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PREVIEW: Mandolin Techniques: Divided Time


As part of my Mandolin Techniques series, this week we’ll be diving into Divided Time exercises and picking hand exercises. You’ll need a metronome for all of these, so make sure you have one available. You could use an online metronome (like this one) or one on your phone but I strongly recommend getting a standalone metronome. I’ve found digital ones can lag sometimes if you don’t have a good internet connection or if it’s just a bad app. Your call.

Here’s a chart for this lesson. These exercises can help you with your timing and help with syncopation.

Only Open Strings?

These exercises are all for your picking hand, so I’m using all open strings to keep the focus on the picking hand. Once you’ve gone through the exercises as written, you can make this more complex by adding chords or a simple melody to these exercises. But, start off with open strings.

Pick direction

Before we start, let’s talk about pick direction. Generally you’ll down stroke for the beat (i.e. on the 1 2 3 4 etc) and up stroke for the off beat (i.e. the + in 1 + 2 + etc). I’ve indicated the pick direction on the chart using the standard notation (the shape that looks like a gate is a down pick, while the arrow is an up pick).

Counting basics

It’s a good idea to count a tune out by the smallest note value in a song. So:

Counting like this will help you stay in time with the tune.  

Things to focus on:

Basic Divided Time

To start, we’ll do a straight division exercise. Basically starting with whole notes, then moving up incrementally to 16th notes and back down. These exercises don’t involve the fretting hand at all. You could add some fretting hand practice with chords or a simple melody – but keep the focus on the picking hand at least to start.

Basically, just set your metronome to a reasonable speed – which is likely slower than you think. I usually start these around 50-70 bpm. While this can seem really slow for the whole notes, the quick 16th notes will more than make up for that haha.

Skipping beats

Once you have the basics done above, it’s time to make things more interesting. Skipping beats can help provide a syncopated feeling in your playing. Basically just drop out notes on a regular pattern and loop that a bit. The main thing you’ll want to watch, aside from the time, is that your pick direction matches the beat you’re on. If you drop an 1/8th note for example, the next note will be picked in the same direction as the last (so if you play a note on the 1 with a downstroke, skip the “+” note, and play another note on the 2 – you’d use a downstroke etc).

The below is a basic example. Once you get this down, try modifying it by mixing up where the beat is dropped.

Mix it up

For the final exercise in this review, it’s time to mix things up. The below brings in a little from each preceding exercise. Remember, this is not about how fast you can pick – but how accurately you can.

If you have any questions about this exercise, feel free to contact me. If you’d like to schedule a personal coaching session, use this form. If you like this content and would like to support the site, you can donate to the site here.

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Happy picking!

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