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Plectrum Stroke Dilemmas

A pupil recently said he was confused by different advice he was getting for 6/8 plectrum stroke direction.

Irish players seem to prefer Down Up Down Up Down Up while some tutor books and videos recommend Down Up Down Down Up Down.

He wanted to decide on one and stick to it what would I suggest?

Methods for picking are as diverse as positions for holding the mandolin and left hand hold and position shifting. Its important to remember that different schools have evolved through players discovering a good method that worked for them then starting a school based on what they discovered for themselves and then calling it "The right way" or the "Correct way".

It is in teachers' interests to have a consistent method to teach so your Irish tutor has his/her method which works for him or her so they don't confuse pupils. However, as you have discovered, different "right ways" often conflict which, when you learn under different tutors, causes confusion or dilemmas. So what to do?

The question I would ask is this: when you play, which plectrum stroke works best for you? Which feels the most natural? Which creates the best sound and flow for the beat of the piece. When listening to other players which style do you enjoy listening to most?

A teacher is a there to nurture and provide support and inspiration for their pupils. It is the pupils challenge to discover their own path. One of the issues with plectrum stroke is that, if it works, it makes no difference when you are playing solo, but it does make a difference when you are playing with a group or another player because you will get a different feel and emphasis if you are not picking using the same strokes. This can lead to an uncomfortable or ragged sound for the listener.

When I am working with others we agree on how we are going to pick so the instruments sound together. This may be different to how I would normally do it myself. If you look at classical mandolin music there are often very diverse picking systems for string crossing for example and context is everything and it is not always consistent.

You have a choice as to whether you want to find a single method approach and stick to it no matter what or develop a flexible approach where you learn different methods and then apply them according to context. I tend to prefer the approach you mention taken by Chris Thile and use this more often and yet there are some tunes I will play DUDUDU.

As a general principle I teach to use down strokes for crotchets and for all notes of longer value than a crotchet. Quavers are played DUDU unless the time signature is 6/8 when I use DUD DUD. This gives pupils the skill of playing both DUDU in 4/4/ and DUD DUD in 6/8. As they progress they will then meet exceptions to the rule and I introduce classical string crossing methods which you can find in the books by Ranieri and more recently in Alison Stephens' excellent book series available from www.astute-music.com.

If you have discovered that ALL Irish sessions use the DUDUDU method then don't fight it, go with it for all your Irish playing. When you are in other contexts play DUD DUD. For me 6/8 is about a 2 feel and I want to hear a strong beat on the 1st and 4th quaver which is best achieved with DUD DUD. Irish music has a continuous flow feel to it which can benefit from the DUDUDU.

So can you develop a dual approach and feel comfortable with both?

Have fun.