trying to spend at least 30min each day… learning to play on different parts of the neck, (learning the pattern) That has been a pretty big help for me."

Using Liberty as an example…what if it’s being played in C? Will you capo to the 10th fret?
If you play w/o capo Part A down on the G & D strings (same fingering) you still have to go higher and change positions for Part B…It’s not wrong, but it is a change in the sound of the tune , as is the key change.

Being able to change positions makes it fairly easy for me to play Liberty in C and keep the A part as the high part.

As a side note: Normally in the key of D the first melody note of Liberty is an F# …are you using the A as an intro note? If not I’d be interested to hear what your using as a melody…I’m always up for learning new ways around things.

Thanks for the post! A couple things: first, please watch my unlocking the neck and two octave scales lessons and let me know what you think. Second, I agree with @C-Stewart in that fiddle tunes may not be the best way to illustrate this. Let me think about it a little. We can definitely do it with a fiddle tune, for sure, and it would really help build your finger strength and stretching.

I do not think people typically sing fiddle tunes.

Certainly if you can change keys on the fly than more power to you. The only thing the capo adds is covering the open notes so if I where playing liberty I would still have to move it up or change the relationship of notes on the fly.

But I can still play it in C in the first position moved down one string it least for my version. But if I came across a tune that I could not capo I would have to pass till I had an opportunity to work it up in the new key. I can barely keep up if I know the tune well much less change to a different key on the fly.

Like I said advanced fiddle players can do this but had the impression the Op was not at that level and so was suggesting more practical excersises that would move them forward.

And yes, a cheat to play tunes in unexpected keys.

I would say that most songs are different than fiddle tunes (maybe because they are made for voice) they do not jump around as much or perhaps it is a style thing or they are just much slower.

But just in my experience one would have an easier time playing non fiddle tunes up the neck and this is a regular part of my practice. I think Ben’s best instruction in the beginners section is to “unlock the neck”

Personally I managed to play for the past dozen years in first position but you miss out on a lot of the more blugrassy color that many mandolin players want. Ben also has a good lesson on double stop chord transitions. (It could probably be expanded on)

I also think that ear training is very important. To hear what is being played where and the steps between notes and also chord changes. To that end I have recently been trying to spend at least 20min per day (usually) playing along with my favorite songs and picking out the melody at various positions.

This is also a very good exercise if you are going to jams because there is often no written music and the caller may only say the key.

I also have a dvd where the instructor shows all the double stops associated with the G chord shape and wonder if associating double stops with the scale shape might be useful. My understanding of how to incorporate higher double stops is lacking and have trouble finding them up the neck.

Here is a video of how I go about practicing sorry I ramble sometimes because I am not used to having to narrate.

Thanks for all the feedback. To better illustrate my original request, take for example, The Tennessee Waltz. It is fairly straightforward in the first position. One can get some nice slides, hammerons, tremolo, etc… but if you watch Sierra Hull’s version on YouTube you can see how she plays it utilizing every position. She’s not changing the key of the song but utilizing the higher octaves. (I hope this is the correct terminology) see the following link I would like for Ben to take a multistep approach, over several lessons, using one song. Begin at a basic 1st position approach and progress through several lessons adding his bells and whistles. Working his way up the neck to the final lesson that would incorporate all the lessons into one final version. I think this would be really helpful. Thanks again and thanks for your consideration.