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Right-hand mandolin or guitar

November 11th, 2018
music, jammer, contra  [html]
When I play mandolin or guitar for dances a huge amount of what I'm doing is three things:
  • Left hand chooses what chord to play, typically as an open fifth (root-fifth, no third, so no distinction between major and minor).

  • Left hand switches between muted and unmuted.

  • Right hand triggers the notes, varying both the timing and the intensity.

You can see what this sounds like, with more explanation, in my mandolin teaching videos.

Lately I've been trying to figure out ways to do more things at once while playing live, with the general goal of being able to get the kind of full sound that typically requires more people. One possibility is to figure out something I can do in order to get part of what I like about my mandolin playing with just one hand. Ideas:

  • Take my mandolin, build a mute, and play it just as a percussion instrument with my right hand.

  • Instead of using a mandolin, which is kind of overkill for that purpose, use some other sort of acoustic instrument to scratch while playing. Something with ridges, with a piezo glued to the back?

  • Give up on acoustic instruments and try to make / find some sort of scratchable midi trigger.

  • When I'm playing, my pick mostly just travels vertically. I could use horizontal movement to choose between muted and open sounds. And then use piano left hand or head tilt to choose chords. Alternatively I could use that sideways movement to choose which chord to play.

  • Take an electric mandolin, put it in open fifths tuning, use pitch-shifting software to make its output follow my piano left hand, and figure out some way to control muting.

Other ideas?

My main goal here is to take a skill that I've gotten pretty good at, and figure out how to integrate it into my piano-based playing, so the more similar these motions end up being to what I'm already doing the better.

The difficulty with existing MIDI guitars seem to be almost entirely in the left-hand portion, so none of the existing instruments really look like what I'm going for. I'm also pretty pessimistic about a general-purpose guitar substitute doing a good job with this kind of strumming.

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