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The Ultimate Guide to Building Speed on the Mandolin for Bluegrass Players


When it comes to playing bluegrass mandolin, speed is not just a skill—it's an art. Achieving fluid, rapid-fire notes while maintaining clarity and tone is a goal for many aspiring mandolinists. In this ultimate guide, we'll explore various techniques and exercises to help you build speed on your mandolin, along with valuable resources from ArtistWorks and our free mandolin lessons to enhance your learning experience.


Understanding the Basics

Before diving into speed-building exercises, it's crucial to have a strong foundation in mandolin basics. Ensure you're comfortable with basic chords, scales, and picking techniques. For a comprehensive overview, check out these ArtistWorks Beginner Mandolin Lessons below:


Down & Up Picking Basics with Mike Marshall:



Basic Two-Finger Chords with Sierra Hull:



1. Start Slow to Go Fast

Ironically, the key to playing fast is to start slow. Focus on playing each note cleanly and precisely at a slow tempo before gradually increasing your speed. ArtistWorks’ bluegrass mandolin courses from Mike Marshall and Sierra Hull both offer detailed lessons on this concept. Additionally, this quick lesson video provides a practical guide to starting slowly to increase your speed.


Playing with Speed with Sierra Hull:



2. Developing Dexterity

Finger agility is essential for speed. Practice exercises that involve finger independence and strength. Our ArtistWorks bluegrass mandolin courses cover this in detail. For an additional exercise, check out this lesson on playing scales with four fingers to improve your dexterity.


Scales with Four Fingers with Mike Marshall:



3. Efficient Picking Techniques

Efficient picking is a cornerstone of fast mandolin playing. Learn alternate picking and practice crossing strings smoothly. Our intermediate mandolin lessons from Mike Marshall and Sierra Hull are a great resource, and this quick tip from Mike Marshall on righthand picking techniques is also helpful.


Right-Hand Approaches with Mike Marshall:



4. Scales and Arpeggios

Practicing scales and arpeggios is vital for building speed and fluency. Use a metronome and gradually increase the tempo as you become more comfortable. Check out this free lesson from Mike Marshall on scale patterns that you can use to improve your fretboard fluency.


Scale Patterns with Mike Marshall:



5. The Art of Tremolo

The tremolo technique is iconic in mandolin playing, especially in bluegrass. Learn to control and speed up your tremolo for dramatic effect. ArtistWorks provides specialized lessons on this topic as part of Mike and Sierra’s courses, and you can find additional guidance in this free tremolo tutorial here:


Tremolo with Mike Marshall:



6. Chord Transitions

Quick and smooth chord transitions are crucial for up-tempo playing. Practice transitioning between common chord shapes at various speeds. Sierra and Mike both cover this in detail in their bluegrass mandolin courses at ArtistWorks.


7. Playing Along with Songs

One of the best ways to build speed is to play along with fast-paced bluegrass songs. This not only improves your speed but also your timing and rhythm. ArtistWorks offers studio-quality play-along backing tracks as part of Mike and Sierra’s mandolin courses.


8. Incorporating Licks and Riffs

Learn and incorporate classic bluegrass licks and riffs into your playing. This can enhance your speed and add a flair to your playing style. Check out this quick lesson from Sierra Hull on classic licks you can use to end a tune:


Tag Endings with Sierra Hull:



9. Regular Practice with a Metronome

Consistent practice with a metronome cannot be overstated. It's crucial for developing a sense of timing and gradually increasing your playing speed.


10. Recording and Analyzing Your Playing

Record yourself playing and listen back to identify areas for improvement. This self-analysis is critical for progress.


Building speed on the mandolin is a journey that requires patience, dedication, and the right resources. By following the techniques and exercises outlined above and utilizing the invaluable lessons from ArtistWorks, you'll be well on your way to mastering speed on the mandolin for bluegrass.


For a deeper dive into mandolin mastery, explore the full range of courses available at ArtistWorks. Our expertly crafted mandolin lessons cater to all levels and are designed to provide you with the best learning experience possible.



Bluegrass Mandolin Lesson: Finding Minor Chords with Mike Marshall

Bluegrass Mandolin Lesson: Tag Endings with Sierra Hull

"Lessons with Marcel" Interview: Mike Marshall's Incredible Bluegrass Journey




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